European Race Report: French Derby Winning Jock a Teen No More

Published in the June 9 issue of The Blood-Horse
If Christophe Soumillon, the rising star of the French jockey colony, had an ambition to win a classic as a teenager, he left it late. Eight hours before he turned 20, Soumillon and Anabaa Blue made off with Chantilly's 12-furlong French Derby (Prix du Jockey-Club, Fr-I).

Anabaa Blue, trained by Argentine Carlos Lerner for Charles Mimouni, beat Chichicastenango by a half-length, reversing the placings of the May 13 Prix Lupin (Fr-I) when "Chichi" scored by a neck over the odds-on Anabaa Blue. Grandera, part owned by the Lael Stable of Pennsylvanians Roy and Gretchen Jackson, fared best of three British runners in third, a head behind after an unlucky trip.

Fourteen turned out for the $905,364 Derby at picturesque Chantilly, 40 miles north of Paris. The "story" horse, and 3-2 favorite, was Maille Pistol, bought for approximately $22,000 by a former trotting trainer/driver. Maille Pistol's dam, Bric Mamaille, had won a hurdle race at a provincial track and a jumping career was envisaged for him. But the buyer, Michel Roussel, had a remote family connection to France's current leading trainer, Jean-Claude Rouget, and so the horse went to him even though he hadn't trained a jumper in years. Maille Pistol advanced so rapidly that he was unbeaten in three 2001 starts leading up to the Jockey-Club, winning his final two Derby preps by an average of seven lengths.

Anabaa Blue led for the first three furlongs before giving way to Maille Pistol, who carried the field into the long straight. Anabaa Blue, an 8-1 chance, threw down the gauntlet at midstretch, gaining the upper hand as Maille Pistol weakened to finish eighth in his first race on firm ground this year. Chichicastenango closed on the outside from the quarter-pole but couldn't get there. Grandera was blocked twice while seeking a way through in the straight.

Soumillon, who rode five winners on a Saint-Cloud card last year, is attached to Andre Fabre's yard but was nearly fired a month ago for his inability to get out of bed on time. "After the trouble with Monsieur Fabre, I am very pleased to prove I can win good races like any other jockey," he told the Racing Post. "I do have trouble getting up in the mornings."

Lerner, who trains both flat and jumping horses at Maisons-Laffitte, had his greatest success last year with Volvoreta, the Prix Vermeille (Fr-I) winner who finished third in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I). "This horse (Anabaa Blue) can pull, but we were helped by Maille Pistol setting the pace," he said. "He could be supplemented for the Irish Derby (Ire-I, July 1) or rested until the autumn when he would be prepared for the Arc."

Grandera, second to Belmont Stakes (gr. I) hopeful Dr Greenfield in Chester's Dee Stakes, "will go wherever there is fast ground, and he may go for the Irish Derby," according to trainer James Fanshawe. "He was shut in on the rail today and was unlucky."

While Britain failed to win a third French Derby in the last seven years, Prince Faisal's Olden Times brought the Prix Jean Prat (Fr-I) trophy across the Channel when he got the better of Irish invader King of Tara and home-based Denon. The nine furlongs for 3-year-olds offered just five runners but the finish was captivating with only a head and a nose between the first three home.

Trainer John Dunlop was hosting an open day at his Sussex yard, so he missed the win, but jockey Pat Eddery said the "good" ground had been perfect for his mount. "He's a lovely horse who will improve further," Eddery said. "Once he hit the front today, he tried to pull up. He's got to have firm ground and he was slipping around at York (fifth in the Dante Stakes, Eng-II)."

Michael Stoute's Epsom Derby (Eng-I, June 9) favorite Golan--he also trains third choice Dilshaan, the Dante Stakes winner--may not have the services of Kieren Fallon on the big day. The stable jockey had yet to make up his mind as to whom he would partner when he was suspended at Ayr for irresponsible riding on May 31. Fallon has appealed the suspension, June 9-11, but if it isn't overturned or delayed, Eddery looks likely to ride Golan.