x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Cirrus Des Aigles set for King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes

Corine Barande-Barbe, the trainer, says horse is 'very near 100 per cent' ahead of Saturday night, writes Geoffrey Riddle.

Cirrus Des Aigles is seven years old but may still be getting better, according to Corine Barande-Barbe, the trainer. Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters
Cirrus Des Aigles is seven years old but may still be getting better, according to Corine Barande-Barbe, the trainer. Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters

ASCOT, ENGLAND // Corine Barande-Barbe has always been an upbeat woman and the Chantilly-based trainer maintains that Cirrus Des Aigles could still be improving at the age of seven in the lead-up to the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot tonight.

Cirrus Des Aigles faces seven others in the European summer showpiece, including Red Cadeaux, the Dubai World Cup runner-up; Universal, owned by Abdullah Al Mansoori, the London-based UAE businessman; and Ektihaam of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid.

At first glance it is easy to contest Barande-Barbe's assertion after Cirrus Des Aigles finished a lacklustre fifth to Novellist, the rising German star who renews the rivalry, in the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud a month ago.

But Cirrus Des Aigles is a workhorse and thrives on competition so it was hardly a surprise that the evergreen campaigner struggled to assert himself on soft ground over 12 furlongs on his first start since chasing home Frankel in the Champion Stakes here in October.

Cirrus Des Aigles suffered a ligament injury when being prepared for Hong Kong in December and rather than consider another trip to Dubai where Baranda-Barbe's horse secured the 2012 Dubai Sheema Classic under Oliver Peslier she elected to launch an assault on Europe's biggest prizes.

As is her fancy, Barande-Barbe tends towards anthropomorphism with regards to her stable star and, as a daughter to a pair of psychoanalysts, it is understandable that she felt Cirrus Des Aigles felt demoralised after his defeat to Frankel.

"We gave him a rest and I think he is stronger than ever and who knows, he may be improving," she said.

"We gave him plenty of time to recover after his problem and he no longer has any issues.

"He really needed that run behind the German horse. I think he was probably something like 60 per cent for that race, but now he is very near 100 per cent.

"He is in good and cracking form."

Cirrus Des Aigles may not need to be in the form of his life to win the 12-furlong event. He is the world's highest-rated horse and having previously broken the track record at Ascot he looks desperately hard to beat.

Hurricane Run was the last French horse to prevail, when Andre Fabre teamed up with Christophe Soumillon in 2006.

It was Soumillon's first ride aboard Cirrus Des Aigles when the pair took the Champion Stakes in record time in 2011. Although he has not won on his mount in two starts since, the Belgian gets another chance, having profited from Peslier's contacts in Qatar.

"We only have good memories of Cirrus and Christophe," Barande-Barbe added.

Peslier never had the option to exercise a choice as to which horse he would ride because, after his retainer with the Wertheimer brothers, the Frenchman is contracted to ride for Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa.

Very Nice Name runs in the silks of Qatar's former prime minister and although St Nicholas Abbey misses the race convalescing from his fractured pastern on the gallops, his Sheema Classic victory in March will be represented by the horse he beat into third.

Very Nice Name was settled at the rear of the field at Meydan Racecourse in March and picked up the pieces off a record pace to chase home St Nicholas Abbey and Gentildonna, the Japanese sensation.

Very Nice Name, who won the Group 1 Emir Trophy and the The Heir Apparent Trophy in Qatar in February, ran a full 14 metres further than St Nicholas Abbey, which is further than the three-and-half lengths he was beaten by.

Racing is never as easy as a simple mathematical equation, however, and the trainer Alban De Mieulle was nothing more than hopeful of his chances in his first foray to Britain with a thoroughbred.

"I have had some nice thoroughbreds that have come from Qatar to France in the past and from experience I think that Qatar Group 1 races are the equivalent of an international Listed or Group 3 race, that's it," he said.

"He is the best in Qatar and now everyone in Qatar thinks they have a Group 1 horse there.

"He proved that he is a good horse in Dubai and he's not favourite, which is great for me, I can tell you. Sheikh Abdullah likes the challenge, however, and so do I."

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