x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Jockey Peslier sets his sights on the biggest target

Cirrus Des Aigles' jockey hopes to ruin Frankel's farewell at Royal Ascot in the Champions Stakes. Geoffrey Riddle speaks with the optimistic Frenchman.

Cirrus Des Aigles ridden by Christophe Soumillon wins the Qipco Champion Stakes.
Cirrus Des Aigles ridden by Christophe Soumillon wins the Qipco Champion Stakes.

Two weeks ago Olivier Peslier punctured a nation's dreams. The French rider, who has such a close affinity with Japanese racing, coolly guided the unheralded Solemia past a floundering Orfevre in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe to block Japan's 13th attempt at taking the Longchamp race in France.

Japanese tears seemingly filled the Seine afterwards and today at Ascot racecourse in England Peslier will up the ante by trying to deflate the expectations of the world.

The 39 year old will ride Cirrus Des Aigles in the Champion Stakes against a tide of international fervour that has assembled behind Frankel.

Such is the interest in the world's best horse that Queen Elizabeth has confirmed her attendance and the racecourse had to extend the seating capacity, only to sell out for a second time.

Frankel's bid to record his 14th consecutive victory will be beamed to 84 countries around the world, and whereas there was hope behind Orfevre's bid there are few who believe Frankel can be beaten at a track where he already boasts four wins.

Naturally, Peslier, who has accumulated 106 Group 1 successes since he rode his first winner 23 years ago, does not see it that way.

"I have plenty of chances of winning," he said, mischievously.

The defeat of Orfevre only highlighted Peslier's irrepressible determination. Almost sprite-like in the saddle, he appeared to be in a hopeless position 200 metres from the line but he kept on riding in the vain hope that something might happen. It did, and his fourth win in Europe's most valuable turf race was assured.

It is little known outside Japan that Peslier has ridden extensively for the Ikee family, who not only trained Orfevre, but also Deep Impact, the Triple Crown winner who failed in his Arc bid in 2006 and who he was earmarked to ride until his regular jockey Yutake Take had a ban overturned.

Over a cup of well-made espresso in Peslier's vast white-brick kitchen at his home in Gouvieux, near Chantilly, the question came up as to whether he has had any contact with the Ikee family since denying them their moment in the Parisian sun. Peslier's genial smile dried up instantly.

"I have not spoken to them since the Arc, but that is the race and that is racing," he said. "I am happy to win, this is my job. This is my life."

Peslier's killer instinct is well honed. The stonemason's son gets a huge kick out of shooting people. Up until recently, he owned 15 paintball guns but now he can claim only six, citing a lack of time to spend on his hobby.

Last weekend when he was riding at Woodbine for the Canadian International meeting his paintball team were engaged in international combat in England. They finished 11th, but Peslier proudly said that his friends beat America.

When racing in the UAE, Peslier can be found at the Al Forsan complex in Khalifa City.

"Abu Dhabi paintball is the best in the UAE," he said. "I like Sharjah's, but it's just not as good. When you get hit with a paintball it hurts, sure, but I am still alive, so who cares?"

Peslier's first ride aboard Cirrus Des Aigles was in the UAE, when the pair teamed up to win the US$5 million (Dh18.3m) Dubai Sheema Classic in March.

He replaced Christophe Soumillon, who had a retainer for Mike de Kock and was required to ride Bold Silvano. Peslier consulted Soumillon, and the former rider Franck Blondel, but it was his natural horsemanship that resulted in the winning manoeuvre.

A full five furlongs from home, much like in the Arc, Peslier took the race by the scruff of the neck and hit the front.

The pair never looked back.

"Cirrus has only one gear," said the man who features a Maserati and an Aston Martin among his previous cars of choice. He currently drives an Audi S5.

"When I won in Dubai, I started my run very early and I just let him continue. He is like a typical English horse; take the pace and just keep going. He has long speed, but Frankel has a good turn of foot for a short time. He has good acceleration but with Nathaniel in the race we can stretch him."

It may be hard to believe that Peslier has no plans ahead of riding against the world's highest-rated horse but he maintains he will rely on his wits for the 125 seconds it should take to run the race, rather than trying to formulate running plans that can go awry as soon as the gates spring open.

"I will ride for the horse," he said. "I have enough experience. Once the gates open I want to see what is happening. I want to be able to ride in front, behind, or in the middle. If the horse is happy to go, we will go. If not, I will sit behind.

"With only six runners there will be no traffic problems. This is the best plan. I am a feel rider."

Peslier has never won the Champion Stakes, but plenty of his compatriots have. The French have won the 10-furlong contest 22 times since the Second World War and with all the hullabaloo surrounding Frankel it is easy to forget the devotion which is heaped on Cirrus Des Aigles in France.

The six year old was on the front page of Paris Turf, France's racing paper, on Arc day in preference to anything that ran in the big race. The appeal of Cirrus Des Aigles is easy to understand, too. Unlike Frankel, he had humble beginnings. He was not even bought on his own, and was packaged together with two others when the trainer Corine Barande-Barbe sold him to Jean-Claude-Alain Dupouy, who now owns him in part with Xavier Niel, the founder of Iliad, the French telecommunications company.

Cirrus Des Aigles did not win a race as a juvenile and took 19 attempts before he won his first Group contest.

Last year's Champion Stakes victory with Soumillon in the saddle was his first at the highest level. Whatever Dupouy paid for the unfashionably bred son of Even Top, it would have been a relatively insignificant sum and yet going into tonight's £1.3 million (Dh7.6m) race Cirrus Des Aigles' career haul of £3,822,900 eclipses that of Frankel.

"You don't need to have 100 horses to find a champion," Peslier said. "The dream has come true for the owners."

If Cirrus Des Aigles wins tonight, that owners' dream will prove to be a nightmare that reverberates around the world.

*****

British Champions Day at Ascot will provide a stage for three of last season’s Dubai World Cup night winners.

Cirrus Des Aigles is the undoubted star of the trio as the six-year-old gelding attempts the seemingly impossible task of defending his title against Frankel in the Champion Stakes.

Cirrus Des Aigles followed up his victory in last year’s inaugural British showpiece at Ascot by winning the Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan Racecourse in March.

Cityscape, the Dubai Duty Free victor, lines up against Excelebration, Frankel’s old rival over a mile, in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, and Opinion Poll, who won the Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan, spars once again with Godolphin stablemate Colour Vision in the Long Distance Cup.

That any of the three make the most valuable race day on the British calendar is a testament to their respective trainers, but as a blueprint to success today it is Corine Barande-Barbe and Mahmoud Al Zarooni who deserve special mention.

Both trainers handed their horses midseason breaks after their exertions in Dubai.

Of course, the banned substance found in a urine sample alleged to be from Cirrus Des Aigles may have forced a layoff during the summer, but Al Zarooni has not raced Opinion Poll since the six year old was second to Colour Vision in the Ascot Gold Cup in June.

Whether you consider the World Cup card or Champions Day as the start of the cycle is a moot point, as both meetings clearly feed off each other.

The Champion Stakes itself proved to be a rich seam of equine talent for the Meydan executive to mine last season, as Cirrus Des Aigles led home Green Destiny (sixth), Wigmore Hall (ninth) and Dubai Prince, who was last. All four of those horses subsequently appeared at the 2012 Dubai World Cup Carnival.

Barande-Barbe has already outlined that Cirrus Des Aigles is an intended runner in Dubai next season, while Master Of Hounds, who lines up in Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa’s colours today, is also a likely runner at Meydan.
The race that may hold the most clues to next year’s Carnival, however, could well be the British Champions Sprint, run over six furlongs.

Last season, only Jimmy Styles graduated from the Group 2 contest to run at Meydan, but this year there could be as many as three that come to compete in the UAE.

Edward Lynam is a familiar name in the region after the exploits of Sole Power, who finished runner-up in the Al Quoz sprint and the Meydan Sprint in March.

The Irishman runs Slade Power up against Wizz Kid, the French challenger, and Society Rock, the Haydock Sprint Cup winner.

Van Ellis has been kept busy for the trainer Mark Johnston in the colours of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed and looks ripe for a move to Godolphin, while Jeremy Gask, the Australian trainer, may well have the Al Quoz sprint in mind for Medicean Man, the King’s Stand Stakes fourth.

sports@thenational.ae