x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Weather report to Cirrus Des Aigles' liking

The six year old prefers wet conditions as it taken on the unbeaten Frankel in defence of the Champion Stakes

Cirrus Des Aigles showed his liking for rain-affected going while winning the Qatar Prix Dollar this month.
Cirrus Des Aigles showed his liking for rain-affected going while winning the Qatar Prix Dollar this month.

CHANTILLY, France // It is almost as if every drop of rain that falls on Ascot racecourse in England this week pulls the smile ever wider across the genial face of Corine Barande-Barbe.

The French trainer will saddle Cirrus Des Aigles to a defence of his title in the Champion Stakes at the royal racecourse on Saturday in what looks increasingly likely to be a bitter struggle with John Gosden's Nathaniel and Frankel, the world's best horse.

When Barande-Barbe heard yesterday there had been 2.5mm of overnight rain at Ascot, which contributed to a soft going description, the 54-year-old was in a bullish mood at her base on the Chemin des Aigles. "He doesn't mind very heavy going, he has won in it before," she said.

"If it is very heavy, he swims so it is no problem."

There is further rain expected both today and tomorrow, although Ascot has a decent drainage system and the forecast for Friday and Saturday is clear.

Cirrus Des Aigles confirmed his liking for rain-affected going when running out a nine-length winner from Godolphin's Hunter's Light in the Prix Dollar at Longchamp 11 days ago.

It was the sixth time in the past three years that Cirrus Des Aigles had beaten an adversary by six lengths or more, and all of those performances had one thing in common - rain.

"His win in the Prix Dollar was very impressive. He might improve," Barande-Barbe said of the six year old. "Sometimes ground like this disturbs other horses but nobody knows about Frankel. Frankel is an extraterrestrial. He has never met a horse like Cirrus though."

Frankel has, of course, raced on soft ground before, denying Nathaniel by half a length when the pair made their racecourse debuts at Newmarket two seasons ago.

It is the closest that any horse has got to Sir Henry Cecil's charge in 13 unbeaten starts and if there is a whiff of an upset it has a particularly French aroma to it.

All but one of Frankel's nine Group 1 victories have come at tracks that boast finishing straights of half a mile or more but his weakest performance at the highest level came on the round course that will provide the stage for Saturday's test.

In the St James's Palace Stakes last year he struggled markedly to assert himself under his regular rider Tom Queally, who went for home far too early.

If Barande-Barbe has a plan to dethrone Frankel, she wasn't letting on yesterday and simply stated that she would place the responsibility for tactics in the capable hands of Olivier Peslier, who rode Cirrus Des Aigles to his stunning success in the Dubai Sheema Classic in March.

At Meydan Racecourse, Peslier took the lead nearly five furlongs from the winning post to grind out a three-quarter length verdict over St Nicholas Abbey.

"The horse will decide," Barande-Barbe said. "He has always improved. We allowed him do what he wanted. If there is no pace he would pull or go on his own.

"I think there will be pace, as Frankel needs it. We need to keep an open mind.

"Sir Henry Cecil may be a better trainer than me, but I don't know if he has a better horse yet."


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