Wherever she goes, the rain almost certainly follows and Saint-Cloud was no different on Sunday. Having been perfectly clear all day, the announcement that the 2011 Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe winner, Danedream, was to take to the track for the next race, the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, seemed to instigate an almost immediate rain shower in the western suburb of Paris. The anticipation had been building all week; Danedream was, in her trainers' own words, approaching her best form after winning her seasonal pipeopener at Baden-Baden in good style and looked to have a favourites chance of winning and the French public seemed to agree, sending her off as the odds-on favourite in a field of four.
However, as is often the case in racing, anticipation and build-up doesn't always mirror the result. Having sat second the entire way round, Danedream looked full of run turning into the straight and took a half-length out of the leader, Shareta, when ducking to the inside of her rival. She looked like she would surge clear with that turn of foot that was entirely evident in last year's renewal of the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe, yet coming towards the final furlong she was passed by not one but all of her rivals. Meandre, (above) the 2011 Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris victor who had looked distinctly average on his two starts this season, stayed on best of all to regain that winning feeling that had been absent for nine months to defeat the Aga Khan's Shareta by a length and a half. Freddie Head's half sister to Goldikova, Galikova, was a further length and a half back in third with Danedream last of the four another half back.This wasn't that fairytale return to France that Peter Schiergen and his team had planned nor was it a performance which should have suggested that Danedream was almost at her peak for any mid-season targets. Worrying? There are some reasons which may suggest her poor performance but the overall result against three rivals likely to reoppose at Longchamp in October is sure to be of some concern for her connections.
This wasn't the first time Danedream had failed to fire on a French racetrack; A previous run at Saint-Cloud saw her finish 5th of 8 in the Group 2 Prix de Malleret, a race run on the undercard of the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud. Having performed exceptionally well to win the Oaks D'Italia by an extending six lengths prior to the race, her performance in the Prix de Malleret was somewhat disappointing for a horse supposedly on the up. Similarly, albeit more reserved, Danedream was victorious in her seasonal reappearance this year at Baden-Baden when giving Ovambo Queen 5lbs and a three-quarter length beating. Schiergen was honest then and still is; Danedream was 80% fit going into that race and that'll account for what was more of a game victory than the impressive victory Germany is used to from Danedream.
For Meandre, victory in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud was a welcome return to the winners circle having looked out of sorts when a disappointing third at Newmarket in the Jockey Club Stakes behind Al Kazeem. His subsequent run behind No Risk At All at Longchamp in the La Coupe was also not the Meandre we had become accustomed to seeing on a racecourse but Andre Fabre has, yet again, installed confidence back into one of his leading charges which has seen him victorious and, in all honesty, rarely in trouble in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud. The turn of foot which saw Meandre put this race to bed was almost a carbon copy of his finishing effort in his last victory, the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp last year. Coming to two furlongs out, Guyon began to angle his horse to the outside of Shareta and Danedream and then propelled him forward in the finally furlong to run out a comfortable winner. Meandre would not land a blow at Newmarket; Al Kazeem was far too impressive and was hard for any horse to contend with that day and he may yet be a live Arc contender himself for Roger Charlton, but this was the Meandre we're used to.
Shareta also returned to the kind of performance we're used to, ironically, beating the mare who had previously defeated her into second in last years' Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe. Eight months on, Shareta had gained some kind of redemption for a five length defeat in Europe's crown jewel of middle-distance turf races. As for Galikova, the ground did not play to her favour in this one and she'll be back again on better ground - Remember, Freddie Head knows the family all too well to let them fade away.
For Danedream this was a Saint-Cloud disappointment and connections will need to return to Germany and consider their raceplan towards the defence of the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe now. The King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on July 21st was sure to be considered if Danedream was to win this race but that surely looks unlikely now with a race such as the Grosser Preis von Berlin, which she won by five lengths over Scalo last year, a more likely option before the Grosser Preis von Baden. Disappointing? For connections, this wasn't how things were supposed to go and Europe has surely all but lost the chance of seeing Danedream out of her home country prior to the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe now but if she were to recollect and defend her title at Longchamp after this minor blip she would surely go down in European racing folklore as one of the greatest middle-distance mares ever.
Now just where would Cirrus des Aigles have finished if he didn't have to miss this race with a minor ankle infection.....
Photo Courtesy of Emma-Louise Kerwin (Goodtosoft.co.uk)