Poules d'Essai: All you need to know about the French Guineas

29 May 2020

Poules d'Essai: All you need to know about the French Guineas

Photo Poule d'Essai des Pouliches 2017: scoopdyga.com

This Monday the 1st June, the racecourse of Deauville La Touques will host the Emirates Poules d’Essai des Poulains (15 h 50) and Pouliches (16 h 25). The draw for the final runners took place this Friday. Find out the latest news on these two Group 1 Classic races, defining events for the 3-year-old generation, below.   

  • The Poules d’Essai, the first test for the Classic generation

The “Poules d’Essai”, or French Guineas, are Classic races, reserved for 3-year-old colts and fillies with the aim of selecting the best Thoroughbred breeding prospects. The race takes place over a distance of a mile, or 1,600 meters. To race over this distance requires both speed and stamina.  

Whilst an objective in itself, the Poules d’Essai is also a springboard into the other Classic races of the first half of the flat racing season, the Prix du Jockey Club and the Prix de Diane Longines. Both of these races take place over 2,100 meters at Chantilly racecourse. Some horses, who are specialists over the distance of a mile, do not run to the same level when the distance is increased by 500 meters, and so remain in the ‘miler’ category. They will take on the older horses later in the year.

Others, however, have enough stamina to run over 2,000 meters or more. These horses will attempt the prestigious double of the « Poule d’Essai - Jockey Club / Diane ». A select number of dual Classic winners have been seen in recent years:  Shamardal (2005), Lope de Vega (2010) and Brametot (2017) for the colts; Divine Proportions (2005), Zarkava (2008), Golden Lilac (2011), Avenir Certain (2014) and La Cressonnière (2016) for the fillies.

Amongst these champions, only one has gone on to then win the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the nominal world championship for Thoroughbred racehorses: this was the great Zarkava, who retired to stud unbeaten in October 2008.


  • Deauville, the luxury replacement

The worldwide epidemic crisis has not been without consequences for horse racing. After a two-month period when racing was stopped entirely, competition restarted on the 11th May, but behind locked doors and only on racecourses in designated green zones. The Poules d’Essai, which traditionally takes place in early May at the racecourse of ParisLongchamp, was pushed back to the 1st June and has found refuge at Deauville-La Touques racecourse. However, this is not the first time that the Normandy track has hosted this prestigious event. It was also held here in 2016 and 2017 when renovation works were taking place at ParisLongchamp. One of the main differences is that Deauville boasts a long home straight, allowing the race to be run in on a straight course, as is the case for the British equivalent (the Newmarket Guineas). The draw is of primordial importance on the turning track at ParisLongchamp, as the first turn comes up quickly so a good position can make all the difference in the finish. On the straight track, the draw is far less influential. Winners can come from a low draw, such as Brametot and Précieuse in 2017 (stall 3), and also from an outside draw, as did The Gurkha in 2016 (stall 11).


  • A hall of champions

Deauville’s annual highlight is traditionally the August meeting. The track is maintained to the highest standards throughout the year however, due to the 800 horses that are trained on the site. The trainers are allowed to use the racetrack for important gallops in the mornings prior to big engagements. Franck Le Mestre, who manages both the racecourse and the training centre, has been working continuously to ensure a perfect grass surface for this weekend.  “We have been watering the track since Sunday evening, after the last race meeting. The grass was levelled to 13cm. The aim is to have a ground-stick reading of 3.3 or 3.4 on Sunday and Monday morning, to have a good ground in the afternoon. I have to mention the fantastic work of the team here during the lockdown period. The track has been maintained daily despite the reduced number of personnel. We have had very little rain over the last two months, and it is forecast to be dry and sunny between now and Monday. So the program for us is quite simple: water, mow, and we’re ready to go!”

To see the video of the preparations, click here.

There is no rain expected between now and Monday. The forecast for Monday is sunny with temperatures reaching a maximum of 23°C.  


  • The leaders of the French Guineas

Chantilly based André Fabre is the winning-most trainer taking part in Monday’s Poule d’Essai des Poulains. He has won this race on seven occasions and saddles one of this year’s favourites, Victor Ludorum, as well as Arapaho and Alson, both of whom line up with good chances. He has won the fillies' equivalent ‘only’ three times, but again is well represented this year with Tropbeau and Tickle me Green.

Jean-Claude Rouget, whose training string is split between Pau and Deauville, counts four wins in the

Poule d’Essai des Pouliches. He is represented this year by the unbeaten Simeen and could well be on his way to equal the record of legendary trainers François Mathet and Alec Head (both of whom won this race on five occasions).

Simeen runs in the colours of His Highness the Aga Khan, who has also won the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches on four occasions, making him the winning-most owner in this year’s race. These colours have been carried to glory in the colt’s race on no less than eight separate occasions, however, there will be no representative for the famous green and red silks this year.  

It is also worth noting that Jean-Claude Rouget won this race on two of the occasions when it was held previously at Deauville (Brametot for the colts in 2017, and La Cressonnière in 2016, for the fillies), while Fabrice Chappet won his first Classic on this rack and in this race in 2017 thanks to Précieuse.




Group 1 - 1,600m / 1 mile - 3-year-old colts - €360,000


  • The favourite: VICTOR LUDORUM

He was the main attraction on the 11th May, the date which marked the return of racing to France. However, he ran too fresh and the Godolphin owned colt could only finish third in the Prix de Fontainebleau (Group 3), the main prep race for the Poule d’Essai. He is a son of the late, great Shamardal, who himself won this race in 2005 and who sadly died last April. He out-classed his opponents last October in the Qatar Prix Jean-Luc Lagardère (Group 1), on the day of the Arc de Triomphe. He has incredible talent, but sometimes has trouble keeping his explosive energy under control. From this perspective, a straight track could prove difficult, but he undoubtedly has the required quality to win.

  • The challenger: THE SUMMIT

The Summit was the winner of the Prix de Fontainebleau (the main prep race for the Poule d’Essai), going from pillar to post, after having been beating on his return to the track as a 3-year-old Prix Omnium II (L) by the smallest of margins. He is trained at Beaupreau by Henri-Alex Pantall, who won the Poule des Pouliches last year with Castle Lady. The Summit showed his ability at the age of 2, finishing third in the Prix de Condé (Group 3) followed by an honourable fifth in the Critérium de Saint-Cloud (Group 1), in heavy ground. He has indubitably turned a cornerstone this year. He carries the colours of Mrs Jacques Cygler. These colours were carried by the Champion race mare Sistercharlie in her early career before she was bought by American owner Peter Brant. Second in the Prix de Diane 2017, in the U.S.A Sistercharlie has lined up success after success. She was named Champion Turf Filly in 2018 and has won no less than seven Group 1 races.

The Summit was bought as a yearling for just €16,000 at the Arqana Sales by bloodstock agent Paul Nataf who has worked with the Cyglers for many years. He was bred by Alec Waugh (Jedburgh Stud) in Normandy and is a son of leading French sire Wootton Bassett, who stands at Haras d’Etreham in Normandy. Wootton Bassett has previously produced a champion, Almanzor, who is also now at stud alongside his sire.  

  • The fairytale: KENWAY

Kenway will be supported by the entire South-East region. He is trained by Frédéric Rossi, who is based at the Calas-Cabriès training centre, near Aix-en-Provence. Kenway carries the colours of Haras de la Gousserie, owned by Kamel Chehboub, an emblematic figure of racing in the South-East of France. Kenway is the most experienced of all the runners lining up in the race, having already taken part in nine races. He gave an exciting performance when winning the Prix La Rochette last year, a Group 3 prep race for the Qatar Prix Jean-Luc Lagardère. He was unable to make an impression in the Group 1 however, on soft ground that he did not like. He comes to this race off a fourth place in the Prix de Fontainebleau, just a short head from Victor Ludorum.

Kenway was bred by Guy Pariente. This businessman built his breeding operation around his favourite stallion, Kendargent, the damsire of Kenway. Galiway, his sire, stands at the Haras de Colleville alongside Kendargent. Kenway is from his first crop and has been a significant contributor to his success as a stallion.  

Kenway was bought for €56,000 at the Arqana Yearling Sales. It should be noted that his dam Kendam was an excellent racemare, winning the Prix Eclipse (Group 3). As for Galiway, he began his stud career at a fee of only €3,000 and now stands for €10,000, thanks to the results on the track from his first generations of offspring.



Group 1 - 1,600m / 1 mile - 3-year-old fillies - €300,000


  • The favourite: TROPBEAU

Tropbeau is the obvious favourite of the race. Her performances leading into the race have been irreproachable. This filly is owned by Lady Bamford (whose colours were victorious in the 2015 Prix de Diane with Star of Seville) and is trained in Chantilly by André Fabre. She won on her return to the track this year in the Prix de la Grotte (Group 3), the main prep race for this event, proving that she is capable of ‘staying’ a mile. She showed a lot of speed as a 2-year-old, winning the Prix Six Perfections and the Calvados (both of which are run on the straight at Deauville!). Her connections then chose to go and take on the British in their back garden, running in the Cheveley Park Stakes (Group 1), where she finished with a commendable third place.  

  • The challenger: SIMEEN

Simeen will be Tropbeau’s main competition. The filly, owned by His Highness the Aga Khan, has been prepared for the race at Deauville by Jean-Claude Rouget. She comes here unbeaten in three starts. As is his preference, Jean-Claude concocted a perfect ‘protégé’ program for her, making sure she has not had any hard races leading into the main event. Her career thus far has consisted of two wins from two runs at the age of 2, and another victory for her first run as a 3-year-old on her return to the track on the 13th May in a Class 1 race at Chantilly. Don’t take the official finishing distance into account (short head). Christophe Soumillon had dropped his hands to ease her in the finish, certain of the victory. This Monday the duo will be giving it their all!

  • The fairytale: MY LOVE’S PASSION

Like Simeen, My Love’s Passion knows Deauville racecourse like the back of her hand, as she trains there every day under the watchful eye of Yann Barberot, the former jockey who turned trainer a dozen years previously. There will be a crown of supporters (in front of French racing channel Equidia!) cheering on My Love’s Passion, as she belongs to a syndicate, Passion Racing Club, which is run by Marcel Chaouat, the former managing director of Deauville racecourse. This club is made up of around a hundred racing fans finance the racing stable through private means, around 20 horses in training in all. My Love’s Passion was bought for just €10,000 as a yearling, and she has already won more than ten times that amount for her owners! Her career-best performance came at Deauville when finishing second in the Darley Prix Robert Papin (Group 2), over 1,200 metres. She has never run over further than this distance of 1,200 metres, but her connections wanted to her to take her chance in this Classic event. My Love’s Passion undoubtedly deserves her place in the line-up!


  • The connections

- Carlos Laffon-Parias, trainer of Écrivain

Écrivain ran very well in the Prix de Fontainebleau. That was simply a prep race, and the objective has always been the Poule d’Essai. It was an ideal comeback race. The straight track doesn’t worry me, although I hope that we will have good ground that isn’t too quick, as that could damage the horses.”

- Lisa-Jane Graffard, the French representative for Godolphin, owner of Victor Ludorum

“André Fabre is very happy with the colt as he is in top form. Having a runner in one of the Classics is always a huge moment. He was too fresh in the Prix de Fontainebleau and needed the race. It has done him good. We are in a year with exceptional circumstances, and everyone must adapt, people and horses. The only question mark we have is over the straight track, as he has never run on a straight before.”

- Mauricio Delcher Sanchez, trainer of Marieta

Unfortunately for us, running on a straight track does not play in our favour. It’s not ideal for those horses who have limited stamina, unlike a turning track where they have a chance to take a breath. Marieta in good form. We have had plenty of time to prepare her for this race. It will be her first race of the season. The decision not to run in a prep race was mine, and I assume the responsibility of it. She should have run in the Prix Imprudence (Group 3), but the race was removed from the program. The other option was the Prix de la Grotte (Group 3, 1.600m), but I felt running her over this distance just before the Poule would not suit her. I am even more happy that we didn’t run her there as now the Poule will not be at ParisLongchamp, with the turn, but at Deauville. Tropbeau really impressed me when winning her prep, but overall these are all top-class fillies who deserve to take part in the race. I respect each and every one of the other runners, but none of them has so far looked invincible, unless with the exception of Tropbeau.”

- Frédéric Rossi, trainer of Dream and Do and Kenway

Both my runners worked well on Tuesday. It was just a gallop to keep them ticking over: they both had a race three weeks prior to the Poule, when they made the long trip from Marseille to Paris. All the lights are on green. Kenway gave me confidence in the Prix de Fontainebleau. A lot of things did not go his way in the race, and he ran very well. He comes into the Poule d’Essai as an outsider, but he is capable of running well. Personally, the announcement that the race was switching to Deauville was good news, he is better on a straight track and the increased pace will help him. Dream and Do ran well for the seasonal reappearance in the Prix de la Grotte. She was a little fresh and not quite at 100 % for the race. Before then, the Fabre fillies were the ones to beat, but I think that this Poule d’Essai des Pouliches is quite open. Dream and Do worked well, has strengthened up, and I think she can run a big race.”

- Fabrice Chappet, trainer of Célestin, Speak of the Devil and Mageva

“Speak of the Devil won her maiden brilliantly at Deauville last October. She then had an excellent lesson on her seasonal reappearance this year against the colts. She has a bad draw, and we wanted the race to be a learning experience. She finished remarkably well, only beaten by Shinning Ocean, who has been supplemented into the Poule d’Essai des Poulains. Since then she has been working very well. It remains to be seen whether she will be as effective against the top-class fillies of her generation, and on firm ground. I would have liked to bring her to this race with another run under her belt, but with the circumstances being what they are, she won’t be the only one lining up with just two starts.

Like Speak of the Devil, Mageva was brilliant when winning her first start, and again like the former, is a daughter of the remarkable sire Wootton Bassett who has already proved his ability to produce Classic horses. The Prix Imprudence was taken off the program this year, so we chose to run her in the Prix du Pont-Neuf (Listed, the race category just below Group), over 1,400 meters for her seasonal bow, as she has a lot of speed and can be a little keen. She also had a good learning experience, finishing very well behind Arapaho, who will be running in the colt’s Classic. She is a really good ground filly, so she will have her preferred conditions this Monday.

Célestin ran a perfectly correct race on his return to competition. He is, without doubt, better on softer ground but he deserves to line up in the race. He is in great form.”

- Yann Barberot, trainer of My Love’s Passion

“The filly has been working well, and the Poule d’Essai is run at home. The fact that the Poule is now on a straight track is good news for us! On a straight, My Love’s Passion breathes well, something that not all horses are able to do. She worked on Tuesday over Monday’s course and distance. If she runs as well as she worked... It’s a challenge but I love it. She will be an outsider, but she is still a classy filly. It just remains to be seen whether she will stay the mile. If we are placed, we will be very happy! Grégory Benoist is injured, so Théo Bachelot will ride. He rode her in the Prix Robert Papin and knows her well.”

- Francis-Henri Graffard, trainer of Emoji

“Emoji is in good form. She is in better shape than before Vanteaux: she worked very averagely coming into that race, and she came into season on race day. She struggled in the straight, I’m convinced that she is a miler. Emoji is a soft-ground filly, and it won’t be soft on Monday. However, she’s in great form in the mornings, so we are going to run.”