The weekend's European racing saw four classics being held in three different countries and one of them produced something of a surprise result.
Almanzor, a first-crop son of Haras d'Etreham stallion Wootton Bassett (by Iffraaj) won his first three starts as a juvenile, including a mile listed contest, but when he stepped up in grade he was found wanting, finishing only seventh of eight in the Group 1 Criterium International over seven furlongs at Saint-Cloud.
The very soft ground that day may have been a factor, although two of his three outings in 2016 have been on ground described as soft, so clearly he handles at least some ease in the ground. He was only beaten by three-parts of a length when third to Dicton in the Group 3 Prix de Fontainebleau over a mile at Chantilly on his return to action in April, he then scored an odds-on success against three rivals in the Group 3 Prix de Guiche over nine furlongs at the same venue, before springing a 20/1 surprise with his length and a half victory in the Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) on Sunday.
The ground was soft, the trip 10 and a half furlongs, and there did not appear to be any fluke about the colt's performance. As one expects after a middle-distance classic success, he was given immediate post-race quotes for the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, but if one of the major contenders from Sunday's race is to feature prominently in that end of season test then it may be the runner-up, Zarak.
As with any unexpectedly good effort, it remains to be seen if Almanzor can duplicate the feat or if this was a performance-of-a-lifetime one. His overall record is five wins and one place from seven starts, he was a Group 3 winner already, and so it seems unlikely that he will fail to add to his pattern race tally. We cannot know how he will get on against stronger opposition until he tries it.
Almanzor was bred by Haras d'Etreham and his trainer, Jean-Claude Rouget, secured him for €100,000 at the Arqana Deauville August Yearling Sale. He is the only blacktype horse for his sire, who has a double-digit tally of winners from a small number of runners, and yet Wootton Bassett is the first member of the current batch of European second-crop stallions with a winner at the highest level.
Now that he has a classic victory to his name, Almanzor will be on the radar as a potential stallion. In addition to being the son of a Group 1-winning Iffraaj (by Zafonic) horse, he is from a prolific blacktype family, it includes three others who have won French classics, and one of those took the Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club when it was still run over 12 furlongs.
He is the first foal out of the unraced Darkova (by Maria's Mon), he has a two-year-old full-sister named Troarn, and the mare had a Falco (by Pivotal) colt last year. His grandam, Harkala (by Halling), won the Listed Prix des Tourelles and her siblings include Darinska (by Zilzal), the stakes-placed dam of star filly Darjina (by Zamindar).
The Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (French 1000 Guineas) heroine of 2007, she also won the Group 1 Prix d'Astarte and the Group 1 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp, she was runner-up in the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free, Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan, Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes, Group 1 Sun Chariot Stakes, Group 1 Prix Rothschild and another edition of the Group 1 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp, she was third in the Group 1 Hong Kong Mile, and Timeform rated her 128 as a three-year-old. Darjina has been somewhat unfortunate at stud as she has been barren in four of her first six year years. Her only registered foals are the colts Djibi (by Dalakhani), who was born in 2011, and Djidani (by Oasis Dream), born in 2012.
The third dam of Almanzor is Daralbayda (by Doyoun). She earned her blacktype when finishing third in the Group 3 Prix Minerve, a race that her dam Daralinsha (by Empery) won, and all six of her winning siblings were also blacktype horses. Daralimara (by Valanour) and Group 2 Prix de Royallieu runner-up Daraydala (by Royal Academy) won listed contests and the most notable of the others is Darashandeh (by Darshaan).
She won only once, she was runner-up in the Group 3 Prix Penelope, and her son Darsi (by Polish Precedent) won the Group 1 Prix du Jockey-Club in 2006. The Beechbrook Stud stallion has sired several multiple winners from his early National Hunt runners.
If you go back another generation of the family then you find that the fifth dam of Almanzor is Darazina (by Labus), the grandam of the Group 1 Prix de Diane (French Oaks) and Group 1 Prix Vermeille heroine Daryaba (by Night Shift). It is that classic star's Group 1-winning daughter Daryakana (by Selkirk) whose son Dariyan (by Shamardal) won the Group 1 Prix Ganay at Saint-Cloud last month. This is a famous Aga Khan family.
Darkova was sold for just €16,000 as a three-year-old at the Arqana December Breeding Stock Sale, which looked like a potential bargain then and a considerable now as she has come up with a classic winner with her first foal. It will be interesting to see how her son's career turns out, both on the track and eventually at stud, and to see if another of her progeny can excel in Group 1 company.