Un De Sceaux: steps up in trip in France
PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Preview: France, Sunday (4.05pm, BST)
Grande Course De Haies d’Auteuil (Grade 1), 5yo+, turf, 3m1½f
UN DE SCEAUX gallops into unknown territory when he attempts to stretch out to beyond three miles for the first time in his career in the race known as France’s Champion Hurdle.
Three weeks after he made most of the running to claim the Prix La Barka under Ruby Walsh over an extended two miles five furlongs – the longest trip he has tackled – the Willie Mullins ace returns to Auteuil for the Grade 1 Grande Course de Haie d’Auteuil over three miles and a furlong.
Mullins has won the prize four times and also runs Thousand Stars, winner in 2011 and 2012, among a team that also includes Whiteout, winners of Punchestown’s Mares Champion Hurdle, in a field that also has British-trained runners in Ptit Zig, Silsol, Ubak and Aubusson.
All eyes on Un De Sceaux
Yet the focus of the race will be the clash between Un De Sceaux – who is unbeaten in eight hurdle starts for Mullins – and the brilliant French hurdler Blue Dragon.
Mullins said: “It’s going to be tough for Un De Sceaux against Blue Dragon, who is a very good young horse, and the others. He’s also going into unknown territory over the distance.
“He got the trip well in the Prix La Barka but has another half-mile to go. We were very pleased with the way he won and how he finished off the race last time and were keen to step him up further in trip to see how he fares. He’s in good form.”
Dragon expected to fire
Blue Dragon, for whom the trip will be a new challenge too, has won his races from the front, but trainer Guy Cherel indicated pacesetting may be left to Un De Sceaux.
“We voluntarily skipped the Prix La Barka to spare him a hard race as he’d already run three times this spring,” said Cherel. “It’s his first try over this distance but I don’t expect the trip to be a problem.
“If Un De Sceaux goes off in front and puts some pace to the race, that will be fine. He has sat in behind in the past and David [Cottin] will decide when it’s the right moment to go to the front. He doesn’t have to lead and is in very good shape.”
Soft ground likely
Ptit Zig was fourth, with Aubusson fifth, in the Prix La Barka and is joined by stablemate Silsol.
Trainer Paul Nicholls said: “Three miles will suit Ptit Zig a lot better than the other day and the ground will be more in his favour too. It’s quite soft there. Silsol has been running really well and will like soft ground too. We hope to get some good place money.
“Un De Sceaux was very impressive last time. The ground might not have been as soft as it will be tomorrow, though, and it’s further, and Blue Dragon is very smart too.”
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