French connection can strike it hot
Cirrus des Aigles is back for a third crack at winning an international race in Hong Kong - this time better than ever - and with the benefit of his special synergy with star jockey Christophe Soumillon. Trainer Corinne Barande-Barbe, speaks excellent English, but reverted to her native tongue when describing the combination of 'Cirrus and Christophe'.
'I think they have what we call in French osmose - there is a certain chemistry between them,' she said. 'It means they think and do things at the same time.'
Osmose is what was on display in Cirrus des Aigles' giant-killing display in October's Champion Stakes at Asscot when they powered past So You Think. It was Soumillon's second ride on the gelding, the first being a second to champion mare Goldikova in the Group One Prix d'Ispahan in May.
Cirrus des Aigles contests Sunday's Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup, having won five of 10 this year, including two Group Ones, and has not missed a place in 2011. The warhorse has shown unyielding durability through 38 starts, yet has taken his performances to another level. He is the second highest-rated galloper in the world on 128, behind Frankel (135), and equal with Black Caviar.
In 2009, Cirrus des Aigles was fifth in the Vase after racing three-wide with no cover, and last year was unlucky in the Cup when drawing wide and finishing seventh.
Contributing to his chances this time are a perfect barrier (two) and the fact the horse has been set specifically for this race.
'Last year he was coming from Tokyo [Japan Cup], so maybe he was a bit tired,' Barande-Barbe said. 'He is a much better horse now and we planned for a long time to finish the year here. He hasn't run since Ascot and he is in tremendous form.'
Barande-Barbe arrived at Sha Tin straight from the airport yesterday to witness her charge going through his paces on the all-weather track and liked what she saw. 'He looks great. He's full of life and seems to be enjoying his trip,' she said. 'I don't know if we will train him on the turf again. He does not need much more work.'
Cirrus des Aigles' inside draw should allow Soumillon to sum up the situation and find cover on the adaptable type.
'It depends on the pace,' Barande-Barbe said. 'He is a horse that is able to make the pace on his own if there is no speed. If there is pace he has a tremendous finish. From that draw Christophe can observe what happens and decide.'
The anticipated scenario is a lack of speed with only a 10-horse field and little scope for aggressive tactics. Durban Thunder and Ransom Note both go forward, but the other runners have adopted hold-up tactics in the past and the race could come down to a battle of wits.
Of the dangers, Barande-Barbe comes to town hearing plenty about Hong Kong's reigning Horse of the Year Ambitious Dragon, but is most wary of another French raider, Byword, who defeated Cirrus des Aigles two starts back in the Prix Dollar at Longchamp.
'I just know everyone is saying Ambitious Dragon is the danger,' she said. 'Ambitious Dragon can be a good sparring partner but it was Byword that beat us last time. We had beaten him several times before and last time we were on our way to Ascot - it would be nice to get the better of him.'