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News from Europe

Darsi takes French Derby
By Tom Krish

PARIS -- It is a magnificent setting. Chantilly Race Course, outside Paris, is, at once, both beautiful and breathtaking. As the horses race down the backstretch, there is the backdrop of a chateau. It is a 3-furlong run-in. The gradient in the last 800 metres tests the resolve and the heart of every horse.

It is a 40-minute train ride from Gare Du Nord, a Paris train station. From the station, it is a crisp 15-minute walk to Chantilly. On Jockey Club day, the French Derby, there are musicians, both vocal and instrumental, who keep the fans entertained. Fashion, high and not so high, and pageantry come together.

Talk of poetic justice and I saw it in its most emphatic form in the French Derby at Chantilly on Sunday. Darsi, in the hands of Christophe Soumillon who was turning 25, proved the fastest when it mattered. The winning owner was the Aga Khan. Now, 24 hours earlier, in another country called England and across the Channel, an Aga Khan-owned and Soumillon-ridden chestnut colt named Visindar had failed to justify favoritism in the Epsom Derby. The one different element in the equation was that Visindar's trainer was Andre Fabre and Darsi's trainer was Royer Dupre.

At 7.60 to 1, Darsi lay no farther than sixth at any point in the 2,100-metre Prix du Jockey Club. Soumillon improved to be fourth around the final bend and switched to the out as the race took a serious turn, Arras, Olivier Peslier up, had made a striking move turning for home and gone into what looked like an insurmountable lead. Soumillon put Darsi in chase of Arras and, with one giant stride after another, cut down the advantage and edged clear with 50 metres to go. Best Name, Christophe Lemaire up, was late on the scene to edge Arras out for second.

Soumillon and the Aga Khan did not attend the press meeting. Soumillon had a ride in the race following the Jockey Club. Trainer Dupre took questions. I asked Dupre, if in retrospect, Darsi should have gone to Epsom, "Absolutely not. He was targeted for the French Derby. He trained well and he has justified my confidence."

"I have no plans to take him to the Breeders' Cup. The Churchill Downs stretch is too short," Dupre quipped.

It was a glorious summer afternoon in Paris. The racing was all a fan could ask for. The Epsom Derby and the Jockey Club are 24 hours apart. There is a convenient train (the Eurostar) that leaves London at 8 A M and arriving at Gare du Nord in Paris at 11.50 A M. Paris is an hour ahead.

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