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Hit and miss for Holly's bold bid; British favourite a close fourth in French Champion Hurdle after pre-race spill.

French Holly failed by under two lengths to become the first British-trained winner of the Grande Course de Haies d'Auteuil (French Champion Hurdle) on Saturday, when he finished fourth to Vaporetto, writes Desmond Stoneham.

Trainer Ferdy Murphy yesterday blamed a combination of firm ground and a slow pace for French Holly's defeat. However, an incident before the start of the pounds 86,114 event could not have helped the eight-year-old, who was hit in mid-air by a rival at the practice hurdle, in the process unseating Andrew Thornton.

Thornton was given time to regain his breath, though he admitted he would not have ridden had the race been in Britain.

French Holly was one of four in with a chance at the last. But the 6-4 favourite was not suited by the sprint to the line, and it was 13-2 shot Vaporetto who showed the best finishing speed to beat Mon Romain a short neck, with Asolo a close third, in front of French Holly.

Murphy is planning a return visit to the track in the autumn before launching French

Holly's chasing career.

"He was 100 per cent after the race," said the trainer. "I couldn't be happier with him - things just didn't go right for us.

"He was given a hard bang before the race and there was no gallop. The ground got very fast and it was just a sprint - I think the French jockeys worked out how to beat him after the Barka.

"We didn't get much luck last year when Paddy's Return was fifth, and we didn't get much luck this year, but we'll be back."

Thornton was feeling a "little sore" after his tumble. "I'll be all right in a few days," he said. I was pretty dazed but luckily I was given five minutes to recover. I don't know how French Holly recovered as we were knocked sideways. In England I wouldn't have ridden.

"I don't like making excuses but French Holly wasn't the same horse this time. The collision affected his confidence and he didn't jump as well as in the Barka."

There was a stewards' enquiry as French Holly was also hampered after the last, but the result was allowed to stand.

French Holly has spent a month in France, winning the Prix La Barka at Auteuil three weeks ago, and has earned over pounds 60,000.

The pounds 75,350 Grand Prix d'Automne Hurdle on November 1 will be the next target in France for French Holly, who will then be prepared for the 2000 Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

The race went sweetly for Vaporetto, who was giving Daniel Wildenstein his sixth victory in the race. It was a change of luck for the owner, whose Flat horses are yet to have much success this season.

Owner's son Alec Wildenstein said: "Vaporetto has problems with his back. He's a great credit to his trainer Jean-Paul Gallorini."

Anne-Sophie Madelaine conjured a great run out of Mon Romain but the pair could not quite beat Vaporetto and Thierry Majorcryk, who had won the day's other big race for Gallorini on Silver Top.

Later in the afternoon, Francois Doumen landed the pounds 53,821 Prix des Drags with Rubissimo, who could be trained with next year's Martell Grand National in mind.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Stoneham, Desmond
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jun 21, 1999
Previous Article:These 100 were simply the best; GREATEST FLAT HORSES Part 1: 100-41.
Next Article:Giant laid low by one jump too many.

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