By Jon Lees
France: Corine Barande-Barbe is relishing her return to the G1 spotlight at ParisLongchamp on Sunday where she will attempt to win the Qatar Prix de l’Abbaye with Air De Valse, the sprint filly who is keeping her training business afloat.
When her champion Cirrus Des Aigles was in his pomp, Barande-Barbe was a fixture on Arc weekend. As he was a gelding, the horse known as ‘Fighting Cirrus’ was denied access to the main event, but he left his mark on matters in no uncertain terms with victory in three editions of the Prix Dollar.
Barande-Barbe is the breeder, owner and trainer of Air De Valse, a relative of Cirrus Des Aigles who has won three times this year including the G3 Prix du Petit Couvert over Sunday’s course and distance in a race-record time.
That victory earned her a crack at Battaash but as Cirrus Des Aigles once faced off against the mighty Frankel for the 2012 Champion Stakes, giving his legendary rival one of his toughest races, it is not a challenge that fazes Barande-Barbe – especially on soft ground.
“I know the ground won’t disturb Air De Valse, but if it disturbs Battaash, it’s a good thing for her,” said the trainer.
“When she ran in Deauville in August she was beaten by an English filly [Breathtaking Look] over seven furlongs, which was a bit long and the going was quite heavy. It was her first Group race and she was a very good second.”
Barande-Barbe has not trained a G1 winner since Cirrus Des Aigles claimed the last of his seven top-level triumphs in 2015, towards the end of a long and glittering career in which he enjoyed 22 successes, collecting over £6 million in prize-money including wins in the Prix Ganay (three times), Prix d’Ispahan, Coronation Cup, Dubai Sheema Classic and Champion Stakes.
Now 14, he still occupies a box in his trainer’s Chantilly yard where her team is down to a dozen horses. A trainer for nearly 30 years, 2020 has been her toughest year, heavily impacted by Covid-19 prize-money cuts and in which she has trained just four winners.
“I was nearly forced to give up because I have only 12 horses in training, including Cirrus Des Aigles,” she said. “When your earnings drop by 30-40 per cent it’s very hard to go on, because I have my little team.
“Now with the Prix du Petit Couvert win the drop in earnings has cost me something like €65,000 (£58,000) in three months. Happily Air De Valse wins a lot so now we have our noses up above the water and are not going to drown!”
Air De Valse, who will be ridden by Ronan Thomas, will have the weight of history against her in the Abbaye, a race that has stayed at home only twice this century.
“Not many French horses run in the Abbaye and not many have won but she is a fast filly,” said Barande-Barbe. “She broke the Prix du Petit Couvert record last time out so I think it is very logical for her to run in the Prix de l’Abbaye. I don’t think things have to be done by somebody else before to be able to win.
“I trained her mare, her sire, her grandfather, her second mare and owned the sire of the second mare, Deep Roots. It takes me very far back and I hope very far forward into the future.”
She went on: “It’s really great to have this chance again. Even just running with a reasonable prospect is a marvellous adventure.
“Cirrus Des Aigles ran on this weekend many times and has the record for the most wins in the Prix Dollar. He had lots of speed but he was very surprised that Air De Valse is running in the Prix de l’Abbaye when I explained it to him!”