Astral Merit came with a strong run to gain the first of three French Fast-Track Qualifiers this winter, the Listed Prix Lyphard, over an extended nine furlongs on Polytrack at Deauville today, Wednesday, November 29.
The seven-year-old mare, trained by Florent Monnier and partnered for the first time by Stephane Pasquier, is now guaranteed a free start in the £200,000 Betway Easter Classic over 10 furlongs at Lingfield Park on All-Weather Championships Finals Day, Good Friday, March 30.
Astral Merit raced towards the rear of the maximum 16-runner field in the early stages as a steady pace was set by Royal Julius (Jerome Reynier/Clement Lecoeuvre).
Pasquier and his blinkered mount made smooth headway into midfield rounding the home turn and came wide in the straight to begin their challenge.
The daughter of Apsis, owned and bred by Bruno Foucher, quickened between rivals to take the lead with a furlong to race and ran on gamely to repel the late challenge of four-year-old filly Syrita (Markus & Stéphanie Nigge/Olivier Peslier) by a short-neck in a time of 1m 54.75s. Replenish (Stephan Cerulis/Aurelien Lemaitre) was third.
Today was Astral Merit's seventh run over the course and distance and her third victory following handicap successes in January, 2017 and December, 2016. She also finished second to Syrita in the Listed Prix De La Calonne on July 5.
The Prix Lyphard is likely to have been her final race as there are plans for her to go to stud in the New Year.
Of the four British-trained challengers, Abareeq fared best in seventh for Mark Johnston, with Utmost (John Gosden) eighth, Sinfonietta (David Menusier) 10th and Prost (Ed Vaughan) 16th.
Pasquier, winning this race for the fourth time, said: "Everything went according to plan. She chose a good day to show her best form.
"She obviously likes the course and distance, and it is easier when you ride the best horse."
Monnier, 48, is a former assistant to Alain de Royer-Dupre. He also worked for trainers Henri Alex Pantall and Martin Pipe (from 1989 to 1992).
He trains around 20 horses in Senonnes, North West France, and Astral Merit was his 14th winner of 2017, all on the Flat.
Monnier started out as an amateur rider, partnering at least 20 winners on the Flat in France as well enjoying 16 winners over Jumps in Britain, including a double at Wincanton in 1990 during his time with Pipe.
Astral Merit (right, blinkers) takes the Listed Prix Lyphard, picture All Weather Championships