By Geoffrey Riddle
Almanzor was almost last on his seasonal debut in the Group Three Prix Gontaut-Biron Hong Kong Jockey Club at Deauville on Tuesday.
Last season’s European champion colt was never in contention in the 1m2f event in Normandy and Chris Wall’s First Sitting took advantage of the lacklustre display to hold off the late thrust of Corine Barande-Barbe’s Galingari at 10-1.
Almanzor just touched off Carlos Laffon-Parias’s Alignement to finish fifth of the six runners.
Almanzor was very warm in the preliminaries ahead of his first start for 304 days and was held up by Christophe Soumillon behind stable companion Zafiro, who led under Jean-Bernard Eyquem.
Gerald Mosse had First Sitting well placed off the sedate pace in second, while Garlingari was settled in behind.
As the field swung in to the straight Soumillon already knew his fate and the Belgian jockey never resorted to using the whip as the race unfolded up front.
First Sitting won by three quarters of a length, while Zafiro clung on for third. It was Almanzor's first dfeat since last April.
"Almanzor never responded,” Soumillon told French channel Equidia. “The horse needs to run."Almanzor has an entry in next week's Juddmonte International, the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes next month and the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot in October. (PA)
Last year’s Qipco Champion Stakes winner was shunted out to 20-1 for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in the wake of the defeat, while Enable, the dual Oaks winner who is scheduled to run on Thursday at York, is now no better than 2-1.
Whether Almanzor heads for Arc day on October 1 now remains open to question, but Wall underlined his flagbearer would represent him at Chantilly at the Qatar-backed meeting.
"The race went well," Wall told At The Races.
"I'm not sure if the pacemaker was in there to go slow or go fast, but he set a reasonable pace.
"Gerald got him in a good position, we wanted to be handy. He quickened up well in the straight and put a bit of distance between himself and the others, a bit like he did at Goodwood.
"He's a very willing horse who runs to the line and the others weren't able to catch him, so that's excellent.
"Today was a step up on what he's done in the past. His two previous trips to France have been much faster ground than we've got today and although he's run well, he hasn't really let himself down. On this slightly easier ground today, he really showed what he can do.
"He trained really well for this race. I said to everyone who cared to listen that it's the best we've ever had him and he proved that today and ran out a good winner.
"We'll put him in the Prix Dollar on Arc weekend at Chantilly, that's a Group Two.
"In the meantime he's also engaged in a race in Istanbul, but I'll see whether the owner still wants to do that. Having won this, that might not be as high on the agenda, but we'll see."