WHEN you think of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, what comes to mind? For me, it’s a race full of nostalgia. Hunkering down around the telly as a kid on a miserably damp October Sunday afternoon; listening and watching Peter O’Sullevan effortlessly do his thing; being baffled by the Paris Mutuel and horses being “coupled” in the betting. Alleged. Lester. Watching my beloved Ardross come agonisingly close under the full Piggott drive. Alleged again. It’s a magical race and this year it’s back on proper telly. Yay… (as young ‘uns say). And we could be about to witness one of the most incredible fillies achieve something pretty remarkable at Chantilly on October 1.
I was always thrilled when Britain or Ireland won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Rainbow Quest was a highlight in 1985, only usurped 12 months later by the brilliant Dancing Brave. His success remains one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen. Then there was Lammtarra in 1995. Hurricane Run and Kieren Fallon in 2005. And, more recently, Treve and Frankie Dettori’s outrageously brilliant ride on Golden Horn. Golden memories.
To be blunt, unlike the fillies, this year’s three-year-old colts have been a bit of a rank bunch. Churchill promised so much but has now been beaten three times. Barney Roy briefly flickered but his fire was doused at York. It’s true that ill fortune has also struck. Wings of Eagles suffered a career-ending injury in the Irish Derby so we’ll never get a handle on how good an Epsom Derby winner he was. And the death of the admirable Permian was an almighty hammer blow for all, especially William Buick and the Mark Johnston team. Cracksman has matured into, probably, the best three-year-old colt but his trainer John Gosden has something better up his sleeve. Enable.
I was at Chester when Enable made all the running in the Cheshire Oaks in May. It was fairly impressive but not earth shatteringly so. But what she did show that day was stamina and Dettori’s comments centred around her ability to stay.
She used that stamina in the Epsom Oaks, seeing off the talented Rhododendron and then followed up in a fairly facile manner in the Irish Oaks, even though Dettori pretty much only had the use of one arm. But to this observer at least Enable produced THE outstanding performance by a three-year-old this season by battering older horses in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot. Good ground, soft ground. It’s all the same to Enable. No words needed. Apart from awesome.
Will Cracksman have a crack?
A stroll on the Knavesmire followed in the Yorkshire Oaks and the racing style of Enable suggests that if she can get to the front in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe then she will be very hard to pass. That’s if she brings her A game to Chantilly. The only nagging doubt is that she may go the way of so many other Classic winners who have found the Arc one race too many. Or have found it arriving too late in the season. Somehow, I think Enable will buck that trend.
Aidan O’Brien could have a strong team of four: Order Of St George, Highland Reel, Capri and possibly, intriguingly, Winter. The latter, who has won four Group Ones this season, and has been the other outstanding filly after Enable, would add huge lustre to a race already awash with fascination.
If the tantalising morsel of Winter running was not exciting enough, there is the possibility of Enable’s stablemate Cracksman lining up. That would have this author doing cartwheels around the house. The horse has matured into a serious middle distance performer and his wide-margin Great Voltigeur victory opened up so many options for a horse who Gosden feels will make a better four-year-old. He now looks the finished article: he was weak and a shell of a horse in the Epsom Derby but still ran a blinder to be third. Gosden is probably understandably reluctant to run both Enable and Cracksman. Maybe Cracksman’s Arc will be in 2018.
New chapter for Ulysses?
The other big British contender in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is Ulysses. The Arc just might be run to suit this strong travelling hold-up horse who likes to come fast and late. Quick ground would boost his chance hugely. But he was put in his place by Enable at Ascot and the Breeders’ Cup Turf could be more up his alley.
From a punting perspective the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe market is dominated by Enable who is odds-on in most books although there is still some 11/10 around. I think she’ll win but I won’t be playing at that price. Instead, I’ll probably throw some each-way shillings at Highland Reel but only if the ground is quick.
To be honest I’ll just be happy to hunker down around the telly watch the ITV coverage. The Arc has produced so many memories and stories: this year could be one of the biggest of the lot.