Things We Learned » Arc taking shape

Arc taking shape

Last Sunday’s Arc trials were, as ever, largely inconclusive. While a relatively sedate pace can be a feature of the Arc de Triomphe itself these days, it is stretching things towards the limit of credibility to suggest that, on anything other than very soft ground, this year’s renewal could possibly be as slowly-run as Sunday’s Prix Foy or Prix Niel were. Those two trials were run in times that were just under 10 seconds and just under 11 seconds slower, respectively, than the time that Danedream clocked in winning last year’s Arc.

That said, there were conclusions to be drawn. Shareta was the best filly by far in a truly-run Prix Vermeille, and last year’s Arc runner-up is a player again this year for sure.

Foy winner, the Japanese horse Orfevre, will probably be better for the stiffer stamina test that a stronger pace would produce – he won the Japanese St Leger last October – and he should come on for this run (his first in Europe, his first since June) and for the experience.

Also, the turn of foot that Saonois showed off a slow pace in winning the Niel was impressive, and will be a potent weapon if they do go slowly through the early stages of the Arc. He is from a small stable, he was universally considered a lucky winner of the Prix du Jockey Club, and he could be under-rated if, as expected, he is supplemented for the Arc. Remember that the Prix Niel has supplied four of the last 10 Arc winners.

All the evidence that we have this season to date tells us that this is not a vintage crop of three-year-olds, and it is understandable that the older horses dominate the Arc betting at present. However, three-year-olds can improve rapidly at this time of year and, as we know, they receive a potentially over-generous 8lb from their elders in the Arc.

The Classic generation have won the race 15 times in the last 18 years and eight times in the last nine. That is 83% or 89% of the winners in a race in which they have been responsible for just 43% of the runners in the last 10 years. With just one three-year-old quoted at lower than 25/1 in the ante post market at present, there could be value in the three-year-olds yet.

Diamond edge

You can talk about the quality of last Saturday’s Gain Horse Feeds Irish St Leger all you like, you can point to the fact that it was the second slowest non-juvenile race run on the day – second only to the Amateur Derby, in which horses rated 75, 75 and 57 filled the first three places – and that you could have thrown a Baby Bjorn blanket over the heads of the first four home as they crossed the winning line. However, the fact remains that trainer Tommy Carmody has won a Classic with a horse who was beaten in all three attempts in novice hurdles last winter, and who couldn’t win a handicap off a mark of 85 on his debut for Carmody back in March.

Royal Diamond’s progress has been meteoric. He was a progressive low-level handicapper for Sir Mark Prescott back in 2009, and he went close in a decent handicap for Jonjo O’Neill at Newbury last July, but the four best performances of his career have been his most recent four, all when under Carmody’s care. He was beaten just a neck in the Ebor on his penultimate run, now he has won an Irish Leger, and he is probably not finished yet.

Carmody’s own rate of improvement as a trainer is not wholly dissimilar. In the 13 years between 1993 and 2005, Buck House’s jockey sent out 11 winners from 242 runners on the flat in Ireland. This year so far, he has had 13 winners from 49 runners. Of course, you can’t go without the horse and, to that end, owner Andrew Tinkler’s investment has been hugely significant, as has, no doubt, the well-documented assistance that Carmody has been receiving from landlord Johnny Murtagh.

This is one of the success stories of the 2012 flat season and, if it is the pre-cursor to even deeper investment by Tinkler, it could be a very interesting story indeed.

Substitute Fullback

We don’t know if Eric McNamara keeps a diary but, if he does, last Wednesday’s entry would probably look something like this:

Early – Wake up. Guinness Kerry National day. Think, Questions Answered has a good chance.

10.00am – Declare Faltering Fullback for Thursday’s three-mile handicap hurdle.

10.45am – Receive phone call to say that Save My Blushes has been scratched from the Kerry National and that the first reserve isn’t taking up the spot. 10.46am – Sudden realisation that second reserve Faltering Fullback is in.

10.50am – Call Tony Mullins. Any chance Danny can ride? Great.

4.12pm or thereabouts – Cheer very loudly.

Late – Remember to take Faltering Fullback out of the handicap hurdle tomorrow.

It’s a simple lesson: McNamara is Mr Kerry National. Not just because he ran ¼ of his string in Wednesday’s race, or because his Ponmeoath is a perennial at this stage – the 12-year-old has run in the last six renewals of the race, he has won it twice and he finished eighth for the third year in a row on Wednesday – but because McNamara has now trained three of the last six winners of the race and, with Questions Answered chasing Faltering Fullback home on Wednesday, he was responsible for the first and second in this year’s renewal.

It is an astonishing record in a hugely competitive handicap chase, the feature race at Listowel’s Harvest Festival, for a trainer with fewer horses in training these days than his talent deserves.

Fortify looks strong

Fortify’s performance in finishing third in the opening seven-furlong maiden at Listowel on Wednesday was laced with promise.

Last of the four runners early on, the Aidan O’Brien-trained debutant made nice progress early in the home straight up on the outside as his stable companion Hall Of Mirrors kicked for home. He betrayed his inexperience a little when Seamie Heffernan asked him to lengthen, but he ran all the way to the line under just a hands-and-heels ride from Heffernan to go down by just a half a length and the same to the useful-looking Dermot Weld horse Secret Recipe and Hall Of Mirrors, both of whom had racecourse experience on their ride.

Fortify is by Danehill Dancer out of a Darshaan mare who has already produced a Cesarewitch winner in Never Can Tell, so he should improve for stepping up in trip. It is interesting that he holds an entry in the Beresford Stakes, and he should be able to win his maiden easily before going on to much better things.


Here are the stalls from which the first four home emerged in each of the last 10 renewals of this afternoon’s William Hill Ayr Gold Cup:

2011: 12-16-9-15 (soft ground)

2010: 17-24-8-11 (good)

2009: 15-6-9-3 (good)

2008: 20-21-26-11 (heavy)

2007: 22-6-9-18 (good to soft)

2006: 6-16-9-26 (good to soft)

2005: 2-4-27-3 (good)

2004: 8-16-18-20 (soft)

2003: 10-14-6-1 (good)

2002: 16-10-15-18 (good)

Conclusions (given the prospect of soft ground):

• The first three places in the one renewal run on heavy ground were filled by horses drawn 20 or higher

• All 12 places in the three renewals run on soft or heavy ground were filled by horses drawn eight or higher (and 10 were filled by horses drawn 11 or higher)

• All eight places in the two renewals run on soft ground were filled by horses drawn between eight and 20 (and six were filled by horses drawn between eight and 16)

• 16 of the 20 places in the five renewals run on good to soft or softer ground were filled by horses drawn between eight and 22 (and 12 were filled by horses drawn between 11 and 22)

So you probably don’t want to be backing a horse drawn too low and, on balance, unless it is bottomless, you probably want to be looking more middle-to-high-draw than high-draw. Somewhere between Captain Ramius and Colonel Mak is probably a good starting point.

Or you could just back the fastest horse.

© The Irish Field, 22nd September 2012