Donn's Articles » Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

The finish of today’s Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is going to have to be mighty exciting if it is going to match the drama of the preamble.

Three of the top four horse in the ante post market were ruled out of the race in the space of a couple of frenetic days last week: one (Snow Fairy) after suffering an injury, one (Nathaniel) after returning unsatisfactory blood tests, and one (Danedream), bizarrely, because her trainer Peter Schiergen is based at Cologne racecourse, where a case of equine infectious anaemia (EIA) was discovered on Monday. Danedream, like all the other horses based in Cologne, was immediately placed in compulsory quarantine in order to ensure that the infection would be contained. No immunity for Arc de Triomphe aspirants.

Racehorses are fragile beings, they suffer leg injuries, they endure ill-health and, consequently, they miss races. The absences of Snow Fairy and Nathaniel from this afternoon’s race are lamentable, but they were unavoidable. That’s racing.

The defection of Danedream is much more frustrating. The German filly was at the peak of her health. Last year’s Arc winner, this year’s Arc favourite, she was primed for her bid to become the first horse to win back-to-back Arcs since Alleged in the 1970s, and her preparation could hardly have gone more smoothly. She won the King George and, after a short break, won the Grosser Preis Von Baden, the same race that she won last year as a prelude to her Arc victory. Then, just as she was coming nicely to the boil for today’s race, they turned off the gas.

The race is a lesser race for the absence of those three horses, no question, and it is a shame that the option to step Frankel up in trip and take him across the Channel never really gained traction among his connections, but the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is still the most coveted prize in European racing.

The prize fund tells you that it is the most lucrative, and history tells you that it is the most prestigious. From Ribot and Sea-Bird in the 1950s and 60s to Vaguely Noble and Mill Reef in the 60s and 70s, and all the way to Alleged and Dancing Brave and Montjeu and Sea The Stars, the Arc boasts a roll of honour like no other race in Europe.

Despite the defections, this afternoon’s race is still a top class renewal. Camelot’s presence provides ballast. A trip to Paris for the Montjeu colt looked long odds-against when he finished second in the St Leger at Doncaster last month, three-parts of an agonising length shy of becoming the first Triple Crown winner in over 40 years. But Aidan O’Brien took him home and freshened him up, and Team Ballydoyle decided that he should make the trip.

It is a brave decision. It is a high-stakes game. If Camelot finishes fifth or sixth, he will probably be thought of as just another high-class horse, the Guineas and Derby winner in a non-vintage year, exposed when he took on his elders in the Arc.

However, if he does happen to go and win this afternoon, if he beats his peers and the best middle-distance older horses in the business, then he is an Arc de Triomphe winner, a Derby winner and a Guineas winner. Klondike. His St Leger defeat will be easily forgotten, just a blip, an off-day. Even champions have them. The stakes are high, but the potential rewards are immense.

Orfevre adds an extra element to the international dimension. To France, Britain, Ireland and Czech Republic, he adds Japan. Orfevre achieved in Japan what Camelot just failed to achieve in Britain when he won all three legs of the Japanese Triple Crown last year. This year, he won the Group 1 Takarazuka Kinen at Hanshin before making the journey to France, and he was impressive in beating Meandre in his Arc trial, the Prix Foy, over today’s course and distance three weeks ago. That run should have put him spot on for today.

The Arc de Triomphe is top of the wish list for many Japanese owners and trainers, and they have gone mighty close to winning it in the recent past. El Condor Pasa was just caught by Montjeu in 1999, Deep Impact was beaten a neck and a half a length by Rail Link and Pride in 2006, Nakayama Festa was beaten a head by Workforce in 2010. They’re getting closer.

In Orfevre’s favour is the fact that he has had a prep run over the course, and that trainer Yasutoshi Ikee (son of Deep Impact’s trainer Yasuo) has secured the services of Christophe Soumillon, a top class rider in global terms, but dynamite in particular at Longchamp. Against him is the fact that he is drawn on the hare rail, stall 18 of 18.

The last eight renewals of the Arc have been won by a horse drawn eight or lower, and only twice in the last 19 renewals has a horse drawn higher than nine won it. It will be difficult for Orfevre to overcome that one but, given how the race may be run, his draw may not be an insurmountable obstacle.

The Aga Khan’s filly Shareta has been on the drift ever since the rains began to arrive in Paris. However, she is a top class filly, she is a dual Group 1 winner now and, while she wouldn’t want it bottomless, she can operate well on good to soft ground. Remember that she was second in the Arc last year as a 66/1 shot, when she was effectively deployed as a pacemaker for her stable companion Sarafina.

Prix Niel winner Saonois and Grand Prix de Deauville winner Masterstroke have the stats on their side (15 of the last 18 winners were three-year-olds), and Great Heavens – like fellow three-year-olds Saonois and Bayrir, supplemented to the race on Friday for a fee of €100,000 – would have a big chance if John Gosden’s rain dance continues to work.

Sea Moon is a bit of a forgotten horse, but he remains potentially top class and the ground has come in his favour, while St Nicholas Abbey comes into the race apparently in better form than he was in during the lead up to last year’s race, in which he finished fifth, after striking the front three furlongs out.

Joseph O’Brien rides St Nicholas Abbey, Frankie Dettori rides Camelot for Aidan O’Brien, Mickael Barzalona rides Masterstroke for Godolphin. It could be dramatic all right.

© The Sunday Times, 7th October 2012