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Ruler Of The World

Things looked a little grim for Ruler Of The World when he finished a sorry-for-himself fifth behind Trading Leather in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at The Curragh at the end of June. The Epsom Derby winner he may have been, but in this game perception is reality, and your latest performance feeds the perception more than any other.

Aidan O’Brien took the Galileo colt home and re-grouped, planned to give him some time off and bring him back for an autumn campaign that might lead, if things worked out, to today’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

As it happens, things worked out. Under care and tuition from O’Brien and Team Balldoyle, Ruler Of The World was given the time that he needed, and was tuned for his return to the racetrack in the Prix Niel at Longchamp three weeks ago. He didn’t win the Prix Niel, but he ran a huge race to go down by the narrowest margin, and that was crucial. Epsom hero or not, after the Irish Derby he had to earn his place in the line-up for the Arc all over again.

He travelled well around the inside rail in the Prix Niel, but he got stuck a little in traffic when the pace quickened at the top of the home straight. When he saw daylight and got rolling, however, he finished best of all, and just went down by the bob of a head to the Japanese horse Kizuna.

If the Ballydoyle colt’s head had been down instead of up when they hit the line, he probably would have been announced as the winner, but that didn’t really matter in the context of today’s race. The most important thing was that he put up a performance that would justify his inclusion in today’s line-up, which he did, quite emphatically.

He has lots in his favour today. For starters, he is a three-year-old, and three-year-olds have a phenomenal record in the Arc. The 8lb that the youngsters receive from their elders over a mile and a half at this time of year is massive, and has undoubtedly contributed to the fact that the Classic generation has won 15 of the last 20 renewals of the race, and eight of the last 10. That is a startlingly strong statistic in a race that is billed as the all-aged middle-distance championship race of Europe.

As things worked out, Ruler Of The World has also enjoyed the ideal preparation for the race. It may not have been the intention to leave him off the track between the Irish Derby and the Prix Niel, but it may have been. In a sense, it doesn’t really matter if it was the original intention or if circumstances dictated, but history tells you that, if you are going to win the Arc, you rest in July and August. Indeed, Andre Fabre, the man who has saddled more Arc winners than any other trainer in the history of the race, once said that you cannot win the King George at Ascot in July and then go on to win the Arc just over two months later. You simply cannot have a horse at its peak for both races.

Epsom Derby winners have a good recent record in the Arc, with two winners from just three attempts in the last four years. That augurs well for Ruler Of The World. He stays the trip well, but he is not devoid of tactical pace, and he will love the rain-softened ground.

It goes without saying that Ruler Of The World has one of the best trainers in the world in his corner and one of the best riders in the world on his back. Interestingly, Ryan Moore has now ridden the horse in the majority of his five races, he won the Derby on him and he rode him to that narrow defeat in the Prix Niel over today’s course and distance. He knows the horse very well.

The final piece of the jigsaw may have fallen into place on Friday morning when Ruler Of The World drew stall six. Stall six is just about perfect. You certainly don’t want to be drawn too wide (the last nine Arc winners were all drawn eight or lower), but you would prefer not to be flush to the inside rail either (seven of those nine were drawn four or higher). From stall six, Ryan Moore has options. Remarkably, four of the last eight winners emerged from that stall.

Of course, the basic question is, is he good enough to win an Arc? There is no point in having all the elements in your favour if your basic ability falls short.

But there is every chance that Ruler Of The World is good enough. It is reasonable to expect that he will have improved from the Derby, just his third race ever. He has raced just five times in his life, he still has masses of scope to progress further, and his run in the Prix Niel should have brought him forward again.

If he is going to win the Arc, he is probably going to have to put up a career-best effort, but that is probably true for every horse in the race, or at least for every three-year-old.

This is a deep Arc. Last year’s unlucky runner-up Orfevre sets a high standard, and he looked to be back to his best when he danced in in the Prix Foy on trials day three weeks ago. Treve is one of the most exciting three-year-old fillies in training, Kizuna is the Japanese Derby winner who has been trained to peak today, and the other Ballydoyle representative, St Leger hero Leading Light, is a tough performer who could have a fairly free run of things up front.

It is an intriguing contest; fascinating to see how things will work out.

© The Sunday Times, 6th October 2013