Donn's Articles » Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe

Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe

Today’s renewal of the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is just like every other recent renewal in just about every way.  It is still the middle-distance all-aged championship race of Europe, the most valuable horse race on the continent.  It is still the race into which the European Pattern funnels, and it is the race that – more than any other horse race in the world – the Japanese are desperate to win.

One key difference this year: the race is at Chantilly, not at Longchamp.

The ongoing re-development of Longchamp racecourse means that the Arc moves 50 kilometres north from the Bois de Boulogne today, leaving its natural home for the first time since the war years.

Chantilly is not dissimilar to Longchamp in terms of configuration.  Both tracks are right-handed, both relatively flat, both fairly fast.  The Racing Post standard time for a mile and a half at Chantilly is 2mins 29secs, for a mile and a half at Longchamp it is 2mins 30.5secs.  There is not much in it.

An inside draw has always been important in the Arc at Longchamp, your chance of winning an Arc at Longchamp moves in indirect proportion to the magnitude of your stall number.  And common consensus is that an inside draw is going to be important at Chantilly today too, but that may not be the case.

The Prix du Jockey Club, the French Derby, is the biggest race on Chantilly’s calendar, and we know that an inside draw in the Prix du Jockey Club is an advantage. But the Prix du Jockey Club has been run over 10 and a half furlongs for the last 11 years.  The Arc is run over 12.

That is significant because there is a left-handed kink about a furlong after the 12-furlong start at Chantilly before you straighten up and get ready to turn to your right.  There is no left-handed kink after the 10-and-a-half-furlong start.  That may be why, statistically, a low draw is an advantage over 10 and a half furlongs at Chantilly, but it does not appear to be an advantage over 12.  Indeed, it may even be a slight disadvantage.  So if you fancy Order Of St George or Left Hand or Makahiki or Found, do not be dissuaded by the wide draw, even if the market has been.

There are absentees.  Minding is not there, Midterm is not there, and Prix de Diane winner La Cressonniere was ruled out during the week.  And while there was speculation, her withdrawal did not persuade her trainer Jean-Claude Rouget to change plans with Almanzor, to re-route the Irish Champion Stakes hero from the Champion Stakes at Ascot in two weeks’ time. 

Even so, the 2016 renewal is a fascinating renewal.  The British and Irish challenge is strong, and Postponed deserves his place at the helm. 

Roger Varian’s horse has not been beaten since he finished third behind Snow Sky and Eagle Top in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2015.  Since then, he has won a King George, a Dubai Sheema Classic and a Coronation Cup, and last month he went to York and beat this year’s King George winner Highland Reel in the Juddmonte International.  He is a worthy favourite.

Aidan O’Brien is triple-handed.  Found could only finish ninth in the Arc last year, but she had a troubled passage, so you can easily ignore that run.  Better to judge her on her defeat of last year’s Arc hero Golden Horn in the Breeders’ Cup Turf subsequently, or on her run in the Irish Champion Stakes three weeks ago, when she ran Almanzor to three parts of a length.  Her season has been gearing up to this.

Order Of St George was disappointing in the Irish St Leger – it is always disappointing when a 1/7 shot gets beaten – but he is a top class stayer who could have the pace for a mile and a half.  Also, the fact that Aidan O’Brien is allowing him take his chance, and that Frankie Dettori has been booked, is significant.

Highland Reel completes the Ballydoyle trio.  Highland Reel is the King George winner, and the better the ground, the better his chance.

Harzand completes the Irish quartet.  The Dermot Weld-trained colt was well beaten in the Irish Champion Stakes three weeks ago, but there were excuses for that defeat.  He was brilliant in winning the Epsom Derby under Pat Smullen in June, and three of the last six Derby winners to run in the Arc have won it.

The home team is strong.  New Bay was third in the Arc last year and, a fine fourth in the Irish Champion Stakes three weeks ago, you can be sure that he will have been primed for today by Andre Fabre, who has trained the winner of the Arc seven times, more times than any other trainer in the history of the race.

Left Hand was an easy winner of the Prix Vermeille three weeks ago, a race that has produced the Arc winner four times in the last 10 years.  Carlos Laffon-Parias’ filly is the only three-year-old filly in the race, and three-year-old fillies receive 11lb from the older colts.  It is not a coincidence that a three-year-old filly has won the race three times in the last 10 years from just 17 representatives.

There is a truly international feel to the race too, with Savoir Vivre representing Germany and Makahiki representing Japan.  The race has come together nicely, with some of the top middle-distance turf horses in the world set to line up against each other. 

Just like just about every other recent renewal then.


© The Sunday Times, 2nd October 2016