Donn's Articles » Enable and the Arc

When Enable lines up for the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Chantilly next Sunday, she will line up as the shortest-priced favourite for the race since Michael Kinane guided Sea The Stars to victory in 2009.

The Arc matters these days.  The Arc has always mattered, ever since its inaugural running almost a hundred years ago, framed, as it was then, to serve as a shop window for French racing and breeding. 

The race has been attracting les étrangers for decades – Vincent O’Brien won it for the first time with Ballymoss in 1958 – but it has taken on a heightened Europe-wide significance in recent years, catalysed by Qatar’s sponsorship in 2008, which saw prize money for the race increased from €2 million to €4 million.  They will race for €5 million next Sunday, it is the richest horse race run on turf anywhere in the world these days and it is the championship middle-distance race of Europe.

It is correct that Enable is a short-priced favourite.  The John Gosden-trained filly has won the Cheshire Oaks and the Epsom Oaks and the Irish Oaks and the Yorkshire Oaks this season, and at the end of July she went to Ascot and beat the older colts and horses in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

She has won her last four races by an aggregate of 20 lengths, she has won on easy ground and on fast ground, going left-handed and going right-handed, up and down Epsom’s hills and flat out on the plains of The Curragh and on the Knavesmire.  She is as versatile as she is talented.  Not only is she the stand-out middle-distance three-year-old filly in Europe of 2017 so far, she is the stand-out middle distance horse, of any age, of either gender.  The Arc could be an autumn breeze.

Moreover, Khalid Abdullah’s filly will receive a 6lb age allowance and a 4lb sex allowance on Sunday.  She will carry 4lb less than the three-year-old colts and she will carry 10lb less than the older colts and horses.  The stats say that that is overly generous.  Three-year-olds have won 17 of the last 23 renewals of the Arc, fillies have won six of the last nine, and three-year-old fillies have won three of those, from minimal representation. 

There are potential negatives however.  In the back of your mind is the fact that she has had a long season thus far.  She made her seasonal debut at Newbury in the middle of April when, sent off as third favourite and spurned by Frankie Dettori in favour of her stable companion Shutter Speed, she duly finished third, behind said stable companion.

The Nathaniel filly has raced five times since, she will be racing for the seventh time this season on Sunday.  That is a lot of racing in a relatively short space of time for an adolescent filly.  When Sea The Stars went into the Arc as odds-on favourite in 2009, we worried about the long season that he had had, one race every month, and we marvelled at the mastery of John Oxx, who harnessed the colt’s energy and produced him at concert pitch once again for his Longchamp crescendo.

John Gosden is a similarly masterful trainer, Enable will not lack for assistance from her corner, but it is still a potential concern.

Allied to that is the fact that, while three-year-old fillies as a collective have an enviable record in the Arc, three-year-old fillies trained in Britain and Ireland do not.  For British and Irish-trained three-year-old fillies, the Arc really does not come into view as an option until deep into the season.  There are more pressing targets during the summer, Classics and the like, for which the high-class fillies are generally trained to peak.  The Arc de Triomphe is rarely a target from early. 

The Arc road is strewn with valiant attempts by top class British and Irish-trained three-year-old fillies which came up short.  Sun Princess was beaten by All Along in the Arc in 1983, User Friendly was beaten by Subotica in 1992, Ouija Board could only finish third in 2004, Tapestry and Taghrooda were both beaten by Treve in 2014.  Even Found, who went back and won the Arc last year as a four-year-old, could only finish ninth when she ran in the race as a three-year-old in 2015, albeit having had to endure a troubled run through the race. 

The other consideration is the fact that Enable’s potential opposition on Sunday looks more formidable now than it did two weeks ago.  Ulysses has now been confirmed by Sir Michael Stoute as an intended runner.  The Galileo colt’s end-of-season objective is the Breeders’ Cup Turf, but there are five weeks between the Arc and the Breeders’ Cup this year, and that is a sufficient gap to allow him tackle both races.

Of course, Enable already has a verdict over Ulysses on her CV, she beat him by four and a half lengths in the King George at Ascot in July.  However, the ground was soft that day, a probable positive for Enable, a probable negative for Ulysses, at least over a mile and a half.  The ground may be better at Chantilly next week.  Also, Ulysses was conceding a stone to Enable that day.  On Sunday he will concede just 10lb.  That 4lb turnaround should allow him close the gap at least a little.

There is the home team, headed by Zarak and Brametot, and the Japanese, Satono Diamond, who will have to bounce back from a disappointing run in the Prix Foy, and the German-trained Dschingis Secret, the Prix Foy winner, probably under-rated, whose chance would be further enhanced by rain.  

There is the fact that the greatest threat to Enable could be lurking next door in the form of her stable companion Cracksman, impressive Great Voltigeur winner, impressive Prix Niel winner, if connections allow him take his chance. 

And there is the Ballydoyle Arc team, taking shape now.  Aidan O’Brien had that incredible 1-2-3 in the race last year, Found, Highland Reel, Order Of St George, the first time it was run at Chantilly.  He knows what is required.

Highland Reel and Order Of St George are probable runners again, last Saturday’s St Leger winner Capri is a possible, and Aidan O’Brien added the intriguing possibility during the week that dual Guineas winner Winter could step up in trip to contest the Arc.

It may not be an autumn breeze after all.

© The Sunday Times, 24th September 2017