Donn's Articles » Christophe Soumillon and Tarnawa

Christophe Soumillon and Tarnawa

It’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe week, but you don’t stop.  Christophe Soumillon was at Newmarket last Saturday, where he rode Perfect Power for Richard Fahey to win the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes.  Then it was back to Chantilly on Wednesday, Fontainebleau on Thursday, Saint-Cloud on Friday, at least one winner every day.  Longchamp yesterday.

Longchamp again today, and Tarnawa in the Arc.

It is 18 years since Soumillon first won the Arc de Triomphe on Dalakhani.  The Aga Khan’s colt was drawn widest of all in 2003, 13 of 13, and Soumillon rode him patiently, dropped him back in the field early on and delivered him late.

Zarkava was drawn on the inside in 2008, stall one of 16, but she stumbled a little on leaving the stalls and she was well back in the field early on.  Still with more rivals in front of her than behind her when they straightened up for home, Soumillon charted a path confidently through traffic on the Alain de Royer-Dupre-trained filly and delivered her to hit the front just inside the furlong marker.

“Zarkava was a special filly,” recalls the rider now.  “Soft ground wasn’t ideal for her, but she handled it in the Arc.  She was a completely different filly to Tarnawa, but they both have that turn of foot and they both have that fighting spirit.  I am excited about riding Tarnawa on Sunday.”

This afternoon’s Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is the pinnacle, probably the most important all-aged middle-distance horse race in the world, worth over €3 million to the winner.  Tarnawa is favourite, and she is a deserving favourite.

The Shamardal mare wasn’t entered in the Arc last year so, instead, after winning the Prix Vermeille over the Arc course and distance, she ran in the Prix de l’Opera on this day in 2020 over 10 furlongs, probably a trip that is shorter than optimal for her, and she stayed on strongly to win by a short neck.  She rounded off last season by winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland in November and, when it was announced that she would remain in training this term as a five-year-old, you knew that that was with the primary objective of going back to Longchamp on the first Sunday in October and winning the Arc.

Dermot Weld said all year that her training would be geared towards the end of the season and, sure enough, we didn’t see her in the spring or the early summer.  She eschewed several lucrative and eminently attainable early-season prizes, not returning to the track until August, when she went to Leopardstown and won the Ballyroan Stakes doing handsprings.

She has run just twice this season.  She has been building up to today, she goes to Longchamp fresher than most of her rivals, and you can be sure that Dermot Weld will have her at concert pitch.

Christophe Soumillon rode Tarnawa for the first time in the Prix Vermeille at Longchamp last year, when she was impressive in beating Arc hope Raabihah.  And he rode her again in the Prix de l’Opera three weeks later, on this day last year, when he smuggled her expertly into the race and drove her home, getting up to beat Alpine Star by a short neck.

“Our biggest worry at Longchamp last year was in front of the gates,” says the rider.  “She was on her last call.  In France, you get called to the stalls three times, and if you don’t go in, you are a non-runner.  She went in on her last call.”

Once she is racing though, Tarnawa oozes class.

“She was very good in the Vermeille.  She did it easily.  In the Opera, she didn’t jump (from the stalls) well and we were a little far back.  I wasn’t behind a horse who could take me into the race, so I had to take her out early, in the false straight.  She picked up well, and she showed a second turn of foot in the home straight.”

Soumillon was due to ride Tarnawa in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland last November, but a positive test for Covid-19 meant that he had to step aside.  Colin Keane deputised, and he was superb on the Dermot Weld-trained mare, delivering her with a perfectly-timed run to get up and beat Magical by a length.  Keane also rode the Aga Khan’s mare to win the Ballyroan Stakes at Leopardstown on her debut this season, and when she went down narrowly to St Mark’s Basilica in the Irish Champion Stakes last time.  It’s tough on Colin Keane, but Soumillon is the Aga Khan’s retained rider in France.

“I know that it’s disappointing for Colin not to ride her, he rode her in the Breeders’ Cup, where I was disappointed not to ride her.  I know how it feels.  And I have missed out on other big rides and big wins in the past.  Life doesn’t stop.  The most important thing is that we are healthy and well.  And we are all part of a team.”

It is 13 years since Soumillon last won the Arc.  He has gone close in the intervening years, most notably on the Yasutoshi Ikee-trained Orfevre in 2012, when he went clear inside the final furlong before just getting caught by Solemia.  Both his Arc wins have been gained in the famous green and red silks of HH the Aga Khan, the silks that he will wear again on Tarnawa today.

Trainer Dermot Weld has never won the Arc.  It is one of the few omissions from his glittering global CV.  The closest he came was in 2003, when Vinnie Roe finished fifth behind Soumillon and Dalakhani.

“I don’t trust bad luck,” says Soumillon.  “Dermot Weld is a world class trainer, so we know that Tarnawa will be in one hundred per cent condition.  I believe that the day you have the right horse for the race is the day that you will win it.”

That could be today.

© The Sunday Times, 3rd October 2021