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Ace Impact

Ace Impact was top of the bill in last Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.  Before the race, the French colt had run five times and he had won five times, he had won the Prix du Jockey Club (the French Derby) by three and a half lengths, and he had followed up in the Prix Guillaume d’Ornano, cosily.  

They sent the Cracksman colt off as favourite for Sunday’s race, effectively Europe’s all-aged middle-distance championship decider for thoroughbred horses, and he won as a favourite should win: emphatically and decisively, in a fast time, with a searing turn of foot and leaving no room for debate about whether or not the best horse had won.

In so doing, Jean-Claude Rouget’s horse evoked memories of, and comparisons with, the brilliant Dancing Brave, who showed a similarly potent turn of foot to win the 1986 Arc de Triomphe, the race that is generally regarded as the strongest Arc ever run.

The racing world is Ace Impact’s oyster now.  He can go wherever he wants.  He holds an entry in the Champion Stakes at Ascot on 21st October, or, alternatively, he could go to Santa Anita in early November for the Breeders’ Cup Turf.  He would be a warm favourite for either race. 

Looking further ahead, as long as he remains healthy and well, he could be unbeatable next season as a four-year-old.  He could start off his season in France, the Prix d’Ispahan and/or the Prix Ganay would be a logical step into the season.  After that, he could go where he wanted to go.  The Coronation Cup at Epsom in early June, the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot in mid-June, the Eclipse or the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud in early July, the King George in late July, the Juddmonte International in August, the Irish Champion Stakes in September.  They are all legitimate options.  His season culminating, of course, in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe again, a bid to emulate Enable and Treve and Alleged and Ribot by winning back-to-back renewals of the race.  And no horse has ever won three Arcs.  The lure of history is strong.

The issue with all of this is that the lure of the breeding shed is stronger.  Ace Impact is obviously a hugely valuable stallion prospect now.  There is the opportunity cost of another season spent racing.  And what if he didn’t morph into the four-year-old racehorse that, at this stage, given the opportunity, he looks certain to become? 

The Chehboub family’s Gousserie Racing owns Ace Impact in partnership with Serge Stempniak, and we know that Ace Impact will stand at the Chehboub family’s Haras de Beaumont when he does retire from racing.  The hope is that that will be later rather than sooner, but quotes from Kamel Chehboub and his daughter Pauline in the immediate aftermath of the Arc told you that their colt’s stallion career was very much at the forefront of their collective minds.

It’s flat racing, you expect it.  You know that the probability is high that the best three-year-old colts will depart the racing scene every year.  That is a reality of commercial life, but it doesn’t mean that the sport isn’t poorer for it.

Racehorses are barely beyond adolescence at three.  It is not without consideration that, when three-year-olds race against older horses, they receive a weight allowance from their elders in order to compensate for their lack of maturity.  In Sunday’s Arc, for example, Ace Impact carried 8st 13lb.  The runner-up, the four-year-old Westover, carried 9st 5lb.

When a top-class three-year-old departs the racing scene, there is always a sense of loss.  Fleet-footed fleeting friends.  We are only getting to know them properly when they leave us.  What might have been.  What he or she could have achieved.  It would be like David Clifford retiring from football after his second minor title.  Like Lionel Messi giving up after winning his first Ballon d’Or.  

Frankel raced as a four-year-old, but he was more the exception than the rule, and he was never going to race on at five.  And as a four-year-old, he added five more Group 1 races to his cv, finished off his perfect racing career, 14 for 14, and is now a superstar stallion.  When Sea The Stars won the Arc in 2009, the hope was that he would go to the Breeders’ Cup, have his swansong there.  Top class stallion though he is now, there was never even a sliver of hope that he would race on at four.  In the end, he didn’t race again after the Arc.

Ace Impact has raced just six times in his life.  He didn’t make his racecourse debut until January this year.  There is a chance that he hasn’t reached his pinnacle yet.  He has so much more left to give to the sport as a racehorse, as a competitor.  He would be a serious attraction next year if he raced on as a four-year-old.  He would be a big asset for flat racing. 

National Hunt racing is different.  There is no breeding shed lure for geldings, so old friends come back every autumn and compete against each other on the racecourse.  We are on the cusp of the new National Hunt season, and the rumblings are gathering momentum.  Constitution Hill staying over hurdles, Marine Nationale going chasing, El Fabiolo stepping into open company, Galopin Des Champs back on the Gold Cup trail.  Whets the appetite.

If old friends returned every year in flat racing, like they do in National Hunt racing, you could have had a Juddmonte International or an Irish Champion Stakes in 2011 or 2012 that had Cirrus Des Aigles, St Nicholas Abbey, New Approach, Snow Fairy, So You Think, The Fugue, Camelot, Nathaniel, Dancing Rain, Al Kazeem, Sea The Stars and Frankel in the line-up, and that is a race that would have been at the top of any bill.

© The Sunday Times, 8th October 2023