Ah, Paris in the sunshine. More specifically, Paris in the sunshine at the beginning of October, with the prospect of many of the finest racehorses in Europe doing battle. Alas, there are no Japanese contenders for the big race itself this year, so the hordes from Japan will likely be considerably fewer, but that doesn’t remove any of the allure from the sheer number of Group races lined up for the weekend. Unfortunately for Mrs Potter, last week’s dreadful Newmarket meeting (sorry again, by the way) means that her penchant for fine French food, wine and fashion can no longer be supplemented (unlike Golden Horn), so Michelin stars will be replaced by the golden arches, Champagne will be replaced by cheap white wine topped up with sparkling water, and as for fashion – well, there’s a Primark in Paris now…
This weekend’s preview is just that – a preview. I will not be putting any points up, but hopefully you should have enough information to have an enjoyable and successful weekend. Although we normally cover the races in order, it makes sense to begin with the 94th running of what we’re really here for – the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Trêve. The wonderful, incomparable Trêve, who will be attempting to make history by winning a third Arc in succession. Unbeaten as a 2yo, a 3yo and thus far as a 5yo, the only blip in her remarkable career came when she suffered with some slight injuries during her 4yo campaign. She bounced back from those in some style when winning at Longchamp at odds of 11/1. She has been imperious this season, which is worrying for the rest of field as the whole year has been planned for this race. She was simply brilliant in the Prix Vermeille last month, a race she also won in 2013. She cantered through the race and pulled clear in the home straight like the rest of the field had been tipped by Derek Potter. It is impossible to tell if she actually had a hard race that day – although it didn’t look like it, although the jockey wasn’t hard on her, although Criquette Head-Maarek was delighted with it as merely a prep run, surely she can’t be that good without a big effort – can she? In a malapropism worth of the late great Yogi Berra, I once overheard a punter explaining a poor run from a favourite by stating that “horses are only human, aren’t they?” And that must surely be the hope of the connections of every other horse in the race – that Trêve proves herself to be human, has a bad day and doesn’t run like only she can on ground that is continuing to dry out even as I type. I prefer instead to think about the George Orwell quote from Animal Farm – all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. This is the race when Trêve can be more equal than every other mare in history, and her perfect draw in stall 8 only helps her. Allez Trêve.
Having said all that, it would be folly to write off so many of the other top notch contenders, not least the prime UK hope, Golden Horn. We’ve been here before with this horse. Before The Derby, his owner-breeder Anthony Oppenheimer stated that if you were to build a Derby horse, you would build one just like Golden Horn. Yet Mr Oppenheimer didn’t deem him worthy of an entry until the final supplementary stage. And so to October, when Mr Oppenheimer stated Golden Horn would easily beat Trêve on fast ground (seemingly disregarding the fact that the 2014 renewal was on ground fast enough for Coolmore to allow the mighty Gleneagles to run), yet only deemed him worthy of an entry at Thursday’s final supplementary stage. The bullishness of the Golden Horn camp, the ever-diplomatic John Gosden (apart from when he’s bemoaning a high draw) notwithstanding, is startling in itself, and the horse himself has proven to be a brilliant colt. But the question must remain – is this one big race too many? The Juddmonte International was a slog on sticky ground, the Irish Champion Stakes a race in which Golden Horn had to pull out all of the stops to first bump Free Eagle out of the equation before finishing ahead of Found, and of course many horses struggle after The Derby itself. Only Sea The Stars has come through such a tough season with such success, and he was a freak. Is Golden Horn worthy of a similar accolade? If he is, he will have deserved it.
Another classic season colt with an outstanding chance is New Bay, who spearheads Khalid Abdullah’s dreams of winning another Arc. New Bay has had a similarly successful season to Golden Horn, winning the French Derby and much like Trêve, very much whetted the appetite with an impressive turn of foot in his Arc trial, the Prix Niel. Indeed, it was almost as if he threw down the gauntlet to Trêve that day, and she picked it up and ran with it. However, as with the favourite, that day was run on very soft ground, and his previous victory at Deauville, when he recorded his career high RPR, was on heavy ground. His class is indisputable, and under the keen eye of the master trainer Andre Fabre – going for his 8th Arc – he is another who will have a great chance receiving weight from the older horses. How much it dries out could play a huge part in that chance, however.
We then come to a couple of older but still very classy horses, in the form of Free Eagle and Flintshire. Free Eagle was considered by many to be an unlucky loser in the Irish Champion Stakes, when Golden Horn veered into his path and cost him both his momentum and his chance. It is certainly debatable as to whether he would have beaten Golden Horn that day, but Free Eagle certainly travelled like the class act he is and also like the step up to 1m4f will suit him. It is difficult, however, for a very good 4yo to beat a very good 3yo at this time of year given the increasing maturity of the 3yos given the weight allowance previously discussed. So the doubts that must be attributed to Free Eagle’s chances can also be applied to last year’s runner-up, Flintshire. He is sure to love the prospect of drying ground, and his remarkable consistency must surely give him a place chance, but it’s hard to see him getting his nose in front on the line. Hard, but not impossible. Dolniya beat Flintshire on World Cup night in Dubai in March, but has not really improved since then, and her price probably reflects that.
A couple more of the 3yos I like at bigger prices are Found, for Aidan O’Brien, and Erupt for Francis Graffard. Found was the recipient of Free Eagle’s demise at Leopardstown, when she finished a good second to Golden Horn. 3yo fillies are always a danger in this race, due to extra sex allowance they get on top of the classic crop one, but Found’s wide draw coupled with doubts over her stamina will mean she’ll have to pull a lot out from under Ryan Moore to take the prize. Erupt has, in my opinion, gone under the radar by virtue of his below par showing in the Prix Niel. He evidently didn’t like the ground and was firmly put in his place by New Bay. However, his career RPR is only 2lbs shy of New Bay’s, and the Niel was also Erupt’s first race back after a 9 week break. The meeting at Longchamp in the second week of September is called Trials Day for a reason – horses aren’t required to win to have a chance on the day itself. Erupt will be fully entitled to strip fitter for that showing, and back on ground he will surely prefer he could run a massive race at an equally massive 33/1.
And so onto the other major races of the weekend, which we won’t cover in quite as much depth… We’ll begin with the four Group Two races that are the highlights of Saturday’s card. (To save myself some effort, every race is sponsored by Qatar)
1:30, Prix Chaudenay. This 1m7f test for 3yos has a warm favourite in Vazirabad, for Alain De Royer-Dupre racing for the Aga Khan. This colt is going for a four-timer here, and last time out over C&D he was a comfortable winner ahead of the reopposing Big Blue for Andre Fabre and Godolphin. Big Blue appears to favour some cut in the ground, and looking at my hotel window this morning, I don’t think he’s going to get any. Pilansberg was fourth of the six runners behind both Vazirabad and Big Blue, and looks hard-pressed to overturn the form with either of those. The Twisler represents British interests here, trained by Jane Chapple-Hyam. This colt seems to be coming into his own now, and posted a career-best performance last time out when winning a Listed race at Goodwood. If he continues that progression he can certainly go close here.
2:40, Prix de Royallieu. A race for 3yo+ fillies and mares over slightly longer than the Arc distance has a clear favourite in Candarliya. She’s a clear favourite because she finished a strong second to Trêve last time out (although not a close second!), and also because her career form figures read 32211112. In that time, she has gone from an RPR of 74 to her current rating of 114, never posting a worse rating than her previous race, and she looks tough to beat here. The only opponent the bookies seem to fear is Martlet, another progressive filly for John Gosden in the colours of Lady Rothschild. She was good winner at York during the Ebor Festival, with her 8/1 victory partly responsible for my waking up in my York hotel at 3am horizontal on top of the bed, fully clothed, having consumed too much Champagne with the Betfan boys. Those were the glory days before my Newmarket tips when I was still popular. She will have to improve again to beat Candarliya but there’s every chance we’ve not yet seen the best of the favourite yet either.
3:15, Prix Dollar. Because of the fact that geldings are not allowed to race in the Arc, Cirrus des Aigles has made this race his own in recent years, winning in 2010, 2012 and 2013, and also getting his head in front last year before being disqualified by the stewards. Having been off the course since injuring himself in May before coming in last in the Irish Champion Stakes, he might have been just short of his peak condition that day and back on his home surface he should run well again. He faces a huge threat in the form of Godolphin’s French Navy, who has won each of his last four starts. Although the last of those was in April, he defied similarly long absences to win both that race in April and in November 2014 on his first appearance after Derby day. He appears to handle all sorts of ground and is ultra consistent, but there is the question of whether he is quite the top class act that Cirrus certainly is. Fractional was awarded this race last year following Cirrus’ disqualification, and he will like the drying ground, but hasn’t really been at his best this season. Air Pilot runs for Ralph Beckett and is lightly raced, having only had 9 career starts as a 6yo. This suggests he is both talented and fragile, and if the talent overcomes that fragility today he could beat the two at the head of the market. Of the rest, Zipzip is an intriguing runner but may find this one step up too far.
4:15, Prix Wildenstein. Only six runners take to post in this 1m race, and the favourite is Miss France, for Andre Fabre and Mikael Barzalone. This filly has won three times in her career, the last of which was back in May 2014 when she took the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket in fine style. Interestingly, though, in her 9 races, she has gone off favourite or co-favourite in 4 of those and has yet to win any of them. She is clearly a class act, and the ground should suit her, but it might be worth shopping around for the best value in terms of her price.
1:00, Prix Marcel Boussac. At one point in the week, it looked like we might get the incredible prospect of Coolmore v Ballydoyle, as both were left in the race until the latest possible moment. It was never a realistic hope, however, and it is Ballydoyle who gets the nod from, erm, Ballydoyle. This Galileo filly has the burden of an extraordinary name, and whilst it’s fair to say she has not quite lived up to her billing, she has never disgraced herself on the track and is sure to be near the top of the market alongside the unbeaten Antonoe. This Juddmonte filly has won by a total of 9 lengths in her two starts to date, and last time out had one of today’s opponents back in fifth in the form of Ella Diva. Turret Rocks was a good winner at the St Leger festival for Jim Bolger, but she finished some distance behind Ballydoyle at the Curragh in August and was also behind Minding that day, another who was passed up at the final declaration stage – a sure sign of confidence from Aidan O’Brien that Ballydoyle is ready for this.
1:35, Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere. This race was won by Gleneagles last year before he was thrown out by the stewards, and naturally it is yet another Aidan O’Brien juvenile who heads the market here. Johannes Vermeer has had three starts to date, and has posted successive RPRs of 80, 89 and 111. On Irish Champions Weekend on his latest start, Johannes Vermeer was an excellent winner over Sanus Per Aquam, who franked that form at Newmarket last week when he won at the death. Taking those form lines literally (which, as discussed in prior blogs, is always dangerous) would make this a tough ask for Attendu, whilst Godolphin come at this heavy handed with Herald The Dawn for Jim Bolger, the unbeaten Ultra for Andre Fabre, and Cymric for John Gosden. Galileo Gold, for Hugo Palmer and Frankie Dettori, is another on an upward curve, with his best effort coming last time out at Goodwood, and with career form of 2111 he is yet another with a great chance in what looks another excellent renewal.
2:10, Prix de l’Opera. Covert Love and Jazzi Top head the market here, but at 4/1 the field this looks as open as any over the weekend. Covert Love won the Irish Oaks in fine style at the Curragh in July, before being chinned late on in the Yorkshire equivalent in August. Jazzi Top bounced back from two defeats in the English Oaks and the Nassau Stakes when taking the Prix de la Nonette in August, and has posted a better RPR in all of her career starts to date. Star Of Seville and Diamondsandrubies complete the classic season challenge from Britain and Ireland, and both of these fillies are brilliant on their day, but frustratingly poor when they’re off their game, which is why they’re both available at double figure prices. Of the older horses, I love We Are, an impressive winner in this race last season and should be primed to defend her crown after a steady comeback effort at Deauville in August. Her second to Trêve in May represents possibly the best form in the race and if she reproduces that she can keep the prize on French soil.
2:55, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. See above.
3:40, Prix de l’Abbaye. This race has been moved from being the traditional opener, although nobody seems to know why. At the time of writing it looks like the ground will dry too much for Mecca’s Angel to take her chance, which is disappointing but unsurprising. Lots of old favourites are, as ever, back for this including Muthmir, Maarek, Goldream, the defending champion Move In Time, Sole Power, Take Cover – all will have a chance but just how big a chance will depend very much on how much it dries out. However, at the bottom of the weights is a 2yo who has yet to finish out of the first two in his career. Naturally the stats are against him – no 2yo has won this since 1978, but in receipt of at least 18lbs from every other horse in the race he surely must be considered at the prices, and since his debut only Shalaa has beaten him.
4:50, Prix de la Foret. Limato has continued to improve and was a striking winner at the St Leger festival on ground many feared would be unsuitable, and a repeat of that showing would make him very hard to beat. With the booking of Ryan Moore being another factor in his favour, he is sure to go off a short price, which may give us value elsewhere. Make Believe was beaten by 13 lengths in the St James’ Palace at Royal Ascot, but that was on rattling fast ground that the winner Gleneagles loved. It won’t be rattling fast however much sunshine there is at the moment, and this French Guineas winner should have no problems dropping back down to 7f. Running for the combination of Andre Fabre and Olivier Peslier, the home challenge should be taken very seriously indeed and this colt spearheads it. Toormore seems to be a lot more comfortable over 7f than a mile and so this race looks perfect for him, whilst Custom Cut was as tough as ever when pushing Time Test all the way at Newmarket last week. The globetrotting Gordon Lord Byron is often there or thereabouts but more recently has become a good yardstick to measure how good the winner is rather than how good he is. G Force and particularly Taniyar also need to be taken seriously.
5:20, Prix du Cadran. The final Group 1 race on the card and if I’ve got any money left by this stage it will probably go on Clondaw Warrior for Willie Mullins and Ryan Moore. They went too quickly over a much shorter distance in the Ebor for him, but back over a longer trip last time at Doncaster he was much more comfortable and the 2m4f should pose no problems for him. Litigant was a fine winner of the Ebor, tipped at 50/1 by our very own Gambling Don, but I’m wary of the bounce factor with this coming just 7 weeks after that race considering his 16 months off the track previously. Last year’s runner-up Bathyron should go well again, whilst Walzertakt and Fun Mac certainly warrant respect. Often this race comes down to tactics, and Ryan Moore should get it right on a genuine stayer.