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By Anil Mukhi | 30 Sep 2016 |

Early October in Paris each year means "Arc" time. The race, named after one of the French capital's famed monuments – the imposing Arc de Triomphe that stands watch over the Champs Elysees – has a couple of interesting features this year.

For one, it will be run at Chantilly, 65 kms. north of Paris, instead of at its customary home of Longchamp in the leafy suburbs of the Bois de Boulogne. This is because the latter track is in the throes of a major redevelopment and will not be able to host a horse race till August of next year. The other is that it will be the last "Arc" run under the present weight-for-age scale, which requires older horses to concede 3.5 kgs. to three-year-olds. The administration has noted that the latter group has enjoyed a remarkable run, winning 15 of the last 20 renewals, and that it is time to redress the balance. From next year, that difference will be whittled down to 3 kgs. or even 2.5 kgs. This may seem to be a small difference but could tilt the balance in a close finish. Arguably Desert God could have been beaten by Quasar in March and by Alaindair in September had the horses carried weights in consonance with the international scale – although of course the champion might have pulled out more….

The 95th Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (2400 m.) is down for decision on Sunday, October 2nd at 4:05 p.m. local (7:35 p.m. in India). This year's renewal of the world's finest weight-for-age race has drawn 16 of the best middle distance Thoroughbreds in the world, vying for a portion of the €5,000,000 prize (about Rs.37.5 crores), with the winner set to receive €2,857,000. No adverse weather is expected and it should be sunny and around 18 degrees.

One of the most consistent top level performers in recent times is the British-trained Postponed (by Dubawi), who rightly heads the betting market as favourite. However, whether 7 to 4 represent value in such a competitive field is a moot point. The five-year-old hasn't been defeated since moving to the yard of trainer Roger Varian last year, and will be ridden by Andrea Atzeni, his regular pilot. There is no reason to oppose him and – barring a troubled passage – he ought to be the one that arrives at the post in time to be adorned by the winner's sash.

Having been conspicuous by their absence last year, the Japanese field yet another live hope in the 5 to 1 Makahiki (by Deep Impact). Winner over course and distance in his first European essay, the Yasuo Tomomichi-trained three-year-old had previously annexed the Japanese Derby in Tokyo in May. He will be ridden by Christophe-Patrice Lemaire, who has really gone places after honing his art in India during the 2001-2002 season when he rode 33 winners from 131 mounts, including The Pelican in the Indian Turf Invitation Cup at Bangalore. Who knows, maybe this is the year when Japanese dreams become reality?

In an ordinary year, the winner of the Investec Epsom Derby and the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby would have been a red hot choice in the "Arc". However a single bad run on the part of Harzand (by Sea The Stars) last time out – for which he had a valid excuse, having been struck into, means he is easy to back at sevens. With deep reserves of stamina and a smart rider (Pat Smullen) on his back, he might try and "steal" the race on the Aga Khan's homebred to give trainer Dermot Weld what would be a richly-deserved maiden victory in this prestigious event.

"I was very satisfied with his work this morning and the main thing is that he would like some rain at Chantilly, but it doesn't look like they’re going to get much there this week," said Weld. "The plan is to run and hopefully it will be nice safe ground but obviously he’s at his best when there’s a bit of cut in the ground."

Any schooler of Thoroughbreds who sends out an incredible seven winners of the "Arc" has to be regarded as a genius. That description snugly fits lawyer-turned-trainer Andre Fabre whose scroll of honour consists of wins in the race with Trempolino (1987), Subotica (1992), Carnegie (1994), Peintre Celebre (1997), Sagamix (1998), Hurricane Run (2005) and Rail Link (2006). The last-named sported the famed green, white and pink silks of the all-powerful Juddmonte operation as does Fabre's latest candidate for honours, the lightly-raced New Bay (by Dubawi). Making only his eleventh career start, he has previous "Arc" experience, having been third to Golden Horn last year. Vincent Cheminaud is at the controls on the generously-priced four-year-old, currently trading at 12 to 1. 

This has been a banner year for Ireland's Aidan O'Brien and an "Arc" victory in 2016 would be the icing on the cake. He is triple-handed in his attempt to add a second win to his solitary success in the race that came in 2007 by courtesy of Dylan Thomas. Found (by Galileo) has found one too good on each of her last five appearances and despite the presence in the saddle of Ryan Moore, looks up against it, though her class is undeniable and one must respect the talent of the connections.

With the withdrawal earlier in the week of Fascinating Rock, who heads to an alternative assignment, Frankie Dettori found himself without a mount. Not for long, though, as Aidan O'Brien quickly snapped up the Italian's  services for his Ascot Gold Cup winner Order Of St. George (by Galileo), who has a pretty good chance of at least figuring on the board. Lest anyone think that a runner effective at 4000 m. cannot be as good over 2400 m., one can cite the example of the Wildenstein runner Westerner, runner-up in both the Ascot Gold Cup and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe a dozen or so years ago.

The globe-trotting Highland Reel (also by Galileo) is at an astonishing 25 to 1 for a runner that ran within a length and a half of the favourite, Postponed, as recently as August. The ever-reliable Seamie Heffernan, whose record shows 8 victories in India in addition to hundreds elsewhere, is slated to be aboard. 

There are nine other runners. Given that it was only four years ago that a 33 to 1 shot – the Wertheimer-owned Solemia – shocked the turf world in this race, one cannot totally rule out any of the others. Perhaps the same connections' Left Hand (by Dubawi) could give a 20 to 1 slap to her rivals? Yet one thinks not and at the time of writing the short list must necessarily include Postponed, New Bay, Makahiki and Harzand.