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By ANIL MUKHI | 05 Oct 2018 |


For fans of the Turf, the first Sunday in October each year means that it is time to make a beeline for the magnificent Longchamp racecourse located in the leafy Parisian suburb of the Bois de Boulogne to witness the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. The last two years were an exception to this rule as the track in question was undergoing a $145 million facelift and hence the race was run at Chantilly instead. Now action returns to its rightful home, except that the track has been renamed ParisLongchamp for reasons that are a trifle obscure. After all, the international turf is not quite so overflowing with Longchamp racecourses that one needs to make a distinction!

While visitors are sure to marvel at the daring edifice that has been constructed, not all are happy. British trainer John Gosden – who fields the hot favourite (and last year’s winner) Enable – has expressed concerns about the state of the surface, with the turf being somewhat loose. Others have countered this assertion by stating that the conditions are the same for all. That might be true but can never be the reason for a sub-optimal setting, assuming that the ground is not at its best. Watering has been resorted to as no serious rain is expected, though there could be scattered showers.

The Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, to be run over 2400 m. and set for decision at 4:05 p.m. local time (7:35 p.m. in India) is the centrepiece of a magnificent programme this Sunday, October 7th 2018, during which half a dozen Group 1 events will be run. This €5,000,000 race (Rs.42.5 crore) is of course the most prestigious – and richest – clash of the leading members of the classic generation with their elders in Europe, and in its 96 previous runnings has inevitably drawn champions and breed-shapers.

This year, 19 runners are expected to line up at the starting gate, which includes the supplementary entrant Sea Of Class, whose connections have coughed up €120,000 (Rs.1 crore) for the privilege. Apart from the usual mix of British-, French- and Irish-breds is a solitary Japanese entry, Clincher, who lacks the profile of his predecessors and seems unlikely to “trouble the scorer”, to borrow a cricketing euphemism. Champion rider Yutaka Take has been talking up his mount’s chances but the probability is that he may find his long journey to have been of no avail.

Before dissecting the runners, one needs to mention that six of the last seven renewals have fallen to females, recalling those heady days of four or five decades ago when Alleged was the only male to get his head in front in an era dominated by Ivanjica, Three Troikas, Detroit, Gold River, Akiyda and All Along. Likewise so far Golden Horn has been the only one of his sex to have found the winner’s circle in the sequence of Danedream, Solemia, Treve (twice), Found and Enable that stretches back to 2011.

After being favourably drawn – she will start from gate # 6 with Frankie Dettori up – Enable (by Nathaniel) has contracted in price from 5 to 4 down to evens. The 2017 “Arc” heroine, who is a homebred for Juddmonte Farms, has unfortunately been seen only once in 2018 because of knee problems. That appearance came when she ran out a fluent winner of the Gr.3 September Stakes on the All Weather at Kempton Park last month, beating the high class Crystal Ocean, and taking her record to 8 wins worth £3,849,077, from 9 starts,.

She is in top form, hails from a yard that is known to time the task of getting its inmates to peak perfection with pinpoint accuracy, and has done it all before. Still, at evens she is barely value-for-money to give Gosden his third win in four years; she would also give the effervescent Dettori what would be a record-breaking sixth win in this race. Finally, this would be a 16th win for Great Britain. Not surprisingly the second choice in the wagering, at 7 to 2, is also a filly. This is the much improved three-year-old Sea Of Class (by Sea The Stars, the 2009 winner of the “Arc”), who had to be supplemented by Newmarket trainer William Haggas as mentioned above. Haggas has been enjoying a grand season but must surely have been bitterly disappointed when his ward was drawn wide in 15. The in-form rider James Doyle, who has had to strive hard to make the allotted 55.0 kg. weight, will have his work cut out to save ground. Incidentally the filly races for the same family that campaigned Urban Sea, the 1993 “Arc” winner, and her son, Sea The Stars.

Third choice in the betting at 7 to 1 is Andre Fabre’s Waldgeist (by Galileo), who races for German connections in the silks of Gestut Ammerland & Newsells Park Stud. Given that M. Fabre is the most successful trainer of Arc winners ever – with seven previous scalps – the enthusiasm for this runner can be readily appreciated. His rider Pierre-Charles Boudot is very bullish as well. The chestnut four-year-old comes into the race off four consecutive Group wins over 2400 m. in 2018, including two over course and distance. Overall he has won 6 of his 13 starts, running up his bankroll to €1,043,227. Given his trouble-free preparation, he would make for an excellent each-way prospect, even from his no. 13 draw.

Fabre has a multi-pronged attack as he sends out a couple of Godolphin runners as well. Sporting unusual white markings, Talismanic (by Medaglia D’Oro) is easy to spot in a race. He annexed the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Del Mar last November under Mickael Barzalona and the same rider will be astride the 33 to 1 shot here. Last time out he was well held by Waldgeist in the Qatar Prix Foy. Cloth Of Stars (by Sea The Stars) was runner-up to Enable in last year’s Arc. The earner of €2,374,262 has not won in six starts since, which probably accounts for his 50 to 1 price, but he has the class to occupy one of the minor placings under the urgings of Vincent Cheminaud.

Given his stellar record in the world’s top races, it is surprising that Ireland’s Aidan O’Brien has harvested this prize only twice – in 2007 (with Dylan Thomas) and 2016 (with Found). He has five chances here to add to that record with recent St. Leger hero Kew Gardens (by Galileo), who is the chosen mount of Ryan Moore, being the best fancied of the quintet when drawing a quote of 10 to 1. This is a good horse, improving all the time, and a forward run – even a victory – would not come as too much of a surprise.

Last year’s winner of the same race, Capri (by Galileo) has had training difficulties in 2018 limiting his seasonal campaign to just two starts, one of which was successful. The trainer’s son, Donnacha, who looks certain to land the champion jockey title in his native land when the season concludes next month, will be at the controls on the grey. A 25 to 1 chance, he wouldn’t be here if not fit and ready and has the back class to be involved in the finish, if not win.

“Super-sub” Seamie Heffernan partners Hunting Horn (by Camelot), a 66 to 1 chance here. Incidentally this colt is a half-brother to Hazara Stud Farm’s stallion David Livingston. Magical (by Galileo), with Wayne Lordan in charge (50 to 1) and likely pacemaker Nelson (by Frankel), with Michael Hussey (100 to 1) astride are O’Brien’s other runners. Any of the Irish winners would raise that country’s tally to 8.

A hypothetical victory for Salouen (by Canford Cliffs) would be a great boost for the ranks of small trainers, as the front runner who so nearly downed Cracksman earlier this year is handled by Sylvester Kirk, who runs a relatively small stable at Cedar Lodge in Lambourn. The shrewd trainer has secured the saddle services of Oisin Murphy, who will remember 2018 for all the right reasons as this has been his breakout year. Nevertheless, this horse has a mountain to climb.

One thinks the market has it right and that the four best-backed runners should have it between them, with Capri the choice for those who like longshots.