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By Anil Mukhi | 02 Oct 2020 |

This year's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Gr.1; 2400 m.), easily the highest class horse race on the Continent, is down for decision at ParisLongchamp in France this Sunday, October 4th. Although it will be exactly 100 years and a day since the British-bred Comrade (by Bachelor’s Double) zipped past the winning post in the inaugural running in 1920, this is not the one hundredth renewal of the “Arc”, as the race was not run in 1939 and 1940 due to World War II. Hopefully, 2020 will go down in history as the sole occasion without a full crowd of paying patrons, a development forced by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. 

The "Arc" is not always won by the best horse in the field: for one, its competitive nature and packed field mean that the draw and luck in running play a major role; for another, the time of year often sees rain in quantities sufficient to affect the outcome. Alas, weather-wise this is one of those years! Many of the runners have had this race as their target for several months and it is disappointing that the prospect of bottomless ground has led to the withdrawal of longtime favourite Love (by Galileo), who now goes for the Breeders Cup in Lexington, Kentucky, next month. That leaves 15 in contention for the €3,000,000 race after Love’s stablemate, the 2020 Investec Derby winner Serpentine (by Galileo) was supplemented at a cost of €72,000.

Rarely is an “Arc” won without a stiff battle, and so it would be wrong to say that current 11 to 4 favourite Enable (by Nathaniel) is “home and dry”. Certainly her path to a potential third Arc victory has been cleared of a major obstacle; what’s more is the fact that the Juddmonte Farms home-bred has drawn the No. 5 starting gate, which is perfect. Already she has the best record of any Arc winner, with triumphs in 2017 and 2018, allied to a runner-up effort in 2019, and she is well-poised to improve upon that in 2020. 

Through the year, trainer John Gosden has been most transparent about the state of his ward’s physical fitness and he remains bullish about her chances. Meanwhile, Enable’s rider Frankie Dettori, with half a dozen Arc trophies on his mantelpiece, has reduced his commitments during the week to diminish the chances of missing out due to accident. As the rain-soaked ground does not inconvenience her, Prince Khalid Abdullah’s racemare is taken to win. 

Apart from the six-year-old public choice, the only other British-trained runner is one of the same vintage housed in the same Clarehaven Stables and this is Bjørn Nielsen’s Stradivarius (by Sea The Stars). The grand stayer has enough pace and changes of gear to be effective at the shorter “mile and a half” trip. His preparatory run over course and distance in the Prix Foy was more than satisfactory, with only a head separating him from the winner, the 2019 Investec Derby hero, Anthony Van Dyck (by Galileo) in a slow-run affair. With Dettori taking the mount on Enable, Gosden has snapped up the services of the experienced Olivier Peslier, successful in four previous Arcs. Stradivarius will have to give away some ground from draw no. 14 and is quoted at 13 to 2. 

With just two previous winners in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Irish champion schooler Aidan O’Brien is obviously keen to improve his record and fields a quartet for the Coolmore partners, including the afore-mentioned Serpentine, who is a 14 to 1 shot with Christophe Soumillon at the controls. It must have been galling for O’Brien to have to take the tough decision to withdraw Love. Even so, he has a strong hand in the reigning Derby winner as well as full-brothers Japan and Mogul (both by Galileo) and finally last year’s Irish Derby winner Sovereign (by Galileo), to be ridden by Mickael Barzalona. With the year-younger Mogul (12 to 1) being on the upgrade – and in receipt of 3 kgs. – connections have selected the 3,400,000 guineas yearling acquisition as the mount of Ryan Moore, while declaring Yutaka Take on Japan, whose ownership partnership appropriately includes Japanese interests. Sovereign is a friendless 100 to 1. 

As everyone on the Turf knows, a Japanese victory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe has long been felt to be overdue. The protracted wait looks like being extended another year at least as the Land of The Rising Sun's representative this time is Deirdre (by Harbinger), whose lack of recent form sees her dismissed at 66 to 1. Jamie Spencer replaces Oisin Murphy in the saddle on Mitsuru Hashida’s ward.

Having dealt with all the visitors, we now come to the home-trained team. No schooler has saddled more Arc winners than Andre Fabre, whose tally stands at eight. The veteran lawyer-turned-trainer reposes his confidence in Persian King (by Kingman), stretching out to 2400 m. for the first time. Some have discounted his chances on that ground, but one can never second-guess the maestro. Last year’s winning schooler once again relies on the in-form Pierre-Charles Boudot to bring home the biryani at 16 to 1.

Perhaps Sottsass (by Siyouni) was out of his comfort zone last time when fourth in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown last month. Back at his happy hunting grounds, and with guidance restored to the silken hands of Cristian Demuro, the chestnut can well prevail if the race pans out his way. Hailing from Jean-Claude Rouget’s barn at Pau in the extreme south of France, Peter Brant’s four-year-old will start from the #4 slot and could be a lucrative “each-way” prospect at 8 to 1. Last year he had finished third.

Rouget also sends out Hamdan Al Maktoum’s improving three-year-old filly Raabihah (by Sea The Stars), paired with Maxime Guyon. Both trainer and rider are yet to win an “Arc”. Incidentally, between 1972 and 1982, runners that fit the description of “three-year-old filly”– San San, Three Troikas, Detroit, Akiyda – seemed to dominate. The lightly-raced home-bred has the scope to be involved at the finishand is a 14 to 1 chance. She will have to step up to the tune of about 10 points.

The famed German racing and breeding operation, Gestut Schlenderhan, reaped dividends by landing the 2020 German Derby through the French-trained In Swoop (by Adlerflug), schooled by Francis Graffard. Along with his Group 1-winning full-brother Ito, the pair trace to Iberica, whose half-sister Investa came out to India back in the ‘eighties. The trainer has an excellent rapport with rider Ronan Thomas, and the package is available here at 10 to 1, having been backed down from 25 to 1.

Unless it rains really heavily and becomes a “bog”, form should prevail and a short-list would consist of Enable, Sottsass and Stradivarius for the win. Depending on personal preference, Mogul, Raabibah, In Swoop and Persian King may be considered for inclusion in exotic wagers.