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Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe preview

Updated: Tuesday, 08 Oct 2013 16:30 | Comments

Solemia was a shock winner of last year's race
Solemia was a shock winner of last year's race

Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Group 1), 1 mile 4 furlongs, Longchamp, 3.15

By Barry McEneaney

It’s not just the elite fields that make the world’s most prestigious Flat race so compelling.

Like most great sporting events, it boasts a strong international dimension and this year’s renewal is no different. Europe, Asia and South America will all be represented this afternoon.

As an end of year highlight, it provides a storied finale to the season. Over the preceding months many bubbles will have been burst, while other earlier unheralded horses will have developed into legitimate contenders.

Japan and the Arc – An unhappy love affair

Japan sent their first runner to the race in 1969 and an obsession with the event has grown among their fans to rival that of the general population’s fascination with Parisian culture.

Near misses for El Condor Pasa (1999), Deep Impact (2006) and Nakayama Festa (2010) could have diminished their enthusiasm for a race on a course which could be perceived as an unlucky hunting ground, but instead it only appears to have fed the obsession.

There’s been nowhere quite like Paris on Arc day to see what appears to be Paris syndrome take hold.

Having attended last year’s Arc, the condition would appear to be all too real.

There was a sense of genuine euphoria amongst the Japanese contingent at Longchamp in the run-up to the race and the decibel levels reached a crescendo as Orfevre cruised to front under Christophe Soumillon. But as disaster ensued, and his mount snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, a sense of utter disbelief enveloped his supporters. There were groans of despair, some tears and at least two episodes of what can only be described as hysteria. Mixing with a group of Japanese racegoers later that evening, you were left with the feeling that not only had Orfevre disappointed, but Longchamp and Paris had to.

Age - A weighty issue

The weight-for-age scale was altered in the northern hemisphere in 1995. Since that point, the older colts (four and older) have had to concede 11lbs to three-year-old fillies and 8lbs to the younger colts. The Classic crop have dominated this race ever since. The three-year-old have amassed 14 victories (12 colts, two fillies), while the older generation has accounted for just four winners (three colts, one filly).

The “if you’re old enough, you’re good enough” argument isn’t honestly tested in racing. In other sports, young talents can compete in underage categories, or choose to mix it with the big boys, but they’re expected to do so on level terms in almost all instances. Should competitors receive a man-made, subjective helping hand just because they may not have reached the peak of their physical and mental maturation?

There’s a range of views on the issue, but you could make a convincing case that this is a classic example of big business - in the form of the breeding industry - hindering racing as a sport. The best three-year-olds are too often rushed off to the breeding sheds as they’re not really incentivised to remain on the racecourse. One of the reasons National Hunt racing is so popular in this part of the world is that fans are afforded the opportunity to develop a relationship with the horses. They can remain in training for several seasons and a real rapport with the game’s stars can be forged. Sadly, such instances on the Flat are all too rare.

Stats and trends polarise followers of the sport. But they don’t have to be dismissed out of hand or followed slavishly. It’s important to attempt to delve deeper and contextualise the apparently skewed inter-generational results in the race.

The Arc attracts the best middle-distance three-year-old talent every year. After distinguishing themselves early in the season, they’ll typically have been given a break before being brought to peak again for this race.

The older horses have more than just an extra burden on their backs to overcome, although some are better built to carry it than others. Many of their outstanding contemporaries will have already been retired. More often than not, they’ll have been campaigned more aggressively than the younger brigade, running in races that may have bottomed them out. Extra years in training often mean they’re more likely to have suffered injuries at some stage, injuries that may have left a mark.

Last year’s renewal saw two four-year-olds draw seven lengths clear of their nearest pursuer. This year’s European three-year-old crop may not be as wretched as last year’s batch, but with the exception of Treve, and possibly Intello, they haven’t looked or performed like world-beaters either.

Draw – The cursed car park

Longchamp is regarded as one the world’s great racecourses, but it may not be a particularly fair one if draw statistics for big-field Arcs are to be taken at face value.

While there has been a relatively even distribution of horses from high and low draws filling the minor places in the last ten years of double-digit fields, only Dalakhani could defy a high draw to win.

Those drawn out in the ‘car park’ who like to race prominently have to put in an effort that’s often over-exerting to attain an ideal position, while those racing in mid-division or towards the rear often find themselves wider than ideal.

Going

Going reports in France are notoriously unreliable, with official ground descriptions often overstating the level of moisture content. Race times have proven a more accurate indicator of the prevailing conditions.

The trials

The word ‘trial’ is very much the operative word when evaluating the merits of the various performances in the three races regarded as preps for the Arc run over course and distance exactly three weeks before the main event.

Many of the runners have returned to the racecourse after breaks and races, despite holding Group status, are little more than tune-ups for the ultimate objective. As the idea is to bring along a horse in fitness without giving it a hard time, it’s little surprise that they’re often run at a dawdle.

The Prix Niel, opened to three year-old colts and fillies, and the Prix Foy, contested by their older counterparts, tend to be particularly slowly-run affairs. The Prix Vermeille, reserved for any member of the fairer sex, tends to be run in a faster time, probably owing to its Group 1 status.

Prix Foy

After last-year’s second place finish in the Arc, Orfevre kicked off his second campaign on French soil with an emphatic second success in the Prix Foy.

On his return to Japan after last year’s loss, he ran a nose second to Gentildonna in the Japan Cup, giving the impression he was still feeling the effects of his Arc effort. He’s been wrapped up in cotton wool in 2013 in preparation for another tilt at the race, running just twice, with his Prix Foy win preceded by a victory at Hanshin at the end of March.

His latest success was the slowest of all the trials and revealed little. In a race run at a crawl, his incredible turn of foot was always going to be a potent weapon against opposition devoid of the quality.

The likes of Very Nice Name, Pirika, Going Somewhere, Haya Landa and Dunaden are obviously inferior to Orfevre, but they’ve racked up some decent results between them and they’ve achieved that form by using their stamina.

They lengthen, while Orfevres’s ability to quicken is probably his greatest attribute.

You couldn’t find fault with Orfevre’s performance – sauntering clear off a slow pace is tough to do – but it was an inevitable result due to the early fractions.

Quotes of 7-1 before the race were value, prices as short as 2-1 may not be. Yashutoshi Ikee’s stable star proved his wellbeing, but little more.

The debate over last year’s narrow defeat to Solemia rages on. Was it poor luck or poor temperament that got him beat? It was possibly a combination of both. Drawn widest of all in stall 18, Soumillon sat and suffered towards the rear of the field, before sweeping around the field in the home straight. Having clocked a monstrously-fast penultimate furlong to hit the lead, the son of Stay Gold started to hang relentless across the track. His Belgian pilot attempted to correct the move, but he couldn’t prevent his mount colliding with the far rail.

The ground ceded through veering to his right, combined with the loss of momentum on having to be snatched up to avoid him running through the rail allowed Solemia, who had benefited from a superb tactical ride, to regain the lead in the shadow of the post. But for the car-park draw, the extra heavy ground covered and that meltdown after an admittedly taxing premature effort, Orfevre would have been a convincing winner of the race.

Some would argue that Orfevre is an equine mad genius and they could cite his erratic display in the 2012 Hanshin Daishoten as further evidence of that. Carting his way to the front on the first circuit, he then made a beeline for the outside rail, proving completely intractable. The brainstorm then passed and normal service was resumed, but with the race surely lost. The fact he went down by just half a length is a testament to his exceptional natural talent.

Prix Vermeille

The unbeaten Treve extended her winning sequence to four races with a dominant display in the Prix Vermeille. A literal interpretation of her sectional times makes her the most impressive of all the trial winners.

Second that day was the now-retired Wild Coco, who had only been beaten once in her six starts where the word firm hadn’t appeared in the going description.

The win could also be marked up due to the way she found a turn of foot to extricate herself from a pocket, despite having pulled hard in the early stages.

Some have argued that she had a harder race than ideal and that she could regress as she’s quite slight. Frankie Dettori did get quite vigorous for a few strides, but she was being eased in the shadow of the post.

Her Prix de Diane success saw her lower the course record by just over two seconds and was achieved in effortless fashion. Comparisons with Zarkava, who also completed the Diane-Vermeille double, will have to be justified if she is to score in an ultra-competitive Arc.

Prix Niel

The first four home in the Prix Niel line up here, but it’s likely that they’re going to have to improve significantly on that form to score.

Japanese raider Kizuna’s short-head verdict over Aidan O’Brien’s Derby winner Ruler Of The World has been adjudged as fortunate by some.

Ryan Moore’s mount found himself short of room on two separate occasions, finished with a flourish and was ahead after the line. O’Brien’s record in the Arc is a poor one, but that may well have something to do with the aggressive way his horses are campaigned. Ruler Of The World won’t have that excuse as this was his first start since his Irish Derby flop, which may have come too soon after his Epsom heroics and where the ground was almost certainly faster than ideal.

The market appears to be finding it hard to split the Prix Niel 1-2, but I’d be mildly surprised if Ruler Of The World reverses form.

Kizuna is a less versatile sort than compatriot Orfevre and stamina is his strong suit. Yet, despite being ridden well off the pace in a slowly run affair, he closed in taking fashion. Yutaka Take, who I’d have doubts about, was sitting motionless on his mount at the four-furlong pole, but when he asked for an effort the response was far from immediate. His slightly underwhelming finish can probably be attributed to a lack of race fitness and the pace scenario that played out.

Kizuna’s previous start to the Prix Niel came when he landed the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) at the end of May, racing from a long way off a strong pace and devouring ground late on to score a shade cosily. His trainer was at pains to point out that his charge was about 85 percent fit heading in to the trial and his latest run should have him cherry-ripe for today.

It’s also interesting to speculate as to why his connections would eschew a number of relatively easy contests in their homeland in favour of facing Orfevere et al. The classic Japanese approach to the Arc has always been to target the race with an older horse, but trainer Shozo Sasaki has opted to break with tradition.

While Kizuna looks the type who is hard to get fit, the opposite is probably true of Ruler Of The World and he may have enjoyed an edge in fitness. There’s also little doubt he had a harder race than the winner.

Third-placed Ocovango was prominently ridden, had a hard race and shouldn’t be turning the form around.

Of more interest is former Arc favourite Flintshire. He marked himself out as a contender for this race with an impressive win at Chantilly in June and was propelled to the top of the market on the back of his scintillating success in the Grand Prix de Paris. However, he does appear utterly ground dependent. His chances would increase immeasurably in the event of the going becoming fast. That seems highly unlikely.

Best of the rest

Leading Light’s unorthodox approach to the race saw him take in the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot over two miles before dropping back in distance to take the St Leger last month.

Earlier in the season, he’d been winning over ten furlongs, albeit against weakish opposition, and he’s now unbeaten since his racecourse debut.

It’s difficult to access accurately just how good Leading Light is and that’s probably the reason trainer Aidan O’Brien didn’t give him a shot in the English or Irish Derby, or the Grand Prix de Paris. He’s so lazy and finds so much for pressure that this is the first opportunity to see how competitive he can be against the very best middle- distance runners.

In what often develops in to a rough race, he’d benefit from any interference in behind as he seems certain to be ridden prominently by Gerald Mosse.

There’s no doubt that he’s tough to pass, but it’s hard not to see at least two or three doing just that.

If he does run well, he’ll be an interesting contender for next season’s King George, where the uphill finish would surely play to his strengths.

Intello is on the opposite end of the stamina scale and may possess a little too much speed.

A fast-finishing third in the Poule d’Essai over an inadequate mile after scoring over a furlong further at Newmarket, he followed that up with victory in the Prix du Jockey Club over ten and a half furlongs. The win was visually impressive and was backed up by a good time, but the poor subsequent form of those behind the winner has to be a cause for concern.

He’ll lack in nothing in assistance from the saddle as Olivier Peslier has won the race more times than any active jockey, while trainer Andre Fabre is the leading all-time trainer with seven wins.

However, Fabre’s doubts on the colt’s stamina and the manner in which he has been campaigned since the Prix du Jockey Club are disconcerting.

The Fabre textbook approach dictates that three-year-old colts with pretensions for Arc glory are rested mid-season before reappearing in the Prix Niel.

Instead, Intello dropped back to a mile after his big win, scoring in a Group 3 before running a valiant third behind Moonlight Cloud in the Jacques le Marois.

Last month’s win at Longchamp was scored over ten furlongs and didn’t reveal anything we didn’t already know.

His sire Galileo may be an influence for stamina, but many from the Galileo-Danehill cross from which he hails have proven best at trips shorter than 12 furlongs.

Drying ground and a slower-than-normal pace would boost his prospects.

Blighted by injury up to this season, Al Kazeem has almost run as many times this term as he did in his first three years in training.

Six starts in 2013 have resulted in three wins at the highest level as Roger Charlton saw his patience with his stable star amply rewarded.

He met with defeat in his last two starts, but there’s reason to believe the son of Dubawi could bounce back to his best.

His recent reversals came on left-handed tracks, while his three Group 1 victories came on right-handed courses. Both defeats were over ten furlongs on flat circuits, while two of those wins at the top table were at tracks with steep uphill finishes, with the third over ten and a half as opposed to ten furlongs. A step back up to an easy 12 furlongs should be well within his compass.

Charlton has insisted that his charge would prefer slightly easier ground than he’s been running on so well this summer and he’s likely to have the opportunity to put that theory to the test in this year’s renewal.

However, he does have two huge negatives to overcome, namely the manner of his campaign and his awful draw.

He’s has been on the go since late April and has run every month since.

Much has been made of the role stall 18 played in Orfevre’s (who unlike Al Kazeem enjoyed a perfect prep for the race) defeat last year. Al Kazeem starts from stall 20. If Orfevre was in the car park, Al Kazeem is getting his race underway from the grass verge on the edge of the car park. It’s a big ask.

The outsiders

In a race that’s famed for the depth of its fields, it’s inevitable that very talented horses will be allowed to start at inflated prices.

Rail Link returned 23.6-1 on the PMU (industry SP 8-1) when he scored in 2006 after a deluge of money from Japanese fans forced Deep Impact into an absurdly-short price.

The growth of internet betting and the obvious arbitrage opportunities in such markets means this kind of disparity in price is unlikely to occur again. It’s still possible to take advantage of divergences in the various markets, but the price fluctuations aren’t as dramatic as they once with. With advances in technology, monitoring these markets is now easier than ever.

Danedream’s winning form in Italy and Germany in 2011 went largely ignored as she scooted in at a Betfair SP of 44-1 (26.8-1 PMU, 20-1 industry SP), breaking the course record for good measure.

Solemia’s success last season came at 55.2-1 on the world’s biggest betting exchange (40.5-1 PMU, 33-1 industry SP) as good fortune, an inspired ride and testing going combined to hand her success.

But there’s a second sub-group of outsiders that can run head-scratchingly well in the race. Sometimes they hit the board and place, sometimes they just miss out. They’re the ‘no hopers’.

In the last five years, It’s Gino dead-heated for third at 150-1, La Boum ran seventh at 500-1, Shareta filled the runner-up spot at 66-1 and Haya Landa stayed on for fourth at 150-1 (all industry SPs).

Focusing attention on those that could run well at nose-bleed price in this year’s renewal, it may pay turn look back on the those thoroughly outclassed by Orfevre in the Prix Foy.

Very Nice Name (second), Pirika (third), Going Somewhere (fourth) and Haya Landa (sixth) take their remote chances here, with only Sahawar certain to start at a bigger price in the field.

All four warrant their outsider status, but they may be sent off at bigger prices than they should be on the back of their Prix Foy displays. As already highlighted, this quartet were always going to look exceptionally one-paced, which they are, given the slow pace that trial was run at. In a more strongly-run race, at least one of the four could out-run their price in a big way.

The one to note might just be Going Somewhere, who should really being going nowhere if his odds are to be believed.

Going Somewhere is from South America, where they produce outstanding footballers and Miss Worlds, but few racehorses of note. Few, but not none. Bayakoa, the promising but ill-fated Candy Ride, Gentlemen, Paseana, Lido Palace, Invasor and Leroidesanimaux (a Brazilian compatriot of Going Somewhere) all hailed from there and went on to find fame to varying degrees in the United States.

Going Somewhere made a modest start to his career as a two-year-old in July 2012, failing to score against other thoroughly unremarkable animals in his first four starts at Cidade Jardim in Sao Paulo.

Seven days shy of his third birthday he won his first race. That was followed by another victory at a lowly level before he was shipped to Argentina for the Group 1 Gran Premio Internacional Carlos Pellegrini at San Isidro in Buenos Aires. The son of Sulamani scored a 22.2-1 upset in the continent’s equivalent of the Arc. His two subsequent starts at Group 1 level at the track resulted in a fifth and a third place finish on his final Argentinean outing before he headed for the Old World and an audacious tilt at the Arc.

The previous high-profile horses to emerge from South America tended to show considerable ability from an early stage as they were running against vastly inferior opposition. The fact Going Somewhere didn’t probably means that there’s a relatively low ceiling on his ability, which would mean he faces a forlorn task in making an impact on a continent where the quality of racing is at a much higher level.

He’s also massively disadvantaged by how the weights are structured. The breeding season in the northern hemisphere starts in January, while in the southern hemisphere it begins in August.

Going Somewhere doesn’t celebrate his fourth birthday in real terms until 20 October, yet he’s going to have to carry 7lbs more than colts he’s six months older than, while he receives just 1lb from those he’s six months junior to. He may well be running in this race a year too soon.

Backing such a beast is starting to look like a straw-clutching exercise, but there is a glimmer of hope, and a glimmer is all you’re ever going to get with a horse at this price.

An ultra-kind - perhaps delusional - interpretation of his earlier form is that he’s a horse who couldn’t shine due to running over inadequate distances. It took a step up to what he’s bred to do, namely run over 1 mile 4 furlongs +, to realise his potential. However, it’s still disappointing that he wasn’t able to account for lesser rivals in a sub-par population over shorter trips.

He looks quite a big horse, the type that may have taken time to fill his frame. Physical maturation would have been a factor in him leaving behind his earlier form.

The Prix Foy was his first race in almost four months and improvement can be expected, particularly with a stronger pace guaranteed to suit.

A best-case scenario where he his jockey takes advantage of his good draw, sets the perfect fractions and where the horse runs the race of his life might see Going Somewhere finish sixth, but an act of God or preferably a few acts of God could edge him up the pecking order.

If speculation on a horse with little prospect of providing a dividend doesn’t appeal, there’ll almost certainly be an opportunity to back him in a match bet or in a specials market.

Verdict

Novellist’s late withdrawal robs the race of some of its lustre, but this is still one of the strongest renewals in several years.

An abundance of natural talent, his form and another campaign focussed solely around this race makes him the one to beat.

He did suffer from bleeding after a workout earlier in the season, but too much was made of that at the time as it’s a common but underreported problem in racehorses.

The only obvious negative is that nagging doubt over his wayward ways. His connections are insistent that he’s matured mentally and that temperament won’t be an issue.

Last season’s final-furlong meltdown was preceded by a crack of the whip behind the saddle. It’s notable that most of his races in the Land of the Rising Sun saw him ridden out and heels or tapped down the shoulder. Perhaps he can capitalise on his more favourable starting stall and win without maximum effort, such is his talent. However, this is a stronger field than the one he faced 12 months ago. The response, if and when a serious question is asked, will probably decide his fate.

Any propensity to hang towards the rail could be prevented by charting a path along it, but that could easily lead to traffic problems for a horse that does need cover.

He’s almost certain to be there or thereabouts, but his place odds may offer more value than his win odds.

Treve is taken to overcome her unfavourable draw and enhance the strong recent record of three-year-old fillies in the race.

Criquette Head-Mareek’s stable star is improving rapidly and her Prix Vermeille sectional times were impressive, despite her failure to settle in the early stages.

The enforced absence through injury of the unfortunate Frankie Dettori shouldn’t be a hindrance as French veteran Thierry Jarnet was on board for her three previous successes.

Her biggest challenge may come from Kizuna, who could just edge out his more illustrious compatriot Orfevre.

Selection: Treve

Alternative: Kizuna

Match bet: Kizuna to beat Ruler Of The World

Wild card: Going Somewhere

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