The grand finale of the European flat season, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, has brought the best middle distance horses from across the world to Longchamp (3.30pm Sunday).
As the bookies’ Arc betting suggests, this is an unusually open renewal with half the field looking to have realistic chances of claiming the winner’s prize of over £2million.
Three-year-old fillies have done particularly well recently and the betting is headed by one, John Gosden’s Oaks and King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner, Taghrooda (6/1). Her form suggests that she stands a very decent chance of emulating her superb sire, Sea The Stars, who won here in 2009.
The concern for her followers is that she forfeited her unbeaten record in her latest start, finishing half a length behind Aidan O’Brien’s Tapestry in the Yorkshire Oaks in August. She was reported to be in season immediately after the race.
Gosden is an acknowledged master at handling fillies but it is possible that this one has gone off the boil. It will be her fifth start of the season, testing her enthusiasm for the game. On the positive side she has two Group 1 victories over this distance to her name and she should find the surface at Longchamp to her liking.
Tapestry (14/1) was supplemented at a cost of €120,000 following a decent piece of work on Thursday. The fee is small change to ‘the lads’ and this is clearly a bit of a punt for them rather than part of a master plan. This lightly made filly is the opposite of the incredibly consistent Taghrooda. After her Yorkshire Oaks success she bombed in her most recent run at Leopardstown in the Matron over a seemingly inadequate mile. Even with the assistance of Ryan Moore it is difficult to have much confidence her. At her best the form says she has a huge shout but this may well be one run too many for her.
Jean-Claude Rouget’s Avenir Certain (9/1) is another three-year-old filly with claims. She is unbeaten in her six starts (including two Group 1s) but has never been asked to go beyond a mile and a quarter. As a daughter of Le Havre out of a Mark Of Esteem mare she is not ideally bred to get the distance. The defection of her usual jockey, Gregory Benoist does little to inspire confidence in her chances.
Benoist has chosen to partner Elie Lellouche’s Ectot (13/2) a three-year-old son of the 2005 Arc winner, Hurricane Run. This colt has won his past six starts, most recently scoring over course and distance in the Group Two Prix Niel in mid September. He beat Pascal Bary’s Teletext by a neck, more easily than the margin suggests. He has to be one for the shortlist.
The Japanese have yet to score in this race but Just A Way (7/1) is fancied by some to go one better than his compatriot Orfevre, the runner-up in 2012 and 2013. This five-year-old horse trained by Naosuke Sugai didn’t look a likely world-beater as a youngster but ended last season with his first Group 1 win over a mile and a quarter in Tokyo.
He appears to be a very late developer and is unbeaten in his three runs this year. He started by winning a Group 2 in Japan over a mile and a furlong in convincing style in early March. Three weeks later he was sent off the 3/1 favourite in the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free in Meydan over the same distance. He annihilated the field, winning by over six lengths.
His jockey Yuichi Fukunaga got the tactics absolutely right, settling him at the back of a furious pace that left all the prominently ridden horses in the rear when it mattered. William Buick made the mistake of tracking the leaders on Gosden’s The Fugue (the 7/2 second favourite). They finished with only two of the 13 runners behind them.
After those two wins on good ground he was made the odds-on favourite in his latest run in a Group 1 over a mile in Tokyo in June. He prevailed by a nose on soft ground with a wide outsider taking second place. This will be only his second trip outside Japan and his first encounter of a European climate. He has not been tried over this distance since he was a three-year-old – he finished six lengths behind the winner in a Group One on firm ground.
Fukunaga, who takes the ride, admitted in August that nine or ten furlongs were his ideal distances. Others have stronger claims.
They include another Japanese contender, the three-year-old filly, Harp Star (8/1) trained by Hiroyoshi Matsuda. Matsuda sent out a couple of totally unfancied horses (167/1 and 49/1) in late September who finished second and third in Group 2s in Japan, suggesting his horses are in form. This daughter of Deep Impact (who finished third in the Arc but was disqualified after a drugs test), won her latest start in a Group 2 in August at home, beating Sugai’s Gold Ship (12/1) by three quarters of a length over a mile and a quarter. Previously she missed out by a neck in a Group 1 over a mile and a half at the end of May.
She has won four of her six starts and finished a close second in the other two. They have all been on firm ground in Japan. It is not easy to assess her in this type of contest but, if she handles conditions she looks the most serious Japanese contender.
The five-year-old Gold Ship is clearly no slouch either and has won over this distance. He has numerous top notch wins under his belt in Japan and has earned his owner-breeder more than £8million. He ran without his blinkers on when defeated by Harp Star last time but will be wearing them on Sunday. It would be no surprise to see him getting place money.
Last year’s stunning Arc heroine Treve (10/1) bids to regain her crown but she has not scored since that win. Losing on her debut this season by a neck to a race-hardened Cirrus Des Aigles (who has gone on to take two more Group 1s) in testing ground in the Prix Ganay in April was excusable. Finishing nearly three lengths behind The Fugue in third at Royal Ascot on firmish ground next time out was very disappointing but delighted the bookmakers. She was sent off as the 8/13 favourite.
Her jockey Frankie Dettori admitted that she didn’t move with her usual fluency down to the start at Ascot. Bad move. He was jocked off, reportedly at trainer Cricquette Head-Maarek’s request. Thierry Jarnet, who won on her here last year, is booked for Sunday. His presence failed to garner any improvement on her latest run. They finished a length and a half behind Andre Fabre’s Baltic Baroness in fourth in the Prix Vermeille.
This daughter of Motivator has received treatment on her back and her feet – suggesting that Head-Maarek is unclear about the cause for her declining form. Head-Maarek was effusive after a piece of work on Tuesday, delighted that the filly was ‘moving brilliantly’ under Jarnet. It was foggy and the many members of the press saw little (literally) to get excited about. Even if her action looks good on the day she looks unlikely to provide Jarnet with his fourth Arc win.
Alain De Royer-Dupre’s three-year-old filly, Dolniya finished more than a length in front of Treve in the Prix Vermeille but seems totally ignored here at 40/1. She has a Group 2 to her name and has won three of her five runs. Yes, she will be taking on the colts here but that piece of form, the fillies’ allowance and her generous price makes her an interesting each-way prospect.
Ironically the demoted Dettori probably has a better chance on Aidan O’Brien’s 2013 Derby winner, Ruler Of The World (16/1), now part-owned by Al Shaqab Racing. This four-year-old son of Galileo failed to fire in the Dubai World Cup in March but won his only other start this year. He beat Andre Fabre’s Flintshire (25/1) by a length and a half in the Group 2 Prix Foy in September under a masterful ride by Dettori. Spiritjim (40/1) finished third by three lengths. Dettori made all and stole a march on the field by kicking for home early. Different tactics will be needed here but don’t rule him out. He has been laid out for this race and will enjoy the less testing surface than last year.
Roger Varian’s (pictured) Derby runner-up and St Leger winner, Kingston Hill is a serious contender who drifted out to 20/1 after his disastrous draw was announced. Being drawn widest of all is quite a hurdle to overcome but have punters forgotten that he proved in the St Leger that soft ground is not essential for him to prevail?
This is likely to be a fast run affair that will bring stamina to the fore and he has it in spades. Varian has probably had the Arc in mind all season and we can trust him to have this son of Mastercraftsman spot-on. Kingston Hill looks another potential each-way proposition.
The six-year-old Al Kazeem (66/1) trained by Roger Charlton was badly drawn in the Arc last year. He pulled hard early on, stumbled badly five furlongs out and only just missed place money, finishing 11 lengths behind Treve in sixth. It was also his seventh run of the season.
After proving sub-fertile at stud, Al Kazeem was put back in training and has had only three races this year. He succeeded in the Group 3 Winter Hill Stakes at Windsor in August, proving that he can still perform as a racehorse. He benefits from a decent draw and, whilst Charlton would have preferred a bit more cut in the ground, the surface should suit him better than the soft ground last time. It is difficult to see him winning but he may well run into a place and his 66/1 price looks wrong.
Arc Preview Betting Tips Advice
This is a fascinating renewal which may well prove profitable for favourite-followers if Taghrooda is on song but, in such an open race, we have to look elsewhere. Even bearing in mind the draw, 20/1 seems a generous price for a horse of KINGSTON HILL’s calibre. He has to be our pick each-way at 20/1 with Bet365 or Paddy Power, both bookies who are offering a quarter the odds for the first four places.