2015 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe Preview, Tips
Sunday sees the 94th running of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Europe's flagship middle distance event. And one horse will achieve immortality if she can win an unprecedented third Arc crown. Treve, the mare in question, has already taken her seat in the rarefied company of dual Arc winners Ribot, Alleged and just four others stretching back to Ksar in 1921/2.
Ribot and Alleged, colts both, were retired to stud without attempting the hat-trick; ditto Tantieme (1950/1). We have to go all the way back to Corrida in 1936/7 to find the last dual winner to run in three Arcs, but this mare also did not run after winning her second. Rather, she'd been beaten into third in the race in 1935, prior to back-to-back wins.
Treve, then, has a rare opportunity...
She's no bigger than even money to step into the Pantheon, and most firms have her as more likely than unlikely (i.e. odds on) to do that. But is that a fair reflection of her chance? Further, is she value at those odds?
Her career has been one of rags to riches to rags to riches. Led out unsold at a meagre €22,000 from the Arqana October yearling sales in 2011, she ran just once at two, winning a mile maiden for unraced fillies in good style.
From there, her ascent to the summit was rapid: she raced four times as a three-year-old, dotting up in an early season conditions race before pulverizing her field in the Prix de Diane (French Oaks) on only her third racecourse appearance. She won by four lengths from Chicquita, herself good enough to win the Irish Oaks on her next start. But it was the electric burst she showed to put the prize beyond her rivals that set the pulse racing.
Indeed, this humble scribe rushed for the best Arc price he could get directly after that performance, Victor's 14/1 being taken for all too few shekels (as is always the case with winners, whereas losers are perennially overbet, of course).
Treve had three months off after the Diane, before warming up for her Arc tilt with a bloodless verdict in the Group 1 Prix Vermeille over the Arc course and distance. Three weeks later she sauntered to a five length demolition of a full field of top class aspirants. But what made that performance even more meritorious was that she was drawn in the car park (15 of 17 in a race where wide draws generally struggle), and moreover that she pulled very hard in the early part of the contest.
That day she was, quite simply, extra terrestrial. Frankel aside, it was one of the greatest performances I've ever seen, both visually and in the obstacles (draw, inefficient energy usage) she overcame.
But from that great ascent came a cliff dive back down to earth in 2014. Short neck defeat to a match fit Cirrus Des Aigles under his optimal trip/ground conditions in the G1 Prix Ganay was no ignominy, despite the loss of her unbeaten record. Her next two starts, however, had racing fans the world over - me included - writing off her chances of dual Arc success.
First, she laboured to a three length third behind The Fugue and Magician in an all-star Prince Of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot; and then, three months later, she was an ostensibly toiling fourth in the Vermeille, though beaten just a length and a half.
Those wiser - and more forgiving - than me and most would have heeded the fact that Treve had hurt her back on the good to firm ground at Royal Ascot, and they'd have nodded sagely in the knowledge that, as trainer Criquette Head-Maarek had said, Treve would need her prep run in the Vermeille. They would then have plundered the 10's and 12's readily available after the unplaced effort.
As it was, the reigning Arc champ was sent off a fairly dismissive 11/1, in spite of news reports that she was showing all her old sparkle in her last workout before Longchamp.
To cut a long story ever so slightly shorter, she was again immense in the Arc, swotting aside the challenges of Flintshire and Oaks winner, Taghrooda, who had been sent off the 9/2 favourite in Blighty.
Interestingly, her Pari-Mutuel odds were just 3/1, skinny in the extreme even allowing for the fact that her supporters got the chances of Ectot and Ruler Of The World thrown in for free.
Well drawn, she had a clear passage throughout, and bolted up yet again, the furnace of her ability searing her rivals in the same manner it had a year earlier.
And so to 2015 and the farewell tour. #FollowTreve, the twitter hashtag implored, and racing fans the world over - twitterati or not - have done just that. Treve, for her part, did not disappoint.
Four lengths was the winning margin in the Prix Corrida on her seasonal debut, that race being portentously named after the only mare prior to Treve to win the Arc twice.
Next up was a besting of old rival, Flintshire, in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and then, after her customary three month summer holiday, she returned to bamboozle and blitzkrieg her way to a crushing six length verdict in the Vermeille. Even allowing for the possibility that it was a sub-standard renewal it is very hard to crab that kind of effort, and Treve arrives on the stage for her date with destiny in better form than before either of her previous two wins.
So the even money looks fair enough, then? Well, yes and no...
In three wins this year, she has been utterly dominant, though she's done little more than might have been expected. That middle run, when a long length better than Flintshire, was the best field she's faced in 2015, and Flintshire is a 20/1 shot here.
Then there's the draw, yet to be made at time of writing. Sure, she overcame trap quinze in 2013, but the data strongly points to an inner draw being an advantage. If she lucks out, and her closer form rivals luck in, that levels the playing field.
And here's the thing: in races such as these, punters are asked to leave their affections at the door, and hunt for value. In what other sport are fans asked to bet against their favourites on an almost universal basis?
Everyone knows Treve has the best form in the field. But she is less likely to move forward markedly on what she has previously achieved than some of the more lightly raced three-year-olds. Further, those of the Classic generation get weight concessions.
Enough of Treve for now, what of the oppo?
Two horses vie for second favouritism at around 5/1, both Derby winners. Golden Horn, winner of the English Derby - and also the Coral-Eclipse and Irish Champion Stakes, locks that precious tyne with New Bay, winner of the French Derby and Prix Niel.
The former, trained by John Gosden, has yet to be supplemented for the race, though he is almost certain to be. Gosden has yet to win the Arc from a fair few attempts, but he'll have had few better bullets to fire than this fellow. Initially considered a doubtful stayer at the mile and a half trip, he wasn't even entered for the Derby, that supplementary fee coming off the back of a highly impressive win in the Dante Stakes at York.
Since then, he's looked the clear pick of the domestic three-year-old middle distance crop, wining the Derby in great style before taking on and beating his elders - and female peers - in both the Eclipse and the Irish Champion. A blip in the Juddmonte International is forgiven in what looks a progressive profile where ratings give him little to find with Treve.
New Bay may be less familiar with British racing fans, but he is a high class - and potentially very high class - three-year-old. But for an unlucky in running second in the French 2000 Guineas, Andre Fabre's son of Dubawi would have been unbeaten in five starts since filling the same placing on debut.
Another for whom there were initially stamina doubts, he began to disabuse those in the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) over ten and a half furlongs, and he knocked them into a cocked hat when waltzing away with the Prix Niel.
Andre Fabre is the master of this race, his seven Arc victories unmatched in history, and he has been making some pleasing noises in what amounts to posh 'trash talk' in the run up to Sunday's showdown. He was quoted after the Prix Niel as saying,
"I was happy with New Bay. He clearly showed he gets the distance and the ground didn't bother him. It was what he needed and it was a nice, easy race. Based on the way he was finishing at Chantilly I had very little doubt about the trip for him - not based on his pedigree but on the visual impression of his Jockey-Club win. He certainly seemed happy with the distance on Sunday.
The experience I have is if you want to have a chance in the Arc you need an easy prep race. That is what he had."
Before he closed, he added:
"I'm not involved with Treve, but I would repeat that you need an easy race before the Arc."
The implication that Treve may have left her race in the Vermeille will have irritated connections of the super-mare, but M. Fabre is not one to idly flimflam, and he may have a point.
It makes more sense to focus on his horse for the purposes of this preview, and his horse has abundant talent, ascendant form, and an impeccable trainer. At this point I need to declare that the manner of New Bay's win in the Prix du Jockey Club saw me scrambling for a bit of Paddy's 14/1 despite concerns about his ability to get the longer trip at that time.
There is a slight concern about the drying ground, almost all of his form having been on the soft side of good - a comment which can also be levelled at Treve, but which is at least in part circumstantial, the majority of French races being staged on rain-softened ground.
Indeed, unlike Treve, who flopped - worse, injured herself - on her only try at good to firm, New Bay has yet to encounter such a rapid surface. All this is conjecture, both in terms of what the horse's turf preferences are and what the going will actually be come Sunday afternoon.
According to Racing Post Ratings, he is about a stone behind Golden Horn and, I'm bound to say, that tells you all you need to know about a ratings set that are so woefully inadequate that they perennially finish near the bottom of the Racing Post's own naps challenge.
Suffice it to say that both Golden Horn and New Bay have robust podium claims, claims which are well and truly accounted for in their odds, and which offer little of interest to value players.
The good news is that it is then 14/1 bar three, with that price being offered about the doubtful runner, Jack Hobbs. Betfred are non-runner no bet and joint top price, so if you like this fellow, they're the firm with which to invest.
The fragile Free Eagle and the filly, Found, are next, and that pair - second and third behind Golden Horn in an eventful Irish Champion Stakes - look like some value, I think.
If he actually lines up in the Arc it will be the first time in three seasons of racing that Free Eagle has managed a third run in the year. Absent for twelve months after flopping behind Australia as a juvenile, he bombed home in the Group 3 Enterprise Stakes on his belated seasonal bow last term prior to a good third on heavy in the Champion Stakes at Ascot.
This season, trainer Dermot Weld again had preparation problems as 'Freagle' contracted a cold in the lead up to the Prince Of Wales's Stakes. Nevertheless, his talented High Chapparal colt scraped home by a short head from the unlucky The Grey Gatsby to claim a first Group 1 prize.
If he was the beneficiary of some bad luck in behind at Royal Ascot, the tables turned the last day when Golden Horn deployed a full-blown flanking manoeuvre as Free Eagle came upsides. Having watched the incident - and the furlongs either side - a number of times, I have a reservation about Weld's runner's stamina: he travelled very well to join the leader, but hadn't gone by in a furlong; and he was half a length down, and lugging in under a right hand drive from Pat Smullen, when on the receiving end of the Horn's outward lug.
The Arc will be his first attempt at beyond ten furlongs and, if you think he'll stay, 16/1 is tempting each way.
Very similar summary comments apply to Found. The only three-year-old filly in the field, she gets weight from all of her rivals and, if she stays, last year's Prix Marcel Boussac winner could add a second track victory to her palmarès. In eight career starts, Found has yet to be out of the first three, and has been first or second in all bar the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes, where she was less than a length third.
She would have probably been third behind Free Eagle, rather than second in front of him, but for that barging match, but regardless it was a quiet ride in the main, possibly with the Arc in mind. Indeed, she tends to be ridden quietly, and her jockey should find plenty of cover in a double-digit Arc field, meaning she'll be given every chance of getting the twelve furlongs. The rumour is that her jockey will be Ryan Moore.
Like I say, very similar comments apply, so...
The Arc will be her first attempt at beyond ten furlongs and, if you think she'll stay, 16/1 is tempting each way.
Flintshire, an old foe of Treve who loves to hear his hooves rattle, retains all his ability at five, as he's shown with a brace of G1 wins in the past year. Both were on turf with the word 'firm' in the going description so the forecast is a boon for his fans. He ran closest to Treve in last year's Arc, and he's run easily closest to her this term. Granted any luck with the draw, Flintshire must run his race, but he's a distant second in the eye of his trainer, Andre Fabre, to New Bay. 20/1 is playable for the place part though it is hard to see him reversing form with Treve.
It's then 33/1 bar, and yet we have a number of Group 1 winners still to ponder. First up, Erupt. Unbeaten going into the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris over course and distance, he remained unbeaten coming out of that race, putting two lengths and more between himself and the rest. Thus, on the morning of the Prix Niel, Erupt was trading as short as 10/1 for the Arc. By nightfall, he was 33/1.
That monstrous drift is surely an over-reaction to a single poor performance, and at such big odds, there are reasons to be forgiving. The ground was very soft, which could have been far too soft for a son of Dubawi who had never experienced softer than good to soft, and three of whose four wins were on good ground.
So Erupt may have resented the sodden turf. He may also have been in front too early, New Bay's pacemaker having capitulated prior to the turn in, leaving the Niarchos family's runner on his lonesome a long way from homesome. And there's every chance he will step forward for the run after a break of two months. That last comment is true of New Bay and others, of course, but they are not trading at 'double carpet'. As you can probably tell, I'm drawn to him from a value perspective.
The ladies, Dolniya and Tapestry share the same quote. Dolniya can be expected to improve on the form of her fourth place in the Prix Foy last time, but I do not expect her to improve on her fifth place in last year's Arc; and, as for Tapestry, well she stitched me up (geddit?) in the race last year when running down the field with no real excuses. Even allowing for her needing the run in the Blandford Stakes, when a close second to Ribbons, it is asking a lot for her to prevail here. Not for me, though she'll have her supporters.
And still we have a Group 1 winner to consider, and a last time out one at that. Prince Gibraltar claimed the Grosser Preis von Baden, a race that was the springboard for both Marienbard and Danedream to claim Arc (de) triumph this century. That pair started at big prices too, though no bigger than half Prince Gib's current odds, so while it wouldn't be the biggest shock ever, I don't think he can improve on his five length seventh in the race last year.
It's difficult to make a case for anything else.
2015 Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe Tips
The race, clearly, revolves around Treve. She's a horse it is impossible not to love, and affection for her is assured, irrespective of what happens over the weekend in Paris.
From a wagering perspective, however, she can be opposed in a number of ways. Each way betting could reward the place even if Madame Treve does dish up another cordon bleu treat. Alternatively, the 'without' market is a favourite of mine, and Paddy have already priced that one up.
Draw will be significant, and it's worth staying close to your device when that happens, ready to snaffle the cascading odds of a well berthed beast.
Picking between the pair vying for second favouritism, I have a niggle that Golden Horn is maybe not quite the horse he was in the earlier part of the season. He's clocked up plenty of miles this year and, while that is as admirable as it is rare in these days of stud value protection, he might just be a shade over-cooked.
Compare that to New Bay, who has had just two races since the end of May, and a two and a half month break before the commencement of his Autumn campaign. His trainer wrote the book on readying a horse to win the Arc, and he's a nap in a match with Golden Horn to my eye. Still, I'd rather back him to win at 11/2 than each way or at 5/2 without Treve. And if I hadn't backed him at 14's I would be inclined to have at least a saver at five-and-a-half.
Of the podium pair from the Irish Champion Stakes, it's tougher to call. With a nagging reservation about Freagle's stamina - something that sticks only slightly less with Found - the filly looks worth a small each way interest at 16/1.
And I can't let that 33/1 Erupt pass me by either. He's over-priced by almost any measure, regardless of how he runs Sunday.
Suggestions - and that's all they are, taking on a very solid favourite and two highly credible others - are as follows:
1 pt win New Bay 11/2 (PP)
0.5 pt e/w Found 16/1 (888sport, Betfair both 1/4 1-2-3)
0.5 pt e/w Erupt 33/1 (general, take 1/4 1-2-3)
3 points staked. If we're to lose, let's hope it is to the history seeker. Allez Treve! Bonne chance tout le monde!
p.s. I'll be there, and I'm taking Stat of the Day Chris on a well-earned 'work outing'. So please allow a little extra time for a reply over the weekend. Merci.