Japanese star, Makahiki, tests his Arc credentials in the Prix Niel

Arc Trials Weekend Preview


The Arc picture will undoubtedly become clearer after the weekend with a whole host of championship races taking place in Britain, Ireland and France, writes Nigel Howard. On Sunday, Chantilly stages Arc Trials day which boasts 6 Group races, two at Group 1 level, with three events recognised trials for the big race itself.

Postponed has dominated the betting for the Arc in recent months but he bypasses all possible engagements and heads straight to the main stage after his emphatic win in the Juddmonte International at York in August. That leaves the coast clear for other Arc hopefuls to stake their claim on this year’s coveted prize.

The Group 1 Prix Vermeille, run over one mile and a half for fillies and mares, is considered the highlight of the meeting and is more often than not used as a stepping stone for the top French fillies to show their wellbeing before heading to the first Sunday in October at this same track.  This was the case for star fillies Zarkava and Treve, who both completed the Prix Diane, Prix Vermeille, Arc treble in their respective classic seasons.

However, trainer Jean-Claude Rouget has plotted a different path for this year’s Prix Diane winner, La Cressonniere, who dotted up in the Prix de la Nonette at Deauville recently and thus skips this race.

A small but select field of six line up for this year’s renewal with the classic generation looking to have the strongest claims. Leading that group, LEFT HAND finished a fine second to La Cressonniere in the Prix Diane and who has since followed up in a Group 3 at Deauville last month.

The daughter of Dubawi has yet to attempt the classic distance but racing manager for Les Freres Wertheimer, Pierre Yves Bureau, was confident, saying “She comes from the family of Plumania (won Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint Cloud, 1m4f) so I don’t see the extra distance being a problem and if all goes well there is the Arc”.

Ex-jump jockey turned trainer, Yohann Gourraud, presents HIGHLANDS QUEEN, who also ran in the Prix Diane but suffered trouble in running and was eventually placed last by the stewards for causing interference. The daughter of Mount Nelson put the record straight when she won the Group 2 Prix Pomone impressively at Deauville next time out and in so doing proved that she stays the classic trip.

Freddie Head will have high hopes for his progressive filly, GOLDEN VALENTINE, who won the Group 3 Prix Minerve, again at Deauville, on her last outing and is another who is proven at the trip. THE JULIET ROSE was comfortably beaten by Head’s filly that day and there is little to suggest she can reverse that result on Sunday.

The older generation is headed by the Aga Khan’s CANDARLIYA, who was second to superstar Treve in this contest last year. The daughter of Dalakhani has solid form and is obviously talented but the feeling is she is just shy of Group 1 level and might again have to settle for place money.

The field is completed by the Godolphin entry, ENDLESS TIME, who will need to improve considerably on her most recent run in the Yorkshire Oaks to trouble the judge.

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Japan has long sought victory in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe: El Condor Pasa (1999), Deep Impact (2006), Nakayama Festa (2010), Orfevre (2012, 2013) and Kizuna (2013) all came to Paris with high expectations but were ultimately conquered in pursuit of Arc glory.

This year the Japanese quest for victory in Europe’s premier race continues, in the shape of three-year old MAKAHIKI, another son of Deep Impact and winner of the Japanese Derby at the end of May.

He makes his much-awaited reappearance in the Group 2 Prix Niel (1m4f) and will have top French jockey Christophe-Patrice Lemaire, now based in Japan, in the saddle. Lemaire was in confident mood on the gallops at Chantilly on Wednesday, declaring that the horse had adapted well to his new surroundings and that his preparation was on track.

Of course we have no solid form lines with which to work but Kizuna, who came to France in 2013, was also the winner of the Japanese Derby and he was good enough to beat Epsom Derby winner Ruler of The World in this race before going on to finish fourth to Trève in the Arc.

Japan is now a recognised global force in horse racing having invested heavily in foreign bloodstock over the years. Kentucky Derby winner Sunday Silence has been their most successful import and indeed he is MAKAHIKI’s grandsire. We can assume therefore that his form to date is very good.

His main opponent is likely to be the Khalid Abdullah-owned/Sir Michael Stoute-trained MIDTERM, who was favourite for the Derby before running down the field in the Dante Stakes at York in May. It later transpired that the impeccably bred son of Galileo, out of Midday, had suffered a stress fracture in his pelvis.

Prior to York, the horse ran out an impressive winner in the Sandown Classic Trial with subsequent Derby seventh Algometer back in second. On that bare form, he still has a lot to find but Sir Michael must obviously believe that he is back to something like his best for him to take his chance.

Andre Fabre has won this race nine times with the likes of Trempolino, Carnégie and Hurricane Run. However, his representative, DOHA DREAM, a son of Shamardal, would need to improve significantly on his Listed win at Vichy; whilst the Aga Khan-owned DARABAD, trained by Alain de Royer Dupre, would also need to step up on his win in the Listed Grand Prix De Clairefontaine.

Given the opposition, then, the Japanese champion will be expected to win this race and a dominant display will surely see his price shorten for the main event in October.

The final trial of the day, the Group 2 Prix Foy (1m4f), was won last year by current big race favourite, Postponed. Reserved for older horses, only four go to post for this year’s renewal and whatever the outcome, we are unlikely to see any seismic movement in the big race market.

SILVERWAVE was a Group 1 winner last time out when he lifted the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud from Erupt at the beginning of July. However, the form of that event was not franked by the latter who failed to impress in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot in July and again ran a lacklustre race more recently in the Grand Prix de Deauville in August.

ONE FOOT IN HEAVEN, trained by Alain de Royer Dupre, disappointed behind SILVERWAVE at Saint Cloud yet had previously looked to be a bright prospect when taking the Grand Prix de Chantilly in June. By Fastnet Rock out of Champion Stakes winner Pride, his best efforts seem to be with some cut in the ground so any rain before the event would be in his favour.

The Andre Fabre trained ELLIPTIQUE has shown improved form this term and won his first Group 1 event in Germany last time. He had German contender ITO well behind him that day and he should confirm that result. The son of New Approach looks to be on the upgrade and is the one to beat.

The other Group 1 on the card is the Prix du Moulin run over a mile. This sees the return to action of the exciting Al Shaqab Racing-owned/Jean-Claude Rouget-trained ZELZAL who has been aimed at the race since his impressive win in the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat at this course in July.

He will need to improve again however as he faces some tough opposition in form of Andre Fabre’s VADAMOS, who was last seen running a fine race in defeat behind Ribchester in the Prix Jacques Le Marois.

In an interesting move, trainer Alain De Royer Dupre has brought the Aga Khan’s ZARAK back in trip as he felt the Dubawi colt didn’t quite see out his race when finishing second to French Derby winner Almanzor at Deauville over one mile and two furlongs. Speaking to French racing channel Equidia, de Royer-Dupre stated “It is quite a stiff mile at Chantilly and it should suit him”.

British interest comes in the shape of DUTCH CONNECTION, bidding to rebound from a slightly disappointing effort behind Signs of Blessing last time at Deauville in the Prix Maurice de Gheest. However, he was previously impressive when winning the Group 2 Lennox Stakes over seven furlongs at Goodwood and should he encounter his preferred fast ground, he could cause an upset.

It promises to be a fascinating series of dress rehearsals at Chantilly this weekend for the Arc and that stellar heat's glittering supporting card.

- Nigel Howard


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