The Arc weekend of racing, which culminates in the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe is more than just a one trick pony. On the Sunday alone, there are seven Group 1 races: a veritable feast of the best of Europe's equine talent. And, while Arc Saturday is in the shadow of its successor to some degree, it retains plenty of quality - spread across four Group 2 contests - in its own right.
The highlight is unquestionably the Prix Dollar, where serial Group 1 winners Cirrus des Aigles and Planteur will cross swords. Both have one eye on a bigger prize in a few weeks time - Cirrus will bid to regain the Champion Stakes crown he ceded to the mighty Frankel last year, while Planteur is heading transatlantic for a tilt at the Breeders Cup Classic - but the race should still be between them even at 90% fitness.
Supporting roles are played by the Prix Chaudenay, Prix de Royallieu and the Prix Daniel Wildenstein, and that makes for a fascinating afternoon of sport. I've previewed all four races, and will hope to find at least one winner from the quartet in the scribbles below.
Prix Chaudenay 2013 Preview / Tips
The Prix Chaudenay is the first of four Group 2's to be run on the Saturday of Longchamp's Arc weekend, and it's a staying race over a furlong shy of two miles for three year olds only.
Akin to a French St Leger, the Chaudenay traditionally brings together the best vintage stayers with those not quite quick enough to land one of the big middle distance Group 1's, the Prix du Jockey Club or the Grand Prix de Paris. And therein often lies the value...
Those horses which have run well at shorter distances generally make the market in the Chaudenay, but it's the proven stayers which come out on top more often than not. Indeed, seven of the last nine winners of the Chaudenay had run in the Prix de Lutece over course and distance four weeks earlier.
After two years where the winner did not exit the Lutece, last year saw a reversion to the recent norm, as Canticum - a neck second in the Lutece - reversed the form with Verema to win at a juicy 11/1. And that's an important point: it is not always the Lutece winner that prevails in the Chaudenay.
The main reasons for that are 1) the Lutece is a prep race whereas the Chaudenay is the big day, and 2) the Lutece is almost always run at a crawl followed by a sprint finish. In such circumstances, freak results can occur.
For instance, this year's favourite, Montclair, was way too far out of his ground and couldn't quite close the gap, eventually finishing third, two short necks behind the winner. The two that beat him vied for the lead throughout. With a more prominent position on Saturday I'd expect Montclair to see off his two vanquishers from the Lutece, even given a pedestrian gallop.
There is British interest in the race, as there is in most of the Group races across the Arc card. But it's been a terrible race for the channel-hoppers historically. The last winner from overseas was Wareed back in 2001, and before that Dick Hern's Family Friend, as far back as 1986.
Indeed, in the last ten years, seventeen British or Irish-trained horses have run in the Chaudenay, nine of them sent off 10/1 or shorter, and the best finish was third (three times). In the last seven years, there has been just one third placed finisher, from eleven runners, seven of which were 11/1 or shorter.
Of course, Hughie Morrison's Nearly Caught, the sole British raider this time, could win. But history doesn't support his case. Nor especially does his form profile: stepping up out of handicaps into a well contested Group 2 overseas.
No, this looks best left to the Lutece 1-2-3 of Valirann, Lucky Look, and Montclair. The last named is trained by Andre Fabre, who can lay claim to a staggering eleven wins in this race, since his first - Rutheford - in 1983. Whilst that is of immediate interest, it is worth noting he's gone five years without a win in the race now. And, though he was unrepresented in two of those years, he also saddled the favourite in two more renewals.
Montclair may be short enough on the day and, if he is, I'll have no qualms in switching allegiance to Valirann, who himself has a progressive profile and could well get first run on the Fabre horse again.
If there's a dark horse in the race then it may be the Darbadar-k horse. He's run just thrice, and had improved with each spin, getting off the mark last time under hands and heels. This is a big step up in trip and class, but he's a colt with plenty of improvement to come. On balance, I'll look elsewhere though, unless he's a double digit price.
Tactics will be crucial in the Chaudenay, and I have it between Montclair and Valirann, with preference for the former at a price above 2/1, and the latter otherwise.
Most likely Chaudenay winner: Montclair 3/1 (1/4 odds 1-2-3 with bet365 if you want to play safe)
Value Chaudenay play: Valirann 9/4 BetVictor, Paddy
Prix Daniel Wildenstein 2013 Preview / Tips
This all age mile contest is a Group 2, and attracts a decent field from across Europe. In the last sixteen years, just three three-year-olds have won the Daniel Wildenstein, and that's enough for me to (foolishly?) overlook the vintage posse, despite what is ostensibly a reasonable three pounds weight-for-age allowance.
A huge field of eighteen are entered, six of them three-year-olds. The field size could well have a bearing on the outcome, with inside posts and prominent run styles generally less likely to encounter troubled passages in a race that will almost certainly create hard luck stories.
Of the raiding party, only three have managed to nick this since the turn of the century, and they were all trained by Saeed bin Suroor. Five British or Irish horses attempt to claim the prize this time, none in the royal blue silks of Godolphin.
Those drawn low and with a fairly prominent running style include Don Bosco, Fire Ship, and Gereon, which will probably try to lead. Fire Ship is trained in England by William Knight, and he'll have his work cut out to win in this lofty grade, despite some decent efforts in recent times at Listed and Group 3 level.
The other pair are interesting. Don Bosco, owned by Omar Sharif, couldn't live with the Group 1 speedsters in the Prix Maurice de Gheest last time, but had previously run Intello to two lengths, and before that ran Maxios to three lengths. And, four starts back, he won a Group 2 on good to soft over a mile. Those are the conditions he'll face here, and on that basis he has an each way squeak.
Gereon will be ridden by Brit, Liam Jones, who keeps the ride after steering the horse to a Group 2 win in Germany last time out. He made all there and he's likely to attempt to do the same again here, from a decent draw in seven. Gereon has run behind some pretty smart horses in his career: Excelebration, Waldpark, Danedream, Worthadd, and he's a smart enough animal in his own right.
The best, and the best drawn, of the British is Gregorian, in stall five. Trained by Johnny G, who won this in 1997 with Decorated Hero, Gregorian has run some fine races this year, including when third in the Queen Anne Stakes, a Group 1 at Royal Ascot. He's versatile regarding ground and running style, and has won from seven to nine furlongs: in other words, he's likely to run his race again here.
For all that, his only win at this mile trip was in a very weak conditions race at Hamilton where he was sent off the 1/7 favourite. A place looks to be reserved for him, but I'd be surprised if nothing was able to pass him before the jam stick.
If it came up boggy and if he could get across from his wide-ish draw, Penitent would have a decent chance. Alas, it looks as though the luck of the Irish has deserted them on the ferry, with Brendan Bracken and Yellow Rosebud pulling posts 18 and 17 respectively: in the car park.
It's a trappy race, and I'll be betting based on early speed and a low draw. That brings in Don Bosco and Gereon for me, both of which should be nice each way prices. The former may just be suited to stalking the latter, and benefit from that slip-streaming to prevail.
If it came up soft, Penitent would certainly be of interest.
Each way pick in the Prix Daniel Wildenstein: Don Bosco 14/1 Hills
Soft ground choice: Penitent 12/1 BetVictor
Prix de Royallieu 2013 Preview / Tips
The Royallieu is a mile and a half Group 2 for fillies and mares, aged three and up. It has been dominated by three and four year olds, to the extent that no horse older than that has won since at least 1974. Indeed, three-year-olds have won all bar ten of the last 38 renewals.
This year, the field of ten comprises only three- and four-year-olds.
The Brits have fared all right in this event, winning in 2007 and 2011, and are double-handed this time, with Riposte and the unbeaten Pomology standing their ground.
Of that pair, Riposte has the best level of form, accentuated by her poignant Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes win at Royal Ascot, just days after the passing of Sir Henry Cecil. Since that success, however, she's trailed in down the field in a pair of Group 1 contests. Granted, they were higher class affairs than this but the margin of defeat, especially on her most recent run, makes it a leap of faith to support her here.
Pomology looks the likeliest of the British lasses to continue her three-match career unbeaten run.
Trained by Johnny G(osden), no stranger to Longchamp glory, Pomology has already acquired a taste for Gallic galloping, having struck in a Group 3 at Deauville over the same extended mile and a half as the Royallieu. Ground softer than good would be a new experience, but she handled the Kempton poly well enough, giving hope that she'll cope with good to soft at least.
The local entry looks deep, but without there being a standout contender. Chalnetta could just be the pick of the French, and if the phrase 'she deserves to win a race like this' isn't downright stupid, then she deserves to win a race like this. Why? Because she's run second in similar contests on her last two starts, running into the very smart pair, Pacific Rim (headed to the Champions Day Fillies and Mares race) and La Pomme d'Amour.
There is nothing which has shown itself to be of that class in this field, so Chalnetta should go close, granted a loose lead on the front, as is her wont.
If it comes up on the soft side, Orion Love might have a chance. She ran a blinder when four to my Arc fancy, Treve, in the Group 1 Prix Vermeille, and her profile implies she's a better filly with cut underfoot. If she can settle better and take a prominent position, I'd fancy her to make the frame.
Siljan's Saga is another that will relish testing ground, and looks bred for this sort of trip despite having generally been campaigned over shorter. She's also raced mainly at the provincial tracks, so this will be a different sort of test, but she does deserve a crack at it, and has scope to be better than she's shown so far against a more exacting stamina test such as the Royallieu.
Of the remainder, Yellow And Green stands out. She was an excellent fifth in last year's Arc, and has had just the one run this term so far. That was a strange effort, as she completed fluffed the start and was detached, before making up ground and then finally seeing her run flatten out. That was back in May, though, so presumably something wasn't quite right with her afterwards as she's had a protracted time on the sidelines since. If she is at her best, she's got the class to win this, no question. But, given the interrupted season she's had, it is a fair-sized 'if'.
Royallieu soft ground tip: Orion Love 8/1 SkyBet, 888sport
Royallieu good ground tip: Chalnetta 7/1 SkyBet
Best of the British: Pomology 7/2 general
Prix Dollar 2013 Preview / Tips
The Prix Dollar, run over a distance just short of a mile and a quarter, is a very good Group 2, and arguably borderline Group 1. Certainly, it has at least one legitimate Group 1 horse entered, and perhaps as many as three.
The obvious horse, and the most likely winner, is Cirrus Des Aigles, a true star of the flat game. He's seven now, and a gelding, so he'll race until he can't race any more. And he's won the Dollar twice in the last three years, as well as recording a short neck second in between times. He's been targeted at an Autumn campaign all year, and I think he'll win, plain and simple.
Amongst his incredible seventeen career victories so far, he can boast three Group 1's, four Group 2's, five Group 3's, and two Listed races. Nice palmaires!
This is his optimum trip, and he's ground agnostic, so no worries on that score. With nine course wins too, seven at the Dollar distance, he knows his own way home around Longchamp's pistes.
True, he endured a run of four defeats earlier in the season, but he suffered six losses in a row earlier in his career and it hardly stopped him bouncing back. His early season form is always weaker than his late season form: in fact, he's lost on seasonal bow in each of his six racing seasons. Three of his four losses this season were at a mile and a half, beyond his optimum, and the other two were second places - firstly behind Frankel in the Group 1 Champion Stakes, and then when arguably given too much to do in a Group 3 at Deauville.
I'd expect him to be at least five pounds better than his last run, the form of which might be good enough to win this without that improvement.
Against him, Maputo could be a Group 1 horse one day, and has already won a Group 3, on his most recent start. That, like all of his last six runs, was on good to firm ground though and, whilst he won his maiden on soft, it's entirely possible he simply outclassed a weak field of Hamilton non-winners there.
Ground issues aside, Maputo has a lovely progressive profile, and this is his distance as well. He'd certainly be capable of winning a decent ground 'normal' Group 2, but the presence of Cirrus des Aigles and softish turf is enough for this punter to push his chips in another direction.
Then there's Planteur, winner of the Group 1 Prix Ganay in 2011 when trained in France by Ellie Lellouche, and third in this year's Dubai World Cup. He's had a lovely break through the summer, with just a 'penalty kick' Group 3 win at Windsor towards the end of August keeping him away from his hay.
He'll be pitched at some valuable races this autumn/winter, and could yet take in the Breeders Cup Classic, a race for which he's a 25/1 shot currently with the British bookies (and a race where the top two in the market, Game On Dude and Fort Larned, CANNOT POSSIBLY WIN).
There are two small niggles with Planteur. First, like Cirrus, this is not his ultimate goal, but rather a prep for the bigger battles ahead. And second, he does have a tendency to run well without winning. In his last eighteen runs, he had 'just' four wins. And seven second or third placed finishes, including in Group 1 company. This step down to Group 2 might be enough for him to score again, and he's respected, but I'm more interested in him in his next race, hopefully at Santa Anita.
Mandour is also a player, providing it's not too soft. He won well in the Listed Gala Stakes at Sandown three starts back, and since then has had excuses. First, he was given way too much to do in a slowly run race behind Petit Chevalier and CdA at Deauville, and then he sunk in the Prix Foy bog behind Orfevre. If eight or more go to post, Mandour could be a bit of each way value, assuming the ground is good or better.
Noble Mission will enjoy some give, and this full brother to Frankel could prove up to Group 2 level in a soggy context. His form on quicker than good reads 24443, while on good or softer it's 21121231. There is an argument to be had about his optimal trip, and whether it might be a quarter mile further than this, but I suspect this could be his best, despite the majority of his races being at a mile and a half.
Most Likely Winner: Cirrus des Aigles 11/4 Hills
Possible value play (softer than good) : Noble Mission 12/1 BetVictor
Possible value play (good or quicker) : Mandour 12/1 bet365 (1/4 odds e/w)