The Arc is finally upon us and an epic weekend of championship racing awaits, writes Nigel Howard. This year’s event, and next year's too, will be held for the first time at the picturesque Hippodrome de Chantilly whilst Longchamp undergoes its 30-million-euro facelift.
Sixteen go to post for the 95th running of the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe on Sunday, the greatest flat race of the season for middle-distance performers from around the globe.
POSTPONED has dominated the ante-post market for the race from the moment he stormed to victory in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic back in March. He has since continued his winning ways with a very impressive victory in the Coronation Cup at Epsom on Derby Day, beating FOUND by five lengths, and then ran out a comfortable winner of the Juddmonte International at York in August.
That was possibly an even better performance given that he was coming back from a long layoff and he was running over an inadequate trip. Sakhee and Sea The Stars are the only horses to have completed the Juddmonte/Arc double so it could be argued that this is not the ideal route to Arc glory but the son of Dubawi has hardly put a hoof wrong all season and is the worthy favourite
With so much ammunition at his disposal, Aidan O’Brien has finally whittled down this year’s assault on Europe’s finest race to just three and they are headed by Breeders Cup Turf winner FOUND. She was obviously not at her best when thrashed by POSTPONED at Epsom in June and encountered softer ground than ideal when second to My Dream Boat in the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Ascot.
After a break she ran a fine race in the Yorkshire Oaks before producing her best form this term when finishing second behind French Derby winner Almanzor in the hottest race of the year so far, the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.
That surely represents the best form on offer here, from arguably the best recent trial race, and the daughter of Galileo comes into the Arc at the top of her game. Her 2015 Keeneland victory over last year's Arc winner, Golden Horn, proves she can win over the classic trip and with stable jockey Ryan Moore in the irons she has to be in with a great chance.
The Coolmore trio is completed by Gold Cup winner ORDER OF ST GEORGE and King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes hero HIGHLAND REEL.
Westerner was the last Gold Cup winner to attempt the double when he put in an inspired effort behind Hurricane Run back in 2005 to finish second. That was a major surprise however and the feeling is that ORDER OF ST GEORGE will do well to emulate his illustrious counterpart, although he is sure to be a popular choice with punters since Frankie Dettori has been booked to ride.
Equally, HIGHLAND REEL won his Ascot showpiece in fine fashion but the form of that race has not worked out and his recent run down the field in the Irish Champion Stakes does nothing to suggest he's capable of repelling all, even though he will probably have a front-running first mover tactical advantage in this big field.
Staying with the Irish contingent, HARZAND tasted defeat for only the second time in his career when he also disappointed behind Almanzor in the Irish Champion Stakes. However, the son of Sea The Stars had legitimate excuses as he was found to be sore after the race. So, while that outing can be logically ignored, the likelihood of fast ground is a major question mark about his ability to produce a peak showing.
Harzand's handler, Dermot Weld, reports him to be training well and the super tough dual-Derby winner should go close if he is over his ailment and if rains sweeps through north of Paris. The return to the classic trip is expected to be in his favour.
Andre Fabre has trained seven winners of this great race, the last of them being the Khalid Abdullah-owned Rail Link who famously beat Japanese wonder horse, Deep Impact, in 2006. His representative this year is NEW BAY, who finished an excellent third in last year's Arc behind Golden Horn and stable companion Flintshire.
After a disappointing seasonal reappearance behind A Shin Hikari in the Prix d’Ispahan, the Dubawi colt returned to action after a long layoff to win a Group 3 event at Deauville in August. He was then a promising fourth in that potential kingmaker race, the Irish Champion Stakes.
Prince Abdullah's racing manager, Teddy Grimthorpe, stated "We were very pleased with New Bay and it was really his first proper race of the year. He has come out of it really well, he looks great and has been training really well”.
Fabre’s stable was under a bit of a cloud over the summer but his horses are now showing renewed zest and that run in Ireland was by far NEW BAY’s best effort this season. He is a lively contender.
For many, Arc Trials day did little to clarify the big race picture. The main attraction of the meeting was the reappearance of Japanese Derby winner MAKAHIKI in the Group 3 Prix Niel. In the event, he failed to impress with a narrow victory over Midterm, who was returning from a back injury, and Doha Dream, a recent listed race winner.
His pilot, top French jockey Christophe-Patrice Lemaire, was upbeat after the race, insisting that son of Deep Impact needed the run and that he never does more than he has to in a race. However, it is perhaps a sign that neither of the horses he beat is considered good enough by connections to make the big race line-up and although MAKAHIKI is respected, his current odds of 6-1 look on the low side, even allowing for the likely depression in PMU odds by swathes of adoring Japanese fans at Chantilly.
SILVERWAVE deserves his place in the race after a solid performance in the Prix Foy. His trainer, Pascal Bary, has yet to lift this coveted prize but came very close when Sulamani just failed to catch Marienbard in 2002. The trainer has been quite bullish about his charge and clearly rates his chances, stating, “SILVERWAVE is your typical Arc horse; he stays the distance, he travels well and he has class”. Christophe Soumillon has been booked to do the steering and he could spring a surprise.
The last filly to complete the Prix Vermeille/Arc double in their classic year was superstar Treve three years ago. This year, that challenge has been given to LEFT HAND after her assured win in the Vermeille, where she beat Godolphin’s mare, Endless Time.
The daughter of Dubawi was no match for La Cressonnière when beaten into second in the Prix de Diane back in June. However, her handler, Carlos Laffon-Parias, is convinced that she has improved considerably since then and with the very favourable weight allowance she receives over older horses, she has a sporting chance.
Danedream won this race for Germany back in 2011 and their representative, SAVOIR VIVRE, gets a mention after he ran with real credit in France last time to take the Grand Prix de Deauville, beating SILJAN’S SAGA. That was only his fifth career start after finishing second on his previous run in the German Derby. Owner Baron von Ullman has had some classy animals in his time with the likes of Shirocco, Manduro and top sire, Monsun. He would prefer softer ground but the fact that connections are running catches the eye.
It is great that POSTPONED has finally made it to the big day after missing out last year and having carried the burden of being ante-post favourite for this race all season. FOUND is clearly back to her very best as her performance in Ireland proved and her current price of 7-1 looks generous.
However, I believe NEW BAY (12-1) represents the best value in the race and he has an outstanding each way chance. His masterful trainer looks to have timed things to perfection and the return to twelve furlongs looks certain to suit last year’s French Derby winner and Arc third.
With POSTPONED such a short priced favourite, there is plenty more each-way value to be had. Top of that list could be LEFT HAND (16-1), SILVERWAVE (20-1) or SAVOIR VIVRE at a whopping 33’s.