Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe 2013 Preview / Tips
It's the big one of Longchamp's big weekend, the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe 2013. Whilst not quite being the race that stops a nation (there isn't actually any sporting event in modern Gaul that can claim such attention from the famously insouciant inhabitants of our near neighbours), it is certainly the most important horse race in Europe, and a crowd of somewhere close to 60,000 will file in before it starts, and out after it finishes... many of them within ten minutes either side.
Yes, such a prestigious race deserves such a long opening sentence, punctuated to within a semi colon of its life.
On with the Arc show, and what a show it promises to be this year. There is truly global representation, with much of Europe, and Japan, engaged. And it is a race with as much depth as it has international flavour. Naturellement, this fusion dish has a predominantly French base (Treve, Intello, Flintshire, et al), but it is thickened with German stodge (Novellist) and fiendishly spiced with Japanese wasabi (Orfevre, Kizuna).
For those who prefer meat and two veg, les rosbifs offer an alternative plate comprising Irish potatoes, Ruler Of The World and Leading Light (when was the last time two Classic winners were referred to as potatoes?), and English beef in the form of Al Kazeem and The Fugue (not in a Tesco burger sense, you understand).
OK, enough with the lame analogies, let's get to the meat of the argument, starting with the trends.
Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe 2013 Trends
The first thing I want to touch on is the draw. For some reason, this seems to be a contentious issue. But, to my mind, it's straightforward: you want to be drawn low to stand the best chance of winning the Arc. Here's what the data tells us on this:
The last ten winners had an average post position of 6.0, with just one winner - the very talented Dalakhani - drawn in double figures. He was drawn 14 in a field of 13 (one non-runner), which is a smaller than average field. The average field size in the last ten years has been 15.4.
Second placed horses in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe had an average draw position of 6.5, with only Orfevre last year running up from a stall higher than ten.
Indeed, there has been just a single winner drawn higher than ten; a single runner up drawn higher than ten; and, five third placed horses drawn higher than ten. In the seven big field Arcs (15+ runners) of the last decade, the average winning stall has been 4.86. In other words, the bigger field, the bigger the low draw advantage.
In case you think that's a fluke, the average for second placed finishers comes down slightly to 6.43, despite the presence of the biggest outlier on the board.
In the Arc, low draw is good, high draw is bad. Simple as that.
What about age? Winning the Arc is a young man's game. Or a young lady's game. Whilst gender seems unimportant in recent times - in fact, the girls have out-performed their numerical presence significantly - age is crucial.
Only six winners since 1990 were not three-year-olds. The Classic generation lead 17-6 in that time. Of the six older horses, five of them were four years old, and just Marienbard - a 16/1 shocker in 2002 - has scored for the older generations.
Orfevre, this year's short priced favourite, is five. So is Al Kazeem. And so are three others. Joshua Tree is six. No thanks. Unless they get a very favourable draw.
Arc Trials day has thrown up seven Arc winners since 2000 - the clue is in the name! - and five of those exited the Prix Niel. However, nothing has come from that race to win the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe since 2006.
More recently, both Zarkava (2008) and Solemia (2012) have exited the Vermeille to win the Arc. This year, Treve will attempt to replicate that feat.
Aside from the Niel, all other Arc winners since 2000 and before (Montjeu in 1999 won the Niel) ran in a Group 1 on their prior start. Ten of those thirteen 21st century Arc winners also won their previous race, with just Bago (3rd Prix Niel), Workforce (5th, injured, King George), and Solemia (3rd Prix Vermeille) bagging the big day spoils having fluffed their lines in rehearsal.
Look for Group 1 win or a recognised Arc trial win or place last time out.
After that, it becomes increasingly dangerous to conjure with the historical trends, especially in this annee des annees. There is such strength in depth in the 2013 Arc that to split the field on anything but the most robust and logical of trends is dicing with wagering disaster.
I will however, exclude horses older than four; those who failed to win in a Group 1 or at least place in an Arc trial (Vermeille or Foy); and those drawn in a double figure stall. True, on the last point, it could almost cut the field in half. But in such a competitive renewal, a low draw will be a sizeable advantage.
This leaves us with a pre-draw shortlist of Novellist, The Fugue, Leading Light, Ocovango, Kizuna, Ruler Of The World, and Treve.
Orfevre, no bigger than 5/2 anywhere, has a lot to do to overcome history. He is five years old, which is older than all bar Marienbard since 1998, and an age at which only three horses since 1948 have won. He is bidding to win after running in the race before, which has never been done before. And he won a very slowly run Prix Foy.
Now, let me be clear. I am not saying Orfevre cannot win. I am saying he is terrible value in a race as open as this, with so many historical impediments to overcome. Oh yes, and don't forget that he should have won last year, but dogged it in! He's an awful price, win or not. A truly awful price.
If you've never seen the video of Orfevre dogging it last year, you will see what I mean from watching this video of Orfevre fans. Let it warm up, or move it on, to about the two minute mark. I tell you, this is pure comedy gold. 🙂
OK, so that's the trends and the frivolity out of the way, now let's get down to business. Which horses have the form to win the 2013 Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe? The answer, sadly (from a betting perspective at least), is most of them!
When you keep in mind that the last two winners of the Arc were 33/1 and 20/1, it may be unwise to pile into a 'shortie' for the big race. Quite simply, it's not that, erm, simple. The field is deep with talent, and there will be hard luck stories galore.
The horse which is favoured, and whose chance I've already lampooned above, is Orfevre. He has a tidal wave of history against him. That's not to say he can't win: he can. But he's rank value at 2/1 or 5/2. On the bright side, he was second in the Arc last year, and should have won. Moreover, he's done nothing wrong this term, winning the Group 2 Prix Foy, the weakest of the Arc trials, granted, without turning a hair.
Prior to that he won a Grade 2 in Japan over ten furlongs. Those have been his only runs this year, neither of them in top class company. That, for me, is another negative.
And here's another thing. After coming to win the Arc, and then dogging it in... he did the exact same thing in Japan on his final start last term, getting beaten a nose by Gentildonna (a top class Japanese horse). He's a heart breaker all right, and has cost romantic punters plenty. He looks set to do the same again this weekend, as the Japanese cram the betting windows to hurl yen and euros in his direction.
Next in the betting, and a far more credible alternative to my eye is Treve. She's a French filly from the Classic crop, and she's unbeaten in her four career starts. They include a sumptuous stroll in the Prix de Diane (the French Oaks), and an equally leisurely larruping of her opposition in the Prix Vermeille, also a Group 1, and a strong Arc trial.
Treve looks to go on any ground - her Diane win was on good and her Vermeille win on soft - and she stays this trip readily. She does lack a little experience after just that quartet of races, and my only reservation - granted a decent draw - would be how she'll handle such a big field. Aside from that, she looks very good.
And I have to concede my slight bias: so taken was I with her French Oaks win in June that I lobbed fifty quid in her direction for this at 14/1, win only. So she'll pay for my Parisian weekend if she can do the bizzo Sunday afternoon. Allez Treve!
[Alas, she has drawn 15 which is pretty awful, despite some judges suggesting this will suit her].
Novellist is a horse I love: it's very hard not to. He's tough. Really, really tough. He's classy. Very classy. And he's able. Top drawer. We've seen him duff up our best middle distance nags this year in the King George, which he romped by the small matter of five lengths from the best British and Irish Classic form yardstick, Trading Leather. And then he won the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Baden back in the fatherland.
That latest win was far more workmanlike than the King George, but Team Novellist (Andreas Wohler) almost certainly left a bit to work on. Expect a fitter hoss on Sunday. The Grosser Preis von Baden has been a good trial, too, with both Marienbard and Danedream winning that before winning this. And, if the French back Treve, and the Japanese back Orfevre (and to a lesser extent, Kizuna), Novellist is going to be a lovely, lovely price. That's what I'm hoping anyway, as he's the one I want to take alongside the pretty little French filly, Treve.
Market-wise, we're then into the realms of global Classic form, with Kizuna, the Japanese Derby, and Prix Niel, winner; Intello, the French Derby winner; Flintshire, the 'other French Derby' (Grand Prix de Paris) winner; Ruler Of The World, the Epsom Derby winner; and, Leading Light, the St Leger winner. Yes, this is a strong renewal of the Arc!
Kizuna beat Ruler Of The World and Ocovango in the Niel, and rumour has it he was only around 80% fit there. The way he traveled into that race, and the way he battled on when fitness gave out, marks him down as a horse of serious talent. The question, though, is what did he beat? He beat the winner and third from the Epsom Derby, a race the form of which has - as it often does - worked out poorly.
Ruler Of The World was also 'under-cooked' in the Niel, but I wouldn't expect him to improve as much as Kizuna, and so I wouldn't expect him to beat Kizuna. That Niel win was on soft ground, answering a question about Kizuna's ability to handle such conditions, and he looks a reasonable prospect (though some judges are put off by the fact that Yutaka Take takes the ride).
Ocovango shouldn't be good enough, though he does stay on well, albeit at the one pace. I'd be astonished if he could beat the two Derby winners that beat him last time out.
Intello is the potential wolf in sheep's clothing. He's a horse I'm happy enough to field against, but I'm mindful that he can beat me. His win in the French Derby - the proper one, the Prix du Jockey Club - was impressive. That race, run over a furlong shorter than this one, contained nineteen runners and he won by clear daylight. But. But... I'm just not convinced about a horse that ran in a Group 3 over a mile and a quarter as a prep for the Arc.
And I'm not convinced about a horse that has sufficient speed to run third in the French Guineas and the Prix Jacques le Marois, both over a mile. If he can win this strong Arc, over a mile and a half, he will be some tool. And, trained by Andre Fabre - a master of his craft, it is certainly possible. But, as they say in France, il est pas pour moi.
Flintshire was actually favourite for the Arc just a month ago, prior to disappointing immensely in the Prix Niel, where he trailed in a two length fourth to Kizuna and co. It's possible - indeed, likely - that he was unfit there, and he's sure to improve. But so were, and so are, at least two of the three horses in front of him there. It's less than two lengths of a turn around required, and that can happen with a quick break or a good draw. He'll probably be a bit shorter than 16/1 on the day, and it wouldn't be the biggest shock to see him win.
Another that I'm struggling to get a handle on is Leading Light, the St Leger winner. St Leger winners are often well bet in the Arc market (I remember Masked Marvel getting smashed into a couple of years ago), but their record is... poor. Nevertheless, Leading Light has a string of 1's to his name, which include the Queen's Vase at Royal Ascot as well as the Leger. He's clearly stoutly bred, and stays much further than these twelve furlongs. But he also had the speed to win over ten furlongs twice prior to stepping up in trip. Bottom line, a St Leger and Queen's Vase winner shouldn't have the zip and the nip required to beat the best middle distance horses on the planet. It might happen, but I couldn't wager it.
Lurking midway down the betting lists are a couple of seriously good middle distance horses, Al Kazeem and The Fugue. The former has won the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup, the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes, and the Group 1 Coral Eclipse this term. He was also third in the Group 1 Juddmonte International and second in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes, all this term. It's fair to say Al Kazeem is a legitimate Group 1 horse.
Those last two defeats may take a little excusing, and he has the additional burden of history in that he is a five year old trying to win the Arc, and he was beaten in a non-French Arc trial last time. But he's a bloody good horse, and he gets this trip. Softer ground would be a worry, and that is the final nick against him. Oh, and then there's the fact he's in the car park, with the highest draw of all in 18. If my bets on Treve and Novellist fail to register I'd love to see Al Kazeem win...
...or else I'd love to see The Fugue win. She's a wonder mare, probably the best we've had since Ouija Board, accepting that others will argue the merits of Snow Fairy. She has scooted up on her two most recent starts, in the Yorkshire Oaks (Group 1) and when beating Al Kazeem in the Irish Champion the last day. Good ground seems important to her, and we ought to keep in mind that she'll probably have a bit left to work on ahead of a tilt at either the Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Turf or, more likely, the Breeders Cup Turf itself. On balance then, not this time, lady. Especially since she's been withdrawn due to the ground.
Despite a couple of big-priced recent winners, it's hard to make a case for anything else. Both those big-priced winners either won or ran close up in a recognised trial. Meandre did win a soft ground German Group 1 over a mile and a half, and he has some back class as well. He's five though, which doesn't help. Perhaps he can run into a place at a whopping price: the fact that he's been supplemented at a cost of €100,000 suggests connections feel he's come out of his last win well enough. Moreover, he was only a length and a half behind Novellist in the Grosser Preis von Baden the time before, and there will be worse 50/1 shots this weekend.
Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe Selection: Treve 5/1 bet365 (paying e/w FOUR places)
Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe Next Best: Novellist 5/1 bet365 (paying e/w FOUR places)
Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe Best Outsider: Meandre 50/1 (paying e/w FOUR places) / 66/1 Coral (3 places)