Jean-Claude Rouget had a day to forget at Deauville, with the eagerly anticipated return of Almanzor proving something of a disaster.
Off the track since his sensational victory in the Champion Stakes at Ascot last October, he was sure to show a little ring-rust. However, finishing last in a mediocre Group Three was certainly not scripted, and Rouget has his work cut out to get this high-class colt back to his best for those autumnal showpieces.
The trainer’s comments after the disappointment put into question Almanzor’s future, when saying: “It is so hard to bring a horse to a race like this after being stopped for ten months, it’s impossible. He rose to such heights at three it is difficult to get that back. People talk about racehorses like they are racing cars but if a car’s engine begins to tire, you take it out and replace it.”
He continued: “You have to remember the best of times with him and they were really very good. The race at Leopardstown was the best field I have ever seen and he beat them all so well, you have to remember that, when you think of his future as a stallion. No decision has been made and we’ll have to talk with all the partners, but he seems to have come back to the stables fine.”
The trainer’s post-race comments hardly installed confidence, though the bookmakers possibly overreacted when sending Almanzor out to 20s for both the Arc and Ascot’s Champion Stakes. The horse was the best in the business last year, and is surely worth another shot before career defining decisions are made. A repeat trip to Leopardstown looks a possibility, with his performance there likely to prove critical. After such a poor return to the track, a shot at the Arc, over a trip he is yet to attempt, now looks completely out of the question.
Almanzor’s flop resulted in a shortening of Enable’s odds for the Chantilly showpiece. She’s now even-money in places, for a race that is rapidly looking uncompetitive. Rouget’s day out at Deauville failed to improve, when Brametot also flopped on his return to a racecourse. He’d been off the track since winning the French Derby in early June, but even a near two-month absence could not explain the dismal 10-length drubbing by Eminent in an ordinary looking Group Two.
He can be backed at anything from 10s to 20/1 for the Arc, but will need to improve vastly if he is to be considered a serious challenger to John Gosden’s flying filly.
Of the two, the Champion Stakes at Ascot now has a far deeper look to it than the Chantilly headliner. Almanzor may still line-up in hope of repeating last year’s Champions Day success. But should Rouget’s star fail to shine between now and then, the race still looks a potential thriller.
The Juddmonte International at York next week is a likely dress-rehearsal for the Ascot renewal. Dual-Classic winner Churchill is set to clash with Barney Roy and Ulysses, who were first and second home in the Coral-Eclipse. All three are prominent in the betting for the Champion Stakes in October, where the field may also include, Enable, Eminent, Highland Reel and Deauville disappointment Brametot. This year’s Arc is devoid of such depth in quality.
The Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe has long been Europe’s most prestigious race, drawing a stellar cast. But it’s starting to look as if Ascot’s Autumn extravaganza will attract a more powerful field over the shorter trip of 1m2f. The influence of modern day stallions, producing quicker horses, rather than those with the requisite stamina for the Arc, may be a reason for the apparent shift in target. But whatever the explanation, Chantilly’s loss looks sure to be Ascot’s gain.