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Arc sensation: Aidan O'Brien's four intended runners ruled out of showpiece

By Andy Stephens@StevoGG
Sun 4 Oct 2020
 O'Brien's four runners are out of the Arc (Pat Healy)
O'Brien's four runners are out of the Arc (Pat Healy)

Aidan O'Brien's intended four runners in the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp on Sunday were sensationally ruled out of the race on Saturday night.

It was revealed on Friday that various batches of GAIN horse feeds, which O'Brien uses, had been found to be contaminated with a prohibited substance.

And urine samples taken from the quartet have come back positive. Derby winner Serpentine was among O'Brien's team, along with three more Group One winners in Japan, Mogul and Sovereign. The first three-named had all been trading at about 14-1.

Serpentine had been supplemented for the race at a cost of 72,000 euros on Monday, while it would have cost thousands of pounds to keep the other trio engaged - even before allowing for substantial travelling costs and potential losses of prize-money and, perhaps further down the line, stallion fees.

Listen to what Aidan O'Brien had to say to Nick Luck on Luck On Sunday

The winning Arc connections will receive £1,452,711 - a fortune in a year when prize-money has been badly hit in Britain - with even fifth place worth £72,711. To put the winner's purse into perspective, only four trainers have accumulated more than that sum in Britain during the battle for the trainers' title, which began four months ago.

The absence of the O'Brien runners was announced via a tweet on the official account of the Ballydoyle yard at 9.20pm. It read: "Unfortunately the results of the urine samples taken from the horses yesterday have come back positive from the French laboratory.

"There is a possibility that the contaminent may have left their racing by the time of racing tomorrow however we have no guarantee of this and in order to protect the integrity of racing we have decided to withdraw all our horses from racing tomorrow.

"Joseph and Donnacha O'Brien will do likewise."

O'Brien Sr had withdrawn his brilliant dual Classic winner, Love, from the Arc on Thursday because of the heavy ground. She had been favourite in many ante-post lists.

 Derby winner Serpentine had been set to be among O'Brien's Arc runners (Focusonracing)
Derby winner Serpentine had been set to be among O'Brien's Arc runners (Focusonracing)

The absence of his star-studded quintet means Enable, seeking a record-breaking third win in the mile and a half feature, will start hot favourite for the fourth successive year.

She had been a top-priced 6-4 before news broke of the O'Brien runners being ruled out but is now no bigger than 11-10, with some firms quoting her at odds-on. Stradivarius, her stablemate, is a top-priced 11-2, but as low as 7-2 in places.

GAIN Equine Nutrition had issued a statement on Thursday advising trainers to refrain from feeding horses its equine products, including its widely used cubes and mix, after it emerged some of its products have been contaminated with Zilpaterol.

That substance is unlicensed in Europe but is used in America and elsewhere to promote weight gain, mainly in cattle. The advisory came about after France Galop announced five horses had tested positive for Zilpaterol in recent weeks.

On Sunday, the company issued a statement to Luck On Sunday which read: "The team at GAIN Equine Nutrition are hugely disappointed to learn that some of our customers have withdrawn their horses from important equine events this weekend, including the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe meeting in Paris.

"We are equally disappointed for all of our valued equine feed customers across Ireland, the UK, France and elsewhere who we advised on Friday to refrain from feeding our products until we fully investigated the source of potential contamination of our equine feed products.

"The contaminant, Zilpaterol, is a synthetic beta-agonist approved for use as a performance-enhancer in some beef production systems outside of the EU. It is important to stress that this synthetic substance has never formed part of any formulation in any of our animal nutrition ranges."

It added: "Intensive testing of our equine feed ranges, batches and individual ingredients has been underway around the clock since this issue first emerged in France.

"We are continuing to work closely with all appropriate agencies, including the Irish Department of Agriculture, to fully investigate the source, nature and extent of this contamination. We are also in close contact with horse racing regulatory bodies. We will provide a more detailed update once further information is available."

 Fancy Blue will be another absentee on Sunday (Pic: Focusonracing)
Fancy Blue will be another absentee on Sunday (Pic: Focusonracing)

O'Brien reacted swiftly by switching from GAIN products to Connolly's Red Mills feed on Friday, but the damage had been done.

He was set to have four other runners in the supporting races, too, including St Mark's Basilica, who had been favourite for the Qatar Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere.

O'Brien's two sons also had leading Group One contenders due to race on Sunday.

Donnacha's French Oaks and Nassau Stakes winner Fancy Blue was second favourite for the Prix de l'Opera, while his older brother Joseph's Pretty Gorgeous had headed the betting in the Qatar Prix Marcel Boussac.

On Saturday, Roger Varian withdrew all his runners as a precaution because he also uses GAIN products.

The Arc was first run 100 years ago but celebrations this weekend have already been muted.

Only 1,000 people will be permitted in the racecourse on Sunday because of the coronavirus pandemic and heavy rain in Paris this week has left the racecourse saturated.

Leading jockey Christophe Soumillon, 39, has been riding at the track longer than most and said on Saturday he had never known the ground at the track to be riding deeper. More showers are forecast on Sunday.

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