By Geoffrey Riddle
When the question was asked the most airtime spent on any of Aidan O'Brien's five Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe runners was devoted to Winter.
Ever since Ryan Moore elected to ride the dual Guineas-winning grey the money has come for her. She now vies for second favouritism behind Enable with stable companion and last year's third Order Of St George, in additon to Juddmonte International and Coral Eclipse winner Ulysses.
Winter bids to become the first horse since Saumarez in 1990 to land the €5million (£4.4m) contest on their first start at 12 furlongs. On paper it is touch and go whether she stays the distance, being by superstar middle-distance sire Galileo, but out of classy sprinter Laddies Poker Two.
Ever since Winter landed the Nassau Stakes on soft ground at Glorious Goodwood O'Brien has publicly had the Arc at the back of his mind. She looked to enjoy the step up in trip, but was a shadow of her former brilliance when a lacklustre second behind nemesis Hydrangea in the Matron Stakes over a mile at Leopardstown.
That defeat was put down to a setback prior to the race, and O'Brien hopes that Winter can freeze out her rivals to deliver him his third Arc.
"We’re very happy with Winter since Leopardstown and we knew we had to run her there if she was to run in the Arc," O'Brien told Racing UK at Newmarket on Saturday.
"That is why she ran in the Matron, and ran a super race and got a little bit tired. She has come forward very well since and hasn’t missed a beat."
On whether Winter will last home the full 12 furlongs he added: "She is out of a very fast home-bred mare but she is by Galileo and is a big masculine filly that travels strong through her races. She hasn’t been stopping yet at any rate. It is a big ask for her but it will be something that we will be able to enjoy watching."
Order Of St George leads the line, according to the betting with Capri, the St Leger and Irish Derby winner, seemingly totally dismissed at as big as 20-1. Idaho and Seventh Heaven complete the Ballydoyle squad.
"Order Of St George is in good form," he said. "We've been happy with him since the Irish Leger at the Curragh and everything has gone well.
"Capri is in good form. Obviously he hasn't done a lot since Doncaster, but he seems to be in good form," said the master of Ballydoyle.
Of all Enable's 17 rivals jockey Frankie Dettori has nominated Ulysses as their biggest danger and Jim Crowley believes Sir Michael Stoute's reprsentative is improving ahead of Sunday's rematch.
Enable had every weight concession going when she slammed Ulysses by four and half lengths in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in July.Jim Crowley will hope Juddmonte International hero Ulysses can deliver his first Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (PA)
Ulysses is 4lb better off form their meetig at Ascot due to the sliding weight for age scale, and the reiging champion jockey hopes that might be enough to at least narrow the gap.
"We are better off at the weights since the King George, but it was very testing ground that day so I'm praying we don't get much rain," he said.
"The feeling he gave me in the Juddmonte was that he'd clearly improved, but he'd need to have as well."
Enable has surely also improved but Alan Cooper, racing manager to Ulysses' owners the Niarchos family, was upbeat.
"Sir Michael has had this in mind for quite some time. We've been very happy with him since York and we're looking forward to it."
One of the talking points heading into this year's race is the apparent lack of strength in the home challenge.
In form terms at least the leading French hope is Jean-Claude Rouget's Brametot, who won both the French Guineas and Derby back in the spring.
Unfortunately the wheels fell off in his prep race when he was slowly away and was eventually well beaten by Eminent at Deauville, when it subsequently emerged he had injured his back.
Harry Herbert, racing manager for Al Shaqab, majority shareholders in Brametot, said: "He's won at Chantilly so we don't have to worry on that score.What he has to do is break on terms, if he jumps out slowly, well, you don't want to be giving horses like Enable and Ulysses a start, it will be hard enough to beat them on a level playing field.
"Of course, over a mile and a half for the first time it will be slightly more forgiving if he is slowly out but we'd obviously rather he was closer to the pace than he has been in the past.
"He's over the back problem he had at Deauville and and he looks much better. We'd like to think he's going with a chance."
Alain de Royer-Dupre's Zarak could hardly be better bred being by Dubawi out of an Arc winner in Zarkava winning only four of his 12 races but he did win a Group One last time out.
"He looks very well, he had his main gallop at Maisons-Laffitte with two pacemakers, it was like a little race, and he did very well," said De Royer-Dupre.
"For this type of horse it is difficult to run him twice at Chantilly (which was why he swerved a trial). Some horses are very anxious so it was better to do that.
"A mile and a half could be his best trip now, in his last race he did very well and it was the plan to run in the Arc. His dam stayed well and he has a good turn of foot.
"He was second to Almanzor twice last year, he's a very good horse. He has a very strong turn of foot."
It would not be the Arc without Andre Fabre being represented but with Plumatic a rank outsider Cloth Of Stars is his main hope and even he is 33-1.
Cloth Of Stars has broken two track records this season but has to prove that he conclusively stays 12 furlongs on soft ground.
"I couldn't be happier with Cloth Of Stars's condition coming into the race," Fabre said.
"His preparation has been ideal and he has come on as expected from his run in the Foy," he added.
Adrie de Vries rides Dschingis Secret, winner of the Prix Foy, for German trainer Markus Klug.
"We'd be delighted if he finished in the first four," said De Vries.Dschingis Secret beat Cloth Of Stars in the Prix Fox at Chantilly a few weeks ago (FocusOnRacing)
"Chantilly is a tricky track, it's not like Longchamp, anything can happen. "Of course Aidan O'Brien will be a danger too, I really liked the way Order Of St George won last time so he's one of the dangers and a few others but we fancy our chances.
"He can win but he's got a little bit to find to beat Enable. It's a horse race, anything can happen."
Satono Diamond is the latest Japanese contender to attempt to win the Holy Grail, however he appears to be an outsider based on his performance in the Prix Foy.
Kazuhiro Nakazawa, assistant trainer to Yasutoshi Ikee, said: "He's in good condition, he's much better than before the prep race.
"He did not like the ground then, it was a little bit heavy. He prefers fast ground. Heavy ground in France is not like in Japan.
"He's much better than before."
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