Will he, or won't he? Owner of Cracksman all but rules out Arc

By Geoffrey Riddle@Louchepunter
Sun 10 Sep 2017

By Geoffrey Riddle in Chantilly

Horses are fragile animals.

On the one hand it has to be applauded that Cracksman’s owner Anthony Oppenheimer has politely pointed two fingers at the break-neck world that we inhabit for a slower, more nurtured approach to his colt’s racing career after the three-year-old’s victory in the Prix Niel at Chantilly on Sunday.

On the other, and tipping the balance by sheer weight of evidence, is the position that he should call trainer John Gosden immediately to say he wants to run Cracksman in the Prix De l’Arc de Triomphe back here on October 1.

Ever since Cracksman just managed to edge out Permian at Epsom the mantra has been that the unfurnished son of Frankel needs more time.

Since he was given a short holiday on the advice of Pat Smullen after he was denied by Capri in the Irish Derby he has blossomed.

Cracksman - Frankie Dettori - Prix Niel - Chantilly - FocusOnRacing Cracksman is a best-priced 10-1 for the Arc with Betfair, Paddy Power and Skybet after his Prix Niel victory (FocusonRacing)

Cracksman confirmed the promise of his Great Voltigeur stroll on Sunday, even though he had to work harder than his pre-race odds of 1-3 suggested to land the Group Two contest. Frankie Dettori had to work a little to coax his mount to finish three and half lengths ahead of Andre Fabre’s Avilius.

There is no hiding that Cracksman is now a Group One winner in waiting and what better stage to put this to the test than in Europe’s showpiece event? Not in some fanciful time in a future that the bay colt might never reach.

Consider the Arc picture, even after Order Of St George demolished the Irsh St Leger field. Last year's third-placed horse is 16-1 to go two places better.

The German Prix Foy winner Dschingis Secret will only run in three weeks if the ground is soft.

Dschingis Secret - Adrie De Vries - Prix Foy - Chantilly - FocusOnRacing The progressive Dschingis Secret won the Prix Foy at the expense of favourite Satono Diamond (FocusOnRacing)

Satono Diamond, Japan’s great hope, was beaten out of sight, although later his trainer, Yasutoshi Ikee, revealed he had sustained a minor cut to his back leg when fourth in the Foy.

Bateel, the Prix Vermeille winner, will also only run in the Qatar-backed spectacle if the ground is soft and his Abu Dhabi royal family owners decide to pay the supplementary fee. What else other than Enable is there to beat Cracksman?

“That’s the gamble you have to take,” Oppenheimer said, not sounding totally convinced as the conversation wore on. “Do you keep this horse as a four-year-old knowing all of the jockeys say he is going to be much better next year?

“Or do you take and run in the Arc and give him second or third without his jockey because his jockey will almost certainly be on Enable.

“Enable has had a hard season and she may start to come in her coat. There is another chance next year for the Arc, and the year after though. It is not the Derby.

“That is the problem that Mr Gosden will be facing.”

Oppenheimer suggested that a decision on Cracksman’s participation will not be made for at least ten days on the return of trainer John Gosden from the sales in America. It is the Newmarket trainer’s choice to make, and he may not actually make it until the supplementary stage before the big race on October 1. There is still hope.

Bateel - Pierre-Charles Boudot - Prix Vermielle - Chantilly - FocusOnRacing Bateel could try to build on her maiden Group One success in the Prix Vermielle by running on Qipco British Champions Day at Ascot next month (FocusOnRacing)

Part of the thinking behind making Cracksman wait until next year’s Arc lies in that stable companion Enable is as short as Evens for Europe’s showpiece contest.

Cracksman is no bigger than Betfair’s 10-1, but is as short as 5-1. He would be considerably longer for the 2018 Arc should any bookmaker be bothered enough to price it up. He is a similar price for the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot on October 21, when, presumably, Dettori will be available to ride. Berkshire looks the most likely destination for him.

“Psychology with this horse is pretty essential,” Oppenheimer added. “It is essential to send him home for a four-year-old career without a hard race.

“Whether we run him in the Arc or the Champion Stakes, we would prefer to put him away next year without a hard race this year.

“The objective is to preserve him for his four-year-old season. He won’t run in the Arc in 2017. To give him a hard race this year would compromise his four-year-old season. To not run this year is a risk, as there are a lot of things that can go wrong with a horse. But it is a risk that I am willing to take.”

In the Arc, Enable will have the considerable benefit of being ridden by Dettori who Oppenheimer considers an integral piece in Cracksman’s success. The Italian rider, who had been in the saddle for each of Enable’s five victories this campaign, believes it is an easy decision to make.

“Cracksman is getting stronger, but he still lacks a bit of experience as he has run only five times,” Dettori said. “I will not say it again, but he is going to be a better four-year-old.

“At the moment I am on Enable, who has won four Group Ones. She is more streetwise and she is a stronger horse.

"She needs no introduction. She has won everything by five lengths so I am sticking with her."

The final part of Oppenheimer’s thinking is that Cracksman would not lay a glove on his cherished Golden Horn at the same stage of their careers. Golden Horn had won a Dante, a Derby, an Eclipse and an Irish Champion before he scooped the Arc two seasons ago. Cracksman is only just getting going, and his inexperience is preventing Oppenheimer from grasping the nettle.

“At this stage of Cracksman’s career Golden Horn was the best horse in Europe,” agreed Dettori. “Cracksman is one year off him. His physique is much taller. He hasn’t got a physique like Golden Horn.”

There is only one Golden Horn, Oppenheimer said. There is only one Dettori, he added. There is only one Arc, however, and a horse only gets one chance to run in it with a generous three-year-old allowance.

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