You need a thick skin and ear muffs to be a handicapper but it’s hard to feel much sympathy for the French assessors right now after they effectively prevented Verry Elleegant running in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on Sunday.
The multiple Group One winner and 2021 Melbourne Cup heroine has not been at her best in two starts this season since being switched to the yard of Francis Graffard in France. But the French number crunchers have basically ignored her impressive back catalogue and scored a spectacular own goal, with inferior horses above her in the pecking order.
It is little wonder that Francis Graffard vented his fury on Wednesday, when he also rightly questioned why the American-owned La Parisienne had been rated so lowly, which also led to the French Oaks runner-up not making the cut. Click here to read and hear what he had to say.
Verry Elleegant would have been a most unlikely Arc winner but that’s not the point. She was worthy of a starting slot and would have added another layer of intrigue to a race that everyone around the world wants to win.
Here’s how the five nations with runners are shaping up, with the best odds available in brackets. Soft ground or worse is on the cards with the going already described as soft and heavy rain forecast in Paris on Saturday.
Overall record: 68 wins in 100 Arc renewals. Possible runners: 9
How good was Vadeni's Eclipse performance, when he beat Mishriff?
The home team’s grip has slipped in recent years, as they’ve won only five of the past 13 renewals. Arc maestro Andre Fabre provided one of those recent victories via Waldgeist in 2019 but the days when he dominated the race – he scooped the spoils seven times between 1987 and 2006 – are over.
The serial French champion relies on Mare Australis (33-1), confusingly a five-year-old entire, with his other intended runner, True Testament, not making the cut. Mare Australis finished well adrift of Alpinista in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud last time and it's difficult to see him making much impression from his draw in stall 19.
France’s three-year-olds probably hold the key to their chances.
Vadeni (9-1) was a runaway winner of this year’s French Derby before following up in the Coral-Eclipse and not getting the rub of the green when third in the Irish Champion Stakes. His pedigree gives him prospects of staying but his hold-up style of racing will leave him a hostage to fortune and his connections had seemed fairly adamant he would run in the Champion Stakes until it was revealed that Baaeed would be heading to Ascot.
Onesto (14-1) was well adrift of Vedani in the French Derby but he had little chance to show what he could do after being held up in rear from an unfavourable draw. It wasn’t a surprise, at least to me, when he turned the tables in the Irish Champion and, having already proven his stamina for a mile and a half with victory in the Grand Prix de Paris, he commands respect, even if he will again face his Leopardstown conqueror in Luxembourg.
Al Hakeem (28-1) was another who had little chance in the French Derby the way it unfolded and, in the circumstances, he did well to be a staying-on fourth. He’s since landed a Group Two prize in Deauville and is clearly smart. His pedigree points to potential stamina imitations but he stayed on well enough at Chantilly and his odds are chunky given his ability.
Mickael Barzalona reflects on Sealiway's win on Champions Day
Sealiway (66-1) was a never-nearer fifth in the Arc last year - when trying the trip for the first time and perhaps ridden too cautiously - having previously chased home St Mark’s Basilica in the French Derby. He went on to land the Champion Stakes at Ascot just 13 days after his exertions in the Arc and, while he’s not managed to get his head in front this term sticking to 9f/10f, the second half of his season has been geared around this race and, well served by soft ground, he demands a second look at outlandish odds.
Bubble Gift (80-1) probably had a bit more left to give when eighth in the Arc last year but you need to take quite a leap to believe he can hit the jackpot this time, although his odds do not reflect that he finished little more than a length behind Alpinista at Saint-Cloud in July. He has more going for him than Grand Glory (80-1), who was an also-ran in the Prix Vermeille.
VERDICT: There’s depth to the home challenge, although none are shorter than 9-1. Onesto seems sure to run well, while Al Hakeem and Sealiway look underestimated in the market.
Overall record: 15 wins. Possible runners: 5
Baaeed would have been a hot favourite had he travelled over from Britain, while it’s a huge pity that we haven’t seen Desert Crown, the fluent Derby winner, since his success at Epsom. Pyledriver, the King George winner, and Hukum, the Coronation Cup victor, are other notable absentees.
In their absence, it feels Britain is sending something of a B Team, although that’s unfair on the admirable Alpinista, who has thrived on her racing and is seeking a sixth successive Group One triumph.
Sir Mark Prescott seemed in the first instance to identify some soft targets at the highest level on foreign shores for the Frankel filly, although her defeat of Torquator Tasso (unlucky in running) in Germany last summer took on greater relevance when the runner-up subsequently won the Arc.
Alpinista’s latest success in the Yorkshire Oaks, when showing a good attitude to fend off Oaks winner Tuesday, confirmed what a willing attitude she has, although both the runner-up and third home have since let the form down. She’s clearly made great strides since winning only two of her first seven races (including a Group Three reverse at Longchamp) and should have no excuses from stall 6 but this looks by far her toughest assignment and, no bigger than 6-1, she’s not for me.
Westover romped home at The Curragh
Another of Frankel’s progeny, Westover (10-1), drawn next to Alpinista in stall 7, fluffed his lines badly in the King George, having previously run away with the Irish Derby at The Curragh after an unlucky third in the Derby at Epsom. Much will depend on which version of him turns up but his supporters can take some comfort from the fact that two other colts who carried the silks of Prince Khalid Abdullah – Rainbow Quest and Workforce – were beaten at Ascot before triumphing in Paris.
John and Thady Gosden are set to be double-handed in Mishriff (28-1) and Mostahdaf (50-1), drawn together in stalls 17 and 16 respectively. The former’s globetrotting exploits have enabled him to become one of the sport’s highest-ever earners but a soft-ground Arc is unlikely to see to best advantage given his very best efforts have been achieved over shorter on faster terrain. Mostahdaf got back on track by winning the September Stakes last time but the four-year-old has never previously tackled a Group One and looks a poor substitute for Baaeed, who is in the same ownership.
Alenquer (100-1) was only ninth last year and was most disappointing in the Irish Champion.
VERDICT: Alpinista seems sure to make another bold bid, while Westover will be a threat to all if the King George was merely a blip.
Overall record: 8 wins. Possible runners: 2
Not for the first time, the Irish challenge hangs on the shoulders of Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore operation.
Six years have slipped by since Found, Highland Reel and Order Of St George gave O’Brien a famous 1-2-3, when the race was run at Chantilly, but he won’t be repeating that feat this weekend as he relies on Luxembourg (9-2 fav) and Broome (80-1). The latter, eleventh last year, and successful in just one of the 14 Group One races he has contested, merely looks to be making up the numbers.
O’Brien’s other Arc winner has been Dylan Thomas, who was four when edging home under Kieren Fallon in 2007.
The Verdict: Angus McNae studies Luxembourg's Irish Champion Stakes win
It means the master trainer has still never won the Arc with a three-year-old, which seems astonishing given that, for starters, he’s had eight Derby winners, ten Oaks winners, 14 Irish Derby winners and six Irish Oaks winners. Throw in a French Derby and Oaks winner and it all adds up to a stack of Classic quality that, collectively, has been unable to win in Paris on the first Sunday in October.
Thirty-one of O’Brien’s 52 Arc runners, stretching back to 1999, have been three-year-olds and none have finished closer than the third achieved by High Chaparral in 2002. That Derby winner went off at 11-5, with two more Epsom heroes for the trainer – Camelot and Ruler Of The World – being among his other beaten challengers.
They went off at single-figure odds, as did Milan, Soldier Of Fortune, Fame And Glory, Winter, Kew Gardens, Japan and Snowfall when they were defeated.
Has Luxembourg got what it takes to put the record straight?
The Camelot colt, drawn in 8, looks to have plenty going for him after his tenacious victory in the Irish Champion Stakes last time, with his only defeat in six starts coming when a staying-on third in the 2000 Guineas. He promises to stay a mile and a half and seems impervious to ground conditions, plus will have the assistance of two-time Arc-winning jockey Ryan Moore.
But doubts persist. By all accounts, he had a tough training schedule in the build-up to the Irish Champion, as a consequence of an injury earlier this year, and you wonder whether he will recoil or resent another battle less than a month later. Also, he can race a little on/off the bridle and in the hurly-burly of a 20-runner Arc that could be problematical.
For what it is worth, the last three-year-old colt to win was Golden Horn in 2015. And for those of you who like their trivia to link the past with the present, O'Brien's first Arc runner, Gengis Khan, was used as a pacemaker for 1999 winner Montjeu, trained by John Hammond. Montjeu is one of Luxembourg's grandads.
VERDICT: Luxembourg ticks several boxes but the stats are not encouraging and he’s not been missed by the bookmakers.
Overall record: 0 wins. Possible runners: 4
Is this the year when Japan finally get their cherished Arc winner? We seem to have been asking the same question ever since 1999 when El Condor Passo started second favourite, only to find Montjeu half a length too strong.
The subsequent defeats of such as Deep Impact, Nakayama Festa and Orfevre have only added to the years of hurt. In footballing terms, Japan have hit every part of the woodwork and had another shot cleared off the line. It can only be a matter of time before they find the back of the net, can’t it?
Titleholder (9-1) is their big hope this time, having raised his game since finishing sixth in last year’s Japan Derby.
He was subsequently a wide-margin winner of the Japanese St Leger and arrives after successive Group One wins over contrasting trips – 2m and then 1m 3f. The latter win was gained in a course record, while Deep Bond, a seven-length runner-up on the first occasion and four lengths third on the second, gives us some kind of yardstick as he won last year’s Prix Foy before failing to reproduce that running in the Arc.
Soft ground is an unknown for Titleholder but his dam was by Motivator, whose stock enjoy plenty of give. He was, of course, also the sire of two-time Arc winner Treve. We also know Titleholder's stamina won’t ebb away given his effectiveness over further. He looks a resolute galloper and seems to hit the ground pretty hard, so it may even be that softer conditions will show him in an even better light. Stall 10 means he's in the centre of all the action.
If Japan racegoers attend in any numbers, they will back him off the boards. Take an early price, and don't rely on his SP.
Deep Bond (80-1) has already been used as a punchbag by Titleholder a couple of times in the past year, while Japan Derby winner Do Deuce (40-1) was below-par when encountering a softer surface in the Prix Niel, albeit he might have needed the run after four months off. The globetrotting Stay Foolish (80-1) upstaged Manobo in the Dubai Gold Cup at Meydan in March but he’d be the first seven-year-old to prevail in 90 years.
VERDICT: Titleholder looks to have the blend of pace and stamina required for an Arc and, generally ridden forward, will be a live contender if handling ground conditions.
Overall record: 3 wins. Possible runners: 2
German challengers have won the Arc when barely anyone has given them a second thought. Star Appeal was famously 118-1 when winning for them in 1975, while Torquator Tasso was 72-1 when triumphing last year. In between, Danedream obliged at 20-1.
Torquator Tasso (7-1) won on merit last year, finishing with a flourish to defeat a top-class field in testing conditions. He’s not reproduced that form this year, including when chasing home Pyledriver in the King George, but is likely to relish getting back on deeper ground.
Frankie Dettori, seeking a seventh Arc success, had a getting-to-know-you spin on him in the Grosser Preis Von Baden last time, when beaten a neck by Medocino.
There seems to be a presumption that Torquator Tasso, drawn wide in 18, will turn the tables, with Medocino a whopping 40-1 with William Hill and a general 25-1 elsewhere.
The gulf in prices is absurd, especially when you consider that Medocino, who will jump from gate 1, was beaten under a length by Alpinista when they clashed at Munich in November.
Treve and Enable have been back-to-back winners in recent years but the last colt to achieve the feat was Alleged in 1977-78.
VERDICT: If you like one, then you have to also like the other after their good scrap last time. It’s difficult to comprehend why there is such a gulf in their prices.
Where do you want to be drawn in a 20-runner Arc? Logic decrees that those drawn low will be at an advantage as they can stick to the rail and go the shortest route, while those drawn high face an uncomfortable choice between staying wide or using up early petrol to get across into a better position.
However, it’s rarely that simple. Those drawn lowest run the risk of getting hemmed in, while those higher can actually find more room to find stride and manouevre. The only winner from stall 1 this century has been the brilliant Zarkava in 2008.
The best horse usually wins and, if he or she doesn’t, it’s not because of where they started. Perhaps the one recent exception came in 2018 when Enable got a lovely prominent passage around from stall 6 in the 19-runner line-up while the fast-finishing runner-up, Sea Of Class, had a torrid time from 15. The latter would have been ahead in another stride or two.
Enable (Evens) was becoming the fifth horse this century to win from stall 6 after Solemia (33-1), Sea The Stars (4-6), Dylan Thomas (11-2) and Hurricane Run (11-4). Alpinista will jump from the golden gate this time, plus is chasing a sixth successive Group One win and is available at 6-1. Forgive Sir Mark Prescott if he walk into Longchamp humming Iron Maiden’s The Number Of The Beast.
Torquator Tasso won from stall 12 last year but he and Frankie Dettori will jump from 18 this time. Dalakhani won from the widest stall of all (14) in 2003, while Treve hacked up from 15 in 2013. And Ofevre looked like bolting up from 18 for Japan in 2012, only to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Dettori showed a touch of genius when winning from stall 14 on Golden Horn in 2015, staying wide through the early stages before working his way across. The jockey’s other record haul of Arc wins have been achieved from stalls 7, 15, 3, 2 (at Chantilly) and 6.
Luxembourg supporters can have no grumbles about his draw in 8 – Workforce won from there in 2010 – and, similarly, there should be no excuses for Japan’s No 1 hope, Titleholder, from gate 10, even though some may regard it as a bad omen as it’s where Nakayama Festa broke from when beaten a head by Workforce 12 years ago.
The Arc can be a rough race with nerve and good fortune often required in equal measure. That seems certain on Sunday, with 20 runners and testing ground likely to be a source of hard-luck stories. Those drawn low will perceived to be at an advantage but a swift start is often more important. It's not easy to get a complete grip on the merit of TITLEHOLDER but he's twice thumped Deep Bond in the past year and that horse was good enough to land last year's Prix Foy, when such as Broome and Skalleti were adrift. He doesn't look short of speed or stamina and Japan have enjoyed fabulous success at the Breeders' Cup and in Dubai in the past year. Deep going is an unknown for him but he hits the ground pretty hard and the stock of his grandsire, Motivator, who include dual Treve, are in their element in the mud.
1 TITLEHOLDER. 2 AL HAKEEM. 3 TORQUATOR TASSO
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