The first Sunday in October has been held in acclaim for a long time among racegoers. While the British and Irish battle it out for supremacy on our screens for the majority of the year, with the French raiders usually an afterthought, attention now turns to an invasion on their shores.
A two-day event is significantly backloaded with the Sunday boasting four mouth-watering clashes between some of the best in the equine world. And while the race’s history is decorated and dotted with famous winners (and losers), the two-year switch from Longchamp grace to Chantilly lace just didn’t feel right.
Which is why this particular Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe feels like an era-defining show. The last horse to win back-to-back Arcs prior to Treve’s consecutive feats was Alleged back in 1977-78. Enable has the chance to further enhance her credentials and that fillies’ allowance once again comes into play for the winner’s prize fund of £2,528,319.
But not everyone’s delighted with the return to the Parisian suburbs. Master trainer John Gosden won it for the second time last year, while the daughter of Nathaniel’s owner Khalid Abdullah boasted his fifth winner. However, ahead of the richest race on turf, Gosden has real ground concerns.
Speaking to Racing UK, he said:
“Two years the track was shut and they never looked at the track. I was shocked when I saw it in April, and I very much hope they have done their best to put it right. It is a concern to everybody.
“It probably didn’t get the care and attention it should have done. You only had to see the reaction of the trainers in the spring and the concern still now.
It is a bit late to reseed now, isn’t it?”
Regardless of the Newmarket trainer’s concerns, a festival of racing awaits us and some of the clashes really do whet the appetite.
The Prix de la Foret 17.15 is headed by market principal Polydream (13/8f), who was a length and a half behind Wild Illusion in last year’s Total Prix Marcel Boussac. The three-year-old has had three runs since then, and after her weak showing at this track back in May, she responded next time with a victory over the Andre Fabre duo of Jimmy Two Times and Inns of Court.
You can argue the form of that race was hit and miss, but by winning the Prix Maurice de Gheest ahead of big names like Brando, The Tin Man and City Light makes a compelling argument for her to be favourite in this. Especially as James Garfield caught the field unawares, before being caught on the line by this progressive type.
Sir Dancealot doesn’t enthuse with a solid Group 2 showing and little else to his name, so it may be worth siding with a lightly-raced four-year-old colt for Philippe Decouz, Tornibush (12/1). While he may not be the obvious selection given the established sorts in front of him, any disruption in a race with a lot of pace could open up for him to stake his claim at the top level.
The Prix de L’Opéra 15.50 is somewhat of a minefield, but the class horse in the race is Wild Illusion (3/1). The three-year-old can follow up a really impressive showing in the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood by taking this and that one length defeat when finishing fourth to runner-up Laurens in the 1000 Guineas, looks better with each passing day.
If we’re taking one favourite, it means we must take on another. And while it may be deemed foolish to tackle the might of Enable, there’s far too much class in the race to be confident in backing a 5/4 shot around a track that her trainer isn’t comfortable with.
While the doubt about Cracksman’s presence may put people off, Paddy Power are non-runner no bet for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe 15.05.
Everyone’s focused on whether or not Enable can see off the challenge of the brilliant Sea of Class, but their battle could open up this race for some of the outliers. I don’t believe William Haggas will want to give Enable an inch and this sets the contest up for a ‘closer’, if the front pair run into turbulence on the home stretch.
My attention immediately turns to St Leger winner Kew Gardens and Waldgeist (13/2).
What a performance from the mighty Enable 12 months ago. This year’s Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is just five days away…
— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) October 2, 2018
Kew Gardens won’t be far off the pace, leaving the market principals to deal with his proven stamina when wining the St Leger from Lah Ti Dar.
But a three-way tussle for the speed front-loads a race that, should the divots not come into play for the turn-of-pace horses, is very much open to a class act who can do it over shorter.
Waldgeist may have disappointed viewers on this side of the English Channel when a weak fourth behind Capri in the Irish Derby last season. However, his form (when a short-head second to Brametot in the Prix de Jockey Club before that) has wriggled its way to the surface again.
His closing speed is frightening and he appears to have come on a lot from his three-year-old days.
The Longchamp track holds no concerns for the son of Galileo. Three of his last five runs have been there and he’s posted two wins.
Gosden’s trip to Paris may yet prove as frightful as he believes it could be.