Leading Light to shine in Paris
Donn McClean previews Sunday's card at Longchamp and thinks Leading Light can outperform his long odds in the Arc.
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So Leading Light has drawn stall five and Ruler Of The World has drawn stall six, and if Aidan O'Brien had been allowed to walk the short walk down to the mile-and-a-half start and put his two horses into two boxes of his choosing, he probably wouldn't have deviated significantly from cinq et six.
You certainly don't want to be too high, but you probably don't want to be too low either. It is true that nine of the last 10 Arc winners were drawn eight or lower, but seven of them were drawn between four and eight, and six of them were drawn between four and six. Actually, and it could be largely down to pure happenstance, but four of the last 10 Arc winners emerged from stall six.
Every inch of ground that you give away by going wide has to be made up again, but it can get quite congested on the rail, and there is no quantifying the amount of ground that traffic problems can cost you. Five and six is just about perfect.
The congestion argument may be an irrelevant one for Leading Light anyway if he is allowed to jump and run, and it is setting up for him to do just that. There are a number of reasons why such a strategy might be the one that will maximise the Montjeu colt's chance of winning.
Firstly, there is no other obvious pace-setter in the race. He could have it all to himself up front, and that would be a rare luxury in an Arc.
Secondly, while he is not a one-dimensional front-runner, he is able to front-run. He made all when he won over 10 furlongs at Navan in early May, and he made all again when he won the Gallinule Stakes over 10 furlongs at The Curragh later that month. He didn't make all in the Queen Anne or in the St Leger, but those two races were over stayers' trips, two miles and one mile and six and a half furlongs respectively, and he did race handily.
Thirdly, a Group Three winner over two miles, there is no denying his stamina, but if they go slowly early and if the race develops into a three-and-a-half-furlong sprint, it is unlikely that he would win. He probably isn't the fastest horse in the race, but he could well be the toughest. He is difficult to pass.
Finally, and crucially, the four horses who are drawn inside him - Very Nice Name, Meandre, Pirika and Going Somewhere - are all horses who are usually held up in their races. You never know what any rider is going to do on any one day in any one race, but it is probable that those four horses will be taken back early, with the result that Leading Light could get onto the inside rail after a furlong without having to use up too much energy. If he does, he will probably turn for home in front and, if he does that, his cheekpieced head might just prove to be difficult enough to pass.
If in-running betting is your thing, Leading Light is probably the back-to-lay horse of the race.
Ruler Of The World is a different proposition in that, when he posted the most impressive performance of his life in winning the Derby, he came from behind, showing a blinding turn of foot to hit the front over a furlong out, and he kept on really well all the way to the line.
Interestingly, he was the only horse in the Derby whose stamina for a mile and a half was proven before the race, so the sedate early pace of the Epsom race really should not have been a positive. As it turned out, however, he was able to quicken off the slow pace more readily than any of his rivals. Having ground his way to an emphatic victory in the Chester Vase, it was his pace that won the Derby for him.
The Galileo colt was desperately disappointing in the Irish Derby (as odds-on shots usually are when they finish fifth), but that wasn't his true running. The ground and the pace for that race were both lightning fast, and perhaps that combination conspired against him. Or perhaps it was just an off day. They have them too.
He proved his Curragh run to be all wrong, however, with his run in the Prix Niel, when he would have won had the bob of the head been kinder. He was caught a little among horses when the pace quickened a furlong and a half out that day, but there was a lot to like about the manner in which he battled on through horses to force that photo finish with Kizuna.
The Epsom Derby form took a couple of early knocks, but it has been strengthened up again now a little by Galileo Rock and by Ruler Of The World himself. Also, Derby winners have a good recent record in the Arc, with two of the last three Derby winners to contest the Arc - Workforce and Sea The Stars - winning it.
Whether by happenstance or by design, Ruler Of The World has had the quintessential French Arc preparation - busy until July, then break, and return in a trial, ideally the Prix Niel - and it wouldn't be at all surprising to see him out-perform Sky Bet's odds of 10/1 by a fair way.
If the Irish don't win the Arc, then the Japanese could - God knows they deserve one now - although Kizuna probably represents better value now than Orfevre.
The Deep Impact colt was sent off at less than 2/1 for the 18-runner Japanese Derby at Tokyo in May, and he probably won it with a little bit more in hand than the half-length winning margin, coming from the rear in what was a relatively sedately-run contest.
He only got home by a short head in the Niel, but he travelled like a good horse through that race and he picked up impressively early in the home straight before appearing to tire a little through the final 100 yards. Trainer Shozo Sasaki said before that race that he would come on appreciably for the run, his first since the Japanese Derby, that he was only 85% fit for the Niel. Also, like the two Ballydoyle horses, as a three-year-old, he receives that invaluable 8lb from the older horses.
There are other Irish horses with chances on a fantastic day's racing.
Aidan O'Brien again flies the Irish flag in the juveniles' races: Anglesey Stakes winner Wilshire Boulevard in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere, a race that the trainer has won seven times, and Silver Flash Stakes winner Wonderfully in the Prix Marcel Boussac, a race that he has won twice.
Gordon Lord Byron is back for more in the Prix de la Foret. Winner of the race last year, Tom Hogan's gelding looked as good as ever when he landed the Group 1 Sprint Cup at Haydock last month on his most recent run, and Hogan has had a repeat Foret bid in mind for a while now.
Eddie Lynam also runs Viztoria in the race. This is a massive step up in class for the Oratorio filly, winner of the Group 2 Park Stakes at Doncaster on her most recent run. However, she shaped like a top class filly last year as a juvenile, she appears to have continued her progression through this season, and she has always been held in the highest regard by her trainer.
Multiple Group 1 winner Moonlight Cloud sets a phenomenally high standard in the race, but both Irish challengers are high-class performers who are probably at their best over seven furlongs on easy ground, and they both deserve a shot.
The falling rain is not good news for the Eddie Lynam-trained Sole Power in the Prix de l'Abbaye. Sabena Power's horse is at his best over five furlongs on fast ground. He has the five furlongs all right, but the fact that the ground will be on the easy side at best makes things more difficult than they might have been.
In contrast, both Maarek and Cape Of Approval are at their best in easy conditions, and their respective chances will be enhanced by further rain. The Barry Lalor-trained Maarek proved that he didn't need it bottomless when he showed a searing turn of foot to go from near last to first in a Group 3 contest at Newbury last month and, equally adept over five and six furlongs, this race has been on his radar since. A Group 2 winner, he is Group 1 class on soft ground.
We don't know if Cape Of Approval is up to Group 1 class yet, but he could be. The Tommy Stack-trained gelding actually beat Maarek in a listed race at Cork in June on his penultimate run, and he had no luck in-running in his most recent race at The Curragh. He has plenty to find on the book with the top ones, but he has improved by 29lb on official ratings in just over 12 months, and it is unlikely that he has finished improving yet. There will be worse 33/1 shots running this weekend.
• For more of Donn's thoughts, visit www.donnmcclean.com.