Ben Linfoot sets the scene ahead of Enable's crack at a historic third Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at ParisLongchamp on Sunday, while offering a horse-by-horse guide to the opposition.
The moment that the world of horse racing has been waiting for is here.
Enable goes for a historic third win in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, a feat that no horse has achieved before in 96 renewals of this most prestigious of contests.
When you put it like that it sounds big. When you say Treve tried it four years ago it doesn’t sound as special, but it remains to be seen if this racing generation has just been damn lucky or if this is the start of something unprecedented.
Is the Arc as tough to win as it once was? Has the emergence of Champions Day and other end-of-season championships diluted the Parisian fare?
They are questions for another day, perhaps. Certainly, when you’ve been handed a ‘Ze Chef Bag’ in the media centre as big as I have, full of French cuisine, you don’t want to upset anyone.
So let’s concentrate on what is obvious. Enable is a terrific mare. The best we’ve ever seen, possibly, in Britain at least. She’s won the Cheshire Oaks, the Oaks, Irish Oaks, King George (twice), Yorkshire Oaks (twice), the Breeders’ Cup Turf, the Coral-Eclipse and, of course, those first two Arcs.
She’s overcome adversity after a training setback. She’s hammered horses of the ilk of Rhododendron and Ulysses. She’s beaten Crystal Ocean and Sea Of Class and Magical, all Group One winners, both in style and when required to reveal her grit.
She’s been beautifully trained by John Gosden. The 68-year-old has managed her career to such a high standard it’s hard to imagine him putting a foot wrong now. Last year, she won the Arc despite a less-than-ideal preparation. This year, things couldn’t have gone any smoother.
In the Coral-Eclipse, King George and Yorkshire Oaks she's looked as good as ever. She made Frankie Dettori cry following the latter race. The iceman Dettori, riding out of his barely-aged skin at 48, in floods of tears as he realised it was the last time he’d ride her in England.
Three Arcs. Dettori won’t want to make a mistake at this, the final hurdle. The pressure is immense and he’s been thinking about this moment for a long time. No rides, until Anapurna on Saturday, since Lord North was nudged home at Newmarket. No flying dismount after his Cambridgeshire win – although it didn’t bother him after the Prix de Royallieu.
But he remains cool, outwardly at least.
“If I can’t handle the pressure at my age – then something is wrong,” he said. “You would have to ask Enable whether she feels the pressure [of the big occasion]. After all, it’s the mare who puts in the effort and she has given all the right signs.”
Indeed she has. And it’s difficult to see anything stopping her.
On Saturday morning the Longchamp winners’ enclosure was empty and sodden, the autumn colours on the trees in the middle complementing the new golden grandstands. It was waiting, waiting for a cacophony of noise and colour, mainly pink, green and white, and the hundreds and thousands of racegoers that will travel from all over England and France and beyond to see history made.
All that we need now is for Enable to go and do it. I hope, and think, she can.
Charlie Appleby on Ghaiyyath...
Jean-Claude Rouget on Sottsass...
French King – Travelled well and won quite nicely at Group One level in the Longines Grosser Preis von Berlin last time out, beating Communique. That was a career-best but another is required here and a significant leap in form, too. One of the rank outsiders.
Waldgeist – Andre Fabre’s sole runner so obviously respected. Has been beaten by Enable three times, though, in last year’s Arc, at the Breeders’ Cup and in the King George, so, while he’s a big each-way contender, it’s hard to make a case for him beating the favourite.
Ghaiyyath – Lightly-raced son of Dubawi who offers Enable a new challenge. Two from three at Longchamp and then improved significantly in the Longines Grosser Preis von Baden in Germany last time out, making all in style from the front for a bloodless 14-length success. That might’ve taken the edge off him, as he goes so well fresh, but his trainer Charlie Appleby doesn’t think that’s an issue (see video, above).
Kiseki – Japanese raider who has some good form at home, not least his close-up second to Almond Eye in the Japan Cup. That was a career-best but he was some way short of that form in the Prix Foy behind Waldgeist last time, which leaves him plenty to find.
Blast Onepiece – Another for Japan, and this Harbinger colt’s career highlight was winning the Grade One Arima Kinen at Nakayama in December. Suffered a couple of defeats after that but bounced back to winning form in the Grade Two Sapporo Kinen in August. The testing ground will be alien to him which is one reason why he’s 66/1.
Fierement – The third Japanese contender won the Grade One Kikuka Sho last October and the Tenno Sho in the spring, a race that’s over two miles, so his stamina is assured, at least. This son of Deep Impact does have to reverse Sapporo Kinen form with Blast Onepiece, though.
Nagano Gold – The pride of the Czech Republic, Nagano Gold burst onto the UK racing scene with a tremendous second to Defoe in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot at 25/1. Had a Deauville prep last time and won the Prix Lord Seymour at Longchamp in April, but on his very best form he has to make a major leap forward to trouble Enable.
Magical – Tremendous mare for Aidan O’Brien who won the Irish Champion Stakes over 10 furlongs last time with no Enable to compete against. She is zero from four against the daughter of Nathaniel, though, and while a much better showing than when she ran in the Arc last year is expected, she has to find a gear she hasn’t found before to beat the favourite.
Japan – Another for O’Brien and a son of Galileo that’s been on a real roll since his Derby third, winning the King Edward VII Stakes, Grand Prix de Paris and Juddmonte International. The latter form has taken a few knocks, and it’s form Enable can handle on a line through Crystal Ocean, but he’s improving and he’s one of the main threats stepping back up in trip.
Soft Light – Jean-Claude Rouget second string who is 100/1 despite being supplemented. Hasn’t won in six starts for his current trainer and was four lengths behind Japan in the Grand Prix de Paris.
Sottsass – Rouget’s main contender and arguably the biggest threat to Enable on the back of his Prix du Jockey Club win and Prix Niel victory last time out. That last win went some way to proving he stays and he won well in soft ground in his French Derby prep at Chantilly. His turn of foot could be a potent weapon, but, like all others, he has to improve to win. After just six starts, though, he’s unexposed and more dangerous than most.
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