Matt Brocklebank tackles the potential issues facing Enable ahead of her bid for an historic third victory in the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on October 6.
Enable became the eighth horse in the history of the race to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe twice when edging out Sea Of Class last October, but three has never been done.
Treve was the last to try, winning in 2013 and 2014 but managing only fourth as a five-year-old when sent off evens favourite in the race won by Golden Horn, who skipped clear of Flintshire to strike by a couple of lengths.
That was John Gosden's first taste of victory in the Arc and Enable has ensured the main man in Newmarket has now become a very familiar face for the Parisian locals on the first weekend in October.
Like Treve, Enable looks highly likely to go off a short price in her bid for history next month and, in light of all the major trials, Matt Brocklebank considers five potential stumbling blocks facing the prolific daughter of Nathaniel.
The race that could have been
Friday: Stradivarius. Saturday: Logician. Sunday: Star Catcher.
Put each of last week’s three impressive winners in any other stable in the country and you’d imagine connections might be dreaming of a potential crack at the Arc de Triomphe.
But providing Enable stays healthy, it seems they'll all be rerouted.
Stradivarius – the only one of the trio currently entered in the Arc - heads back to Ascot for the QIPCO British Champions Long Distance Cup, Logician is to be put away for the spring, and Star Catcher appears bound for the Fillies & Mares, either the one on Champions Day or at the Breeders' Cup in Santa Anita.
It would be absolutely fascinating to know who might begin to enter the reckoning were the stable star to step on a stone, but it's clear that anyone thinking Gosden won’t have as strong a hand in next year's autumn showpiece, should Enable head to the paddocks, is well wide of the mark.
If easy St Leger winner Logician, highly progressive Vermeille scorer Star Catcher and the almost otherworldly Stradivarius are still going strong, it seems Gosden will have the one to beat once more in 2020.
The devil you know
Remove Enable from the form book and Magical’s top-class tally would now stand at six. We're getting into Excelebration-Frankel territory again, with the Juddmonte mare winning three Group Ones at the main expense of Magical.
Like Excelebration, Magical is clearly a class act in her own right and being able to bounce back from almost inevitable defeat at the hands of Enable to convert chances when they arise is the mark of the filly.
She has run to a very consistent and high level all season, Saturday being her seventh start of the year - she’s yet to finish out of the first two.
The transformation from the relative shell of a horse who finished 10th as a 40/1 outsider in last year’s Arc has been considerable, and must go down as another great training feat from Aidan O’Brien.
His most recent Arc winner was a four-year-old filly who had been unplaced in the previous edition, while she also came into the big day on the back of a seven-race season.
Found – that 2016 O’Brien-trained winner – arrived via the Prince of Wales’s Stakes, the Yorkshire Oaks and the Irish Champion in a campaign almost identical to that of Magical this time around.
They both started out in the Alleged Stakes, ran in the Mooresbridge Stakes and then onto the Tattersalls Gold Cup in the spring. The only divergence from Found’s most memorable year is Magical’s run in the Coral-Eclipse, rather than the Coronation Cup at Epsom in June.
So it’s a tried and tested route for a four-year-old filly from Ballydoyle and there are no shortage of similarities between the two, including their sire – the unparalleled Galileo.
Sky Bet made Magical 8/1 after Saturday’s defeat of Magic Wand and Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck, but there is double that still available which must factor in the possibility she could skip the prospect of playing punch-bag again and head back to Ascot before shipping to America for another crack at the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Without wanting to over-do the Found comparison, she did all three after her narrow defeat in the Irish Champion Stakes three years ago and, given the Coolmore modus operandi, it would make sense to see them roll the big dice again with their leading older horse.
Waldgeist is 3-0 down in his own personal battle with the current queen of the Flat, but the length and a quarter he was beaten when fourth in the 2018 Arc should have been a shade closer.
He had no choice but to be held up from stall 13 and was denied a clear run as Dettori pushed the go button on Enable two furlongs down.
The run can be marked up and so perhaps can Waldgeist’s King George third this summer when two lengths off Enable and Crystal Ocean on ground softer than he now cares for.
That run – combined with his very impressive Prix Ganay win in April – suggests Andre Fabre’s principal hope has improved again as a five-year-old and the trainer will have been pleased with what he saw over the weekend in a cosy Prix Foy prep.
It’s probably going to take a kinder draw, unseasonably quick ground and another slice of improvement for Waldgeist to lower Enable’s colours this October, but in seven-time Arc winner Fabre he undeniably has the right man controlling the controllables.
The devil you don't
Only the best three-year-old colts have been able to prevent fillies and mares from dominating the Arc in recent years.
The fairer sex has triumphed in eight of the past 11 runnings and it took Investec Derby winners Sea The Stars, Workforce and Golden Horn to wrestle it back for the boys in that admittedly narrow timeframe.
There is good reason for this, of course. Colts carry 9-5, fillies and mares 9-2, while there’s a significant allowance for three-year-olds with the boys of the Classic generation on 8-13 and the younger fillies just 8-9.
Neither Oaks winner Anapurna nor Ribblesdale and Irish Oaks winner Star Catcher look like being supplemented, while French Oaks heroine Channel isn’t good enough by all accounts and would also need to be added at significant cost.
It’s gone pear-shaped to varying degrees for Pink Dogwood, Fleeting, Maqsad, Mehdaayih and Hermosa, along with Alain Royer-Dupre’s Prix Saint Alary winner Siyarafina, who hasn’t been sighted since her disappointing sixth when favourite for the Diane.
So barring the late emergence of a Fabre wildcard in Secret Walk, who beat Channel on debut back in March, or stablemate Pelligrina, who hasn’t raced since taking her record to 2-2 at Chantilly on June 2, the dangerous three-year-old fillies getting lumps of weight look thin on the ground.
That’s good news for Enable fans but it could be a different proposition when it comes to the younger colts and it’s no great surprise to see Japan second-favourite for the Arc.
He’s been trained slowly and carefully with the autumn in mind since his early-season setback and if you weren’t quite sure he was the star three-year-old in Ireland after his Royal Ascot romp then Group One wins in the Grand Prix de Paris, and Juddmonte International at York, should have brought you fully up to speed.
Dropping back to win over 10 furlongs clearly crystalised things for connections with O’Brien immediately nominating ParisLongchamp as the son of Galileo’s next port of call.
The strict reading of his head verdict over Crystal Ocean on the Knavesmire, with Elarqam a length further back in third, still leaves Japan with a bit more to find, especially when you begin to weigh up whether the runner-up’s herculean King George effort had indeed taken its toll.
But Japan is on the up, he’s guaranteed to appreciate the return to 12 furlongs and, perhaps above all, he’s a fresh-faced and fearsome new challenge for the reigning champion to overcome.
The dust is still settling on the weekend’s action and while Logician “won’t be going near” the Arc according to one report, that’s not yet officially the case for Sir Dragonet.
He remains something of an enigma but they were making the right noises going into Doncaster and for a brief moment he looked like playing a key role in the St Leger outcome.
That was the case in the Derby, too, but the limp comeback run at the Curragh in mid-August muddies the waters further and while there’s still possibly a very good horse waiting to really announce himself, his profile isn’t one that will be concerning Gosden and the Khalid Abdullah camp.
As well as familiar foe Waldgeist, the pick of the older challenge could be a new one for Enable in the shape of Charlie Appleby’s Ghaiyyath.
It’s not too hard to pick holes in his overall body of work, the Group One in Germany last month hardly matching up to what will be required in France, while the only other top-class race he contested saw him kicked into touch by Waldgeist and Study Of Man.
But with a career record of 5-7 and a lofty reputation from the very early days to boot, there could still be some mileage in the notion that Ghaiyyath will be making it at the highest level.
And while last month’s Baden-Baden performance isn’t up to much on the bare facts and figures, the manner of that success – pouring it on from halfway to ultimately run out a 14-length winner – left the strong impression he’ll be a force back in the big league.
It was the son of Dubawi’s first attempt at a mile and a half so there’s unbound potential on that score, too.
Softer ground seemingly suits, though that would naturally play to Enable’s strengths as well, and he is at least a very interesting candidate who looks a tough one to weigh up for official handicappers and punters alike.
The fear of the unknown
On the subject of unknown quantities, Sottsass has to enter the reckoning and he’s now lurking right behind fellow three-year-old colt Japan in the antepost books.
That’s following Sunday’s Prix Niel victory in which the 1/2 favourite had to extricate himself from an unpromising position on the rail with a bright turn of foot to eventually win going away.
It was his first attempt at the Arc trip, over the Arc course, and he was – visually at least - at his strongest as he passed the winning post.
Stamina proven, right? Not so fast.
It was encouraging, but far from conclusive. A five-runner Niel run at a pedestrian gallop is a far cry from the Arc in terms of tempo and test. And as a son of Siyouni there has to be a slight doubt that Sottsass will revel in such conditions.
Siyouni’s best progeny so far – Laurens, Ervedya, City Light, Le Brivido – aren’t what you’d class as middle-distance horses and while Sottsass’ dam, who is by Galileo, has produced Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare winner Sistercharlie, that mile-and-three-furlong race was also run at an absolute crawl, and Chad Brown's filly has arguably looked most effective around nine furlongs.
His other half-sister, My Sister Nat, is a nine- and 10-furlong specialist.
So Sottsass is challenging Japan for the ‘main danger’ tag, but he’s facing a whole host of cast-iron stayers and only in the final couple of furlongs of the Arc will we really know his true ability at the trip.
The shape of the race
Arcs can be won and lost in a heartbeat. One false move, one bad step or misjudged ride and defeat could be snatched from the jaws of glorious victory.
"They ride tight in Group Ones around Longchamp," Gosden reminded us after Anapurna's lacklustre effort following a rough start in Sunday's Vermeille.
Two years ago Dettori gave Enable the peach of all peaches from what was perceived to be a tricky stall two at Chantilly, negating any potential early scuffling with a swift, forward move before half of the field had even settled into their rhythm.
Roll on 12 months and Enable had something close to the plum draw at Longchamp, breaking smartly from stall six before settling in a pocket in a share of fourth behind the early pace-setters. She picked them up with 300 metres to travel and - fully fit or not - the rest is history.
Stall one, or a very wide draw, would be interesting for this year's bid for history but Dettori, who was remarkably enjoying his 16th Group One of the season on Star Catcher in the Vermeille, isn't prone to making mistakes on the big stage, and rides Longchamp almost as confidently as he rides Ascot.
The closest they've got to beating Enable with Magical came at the Breeders' Cup where the latter's erstwhile colleague Hunting Horn adopted the part of 'generic ruffian' quite well, and that's one thing Dettori and co will be keen to avoid.
From the back or from the front, as was the case in the Yorkshire Oaks last time, Enable is adaptable and so is her world-class jockey, but one thing she and Japan would both enjoy is a solid, end-to-end gallop.
Ballydoyle will probably saddle something to tow them all along and Ghaiyyath only has one way of going by the looks of him, which all adds up to no excuses, and the stamina of Sottsass being thoroughly examined.
You'd be hard pressed to scroll through the roll of honour and find too many examples of genuinely unlucky Arc losers.
The best horse wins this race more often than not, and there's very little doubt who that is as things stand.