Ben Linfoot takes a look at the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe picture following a day of trials and tribulations at ParisLongchamp on Sunday.
The headlines: Serpentine couldn’t get near his Investec Derby-winning form. Stablemate Mogul boosts said Epsom result with career-best and maiden Group One victory. In Swoop advertises each-way Arc claims in defeat. Favourite Port Guillaume was thoroughly exposed. English King is going backwards.
Firstly, Serpentine. His Derby win was much scrutinised and the consensus was he fully deserved his Epsom Classic after a powerful performance, but still, the question remained; could he do it again and do it in a different way? Specifically; could he do it when not gifted a huge lead?
On the evidence of the Grand Prix de Paris, a race usually run on Bastille Day in July, the answer is no, he could not. However, in the circumstances, there was promise in this run and Aidan O’Brien’s post-race comments were positive.
“He could go back to the Arc,” he said (he’ll have to be supplemented). “He had a long break and was just starting back. I was very happy with how happy Christophe [Soumillon] was.”
As O’Brien notes, this was Serpentine’s first run in 71 days. He was entitled to be rusty and his Derby win came on the back of a two-race preparation, conditioned for his big day by running at the Curragh, twice, 22 and seven days before Epsom.
Here, the plan was clearly not to lead, as the front-running role was played by stablemate Nobel Prize. The son of Galileo, a 43/1 shot, set a good gallop and Serpentine sat just off it. As Nobel Prize kicked six lengths clear at the top of the straight Serpentine looked in a good position, but he was not, he’d done too much already, and as the race unfolded the closers swept by without fuss.
Still, Serpentine battled on for fourth and did the best of those ridden up with the pace. This leaves O’Brien something to work on and, while winning the Arc seems fanciful, even if he gets to dominate again, he’d be an interesting angle and he might just fare the best of this group of horses if they meet again on the first Sunday in October.
It is an italicised if, as well, as the winner, Mogul, looks unlikely to head back to Paris for his next assignment.
O’Brien spoke afterwards of his international options at the Breeders’ Cup and in Hong Kong, while the QIPCO British Champion Stakes looks a definite possible as well with a drop back to 10 furlongs seemingly on his trainer’s mind.
That would be an interesting move. This performance suggests Mogul has more gears than previously thought and he’s still yet to try 10 furlongs in his career.
Here he benefitted from local knowledge, an exquisite ride from Pierre-Charles Boudot giving him the best chance of Group One glory that he’s ever had, and he didn’t miss from 12 yards once his jockey had placed the ball on the penalty spot thanks to a patient, rail-hugging ride.
The similarities with his full-brother, Japan, have sharpened into focus now he has this win under his belt, his sibling having won the same race last year, before he dropped back to 10 furlongs (and a bit) with success in the Juddmonte International at York.
With that in mind it wouldn’t really be a surprise if O’Brien leans towards a Champion Stakes challenge and he could well be the stable number one in that race, with Love and Magical likely to head to Arc weekend just two weeks’ previously.
As for those that chased Mogul home on Sunday, In Swoop gave his own Arc claims a boost with a running-on second from the rear.
The German Derby winner had finished a length-and-a-quarter third to Gold Trip in the Prix Greffulhe at Lyon Parilly earlier in the season, but he was short of room that day and just managed to reverse the form here, right on the line.
I’m not sure he could uphold the form with Serpentine next time, but softer ground and an even stronger gallop would help on that score, as he looks a future stayer.
The favourite Port Guillaume was most disappointing. He made all in a small field at Deauville last time out but couldn’t cope with the higher grade or tempo and just looked exposed in this company.
And as for English King, he ran flat and has now had three opportunities to rediscover his Lingfield Derby Trial-winning form.
He hasn’t managed it yet but this was the first time he’d travelled abroad, while perhaps he’d enjoy going back racing left-handed, too. Maybe faster ground would help, as well. The naked truth, though, is that he just hasn’t progressed and the excuses are wearing a bit thin.
Arc verdict: In Swoop should be on an each-way shortlist if the ground comes up soft, but I’d still rate Serpentine as the most likely winner of the Arc from the Grand Prix de Paris. This is on the grounds that he shaped like he’d come on for the run, it wasn’t run to suit him tactically and the winner, stablemate Mogul, looks most likely to head elsewhere.
This was further evidence that Tarnawa has improved as a four-year-old and the best might well be still to come.
She flunked her test in the Fillies & Mares at Ascot on Champions Day last year, her seventh run that campaign, but freshened up she looks a better filly this year and she heads into the autumn with just two runs under her belt in 2020.
Her first was a defeat of Cayenne Pepper, a four-length winner of the Blandford Stakes at the Curragh on Sunday, in the Give Thanks Stakes at Cork, and she improved from that seasonal reappearance when claiming her first Group One victory at ParisLongchamp.
A moderate pace and her proven abilities over 10 furlongs helped, as she was well-positioned and got first run on the favourite, Raabihah, who made late gains from the rear.
Given the turn of foot on display here, she hardly strikes as the kind of strong, grinding, middle-distance horse required to win an Arc.
Indeed, she probably won’t even run, with the Prix de l’Opera, the QIPCO Fillies & Mares, or both, or international targets further afield likely to be on her agenda.
Which leaves the runner-up, Raabihah.
Jean-Claude Rouget’s Sea The Stars filly was well backed for the Arc after her Group Three win at Deauville on August 1, so much so she was third best in the market behind Love and Enable at around 8/1.
Her Deauville victory was over 10 furlongs and she displayed a wicked turn of foot, but it was that performance packaged with her previous half-length running-on fourth to Fancy Blue in the Prix de Diane that made her an attractive Arc proposition.
Shunted back out to 16/1 on the back of her Vermeille reverse, punters have to ask themselves if her new price is too long, short or about right and I’m leaning towards the latter camp.
On the one hand she was ridden with restraint on her first go at the trip and things did not pan out well for her, so running on for second, doing her best work at the finish, can be construed as a positive.
On the other hand, she couldn’t overcome that adversity and this was a chance to prove she deserved to be a single-figure price for the Arc, which she didn’t.
It is true that she remains unexposed after just five career starts and a stronger gallop in the Arc could well play to her strengths, she’ll likely improve from this run in such circumstances.
But we are yet to see any evidence that she’s good enough to trouble Enable or Love. This was her chance to lay down a marker and she didn’t take it, for all that the way things unfolded conspired against her.
Arc verdict: The Arc probably would not play to Tarnawa’s strengths even if she turned up, while Raabihah has plenty to prove now, not least whether she’s simply good enough to land such a prestigious prize.
We’ve had the trials so now to the tribulations, namely the suffering of Stradivarius in the Prix Foy and the unfortunate scenario of a gung-ho stayer trying to topple a Derby winner off the most sedate of gallops.
That he got within a short neck of Australia-bound Anthony Van Dyck off such a crawl is a testament to his talent and he remains the biggest threat to the big two, and the most likely winner of the Arc from those that ran in Sunday’s trials, for my money.
The biggest problem might still be getting him there. This defeat could give John Gosden leverage in final-decision discussions with owner Bjorn Nielsen as he attempts to shuffle his pack for end-of-season targets.
With Enable, the ace of hearts, at the top of your deck, you’d try and manoeuvre Stradivarius, the king of clubs, into the firing line for the QIPCO Long Distance Cup, wouldn’t you? Frankie Dettori certainly would.
But if Nielsen calls the shots and gets his way, to try something different and go for European racing’s most prestigious all-aged prize, then Stradivarius remains a huge player in the Paris showdown.
Given how he moved through the soft ground in the Gold Cup at Ascot, testing conditions would enhance his chance further, while he’s obviously reliant on a more-than solid gallop – the like of which Ghaiyyath provided in last year’s Arc.
The combination of those two variables is not uncommon in the Arc, so don’t presume Stradivarius lacks the pace to have a big say.
If anything, I’d say he enhanced his Arc credentials in Sunday’s Prix Foy. If he can run that well over 1m4f off such a pedestrian pace, imagine what he could do on more testing ground off a proper gallop.
Arc verdict: Enable and Love’s positions as the standout contenders for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe have not changed after Sunday’s races, but whether they deserve to be as short as they are is debatable.
The problem is the lack of challengers from elsewhere, but if there’s one horse from Sunday’s Longchamp trials that could trouble the big two, it’s Stradivarius. He’d be a bet at 20/1, as well, if you were ultra-confident that the Arc plan was set in stone. Let’s hope he gets to take his chance.