Weekend blog ahead of Arc de Triomphe

After a week off consisting of life administration, a vet visit and my cousin’s wedding, I’m once again excited for one of the greatest flat races in the world.

This weekend I’m lucky enough to go to Paris to cover that Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe to the Sky Sports Racing. This was not always an easy meeting for me. Last year amid passport chaos and Covid my own passport was found to have expired and despite later attempts to renew it I was left in Blighty to watch our TV coverage.

I’m not too keen on flying so the train takes the pressure off where possible so Eurostar tickets were booked for me and my colleagues (I feel like I’m getting over the plane phobia thing, but that’s a nice one way to travel, so I drive it).

This time, however, would there be another late hurdle to trip over? National rail strikes on the day of travel again threatened to derail our plans and it was not until Tuesday of this week that we received confirmation that our train from Euston would be running as scheduled. So if all goes well the team should be in Paris as planned and I look forward to being back there.

The race itself was not without controversy.

Due to a bet in France known as Quinte, the field size is limited to 20 runners, excluding some of the high profile runners. Athletic Aussie superstar Verry Elleegant was sent to France for training by her owners with an arc bid in mind, but a few underperforming runs have seen her rating drop enough to result in her earning the Missed cut for the race.

The owners had to make a difficult decision on Wednesday as it should have been supplemented for 120,000 euros for the race. They didn’t bet and unfortunately she won’t be given the chance to compete against the best middle distance horses in the world.

Leading French-trained three-year-old filly La Parisienne could also miss the cut (we’ll find out on Thursday). The absence of the Australian mare is a blow to the world appeal of the race, as this top-class racehorse’s brave campaign is to be applauded.

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To explain (and thanks to my colleague Laurent Barbarin for his help with this), the fifth is a national bet in France where bettors can attempt to find the first five horses in the race, either in correct order or in any order . It is the most popular bet in France and attracts punters every day, especially on Sundays.

Historically in the 50’s the tierce was the first big bet (first three home), the fourth (first four) and now the fifth. These bets have made the PMU very successful, hence the decision to limit the arc field to 20 to include it.

You can decide for yourself if you think France Galop made the right choice. The disappointment for the connections of any horse that retires will come if there are non-runners on the day due to the ground, but that’s another story.

Getting back to the Arc itself, it should be an excellent race. We know we are guaranteed a big field and most likely soft ground (as it was raining in Paris when I spoke to Laurent) so who will win Europe’s most valuable and one of the most prestigious races in our sport?

Luxembourg – One-time leading Derby hope for Aidan O’Brien and ‘the boys’ but suffered a setback after the 2000 guineas and didn’t make it back until August. Won the Irish Champion Stakes in his last outing and was preparing to be at his best in this race. Delayed first try at 12 stadiums which could bring further improvements.

alpinist – Admirable mare who has won her last seven starts. Versatile from the bottom up and staying really good this trip. Suitable for a typical arc slog when the ground gets very soft. Beat of last year’s eventual Arc winner Torquator Tasso in Germany last year.

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Torquator Tasso – Builds on his winning form from last year. Second to Pyledriver on unsuitably fast ground in the King George, but only second to stablemate Mendocino where the small field did not play to its strengths. Connections is hoping for a monsoon in Paris.

defending champion – Strong claims of giving Japan a coveted first victory in the arc. Has stamina to burn and is effective over this distance too. However, heavy rain could pose a problem as the test site is unknown.

Vadeni – Brilliant winner of the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown in July but only came third when sent off as a favorite for the Irish Champion Stakes. He wasn’t quite finished that day, so the strip guy was supposed to get naked. The step up to a mile and a half is not guaranteed to fit.

west end – Unlucky third in the derby before running away with the Irish equivalent. Keen Going Sort who ruined his chance by pulling the King George too hard. Has since had a brief hiatus and is reunited with Rob Hornby, who knows him well. Excellent chance to come back if his temper doesn’t get the better of him.

onesto – Last time half a length behind Luxembourg in the Irish Champion Stakes and now back on home soil. Already proven on this trip thanks to a high-profile win at the Grand Prix de Paris in July, where he reclaimed eventual Leger winner Eldar Eldarov to fourth place.

La Parisienne – Second to Nashwa in Prix de Diane (French Oaks), remains strong. Most recently third in the Prix Vermeille on her first attempt on this trip. This form doesn’t look good enough, but as a three-year-old filly she gets all the weight bonuses.

Al Hakeem – How Vadeni is coached by Jean-Claude Rouget, who saddled Sottsass to victory two years ago. Climbs to a mile and a half for the first time but looks like it shouldn’t be a problem.

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mixed reef – The prize money won looks like numbers plucked from a phone book, but the five-year-old has yet to visit the winner’s enclosure in 2022. Has proven incredibly versatile but shows no signs of recovering in a race of this quality.

make two – Another Japanese contender (2-year champion in Japan) who won the Japan Derby in May. Sent off as a favorite in the French debut in the Prix Niel but only finished fourth on the day which didn’t look like the soft conditions were ideal.

Mendocino – Coached by Sarah Steinburg in Germany, wife of last year’s winning jockey Rene Piechulek. This horse last beat Torquator Tasso in Germany and could be a lively outsider.

Mostahdaf – Like Mishriff, this horse is trained in Newmarket by John and Thady Gosden. Won seven of his 11 starts last time out, including the September Stakes at Kempton (a route successfully raced by the same stable with Enable prior to their 2018 Arc win). Need to find more but made progress.

VERDICT

So who comes out on top. I often let my heart rule in these situations, but there is logic in this choice too. I would like to see Sir Mark Prescott win the race ALPINISTA. A trainer of his caliber deserves to win an arc, and Alpinista’s owner/breeder Kirsten Rausing has put so much into the sport. So for me it’s Alpinista and I’m hoping that the prize will come back across the English Channel.


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