The Arc

To say that this year’s Arc will be like no other would be an understatement. Imagine, a year ago if someone had written a dystopian novel saying that we would all be walking around wearing face masks, only six people could be together in one house, two weeks quarantine is necessary when you cross the channel and most extraordinary of all only a thousand people would be allowed to attend the Arc. The idea of a deadly virus was always the fantastical monster under the bed but it has come to be. Thankfully the one constant will be that the best horses in training in Europe or arguably the world will turn up to do battle at Longchamp on Sunday. No hiding place and non of the stars (bar Love) ducking the fight, in our own little world of racing all will be well for those two and a half minutes. It is a pedigree cross of our haj over our Glastonbury, a meeting place of secular hedonism and religious respect.

It looks like being a field of 15, the unusual mixture of quality and quantity. Unfortunately the race has lost Love, the highest rated three year old filly in Europe due to the expected very soft ground. Otherwise the best older horses and best three year old colts all turn up but without doubt heading the class is Enable, a previous dual winner and second last year. If she crosses the line in front on Sunday, she will truly be a record breaker and will no doubt place our sport on the front pages which doesn’t happen often.

The winner of 15 of her 18 races (including 12 Group 1’s) and never out of the first three Enable has been the best racehorse around for three years now. Physically she’s an amazon, all leg and heart. She’s also testament to having been beautifully handled by her trainer John Gosden. No one can turn a moderate horse in to a good one but it is easier than one might believe to turn a brilliant one into just a good one. Its like cooking, you can think you have followed the recipe perfectly but you can still screw it up, it doesn’t taste as it should.  The ground is currently soft but it continues to rain as I write so we are looking at very soft/heavy for Sunday, Enable appears to handle it and by Frankie’s own admission it was being too close to the pace as opposed to soft ground that was her undoing last year.

Stradivarius is the horse we would all love to own. Brave and ultra consistent he too is a testament to his trainer’s skill in nurturing a top class runner. He is testament also to the lifelong love of racing and belief of his owner Bjorn Nielson. He has always eschewed fashion with the passion of a purist and its brilliant to see his desire to breed what many would refer to as a ‘proper horse’ rewarded with the just desserts that is Stradivarius. A winner of 16 of his 24 starts and having dominated all other stayers since 2017 his connections are letting him take his chance on Sunday. Sadly the ground won’t be his deal otherwise it would not be difficult to seeing him doing an Ardross and running the winner to a neck or even going one better like Gold Cup winner Levmoss in 69. He would be a popular winner.

Persian King too has a top drawer cv only being out of the first two once in twelve starts. In principle he’s a miler, coming off a scintillating win in the Prix du Moulin but he’s trained by Monsieur ‘Arc’, André Fabre, so few would leave him out of contention and his dam’s sire Dylan Thomas won this race so maybe there will be enough stamina coming from there to get him home. He was disappointing in Deauville on bad ground but the beat on the street is that he has had a much better preparation going in to this race and there are positive vibes coming from the sage of Chantilly.

Mogul was impressive in the displaced Grand Prix de Paris that this year almost served as an Arc trial. He did a very good time that day coming home in 2.24.78 for the mile and a half which is often a little worrying in a ‘prep’ race. It can take too much out of them.  On the forecasted soft ground I would prefer to go with the second that day, In Swoop, who didn’t have that hard a race and looked well but a trifle round in the paddock. He was having his first race since winning the German Derby in July. He’s a lightly raced horse who looks like he is on the up and has landed a peach draw in stall one. I think he will give each way punters a good spin for their money.

Less blessed by the draw is Serpentine. Connections paid seventy grand to supplement him but have been punished for their audacity by being handed stall fifteen of fifteen. It seriously restricts your tactics as you either have to use early petrol to go forward or drop in behind and hope for a run in the straight. An imbetweeny ride will leave you stuck wide on that long bend and induce you to making an early effort in the straight which tends not to bear fruit. If you can be there, the rail is the place to be. He remains something of an enigma Serpentine, and for some his Derby win is in need of confirmation but it is clear that Ireland’s leading trainer for many years has massive faith in him. Effectively, he has put his owners’ money down.

Japan always a horse of such promise and a long time favourite of Ryan Moore has been deserted by him this time in favour of Mogul. He ran a decent race here last year to be fourth but for the moment this year he has not fulfilled the promise that he once showed. To a certain extent the same could be said of last year’s French Derby winner and Arc third, Sottsass. However I liked his run in the Irish Champion stakes where he finished well to be a 2 length second to Magical and he would have been well in the mix with another hundred yards. He has been nurtured this year with this race always being his main target so it would be unwise to neglect his chances on Sunday.

The withdrawal of Love has taken a little stardust off the field but the remaining three year old filly Raabihah has some strong form although she disappointed some when a well beaten second as the hot favourite in the Prix Vermeille. Japan (the country this time) is, as always, represented but the best days of the once brilliant mare Deirdre look to be behind her so the long awaited Japanese victory in the world’s most iconic horse race will have to wait for another day I fear. Gold trip and Chachnak could have a shot at finishing fourth if things went their way and they act on the ground but it would be difficult to see the seven year olds Royal Julius and Way to Paris hitting the board, likewise Sovereign who makes up the staple armada of four from Aidan O’Brien stable in country Tiperrary.

It won’t be Arc day as we know it but for those of use lucky enough to be there we will have the luxury of free movement and not having to endure queues for loos, pints and punts. But we will miss that buzz, that’s the joy of racing, the common passion. Maybe even Enable will notice the difference but it would be great if she could land it this year and I am sure the thousand lucky spectators will give her the applause she deserves for what is likely to be her last appearance on a European racecourse.

John Hammond