Jonathan Powell looks ahead to the British challenge in the Arc at Chantilly
Award-winning writer looks at the British challenge at the Arc
When a horse wins the Prix Niel impressively on trials Sunday in Paris in the autumn all roads invariably lead to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, for long one of the jewels of the international racing calendar.
As systems go, backing the winner of this key trial in the Arc, is one of the more profitable, but not necessarily so this year when the great old race will be held for the final time at Chantilly while upgrading continues apace at Longchamp.
Those who have already backed Cracksman ante post for the Arc, before or after his victory romp in the Prix Niel on September 10, are in for a white knuckle ride before learning if his trainer John Gosden and owner Anthony Oppenheimer are prepared to send him across the channel on October 1.
Smoke signals emerging from their camp these past few weeks have been consistently negative about committing the rapidly improving colt to the ultimate challenge for a three-year-old.
Godsen, the brightest of trainers, has reservations about the nature of the track at Chantilly and is concerned that Cracksman might endure a punishingly hard race at the end of a busy campaign.
On a couple of occasions he has hinted that he would prefer skipping the race with Cracksman this year before campaigning him in 2018 with the Arc firmly in his sights.
He explains: “I do not necessarily want to commit to the Arc though if it was at Longchamp I would probably not hesitate. Chantilly is a different track and possibly his Arc is next year.
“The other option for Cracksman is the Champion Stakes but the key thing about Ascot is the draw. You don’t want to be drawn wide in the Champion Stakes.
“There are a number of decisions to be made and I’ll be in no rush.”
No wonder since Gosden and his jockey Frankie Dettori already have an ace for this year’s Arc in the jaunty shape of the brilliant filly Enable, winner of the English and Irish Oaks as well as the King GeorgeV1 and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.
Oppenheimer has already said he will leave the final decision to his trainer.
“The options are the Arc or the Champion Stakes at Ascot and we would prefer to put him away for next year without a hard race,” says Oppenheimer.
“We feel he has had two pretty hard races already at Epsom and the Curragh and he also started his season quite early.
“We think that if we give him a hard race this year it may just take the sting out of him for next year...and there is only one Frankie.”
The continuing uncertainty about Cracksman’s participation has led to a sustained campaign in the media to persuade Gosden and Oppenheimer to take the sporting option by sending their colt to Chantilly in a race, that for once, lacks its usual depth.
Yet Gosden has never struck me as a man likely to be disturbed by the sound of sabre rattling. For him the horses in his charge always come first and he has long held the view that as Cracksman matures and develops over the winter he will make a formidable four-year-old.
While he is not a trainer who ducks challenges he, more than anyone else, appreciates that pitching him against the preociously talented Enable at this stage of his career might leave its mark.
Dettori is certainly in no doubt as he says: “At this stage Enable is stronger and more streetwise than Cracksman. I expect to be on her in the Arc.”
The Derby came a bit too too soon for the inexperienced Cracksman in the first week in June when he finished a close third to Wings of Eagles and he looked unlucky when just outrun by Capri in the Irish Derby. Given a short mid-summer break he returned in vibrant form in the GreatVoltigeur Stakes atYork and looked to have improved again in the Prix Niel last time.
You sense that Gosden will wait until the last moment before making up his mind and he will not be influenced by the knowledge that the Arc will be a better race if he allows Cracksman to line up alongside Enable who is already oddson with some bookies.
Solid each way alternatives to her are thin on the ground with Ulysses, recent
winner of the Juddmonte International and Coral Eclipse Stakes, second best in the market at around 10-1.
Although he travels so well in his races and was undeniably impressive at York, it is not easy to erase the memory of the manner in which he was routed by Enable in the mid-season clash of the generations at Ascot in the King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
While Ulysses does stay a mile and a half, the evidence of the form book suggests his optimum trip is a furlong or two shorter of that distance.
A more potent threat would surely be the St Leger winner Capri if he is allowed to take his chance by Aidan O’Brien who famously saddled the first three in the Arc 12 months ago.
O’Brien is bound to assemble a strong raiding party again with Highland Reel, Order of St George, Capri and, most intriguingly, Winter all in the mix.
O’Brien says: “The Arc is definitely something we are thinking about for Winter. It’s under strong consideration though the trip is something of an unknown and you couldn’t be sure she would stay.”
Third in the Arc last year, Order of St George was back to his imperious best in the Irish St Leger and could again play a big part at Chantilly.
Then there is the German raider Dschingis Secret who was so dominant in the Group 2 Prix Foy on trials day at Chantilly. Should he produce the same form on October 1 he would not be a forlorn hope to follow in the hoofbeats of Star Appeal and Danedream.
With the home team surprisingly short of serious players the more you examine the entries for this year’s Arc the more you appreciate that Enable is out
standingly the best candidate. The only negative that I can put forward is that she has been on the go all season, racing at the highest level which is certainly not the ideal preparation.
Canny French trainers tend to give their best Arc hopes a lengthy break in high summer before sometimes bringing them back for a warm-up event on trials Sunday.It is a time-honoured system that has paid rich dividends down the years.
Enable, in contrast, has run six times this year, starting with an eye-catching third behind stable mate Shutter Speed over an inadequate tie at Newbury in April.Her subsequent success at Chester set her up perfectly for four consecutive Group 1 victories, the latest coming in the Yorkshire Oaks at the end of August.
She has won on all types of ground, clearly loves her racing and is firmly established as one of the best middle distance mares of modern times.
While you cannot fault her class or her attitude you have to wonder if such a hectic campaign might have left its mark as autumn leaves start to fall in Paris. Nor do outstanding British-trained fillies have a good record in the Arc.
But the positives most definitely outweigh the negatives and let’s not forget that in July Frankie Dettori defied pain and hunger to maintain his partnership with Enable. He rushed back prematurely from a fractured shoulder to make his date with destiny on her in the Irish Oaks and then endured a week’s diet of water and fish to do the correct weight of 8 st 7 lbs in the King George.
He recalls: “When John rang to say she was going to run at Ascot I was happy because it was £1m race but I also knew I had to lose 7 lbs in a hurry.
“I did it in six days, paced myself, and stuck to a strict diet of water and fish which was a bit boring but I wasn’t going to let anyone else ride her.
“Enable is a superstar and she destroyed them in the King George.She is uncomplicated, easy for me to ride, has a good mind, all the things you want.
“If you try to keep up with her she will break your lungs and she is more competitive when something comes to her.
“I would prefer to have a lead in the Arc but she is sensible enough to make the running if we need to. We’ve got that weapon in our armoury.”
Gosden commented at the time: “Frankie killed himself to make the weight. His hunger and passion for the game are undimmed and I find that remarkable.”
He is in no doubt that Enable is the best filly he has trained. “She is wonderful. To follow the likes of Dahlia and Pawneese in the King George says so much. She exploded early in the straight at Ascot and can handle any ground.
“I think it is the style of her winning that makes her great. It is quite obvious she wants to race. She doesn’t wait for things to go her way, she takes it by the the horns.”
The positive tactics employed by Dettori on Enable at York offered a timely glimpse of what might happen at Chantilly.
Gosden explained: “If there is no pace in the Arc we wouldn’t be frightened of making all in the Arc. That was one thing I wanted, to let her use her stride to find that out.”
Enable has brightened our lives as she has danced every dance this summer. The legions of British visitors to Arc weekend will be hoping she can deliver one more imperious performance to set the blood racing.