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Paris may for ever be associated with spring but for Flat racing fans it is unmissable come the first weekend in October as the leaves begin to fall. The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the early autumn championship of Europe, is traditionally run on the first Sunday of this month, and Sunday’s race is truly one for the connoisseurs.
It will be a smaller Arc field than is common with only eight runners, but it lacks nothing in class and picking the winner is not made any easier. Instead, the 12-furlong race boasting €2m (£1.3m) total prize money of which €1.1m goes to the winner, presents a series of intriguing questions.
Is Deep Impact going to live up to his name and become the first Japanese winner of the Arc? Will trainer André Fabre, the French maestro who has three contenders, win again as he did last year with Hurricane Run? Or could England’s standard-bearer, the St Leger winner Sixties Icon, buck the trend and run out the victor at Longchamp?
The long-striding Deep Impact, winner of 10 of his 11 starts including the Japanese Triple Crown last year, is the one they all have to hold off.
The best horse Japan has yet produced has beaten decent rivals with sometimes contemptuous ease. He has formidable finishing speed and trainer Yasuo Ikee has given him a long acclimatisation in France. But Deep Impact, who has won over distances from 10 furlongs to two miles, prefers fast ground and at Longchamp come October the surface of the track is traditionally more oeufs à la neige than crème brûlée.
There is another question mark, too. The man who will be keenest to see Deep Impact first past the post is Yutaka Take. The Japanese jockey was pilloried after his Arc ride on Peter Chapple-Hyam’s White Muzzle in 1993, when they finished sixth to Urban Sea after Take began his run from the back far too late. Some blamed the jockey, too, for Deep Impact’s only defeat, coming late against Heart’s Cry in the Arima Kinen race at Nakayama last December and being pipped at the post. The case for the defence says that Deep Impact was suffering from a long season on that occasion and that Take, who is married to a popular actress and enjoys pop star status at home where fans in the paddock hold up his picture, is a highly capable jockey who has suffered unfairly for one mistake. He has, after all, won more than 50 Group One contests around the world.
But it is worrying that Deep Impact tends to be brought wide and with a late run. The smaller than usual field may ease the traffic problems but it will not be easy to come from behind against a horse such as Hurricane Run, especially as he will be ridden by the incomparable Kieren Fallon, the man smarting with grievance over his ban from English racing until his corruption court case is determined and with a point to prove at the big venues where he can still ride.
Hurricane Run, the best in the world in 2005, was not quite the same force this year, though, when scrambling home in the King George at Ascot in July. He was narrowly beaten in a rather less than serious Arc trial, and the fact that Fabre flirted with running him in the Irish Champion Stakes instead suggested to many that the trainer is keener on the chances of Shirocco, who has been prepared for the Arc all season.
The five-year-old Shirocco, who won the Breeders Cup Turf in the US for Fabre not long after joining his stable last year, and this year’s Coronation Cup, will relish any cut in the ground. But the horses he beat in the Coronation Cup, Enforcer and Ace, have not shown much form since, thus
calling in to question the quality of that victory.
Yet even if you were bold enough to discard both Hurricane Run and Shirocco, Fabre could still supply the winner with Rail Link, who won the Prix Niel impressively with subsequent Group One winner Youmzain well beaten.
Marcus Tregoning, trainer of Sir Percy, had been hoping to send the winner of the Epsom Derby to Longchamp, encouraged by the good record of three year olds in the race. Sir Percy misses his chance because of a shoulder injury but the reasoning was sound. The Classic generation of three year olds has won 10 of the past 12 Arcs, which must advertise Rail Link’s chances. Prix Niel winners also have an impressive record in the big race.
Another three year old with a lively chance is Sixties Icon. Trainer Jeremy Noseda’s colt was one of the most impressive St Leger winners in years, and Mick Kinane and Frankie Dettori have been jostling for the ride. But Sixties Icon, supplemented for the race at a cost of €60,000, will have a hoodoo to beat. With the race coming so soon after the longest English Classic, the record of St Leger winners in the Arc has been poor, though the great Nijinsky was second and Alleged won the Arc after finishing second in the Leger.
The best advice for this late-season race is to go for the fresh horses, so my idea of the 1-2-3 is Deep Impact, Rail Link and Shirocco.