The Arc prep races have been run and two inevitable outcomes have distinctly emerged, set for a monumental clash.
On Sunday September 13, the filly Treve (Motivator) crushed her opposition in the Group 1 Prix Vermeille for fillies and mares at the same mile and a half distance and on the same track as the Arc. Following Treve’s third consecutive win in the French Oaks (Prix de Diane) last June, the filly was purchased by Sheikh Joaan Bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar. Madame Christiane Head-Maarek remained the trainer while Thierry Jarnet lost the mount to Lanfranco Dettori. In the Vermeille, Dettori literally drove the filly past the field to a very convincing victory.
Qatar has been sponsoring French racing and notably the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe for the past several years, and it seemed inevitable that an Arc winner would be sooner rather than later owned by a Qatari. Treve will be supplemented into the Arc for 100,000 Euros.
A broader part of history seems to be siding with a Treve victory in the Arc. After the Paris-Saint-Germaine soccer team was purchased by the Qatar Investment Authority, the team won its first French title since 1994. The Qataris have contributed enormously to French racing and it seems time to reap the most prestigious reward.
The Japanese would beg to differ. They were out in large numbers to watch their stars participate in the other two Arc prep races, the Prix Niel and the Prix Foy, and Japanese horses won both of them. Japanese horses have been knocking at the Arc door for more than a decade, with several of near-wins along the way.
Last year’s unfortunate second-place finisher in the Arc, the Japanese colt Orfevre (Stay Gold), toyed with a field of 9 to win the Foy just as convincingly as Treve won the Vermeille, that is, if visual impressions count. The Vermeille is a real Group 1 race while the Foy is a Group II prep for older horses that has not produced an Arc winner since 1992. Invariably the final time of the Foy is a few seconds slower than the Vermeille.
This year was no exception, with Orfevre finishing in 2 min 41.47 seconds over a soft-slow course while Treve did 2 min 36.82. However, Orfevre’s supporters will note that he had a slow time in his Prix Foy last year as well, and nearly won the Arc anyway, in spite of racing much of the way on the slower outside of the track. For the 2013 Prix Foy, Orfevre was coming back after a 5 ½ month layoff and we can be assured that he only did what he had to.
Japanese racing fans don’t stop with Orfevre. They also had a winner of the Prix Niel for 3yo colts, in 2 min 37.64 seconds, with Kizuna (Deep Impact). Kizuna has a lot of history in his favor: in the last 20 years, 8 winners of the Niel have come right back to win the Arc, and several Niel losers have also triumphed in the Arc, a race that has been favoring three year olds for quite some time.
So which inevitable outcome is the most likely? Sitting at the pre-race press conference, I saw that Treve’s trainer, Madame Head, was radiating confidence, as was her entourage.
But standing at the walking ring before each race, the presence of Japanese fans (they may be the most fervent racing fans in the world), told a different story. You could even see a banner displayed by the Yutaka Take fan club. (Mr. Take rode Kizuna to victory over a soft surface the colt was not used to, and following a 3 ½ month layoff to boot!)
|No way to get near Take aboard Kizuna as he goes to the winners' circle|
So which is it, the Qatar inevitability or the Japanese destiny?
Backers of Novellist (Monsun-Germany) argue for a third destiny. Novellist, winner of the prestigious King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot and with 9 wins in 11 starts lifetime is following the path of Danedream, the first German-trained horse to win the Arc. Monsun horses such as Shirocco and Stacelita failed to win the Arc, but Maxios won today’s Prix du Moulin, so the Monsun star is rising at Longchamp!
In the wake of the Arc trial-day races, British oddsmakers have staked their ground. The best odds you can get on their favorite, Orfevre, is 3/1, so the bookmakers favor the Japan destiny. Treve is 4/1 for the Qatar outcome, Novellist is 5/1 for the German-Monsun scenario, with Kizuna (Japan) following at 7/1.
If predestination existed in racing, what would we say about other Arc prospects (Intello, Galileo-Fabre, 11/1) and The Fugue (Dansili-Gosden, 13/1)? Or: several classy runners-up in the Prix Niel including the close-up second finisher Ruler of the World (Galileo-O’Brien)?
Take a look at last year’s Arc heartbreak for Orfevre, who seemed to have the race won.
One thing for sure: if a Japanese horse does not win the Arc this year, Japanese race fans will not give up.
As for Treve, her only obstacle is that the Vermeille is a Group 1 and is a goal in itself. It is not a prep race like the other two. Therefore horses must work harder to win the Vermeille - and unless they're a Zarkava-like superhorse, they cannot win the Vermeille and still be fresh enough to take the Arc three weeks later. Treve has never raced with only three weeks in between.