Friday, October 5, 2012

Raiders of the Lost Arc

--Mark Cramer

   We nearly lost the soul of the G1 Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe this year as numerous marquee horses, including last year’s winner Danedream, Nathaniel and Snow Fairy were forced to withdraw for various reasons. But a new horde of raiders have jumped in to fill the gap, including three supplemented horses, several that had been sitting on the fence, and a few other surprise entries.
   Orfevre could become the first Japanese horse to win the Arc, and the first to win from post 18 since Alleged in 1977. Japanese horses have been knocking at the door for the last decade. But even after the defections of three top contenders, Orfevre would still have to defeat a formidable field. As John Sparkman noted in Friday’s TDN, "…for more than a decade now, the best Japanese horses have been as good as any in the world." However, with 70 accredited Japanese journalists, all promising to make bets on Orfevre (7-2 in the ante post) for relatives, friends and friends of friends, the odds figure to be below the fair value level.
   Camelot, with Dettori up, is 5-2 in ante post. We can excuse Camelot for his loss in the St Leger marathon Triple Crown bid. But clicking on the past performances of all the horses he has soundly defeated, none of them will take your breath away. Aidan O’Brien has shown he can win this race, but never with a 3-year-old and he’s tried again and again. With hoards of British and Irish punters in the grandstand, Camelot’s odds will be far below fair value.
   This means that any one of the usual suspects, with an opportunistic ride (this is a jockey’s race), could get the jump on the others and charge home first. An artful bet against the two favorites could make sense.
   On their best days, GI Breeders’ Cup Turf winner St Nicolas Abbey for O’Brien; Andre Fabre’s Meandre; and the consistent Sea Moon could emerge from the peloton in mid-stretch. Sea Moon, especially dangerous on soft going, took lots of late book action until he drew post 16. Masterstroke, never worse than second in six starts, could light up the tote for regular Arc winner Fabre, but the horses he’s defeated are from a lesser league. But beware of Masterstroke (post 17)--six of Fabre’s seven Arc winners were 3-year-olds. If it rains, his pedigree is a plus. His sire Monsun won a Group I on heavy ground and his dam is the daughter of Urban Sea, Arc winner on a wet track.
   On the other hand, six of the seven times that Fabre presented a horse in the Arc for the second time, the case for Meandre from post 13, the horse ran worse than the first time. Meandre was once able to defeat both Shareta and last year’s Arc winner Danedream.
   Kesampour’s lackluster Prix Niel would seem to knock him out, having failed to hold on off a crawling pace, but he was only a length behind Saonois when fourth in the French Derby. Along with Kesampour, the Aga Khan has also has Bayrir, who was supplemented. Bayrir finished second to Saonois in the Prix Niel. It costs "only" €100,000 to supplement.
   These last two, especially Bayrir (winner of the GI Secretariat S. at Arlington and three other races from six starts, have flattered Saonois. Saonois blew them away in the Prix Niel prep, even after being mired for near eternity on the rail with nowhere to go.
   Saonois (also supplemented) could offer wager value, as he also won the French Derby with a similar late burst. If you watch Saonois’ races, you will see the talented 20-year-old rider Antoine Hamelin wait patiently without going wide, hoping that a door would open. Saonois could do it again, but this Mark Cavendish of Thoroughbreds will need to find that opening once again. He’ll have lots of supporters in the grandstand; he is known as the "Baker’s Horse" because he was purchased for only €8,000 by a baker named Pascal Treyve, along with a trainer friend, Jean-Paul Gauvain. According to Paris-Turf, Qatar investors offered them €3M for the little colt following the Prix Niel. The offer was turned down. Now investors can buy Mr. Treyve’s bakery since he’s decided to go into racing full-time. Saonois ould be the first horse in racing history that was purchased for €8,000 and later supplemented for €100,000! As a racing fan, I’d like to see Saonois win the Arc, against the O’Briens, Aga Khans, Fabres and Stoutes, and the odds should be better than fair for a win bet.
   If the track is reasonably dry (70% chance of rain Saturday), then the filly Shareta is a major contender. Second in last year’s Arc for Royer-Dupre this Aga Khan filly has improved this year, and seems a good bet with odds considerably above those of Orfevre and Camelot. On prep day at Longchamp, Shareta won the Prix Vermeille in about five seconds faster than Saonois (Prix Niel) and Orfevre (Prix Foy) with a significantly faster early pace. Orfevre’s trainer Yasutoshi Ikee said that Orfevre was only 75% ready for the Prix Foy.
   Shareta’s running style is near to the pace, and that will keep her out of trouble. She starts from the 11, with the rabbits inside of her, which fits her pressing style. She showed two moves in the same race in her Yorkshire Oaks win. Two of the fillies who finished behind her in the Prix Vermeille, Solemia and the improving Yellow and Green are rightfully entered, though big longshots. Either could surprise. Solemia will have Peslier aboard, a considerable asset.
   If you like Shareta, and value her place finish in last year’s Arc, then you must consider another supplemented entrant, the John Gosden filly Great Heavens, Nathaniel’s sister. Nathaniel scratched with a fever. Great Heavens replaces him, at 12-1 in the ante post, drawing post 7. According to Gosden, in Sporting Life: "They had significant rain in Paris overnight, so a few things weighed in favour of running and I think the owners have made a very sporting decision to let her take her chance." The stable does not see Great Heavens as an equal to Nathaniel.
   This past summer, Shareta and Great Heavens defeated the same horses, in the Yorkshire Oaks at Ascot and the Irish Oaks at the Curragh respectfully. You might wish to compare the two horses visually. Click here for Shareta's Yorkshire Oaks and here for Great Heavens's Irish Oaks. But
can Mr. Gosden have the filly ready after such a long holiday? He’s done this often, winning big-money races off long layoffs.
   Between Shareta and Great Heavens, a dry track favors Shareta and a soft track will favor Great Heavens. The weather is yet another tricky variable adding to the Arc puzzle. I will split my charity win bets between Great Heavens (more on soft going), Shareta (more on a good surface) and Saonois. Place will offer generous payoffs if you think the two favorites will be out. 
    A few horses have not been mentioned. This has happened to me before, where the winner has come from the few I have ignored. This is a humbling game. Check the Galileos, Mikhail Glinka at 80-1 and Ernest Hemingway at 100-1, as well as Haya Landa (150-1) and the rabbits Aventino and Robin Hood at 250-1. I’ve been told that for the first time, the U.S. betting pool will be commingled with the French pool. That may create a surprise or two in the odds.

No comments: