First the disappointment, and I do not mean getting mugged and having my pocket picked on the Paris Métro this week.
No matter what happens in her quest to become the first “three”-peat winner Sunday in the $5.47 million Group 1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Enable is probably not going to show up at Santa Anita next month to try and “re”-peat in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
“I think the way the feeling is now is that she’s done that,” her trainer John Gosden told VSiN. “I get the feeling that (the Arc) will probably be her last race.”
Now 5, she had been there and done that last fall at Churchill Downs. That is where, at less than 100 percent, Enable became the only horse to win the Arc and a Breeders’ Cup race in the same year.
If there was a temptation to push on, it might instead be the British Champions Stakes this month. But even that is not in the plans for Gosden or Enable’s owner – Saudi prince Khalid Abdullah and his Juddmonte Farms.
“There is a race at Ascot two weeks later,” Gosden said. “But I get the feeling that is the wish of the owner” to retire Enable to breeding.
The message is this. Enjoy her this one last time this weekend, especially at a way-before-NFL hour in the U.S.
Plenty of European horseplayers have put themselves all in on Enable (4-5 per Oddschecker), likely to be an odds-on favorite at post time Sunday at 10:05 a.m. EDT. In the smallest Arc field since 2007, only 11 challengers are lining up against her on what figures to be a blustery day at ParisLongchamp, where the 1½ miles of turf are expected to be soft – or what we Americans would call yielding.
Bettors see five horses as being her biggest challengers. So does Gosden.
“It’s a very strong field,” he said. “The best older horse out of England is Ghaiyyath (11-1). He is a relentless galloper, he will stretch that field, and you better stay every inch of that mile-and-a-half, and there will be no hiding places. There’s a very top French horse if the ground does not go soft. Waldgeist (16-1) won his trial in good style, and André Fabre tells me as a 5-year-old he’s training so much better than he ever has. Then you have the two top 3-year-olds. Sottsass (7-1), who won the Prix de Jockey Club, is the top French 3-year-old who won the Prix Niel, so he’s a special horse, and they get weight (allowances) being 3-year-olds. And you have Japan (6-1), winner of the Juddmonte International, the top 3-year-old colt coming out of Ireland. So quite frankly it’s a pretty formidable quintet of horses all at the top of their game, all with the highest of ratings.”
Gosden forgot to mention Magical (12-1) – at least this time. But he is keenly aware of her. The 4-year-old Coolmore filly finished second to Enable in three of her last four races including the Breeders’ Cup Turf, the Eclipse Stakes and the Yorkshire Oaks.
But that is the best that any horse does against Enable. She has won 12 races in a row, including 10 Group/Grade 1s. Her only loss in 14 starts came in her 3-year-old debut. That was the last time that she was not ridden by Frankie Dettori, with whom she is undefeated, with both now at the top of their games.
“He’s been one of the world's great riders for so long, and he’s built up this partnership with her. And it really is a partnership,” Juddmonte racing manager Lord Teddy Grimthorpe told VSiN. “When Frankie is confident like he has been this year, it certainly emanates to the horse. I think his tactical brain and race-riding abilities should not be lost in any of this. He is a vital part of this pair.”
After a mostly dry week – and a dry summer – the forecast is for a damp, windy Sunday afternoon. Not that that will be of much concern to Team Enable.
“She can go on any ground,” Gosden said. “She’s won on good to firm, she’s won on synthetic, she’s won on soft; it was pretty soft in Kentucky at Churchill. So look, she’s versatile for ground and track, so she’s probably the less bothered by it. If they did get a lot of rain, she might handle it better than a lot of the others.”
If there is a historical fly in Enable’s eau, it came in the draw. She will start from post 9. While that may not seem much of a problem in a small field, it is worth noting that 18 of the last 23 Arc winners at Longchamp have started from gates 1-7. In a quirk of not-so-advanced analytics, the only Arc winner drawn into the “9” hole in the past 55 years was Urban Sea 26 years ago.
The Coolmore colt Japan sent former world No. 1 Crystal Ocean into retirement with a narrow Juddmonte International victory in August. He broke his maiden in a sprint last September on bottomless ground and also won on good-to-soft going this summer in the Paris Grand Prix, also over 1½ miles at ParisLongchamp. He and his stable mate Magical will try to break trainer Aidan O’Brien’s schneid at ParisLongchamp. Excluding his rabbits, O’Brien has failed to hit the board with 19 runners in the last eight Arcs that were run here.
Trained by Jean-Claude Rouget, Sottsass is the top hope from France. A half to Sistercharlie (see below), he defeated only four others as an odds-on winner in last month’s Prix Niel, again over the same 12 furlongs where they will race Sunday. The start of his current three-race winning streak came by 6½ lengths on soft ground in a listed stakes at Chantilly in May.
After going 2-for-3 at ParisLongchamp, the front-running Godolphin colt Ghaiyyath took the German route to get here, winning the Baden-Baden Grand Prix by 14 lengths. His most recent appearance in Paris was a 1¼-mile loss to Waldgeist in last spring’s Prix Ganay. He was drawn widest in the field of 12, but with his early speed, that might be an advantage for the long climb to the first turn.
Among the six horses getting the most betting attention, only Waldgeist may be classified as a closer, a strategy that would probably work against him if the course gets heavy with rain. He has won 4 of 6 starts at ParisLongchamp, but he faced only three rivals as the winning odds-on favorite in last month’s Prix Foy.
Japan – the nation, not the colt – sends three long shots, including 4-year-old Fierement (35-1, pronounced “fear-a-mont”), a stayer that has won Group 1s at distances of 1⅞ and two miles. Blast Onepiece (50-1) won last December’s 1½-mile Arima Kinen but nothing again until a summertime Group 2 at Sapporo and, like Fierement, has never raced on anything but firm turf. The 5-year-old Kiseki (66-1) is winless in his last 10 starts, and while he boasts impressive speed figures, he may everyone’s rabbit Sunday.
Front-running French King (50-1) has won four in a row including this summer’s Berlin Grand Prix, but he is making a big step up in class. The French-trained deep closer Nagano Gold (66-1) was second in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot but is also 0-for-5 at group level. The late supplement Soft Light (100-1) is a deep-closing, 3-year-old colt was a three-length winner on debut last fall racing on a heavy track in Bordeaux, but he has not won in six starts since.
My tickets will have Enable at the top – but not alone. Ghaiyyath should survive the speed duel with Kiseki, and he should be around to hit the board. For my best chance to upset Enable? Look to Sottsass. His pedigree says that he should not get all 12 furlongs, but he belied that last month in the Niel. Can he do it against nearly three times as many rivals? That is the 7-1 question. And Fierement is the long shot that I hope hits the board beneath the winner.
Three and maybe four of the five ADWs in the U.S. are offering betting Sunday on the Arc card. Xpressbet, TVG and NYRA Bets confirmed that they will. DRF Bets, which is affiliated with Xpressbet, had yet to confirm if all its platforms would be on board. Twin Spires will not. Sunday’s card begins at 8:15 a.m. EDT. Here is hoping you have better luck with your tickets than I had riding the rails this week.
Racing notes and opinions
The Arc is a win-and-you’re-in qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Four other Group 1 races here Sunday are also part of the Challenge Series – the Marcel Boussac for the Juvenile Fillies Turf, the Lagardère for the Juvenile Turf, the Opéra for the Filly & Mare Turf and the Abbaye for the Turf Sprint. ... Group 3 mile-winning French filly Savarin (5-2) is the favorite at the same distance in the Boussac, but soft ground could be kind to Marieta (8-1). ... Godolphin colt Victor Ludorum (2-1) has won twice at a mile, the distance of the Lagardère, but Coolmore’s three-time sprint winner Armory (4-1) has wet-track experience and eight-time race-winning trainer O’Brien. ... Gosden’s 3-year-old Mehdaayih (5-2) leads the betting for the 1¼-mile Opéra, although the value comes with Edisa (16-1), the Kitten’s Joy filly that is cutting back from a 1⅜-mile win at Belmont Park in the Jockey Club Oaks. ... The Nunthorpe-winning, 5-year-old gelding Battaash (4-5) is 3-for-4 since flattening to finish fourth last year as the favorite in the five-furlong Abbaye. Last year’s winner Mabs Cross (15-2) has lost her last four, but maybe she just takes a shine to the unique straight course that is about a quarter-mile from the noise of the ParisLongchamp grandstand.
For the first time since he was scratched as the race-week favorite from the Kentucky Derby, Omaha Beach returns from throat and viral trouble to race in Saturday’s $300,000 Santa Anita Sprint Championship, one of Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup qualifiers across the U.S. between Friday and Sunday. But Richard Mandella’s comebacking Arkansas Derby winner is not the morning-line favorite in this six-furlong stepping stone to next month’s Sprint. Instead it is Shancelot (4-5), the 12-length winner of the Amsterdam that bounced to a third-place finish at odds-on in the H. Allen Jerkens at Saratoga. A bullet work last weekend and a possible overlay on Omaha Beach (8-5) with Mike Smith riding makes him my pick in the field of six at 7:55 p.m. EDT Saturday.
Most of the final Breeders’ Cup qualifiers make up the core of opening weekend at Keeneland, starting with Friday’s 8½-furlong $400,000 Alcibiades, a 5:30 p.m. EDT Kentucky Oaks points race and a qualifier for next month’s Juvenile Fillies. Trained by Mark Casse, Perfect Alibi (5-2) is the favorite as she was during Belmont Stakes weekend, when she finished third in the Astoria. If the course is as speed favoring as it was last spring, the choice here will be Brad Cox’s British Idiom (4-1), back from a debut win at Saratoga 1½ months ago with a dose of Lasix for the first time.
The best betting race of the weekend on either side of the pond may be the $1 million Shadwell Turf Mile on what should be firm grass Saturday at 6:15 p.m. EDT at Keeneland, a qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Put it this way. When was the last time a morning-line favorite for such a big race was posted at 5-1? Those are the odds that Chad Brown’s 3-for-3 colt Valid Point carries after winning the Secretariat Stakes. The intrigue here is with Suedois (8-1), the 8-year-old British veteran that won this race two years ago. He has won only once since – seven weeks ago in a Group 3 sprint at Goodwood. My money will be with Bandua (6-1). He was third in the Arlington Million by only 1¾ lengths to Horse of the Year candidate Bricks And Mortar. The cutback to a mile should suit him.
Carrying a five-race winning streak dating to last summer, Sistercharlie should be the favorite at Belmont Park in the $500,000 Flower Bowl, a win-and-you’re-in Sunday at 4:47 p.m. EDT for the Filly & Mare Turf that Brown’s 5-year-old closer won last year. Her stable mate Thais comes back to set the pace as she did the last two Augusts at Arlington Park, where Sistercharlie won back-to-back runnings of the Beverly D. If she delivers as I expect (horizontal singles, anyone?), it could be a memorable Sunday for owner Peter Brant. His White Birch Farm also owns Sottsass, the half to Sistercharlie that is running in the Arc.
Two off-the-track stories rippled all the way over here this week. One was the news that Bob Baffert is taking Smith off Breeders’ Cup Classic futures favorite McKinzie. Head-scratching rides in the Met Mile and the Awesome Again were the catalyst. Baffert had not yet named a replacement. The other was Flutter Entertainment of Ireland paying $4.7 billion in stock to buy The Stars Group of Canada. That means Paddy Power, FanDuel and TVG will be in bed with PokerStars. They will all be part of the biggest, on-line gambling company in the world worth a combined $12 billion. With the U.S. the big, juicy apple on the lowest branch, this proves once again that the crash of PASPA nearly 1½ years ago continues to be very, very good for business.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com. It appears more frequently during coverage of big races including Sunday after the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. Trainer John Gosden talks about Enable, his mare that is trying to become the first horse to win three consecutive runnings of the Arc. Scott Burton of Racing Post handicaps the big race and other Breeders’ Cup qualifiers on the Longchamp card. The RFRP is also available via Apple, Google and Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts.