They’re really taking a shine to this race-’em-less-to-win-more strategy, aren’t they?
In a year when the U.S. Triple Crown winner’s entire racing career took 112 days, Enable came out of witness protection to repeat here at Longchamp on Sunday as the winner of the $5.9 million Group 1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Remember Enable? She was the filly that capped a dominant year in 2017 by beating the boys in two Group 1s, including a runaway victory in last year’s Arc at Chantilly.
Oh, yeah, that Enable. The one whose name was mentioned late last year on the same footing as the Australian wündermare Winx in the debate over what racehorse is the best in the world.
Then she vanished. Her trainer John Gosden said she had a setback, but for a while he was coy about how serious it was.
It turned out to be a burst blood vessel behind a knee that was bad enough to require surgery, keeping Enable off the track for 11 months. She came back only 30 days for some middling $50,000 Group 3 race against three other horses on an all-weather track in Kempton, England. Coming out of that race, Enable spiked a fever, albeit briefly.
So through all that, was Enable ready to become just the eighth repeat winner in 97 runnings of the Arc? The answer was an emphatic yes, and bettors who made her the post-time favorite for the second year in a row will tell you they knew it all along, more so than other bettors who put their money behind the thought that she was vulnerable.
Well, she was. But she had the benefit of an inside draw against contending rivals that were not so fortunate in the Arc’s return to Longchamp, which underwent a $150 million grandstand replacement.
Enable (1-1) spent the uphill, first part of the race in fifth, and then she cruised downhill while staying close to a strong pace.
“The first part of the race she was OK, but she wasn’t carting me out of the saddle, which she can do,” said jockey Frankie Dettori, whose six Arc victories are two more than any other rider. “As we got (a furlong from the homestretch), the life and the old girl came back. I knew then that we were in business.”
Enable seized the lead with 300 yards to go. The only question after that was whether she would hold on.
“The last 100 meters I had a feeling of complete terror and fright,” Gosden said. “I knew that she was not ready to run a hard race. She was ready to show her turn of foot from the 400 to the 200 (meters to go). I didn’t have her ready to show that stamina. I didn’t train her for that. I didn’t have the time. She and Frankie won it on knowledge and sheer guts.”
Enable held off the late charge of Sea Of Class (5-1) but only by a short neck. Last year’s surprise runner-up Cloth Of Stars (41-1) was a length behind them in third followed by Waldgeist (5-1) in fourth and the best of the Coolmore horses Capri (25-1) in fifth.
Trained by Aidan O’Brien, a Coolmore quartet challenged Enable the whole way, starting with the pace-setting rabbit Nelson (181-1).
“With Aidan sending horses forward, he wanted to test, test, test,” Gosden said.
In the end O’Brien’s strategy went unrequited, and his Arc drought continued – at least at Longchamp. Not counting rabbits like Nelson, he has sent 28 horses to the race here. Only Dylan Thomas in 2007 delivered him a victory. His other Arc win with Found came two years ago at Chantilly.
It has to be all the more frustrating for O’Brien, who benefits as much from deep-pocketed owners as he does from his own talent. Like Bob Baffert in the U.S., he collects major victories with head-shaking regularity. So what happened Sunday? He and the rest of the Arc field fell victim to a horse that was not even on the map a few weeks ago.
Sound familiar, Justify fans?
“I think if you’ve got a great athlete, you’ve got a great athlete,” said Gosden, who has won three of the last four Arcs. “Sometimes you can’t get there how you want to. You can’t take the conventional route. We ran into an injury.”
Then Gosden, an Englishman who cut his training teeth at Santa Anita, paused to consider what Baffert did this past spring.
“Justify was a huge, big, powerful horse who really didn’t want to be trained hard at 2. So Bob didn’t.”
Both Gosden and owner’s representative Sir Teddy Grimthorpe of Juddmonte said that they will decide in the next 10 days whether to send Enable to the British Champion Stakes and/or the Breeder’s Cup Turf.
But if less is more, maybe Sunday was enough. In conclusion, Gosden summed up the new trend with an old thought.
“You do what the horse is ready to do, and never, ever more than they’re ready to do.”
Wild Illusion leads Breeders’ Cup charge
The winner of two consecutive Group 1 races, Wild Illusion is headed to the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs next month to race in the Filly & Mare Turf after her victory Sunday in the Group 1 Prix de l’Opéra. “That’s the plan,” trainer Charlie Appleby said after Wild Illusion (5-2) finished a length ahead of Coolmore’s Magic Wand (5-1), the filly that had beaten her in the Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot.
The Opéra was one of three Breeders’ Cup “win and you’re in” races here at Longchamp.
Sold Saturday night to Florida-based Oceanic Bloodstock, Lily’s Candle (27-1) won by a short neck over Matematica (11-1) in the Group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac for 2-year-old fillies. When asked if she would be sent to the Juvenile Fillies Turf, Michel Zerolo of Oceanic said, “Why not?” Rocques (8-5), the post-time favorite, ran into late traffic and finished sixth of eight.
Godolphin sounded iffy about Royal Marine (5-1) after he finished first in the one-mile, Group 1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardère for 2-year-old colts. Trainer Saeed bin Suroor said “we’ll have a look” at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, for which Royal Marine qualified. Runner-up Broome (5-1), which set the early pace before being overtaken 300 yards out, will definitely not be going to Churchill Downs. Aidan O’Brien said “he’s done for the year.”
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com and after big races such as here. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, also posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. The RFRP is also available at leading providers such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play Podcasts and Stitcher. This week’s RFRP and coverage of the road to the Breeders’ Cup are sponsored by Xpressbet.