PARIS--Europe’s richest race is a grassy conduit to the Breeders’ Cup, one that will feature the world’s best 3-year-old on a turf course that may be a little wet on a trail that may or may not finish at Del Mar.
That is how it goes this fall in Paris. Well, near Paris. The traditional home of the $5.88 million Group 1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe – the Longchamp racecourse in the massive Bois de Boulogne (imagine a cross between Central Park and Sherwood Forest) – is in the middle of a two-year, grandstand overhaul. So Sunday’s big race at 10:05 a.m. EDT will be held for the second straight October on the turf at Chantilly (imagine Saratoga with an air of Louis XIV).
It is not so much whether Enable will win the 1½-mile race. If four-time Arc-winning jockey Frankie Dettori can get her adequate cover without too much traffic from gate 2, and if the track does not come up too soft if it rains Sunday morning, and if she simply runs her race, and if the racing gods don’t rebel against her, there is little doubt she will dominate this 18-horse field. Maybe.
“I just hope we don’t get too much rain on the day,” Enable’s trainer John Gosden told reporters Thursday at his home base in England. “I’d love to see it on better ground when you see the good horses quicken.”
Sunday’s flip-of-a-coin weather forecast is not the only question for Gosden and owner Prince Khalid Abdullah. There is also a matter of whether to take Enable to greater San Diego in five weeks. The prince and the trainer are hardly unfamiliar with southern California. Gosden may be a British subject, but he cut his teeth training at Santa Anita. And the prince’s Juddmonte operation also owns Arrogate, the nominal “best horse in the world” when he is not losing summertime races at the intersection of surf and turf.
While Gosden and Juddmonte have not tipped their collective hand about Enable’s plans past this weekend, they are not lacking for options. They could send her to the British Champion Stakes in three weeks at Ascot. They could aim for Del Mar. And they could simply call it a year.
If last year is any indication, this weekend’s race could be quite the proving ground for the Breeders’ Cup. Coolmore horses from Ireland swept the top three places in the 2016 Arc. Found won the race, but Highland Reel’s front-running setup of his stable mate made it obvious to seasoned observers that the Arc was a perfect prep for him to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf. That is precisely what Highland Reel did on the firmer going of Santa Anita with Found finishing in third behind Flintshire.
Which brings us to the star of this year’s show. Forget about all the confusion surrounding the 3-year-old division back home. Enable unquestionably is the best here in Europe. She is undefeated at the Arc’s 1½-mile distance. Those last four wins – all Group 1s – include all the Oaks at Epsom and the Curragh and Yorkshire and, more impressive, the King George at Ascot in July against the boys, many of which she faces again Sunday on what again may be yielding turf.
“The opposition is very good, and it’s a proper Arc,” Gosden told reporters before Thursday night’s draw. “The filly is well in herself – weighing more now than she did at the beginning of the year, which is a good sign.”
Here in Europe, Enable (1-1) has been the firm favorite followed by two-time Group 1 winner Ulysses (8-1), a 4-year-old closer drawn to the inside in gate 1. As long as he is healthy, Ulysses is already committed by trainer Sir Michael Stoute to race in the Breeders’ Cup Turf no matter what happens Saturday at Chantilly. Winter (9-1), Coolmore’s four-time Group 1 winner ridden by Ryan Moore, is next in the betting even though this is his first race past 1¼ miles.
Like Enable, Winter is a 3-year-old filly, which sounds disadvantaged until the race conditions get a closer look. Fillies and mares get a three-pound weight allowance, and 3-year-olds get a a 6½-pound break. Add that up, and 3-year-old fillies carry nearly 10 pounds less than the top-weighted males.
The handicaps were narrowed by one pound this year, because 3-year-olds and fillies have dominated the past decade. The last time an older male won the Arc was Dylan Thomas in 2007, the only time that Aidan O’Brien had trained an Arc champion before last year.
Last year is also when jockey Ryan Moore also collected his second Arc victory. Since he is widely considered the best rider in Europe if not the world, it was not insignificant news when he chose Winter as his mount for Sunday. What is not known is whether Moore will be able to bide his time – and whether there will be enough early pace for Winter to contend at the end.
“The pace will be strong,” said Pascal Bary, who trains third-time Arc-running long shot Silverwave (66-1). “With five horses in the race trained by Mr. O’Brien, it will be strong. We will ride (Silverwave) quite far back. Last time he was putting too much into the race early. So he will wait and do his best. Even then it will be hard against (Enable).”
The uniqueness of Chantilly also enters into handicapping the race, because of the course’s undulating home stretch that features an uphill run of about 660 yards before flattening for the last furlong.
“I hope there will be a really strong pace,” said trainer André Fabre, the seven-time Arc winner who has three long shots Sunday led by Cloth Of Stars (40-1). “To avoid a messy race at Chantilly, if there’s a lot of pace it might be OK. If there’s no pace, many horses get in trouble.”
One jockey based here the past three years said Chantilly is closer-biased.
“It’s better at Chantilly to come back,” said Cristian Dimuro, who will be aboard the closer Bramatot (16-1). “If you make a fast pace, the race lasts too long going uphill. It’s better to reserve the energy.”
Fabre knows better than anyone about winning the Arc. But he has not gotten to the winner’s enclosure since Rail Link finished first 11 years ago. He cannot wait for Sunday to get over with.
Ask what was learned with last year’s first Arc at Chantilly, Fabre simply said, “We learned that we will be happy to go back to Longchamp.”
Oscar Performance is favored in the Hirsch
A Breeders’ Cup winner last year at age 2, Oscar Performance appears to be on his way to doing it again at age 3.
A winner in his last three races, the 3-year-old ridgling sired by Kitten’s Joy is the 3-1 morning-line favorite Saturday at 5:45 p.m. for the 1½-mile Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park, New York.
Trained by Brian Lynch and ridden by José Ortiz, Oscar Performance is being aimed for the Breeders’ Cup Turf, one year after he won the Juvenile Turf.
In other Breeders’ Cup “win-and-you’re in” races Saturday:
- Elate (3-5) is a heavy favorite to defeat six other 3-year-old fillies in the Grade 1 Beldame Stakes, a race over nine furlongs of Belmont Park’s dirt track at 5:11 p.m. EDT. A 5½-length winner in the Alabama Stakes in August at Saratoga, Elate is already a 6-1 fourth choice in Wynn Las Vegas futures betting on the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Stellar Wind is the 8-5 favorite.
- Drawn outside in the field of eight, Cupid (2-1) is the morning-line favorite to win the nine-furlong, Grade 1 Awesome Again at 8:05 p.m. EDT at Santa Anita. Trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Rafael Bejarano, the 4-year-old by Tapit won both his races in open company during the summer, including the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita.
- Del Mar Futurity winner Bolt d’Oro (2-1) is expected to be the favorite in the Grade 1 FrontRunner, a 1 1/16-mile race for 2-year-olds and the second points prep for next year’s Kentucky Derby. Also expected to be the horse to beat in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the Medaglia d’Oro colt will be ridden by Corey Nakatani for trainer Mick Ruís. Post time is 7:03 p.m. EDT Saturday at Santa Anita.