Five weeks before Tarnawa won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf, she served notice that she could win anytime on any surface. In what looked more like a regatta than a horse race, Christophe Soumillon took her from the back of the pack and sailed her — almost literally sailed — to a short-neck victory in the Prix de l’Opera in Paris.
Not long after she arrived last fall at Keeneland, Tarnawa lost Soumillon to a positive COVID-19 test. With substitute Colin Keane, she then lost her footing at the start of the Breeders’ Cup, even though the grass was firm. Yet even after giving up 6¾ lengths of ground, Tarnawa had what it took to pass eight rivals and finish first with a length to spare.
Zoom ahead to 2021. Before her owner, the Aga Khan, and trainer Dermot Weld entertain the thought of a Breeders’ Cup repeat, they are back at ParisLongchamp this weekend. Rather than the undercard, they are favored to win the big prize Sunday when Tarnawa (5-2) races in the $6.1 million Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
“Dermot Weld is probably one of the greatest trainers in the world, and I’m sure he is focused on that race 200 percent,” Soumillon, a two-time winner of Europe’s richest race, told reporters last weekend.
An Arc victory comes with an automatic invitation to the Breeders’ Cup Turf on Nov. 6 at Del Mar. Already presuming she will be in the race, futures bookmakers have made Tarnawa a 4-1 co-favorite. So is Mishriff, a four-time Group 1 winner who is skipping the Arc to race in next month’s British Champion Stakes — and maybe not in America.
Wet weather is forecast to douse Paris this week, so there might be just as much cut in the ground as there was last October. That was when the now-retired Sottsass won the 1½-mile Arc about 45 minutes before Tarnawa scored in the 1¼-mile Opera.
The conditions might be the same. But is Tarnawa? Now 5, she got a nine-month break after the Arc.
“I’m in no hurry with the fillies,” Weld said last spring. “There will be lovely, warm days later on for Tarnawa.”
It was not all that lovely a day when she came back in August. She appeared in no mood to get back to work, unseating Keane before a Grade 3 race on a gray afternoon in Ireland. Once Keane got back in the saddle, Tarnawa figured out what she was supposed to do, putting in a strong, relaxed run on the yielding-to-soft course and winning the 1½-mile race by 6½ lengths.
“At all stages she was in cruise control,” Weld said. “She wins the Breeders’ Cup Turf on firm ground and her two Group 1s in France on softer ground. So that doesn’t seem to matter.”
By this point Tarnawa was riding the crest of a five-race winning streak, including four at 1½ miles. Cutting back to 1¼ miles last time out, she lost. With Keane again riding her, Tarnawa ran out of track and lost the Irish Champion Stakes to the now-retired St Mark’s Basilica, who was actually the odds-on favorite.
“She ran really great,” Soumillon said. “Unfortunately, she got beat probably by the distance.”
Reunited with Soumillon, Tarnawa gets back to her pet distance. True, she lost the first time she raced 1½ miles. That was nearly 2½ years ago in the Epsom Oaks. She has gone that far five times since and won all five, including last September’s Prix Vermeille at ParisLongchamp and, after the Opera, in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
If this reads like a testimonial for Tarnawa, so be it. Not that her competition will make it easy:
— Adayar (11-4), a 3-year-old colt that Godolphin will supplement for $140,000, beat a small field in open company this summer in the Group 1 King George. However, soft ground this weekend has to be a concern for trainer Charlie Appleby.
— Hurricane Lane (6-1), also from Appleby’s stable, stalked the pace and won by six lengths in the July running of the Grand Prix de Paris. That was over the same course and distance as the Arc, and the ground was very soft. But Hurricane Lane beat a bunch of overmatched 3-year-olds that day. The Arc will not be so easy.
— Snowfall (6-1), this year’s winner of the English, Irish and Yorkshire Oaks, is expected to be supplemented by trainer Aidan O’Brien even though she was a beaten 1-5 favorite over the same route this month in the Prix Vermeille. She looked like she did not take a shine to ParisLongchamp.
— Chrono Genesis (10-1), a 5-year-old mare with four Grade 1 victories, is the latest horse trying to end Japan’s frustration with the Arc. She finished a close second to Mishriff in the Dubai Sheema Classic before going home and finishing first in the Takarazuka Kinen, one of Japan’s most prestigious races. The risk with her is that this is a big leap in class, not to mention she is coming off a three-month break.
It is easier to make a case for Tarnawa than to look for false value elsewhere in the Arc field.
“Tarnawa is a great filly,” Soumillon said. “I was very lucky to ride her twice last year at Longchamp and won on her twice.”
It has been 13 years since Soumillon collected his second Arc victory. That was on Zarkava. Five years earlier he got his first Arc win on Dalakhani. Both those horses were bred and owned by the Aga Khan. Now they seem primed to get the old band back together again.
“For the Aga Khan team and His Highness himself,” Soumillon said, “I’d be delighted to bring back another Arc trophy.”
Don’t be surprised if that happens, and then they get reunited at Del Mar to repeat what Enable first did in 2018. That was to win the Arc and the Breeders’ Cup in the same year.
Come to think of it, betting that Tarnawa wins at 5-2 in the Arc and then rolling that into a 4-1 wager to repeat in the Breeders’ Cup Turf does not seem like such a bad idea.
In addition to this weekly report, Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday at VSiN.com. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is also available every Friday morning at VSiN.com/podcasts. In this week’s episode, Belmont Park morning-line writer David Aragona of TimeformUS previews Saturday’s Woodward Stakes. Starlight Racing’s Jack Wolf talks about the horses he has racing during opening weekend at Santa Anita. Racing Post’s Scott Burton looks at Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. VSiN’s Vinny Magliulo handicaps weekend races. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is available for free subscription at iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.