By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")
One day after two-time reigning U.S. Horse of the Year Wise Dan runs in the Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland, a field of twenty will head to post for the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) at Longchamp in France. The historic race has drawn not only a large field, but a very deep and talented field as well, and in the absence of a standout star like Zarkava or Sea the Stars, finding the winner could prove a very difficult challenge. But let’s give it our best shot!
Of the twenty entrants, the three-year-old filly Taghrooda is generally regarded as the favorite, although her odds vary somewhat from bookmaker to bookmaker. The John Gosden-trained filly won her first four starts in impressive fashion, highlighted by stunning triumphs in the Investec Oaks (Eng-I) and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Eng-I). In the latter race, she easily defeated a talented group of older runners that included Telescope, Mukhadram, Trading Leather, and Magician. She subsequently suffered the first loss of her career when beaten a half-length by fellow Arc starter Tapestry in the Darley Yorkshire Oaks (Eng-I), but while the loss was a shocker, it was still a good performance, and she remains the horse to beat judging from her King George form. But it must be considered that she has drawn a bit wide in post fifteen, and that this will be her first start at Longchamp. Keeping these facts in mind, I’m going to try and beat her on Sunday.
Given that the ground conditions at Longchamp are expected to be relatively quick, utmost respect must be given to the trio of Japanese shippers Just a Way, Gold Ship, and Harp Star. The first-mentioned horse was absolutely sensational in winning the nine-furlong Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I) at Meydan in March, but twelve furlongs seems a couple of furlongs beyond his best distance. Gold Ship, a two-time winner of the prestigious Takarazuka Kinen (Jpn-I), has compiled a much stronger record at longer distances and prepped for this race with a strong runner-up effort behind Harp Star in the ten-furlong Sapporo Kinen (Jpn-II) on August 24th. Harp Star, a three-year-old filly, won the Oka Sho (Japanese 1,000 Guineas) over a mile and was beaten just a neck in the twelve-furlong Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) prior to her victory over Gold Ship, but she strikes me as a filly that may be better at distances slightly shorter than that of the Arc. So of the Japanese trio, I’ll side with Gold Ship, who has drawn well in post two and should have no trouble with the distance.
But can he become the first Japanese horse to win the Arc? That’s a tougher question. There are many talented Eureopean runners in the race, and choosing the best among them is a challenging task. What do you do with Treve, who won this race so impressively last year, but who has been beaten in all three of her starts this year? Her last performance, a fourth-place finish in the Qatar Prix Vermielle (Fr-I), was fair, but not nearly good enough to win the Arc. Can she improve sharply enough in just three weeks to contend for victory?
Then there’s Ruler of the World, winner of the 2013 Investec Derby (Eng-I) and seventh in last year’s Arc. Last time out, he returned from a layoff to win the Qatar Prix Foy (Fr-II) at Longchamp in good fashion, with fellow Arc starter Flintshire finishing second. Both colts have drawn well in posts six and four, respectively, but both seem to be just a cut below the best horses in the Arc, and a victory by either would be mildly surprising, although certainly not a shock.
What about Ivanhowe? The German-bred colt scored a three-length victory over Sea the Moon in the Grosser Preis Von Baden (Ger-I), but Sea the Moon was subsequently retired with an injury, which makes one wonder how Ivanhowe would have fared against a healthy Sea the Moon. Furthermore, Ivanhowe’s only previous foray outside of Germany resulted in a distant sixth-place finish in the Grand Prix de Chantilly (Fr-II) behind Spiritjim, who will be a longshot in the Arc off a third-place finish in the Prix Foy. This, coupled with the fact that Ivanhowe drew post nineteen, leads me to believe that others are more likely to win the Arc.
The only horse to have drawn wider than Ivanhowe is the well-regarded Kingston Hill. Runner-up in this year’s Investec Derby and most recently winner of the fourteen-furlong Ladbrokes St. Leger (Eng-I), Kingston Hill should be fine with the distance of the Arc, but may find the course conditions to be a bit firmer than he prefers, and the wide draw is a definite disadvantage.
On the other extreme in terms of post position is the unbeaten Prix de Diane (Fr-I) winner Avenir Certain, who drew post one. The very talented three-year-old filly has not been seriously challenged in six starts, but will be running a furlong and a half farther than she ever has before, and her regular rider—Gregory Benoist—has given up the mount in favor of riding Ectot.
Now, Ectot is a very intriguing contender in the Arc. The three-year-old colt brings a six-race win streak into the race, highlighted by a decisive score last time out in the Qatar Prix Niel (Fr-II) over the same course and distance as the Arc. While final times in Europe are certainly not the best measure of quality, it’s worth noting that Ectot won the Prix Niel in the time of 2:26.36, slightly faster than the time of 2:26.93 posted by Ruler of the World in winning the Prix Foy on the same afternoon. As a three-year-old, he’ll receive a decent weight break from his elder rivals, and the presence of his pace-making stablemate Montviron should help ensure that he gets a good pace to set up his late run. He may not be a great price (he’s listed at 5-1 or 6-1 with the majority of the bookmakers), but he seems to be an improving colt with an affinity for Longchamp, and has drawn perfectly in post ten. I believe he has as good a chance as any to claim the prize on Sunday, so Ectot is my selection to win, with utmost respect to Gold Ship and Taghrooda.
Who do you like in the Arc?