Guest post written by Willy Weasel.
Europe’s most prestigious race, the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, takes place at Longchamp Racecourse on Sunday 7th October, so it’s time to cast an eye over the leading contenders. Obviously, the likely underfoot conditions are unknown at this stage, but the going at Longchamp was good to soft for the most recent meeting on 16th September. With rain forecast in Paris this week and next, it’s a fairly safe assumption that the going will be on the soft side once again.
At the time of writing, the two horses disputing favouritism are last year’s winner, Danedream, trained in Germany by Peter Schiergen, and Orfevre, trained in Japan by Yasutoshi Ikee.
It’s hard to forget how easily Danedream quickened clear in the final furlong last year and, even though she’s 8lbs worse off with the third horse, Snow Fairy, this time around, she can reasonably be expected to confirm the form. Danedream has won three of her four starts so far this season, including King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in July and the Grosser Preis von Baden, back in her native country, earlier this month.
At Ascot, Danedream beat John Gosden’s Nathaniel by just a nose, but she can be considered value for more than the winning margin suggests. Her jockey, Andrasch Starke, was forced to delay his challenge for a few strides with about two furlongs to run, but once switched outside Danedream stayed on steadily to collar Nathaniel right on the post. Nathaniel went on to finish second, beaten 1¼ lengths, to Snow Fairy in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown earlier this month, so the form looks solid.
Orfevre has raced just once outside Japan, running out the comfortable winner of the Prix Foy over course and distance earlier this month. A line through the runner-up that day, Meandre, suggests that Orfevre has the beating of Shareta, Galikova and, indeed, Danedream, if earlier form from the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud is to be believed. Danedream finished last of four in that race, but beat the first three, Shareta, Meandre and Galikova, by 5 lengths, 6 lengths and 11 lengths respectively in last year’s Arc, so the form looks suspect. Orfevre has won five Group 1 races in Japan, including the Japanese 2,000 Guineas and Japanese Derby as a 3-year-old, but appears to have plenty to find with Danedream if Peter Schiergen’s filly runs anywhere near last year’s Arc form. Indeed, a line through Marco Botti’s Joshua Tree, who finished third in the Prix Foy, also suggests that Danedream has plenty in hand.
Last year’s Arc runner-up, Shareta, appears to have improved since the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud, winning the Yorkshire Oaks in August and the Prix Vermeille over course and distance earlier this month. Of course, both those races are restricted to fillies and mares, so it’ll be interesting to see how she performs back against the colts here. If she has improved, she may be able to finish closer to Danedream this time around, but whether she’s good enough to actually win is another question altogether.
In addition to Meandre, reigning French champion trainer, André Fabre, has two other probable runners in the form of Mastercraft and Last Train. Mastercraft has yet to win at Group 1 level, but has won four of his six career starts, including the Group 2 Grand Prix de Deauville on his most recent start in August. Last Train was only beat a head by Imperial Monarch in the Grand Prix de Paris over course and distance back in July, but failed to build on that when third, beaten 1¼ lengths, in the Prix Niel at the last meeting here. André Fabre clearly knows what’s required to win the Arc, having trained no fewer than seven previous winners, but Mastercraft and Last Train both appear to need to improve significantly if they’re to add to their trainer’s excellent record in the race.
Sir Michael Stoute’s Sea Moon looked good when stretching clear of Dunaden in the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot, but both the winner and the runner-up were put firmly in their place by Danedream in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes back at the same track the following month. Sea Moon has 2¼ lengths to find with Danedream, even if the form is taken at face value, so he appears safely held.
All in all, Danedream looks good value, at odds of 9/2, to become the first horse since Alleged in 1978, and the first filly since Corrida in 1937, to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in successive years. She has the measure of Shareta, Snow Fairy, St. Nicholas Abbey, Meandre and Galikova on last year’s running, form which also entitles her to beat Orfevre, and holds Nathaniel and Sea Moon on the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes’ running. None of the 3-year-olds looks good enough to cause her any major problems and, having won the Grosser Preis von Baden by 6 lengths on very soft going last year, she’s unlikely to inconvenienced by the underfoot conditions on the day.