The closest I’ve come to the The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe is a squinted view of the track where it is run from the top of La Tour Eiffel. “Look girls, that’s Longchamp! Where they run the Arc!” They were unimpressed. “Can we have another waffle, Daddy?” Mrs A mustered a little enthusiasm. Peering in the vague direction of the track and the vast wooded area in which it sat, she noted that “The Bois de Boulogne is lovely”. She’s good like that.
Following her gaze I was surprised to see another track nestling in the shadow of the main Longchamp Grandstand. I found an information board. It was ‘Hippodrome d’Auteil. “Ah, France’s premier jumps track!” I had no idea it was so close by and as momentarily lost in a swirling memory of Guillame Macaire plotting up Chelteham raiders from here, circa 2002.
Back to the present and another Arc swings into view. I still I haven’t made it to (either) track. The 2012 renewal has had a rocky week. Carelessly, the race has lost three of its principal contenders. Firstly, that wonderful mare, multi-Group 1 winning Snow Fairy was withdrawn after heat was discovered in one of her forelegs. Shame. It goes without saying that last year’s third would have added real quality to the field. In much more bizarre circumstances, defending Arc champion and brilliant mare Danedream will not line up. The horse has been confined to quarters at Cologne Racecourse after a case of a Swamp Fever was identified in horse at the other side of the track. Harsh quarantine arrangements will last at least a month preventing her participation. Further lowering of the race’s quality threshold came when two-time Group 1 winner Nathaniel was found to be feverish and ruled out by trainer John Gosden. It is not a vintage renewal.
All this, strangely, is good news for me. Last weekend I backed Sea Moon at 20-1 each-way, shortly after Stoute hinted heavily that the horse was Paris bound. Not because I had thought long and hard about his chances, but because quoted prices of 33-1 and 25-1 sounded like proper value. He’s on my 20-to-follow for the flat and I was always going to back him at some stage. In the event, those fancy prices had long gone by the time I was piling the pennies on. But I am happy with 20-1. Smike confirmed him as an intended runner shortly afterwards.
Then the rains came. Longchamp always has bog-like tendencies. The indications are that tomorrow’s race will be run through a tributary of the Seine. Sea Moon has some form on soft and heavy and may not be as inconvenienced as some. A harsh assessment of Sea Moon’s form would see him needing to find a few pounds. That’s not inconceivable. His 5th in the King George, on the face of it a touch disappointing, saw him barely two lengths adrift of Danedream. Not impossible to bridge.
The other drama of the week was Frankie’s decision to climb aboard Camelot (regular pilot JP O’Brien is unable to make the weight). This is not the first time Dettori has decided to work for his retainer’s arch rivals. But it’s the first time since the relationship between Godolphin and Coolmore really soured about six years ago. And he could hardly have chosen a more high profile race or horse. This seems significant, given that the operation has Masterstroke in the race who is far from without a shout. Godolphin have noticeably been promoting Mikael Barzalona and Sylvestre De Sousa this season, so is this the beginning of the end?
Camelot will no doubt be favourite, narrowly missing the Triple Crown and collecting three grade 1s in an outstanding year. The worry here is that the deep ground won’t be ideal and the suspicion that this year’s classic generation is a notch below par. That said, the three-year-olds have smashed eight of the last ten renewals. It’s not inconceivable that the 3yo fillies allowance might come into play. Sister to Nathaniel, Great Heavens must be taken as a serious horse, and continue Gosden’s remarkable year. Though she’s no Zarkava, the best three year old filly to win this. Then again, who is?
The money has come for Orfevre too. We can expect more of that. Memories of the landslide of Japanese cash that propelled Deep Impact to favouritism in 2006 is still fresh in my memory. Orfevre is the 2011 Japanese Triple Crown winner and has a real chance of becoming Japan’s first winner of the Arc.
But I’m sticking with Sea Moon. He can go close here. Closer than I’ll get to the track anyway, for another year.