I preview and provide my tips for this Sunday’s, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, run over 12 furlongs at Longchamp. The Arc has been a great race for many a year, and it’s very rare when it doesn’t draw together the best middle distance field of the season in Europe, if not the world. Last year that honour probably went to the Japan Cup, but the Arc was still full of most of the best around in Europe. This years race looks a cracker, with no less than 12 of the 18 declared having already won at Group 1 level, and they have a combined 26 Groups 1’s between them. To say it has strength in depth would be an understatement. With a few potential superstars it looks a race to savour. The ground is official soft, but I’ve heard reports it’s no worse than UK good/soft, and with no more rain due between now and Sunday, it could ride nearer good.
Despite the fact that so many top horses are set to line up, I’ve read more analysis of the draw and worthless race trends this week, than I have about the abilities of the horses involved, so before I move onto the preview I’m going to deal with a few of them. Firstly the draw. I’ve read being high is an huge disadvantage, and I’ve also seen in print that low is bad too, with the the middle being best. I again took a novel approach, I gathered some evidence. Using all the Arc’s this century I took the amount of rivals horses in each draw beat. I split it into draws 1-6, 7-12, and 13+. The horses drawn 1-6 beat 54% of their rivals, the middle ones beat 46.7% and those drawn 13+ beat 48.8%. I think you’ll agree there is no huge bias at all, and no evidence that middle is best.
Onto trends now and I’ve read some crackers that attempt to devalue the favourite Orfevre’s chance. One is that seemingly no horse beaten in an Arc has then won an Arc. WOW. Earth shattering that is. So basically you take a sample of horses that seemed not to be good enough, and then none of them were good enough when they tried again. Does Orfevre belong in this sample? Does he have the same characteristics as the majority of the sample, or even any of the sample? No of course he doesn’t. How many others in that sample quickened from last to first in the space of a furlong, before seemingly idling badly in front?
Another classic is that no horse in the last 20 years has won an Arc without running in a group 1 race that season. Most of that sample will compromise horses that weren’t good enough to run in group 1’s, so their poor record is hardly a surprise. How many in that sample have won 5 group 1 races, and shaped like much the best horse in last years Arc? None would be the correct answer. So basically the trend should read, no horses has ever done, what no horse has ever attempted to do. Only that wouldn’t make such a good headline now would it? I’ve nothing against stats when properly used, I use them all the time to come up with angles for my Premium Advisory Service, but I need a sound reason why the trend happened, and why it should repeat itself, and I also need the data to have a high level of statistical significance, most race trend stats have neither of those criteria.
There are many more, but I’m not going to go into them, its bad enough they were put in print in the first place, without me repeating them here. Race Trends devotes usually seem to use just winners to come up with their important nuggets. Why is this? Mostly because if they used proper statistically techniques, combined with common sense, they’d spot they that trend has either no significance, or makes no sense. Race Trends are like tabloid headlines, they catch the eye, but have very little substance to them.
Orfevre is a hell of a horse. Before he came to France in preparation for last years Arc he had won 5 group 1’s in Japan. While doing so he displayed a few kinks, he ran very wide off the bend one day before almost puling off a miraculous victory. What he always looked though, was a very high class horse, running in some of the worlds best middle distance races. After a narrow, but cosy victory in last years Prix Foy, he lined up for the Arc at 5/1. Drawn out in stall 18 he was held up at the back of the field. Still there as they turned into the straight with 2 1/2 furlongs to run, what happened next was scarcely believable. It looked like he had an awful lot to do, with little time to do it, yet in the space of a furlong, he had made up about 7l, to hit the front about 1 1/2 furlongs from home. He was 2l clear by the furlong pole, and then he seemed to hit the brakes, and got nailed in the last few strides.
The effort Orfevre made to gain 9l on the winner Solemia in little over a furlong, would surely have told, but he stopped too quick for that to have been the only reason. In the space of about 4 strides, he went from going about 5l a furlong faster than Solemia, to over 2l a furlong slower. A bullet wouldn’t stop a racehorse that quick, so we can only presume Orfevre pulled himself up. It is a kink and a slight worry, but only very slight. Given a chance to ride that race again I’m pretty sure Soumillon, who rides Longchamp better than anyone else, would make his progress more smoothly and win easily. He can’t be blamed for last year, as he couldn’t realistically expect any horse to show that turn of foot, but he’ll be wiser now.
Orfevre bled after a bit of work back in June and missed an engagement in Japan, as such he comes here a very fresh horse, and his connections surely wouldn’t have travelled with such a valuable horse if they felt there was any more than a very small chance of the problem recurring. He prepped for the Arc like last year in the Prix Foy, except he was even more impressive this time, cantering clear of his rivals in the straight, and running straight too. It wasn’t a great field but the 2nd while not good enough for an Arc, has some decent top level form and Orfevre made him look like a plater. I priced the race up and made him a 5/2 shot, which is what he is at the moment.
Novellist burst onto the Arc radar when winning a group 1 at Saint Cloud in June, and followed that up with a 5l win in the King George. With Cirrus des Aigles looking a light of his former best, the field was a long way short of Arc quality though. Trading Leather won a poor Irish Derby and has got beaten twice since the King George. Hillstar was 3rd, and while he’s a decent animal he wouldn’t lead them to the start in an Arc. Trading Leather also pulled very hard in the King George, and the fact he came 2nd doesn’t say much for what Novellist beat. He did win well though and the time figure was good. Last time he made an awful meal out of winning a poor race, so while he would have needed it I couldn’t have him any shorter than 6/ 1 Sunday’s race.
Treve is an unbeaten filly, having won her last two at group 1 level, and as such she demands respect. I was surprised the bookies saw fit to cut her so much after her Prix Vermeille win. Yes she showed a good turn of foot to make ground up off a steady gallop, but the 2nd horse is a 14 furlong group 2 mare. That Treve showed more speed than a 14 furlong horse, in a slowly run 12 furlong race was entirely predictable, and I didn’t learn anything new about her that day. Her best piece of form was when winning a strong Prix de Diane by 4l. The 2nd won the Irish Oaks next time, and a few others in behind give the form a solid look too. That race was over 10 1/2 furlongs and Treve showed a sparkling turn off foot to quicken clear between the 2 and 1 furlong pole. She wasn’t going away at the line though, and I’m surprised that nobody has questioned her stamina for a true run 12 furlongs. Her dam only won over 6 furlongs, and her half brother Trois Rois won 4 times, but not over 12 furlongs despite trying it. Trois Rois was also by Hernando, who is more of a stamina influence than Treve’s sire Motivator. Her main asset is speed, and on what I’ve seen, plus her breeding I would think 10 furlongs is more likely to prove her optimum. I think 6/1 is about right for her too.
Kizuna is another raider from Japan, having won their Derby earlier this year. The fact he was available to back at 11.0 on Betfair in the minutes before the Prix Neil shows that Japanese middle distance form is still grossly underestimated. Yes the ground was a worry, and his trainer said he’d need the race, but with our crop of 3 year old’s not looking up to much for the 2nd year running, there had to be a good chance the Japanese horse would prove better than the locals. In the race he travelled easily the best and found enough to get past Ocovango late on, and just hold the challenge of Ruler of the World. The fact so many finished close up was more a product of lack of pace, but Kizuna would still need to find a good bit of improvement on this to win a good Arc. That is a possibility though, as having been defeated in his first two starts, he’s now won his last 4, and is still in the could be anything camp. I make him a 9/1 chance.
You could make a case for Ruler of the World being an unlucky loser the last day, he had to wait for a gap before flying home. I think if the pace had been faster the first two would have finished clear, and as such that’s decent form. It was good to see Ruler of the World bounce back from a poor Irish Derby effort and while the 3 year olds don’t look great so far, he is still unexposed and has to have some sort of a chance on Sunday. I thought 14/1 was about right.
Intello came home well in the French 2000, but while he had to wait for a run I didn’t think he was the very unlucky loser many seemed keen to credit him with. Next time out he won the Prix de Jockey Club over 10 1/2 furlongs, but that was a woeful affair, and he didn’t look like he wanted any further than that trip. Since then he was a good 3rd over a mile to Moonlight Cloud, before winning a group 3 prep race. Like Treve I think his best trip might be 10 furlongs, but even if he stays, I think he needs to improve quite a bit on what he’s done, and don’t see him as a likely winner. I though he has the look of a 20/1 shot.
While I didn’t think much of the Irish and UK 3 year old colts after all the Derbies had been run, I did think Flintshire had the look of a potential Arc winner when he showed a good turn of foot to win the Grand Prix de Paris in July. That was only his 4th start and given his level of progress he looked like he could develop into a really top colt. His defeat behind Kizuna can’t be solely attributed to him needing the race, it’s unlikely the winner was any fitter, and while he was only beaten just under 2l, it was a quite comprehensive defeat given the slow pace. Having won first time out Flintshire disappointed when only 2nd on his next start. That was on soft ground and the only other time he ran on worse than officially good ground, was that Prix Neil defeat. It could be he needs better ground, but the evidence is not conclusive. For one I wouldn’t trust official French going descriptions at all, so have no real way of knowing the exact ground for the races in question. It may also be that the ground won’t be far off good on Sunday, and he can’t be written off yet. I’d make him a 14/1 chance on soft, which is what he is currently, but if it came up good on Sunday, I think 10/1 would be about right.
I strongly fancied Leading Light for both the Queens Vase at Ascot, and the St Leger at Doncaster. My strongest reason for both, was that he had a decent level of form over 10 furlongs and looked absolutely certain to be better over the longer trips. At Ascot he disappointed me despite winning, getting passed around 2 furlongs out, before battling back, it looked like stamina won the day. At Doncaster he looked a better animal, travelling better, and he was never going to get passed once the others couldn’t initially outpace him when they went for home. Again he seemed to revel in the distance, and while he’s clearly good enough to win a group 2 at 12 furlong, and probably a poor group 1, this contest is much better than that. I’ve heard the argument that he’s not slow, but instead just lazy, he might be a bit, but he’s actually got passed a few times before winning going right away, not the traits of a horse that could have gone faster and didn’t, but rather of a horse that just kept going when others cried enough. I think he’ll win next years Gold Cup at Ascot, but his presence here should ensure a good pace, as in anything other than a well run race, he has no chance. I though 22/1 was about right for him.
Al Kazeem is tough and honest and after 3 group 1 wins this season he got beaten in his last two, looking to run flat last time at Leopardstown. He won’t win an Arc on those two runs, but there might be something in the theory that he’s better right handed. Since moving out of handicaps he’s had 10 runs in group company, he’s 0/5 left handed, and 5/5 right handed. Granted one was at Newmarket with just one right handed bend. He has placed in all the left handed runs but his overall form that way around isn’t quite as good as the other way. The evidence isn’t cast iron though, as the first 3 of those left handed runs were his first 3 group race attempts, and it could be he just improved, and the last two defeats could just as easily be because he’s gone over the top for the year after a few hard races. Even on his best form he looked like he’d need to improve to win a race this good, but he will be just as good over the 12 furlongs, and if he is indeed better right handed then he has a chance of a place. I made him a 16/1 shot, so the 22/1 available looks a little big. I wouldn’t worry to much about his draw in 18, as I don’t think its that big a disadvantage if dropped in, and with a good pace likely the field should be well spread out.
Ocovango was less than a length behind Kizuna in the Prix Neil, but he’s pretty exposed now, and doesn’t have anywhere near the scope to make the necessary progress to win this. Penglai Pavilion would also need huge improvement to figure and it doesn’t look likely to be forthcoming, while despite winning 4 group 1’s, Meandre has never looked good enough to win even an average Arc, let alone a very good one. Very Nice Name is another decent horse, like Meandre capable of winning German or Italian group 1’s, but not races of this standard.
I think this is a high class renewal, with a good few horses who could yet prove to be a superstar. I think Orfevre already falls into that category, and is easily the most likely winner. The ground will probably be better than last year, and Soumillon will ride him with balls of steel. A slow pace could make his passage tricky, but with Aidan O’Brien supplementing a horse, whose only chance at the trip is to turn it into a slog, I don’t think a slow pace is very likely. That should make a hold up ride easier both in terms of pace, and getting the gaps. Another factor is that when you have a horse with push button acceleration like Orfevre its much easier pick your way through the field. Treve could yet be a star, but I do worry about her at the trip in a well run race. I made Orfevre 5/2, and that’s all he is at the moment, but I think he will drift a bit between now and Sunday. If 7/2 becomes available he’s worth a bet, and at the current odds the 22/1 on Al Kazeem isn’t the worse price. If the ground comes up good then 14/1 would look fair on Flintshire, although the price probably wouldn’t still be there in such circumstances. It should be noted that