By Liz Price
With the memories of Zarkava’s brilliant victory in the 2008 edition of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe still fresh on everyone’s mind, racing fans are hoping that her son ZARAK will do her justice when he lines up at the start of this year’s Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
As a three-year-old, expectations were high when he ran in the Prix du Jockey Club, but seeing that he had the misfortune of being born in the same year as a certain Almanzor, a Classic success never materialised as he could only finish second. In fact, connections had to wait until this season before he finally lifted his first Group 1 when he beat Silverwave in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.
As a Group 1 winner, he certainly deserves to take his chances in the Arc and on Tuesday, the now four-year-old completed his preparation with a last piece of work on the famous Chantilly grass track “Les Aigles”, in front of the watchful eyes of his owner, HH the Aga Khan.
Afterwards, his trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre said: “That was a good piece of work. He didn’t blow much afterwards, so that means he is in good form. He always had the tendency to stop when he had the lead and that is why we worked him with another horse behind, so once he went past the leader, he had another horse pushing him on.”
The Arc has been on Zarak’s program for a while now and considering that he sometimes displays the same temperament as his dam, his handler decided not to run him in a prep race. De Royer-Dupre explains: “We sent Zarak to Deauville for two weeks during the month of August. It meant that he was constantly in the racing environment, which meant we didn’t have to take the risk of overworking him. He only worked once on the sand track at Deauville. And then a month ago, he did a racecourse gallop at Maisons-Laffitte over the straight course. I didn’t want him to run twice at Chantilly, so we opted out of the Arc trials.
“And it was a good choice, as the Arc trials were run in very soft ground. By the way, it is not the first time that I have sent a horse to Deauville. Dalakhani (the 2003 Arc winner) also went to Deauville in the summer. It’s good for the horses, it keeps them on their toes to see racing every day.”
Zarak seems to be spot on for the race and Alain de Royer-Dupre confirms: “He is a different horse this season. He has grown up. Physically, he has never been as strong as he is now. He ran well on his first start in Meydan and then the Dubai Turf was probably too short. We finally decided to run him over the longer trip and that was the right decision.
“He is a horse who has lots of energy, just like his dam, and so it is important to get the dosage of the workload absolutely spot on. When he is too fresh, it becomes complicated and when you work them too much, they can’t take it. Now, while the horse is in great form, it is a tough race, as there are some very good horses running in that race. I just hope it doesn’t rain too much. Not that he can’t handle it, but good ground would be perfect.”
Zarak is not the only horse he will be saddling in the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. He is also going to run the now five-year-old ONE FOOT IN HEAVEN, who finished sixth in last year’s Arc. A proper mile and a half horse, he has only had three starts this season and his trainer explains: “We had to slow him right down after he got beaten by Seventh Heaven in Newmarket. He hurt himself on the track that was too fast for him. So we gave him a break for a while and started again from scratch.
“But now he is in great form. His reappearance in the Group 3 the other day at Maisons-Laffitte was very good. He finished second, as he was still lacking a bit of work and also because he is not a mile and a quarter horse. Now, I really like him. He is physically stronger this year than last year. If the ground is soft, it would suit him even better. But it is a difficult task this year. And by the way the filly, Seventh Heaven, who beat us at Newmarket, is running in the Arc.”
If Zarak seems to have benefitted from the seaside air in Deauville, so did his stable companion VAZIRABAD, who is running in Saturday’s Group 1 Prix du Cadran. He, too got the opportunity to breathe in some of the racing atmosphere in the seaside resort. Beaten a short neck by Quest For More in last year’s Prix du Cadran, his handler is hoping that he can go one better this year.
“His mid-season reappearance was very satisfying,” he explains. “The ground was very soft and he literally just cantered to win the Prix Gladiateur. He looks great. He had won in Dubai on fast ground, but he is a much better horse on soft ground. Each time he has run on soft ground, he just floats. When he won the Royal Oak at Saint-Cloud, he just ran away with it.”
There is no doubt about the stayer’s abilities. He has won ten group races in seventeen starts and was being aimed at the Ascot Gold Cup when he suffered an injury in his prep race.
“There were only three runners in that race that day and one of the horses was wearing blinkers for the first time and just struck into him,” he pursues. “You could hear the noise of the two shoes connecting in the stands. So, we had to give him a whole month off. He is a gelding, so you have to take your time with him and wait until it was properly healed. He is back though now, as he showed the other day and I’m really happy, as he is a terrific horse.
“He has that great turn of foot and he follows easily in a race. He is not very showy and he has his own mind. The other day he looked like he was going to win by five lengths and then he started to look at the panel and got distracted. That’s him, but he does get his neck in front. I think it will be a little field again on Saturday. And the horse to beat is obviously Big Orange. Well, we shall see.”
On Saturday, he is also saddling the filly BAIYOUNA who is going to run in the Group 2 Prix de Royallieu. The daughter of Sea The Stars and Balankiya was last seen in the Prix Vermeille where she was badly hampered by the winner Bateel. “She was hampered by the winner who took out several horses that day. So, she never ran the race as her jockey just let her finish in her stride. She is improving all the time, but this is a tough race and there are some very good fillies in the race. She has a lot of stamina and I think that she can handle softer ground. We have won this race a few times, but this looks difficult,” concluded her handler.