Declan Rix

A week out from the 2019 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and Enable's date with destiny, Declan Rix analyses the star mare's biggest rivals.

  • Sunday 29 September
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By this time next week, we will know if the great Enable has won a third and unprecedented Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Best-priced at 4/5, her competition look to face an uphill task in turning over the mare, especially when you consider not just her raw ability, but her phenomenal consistency, team and versatility.

The winner of her last 11 races on the bounce, 10 of those Group or Grade 1s, her trainer John Gosden has his Clarehaven team in rude health currently, Gosden operating at a 32% strike-rate, at the time of writing.

A week out, we obviously don’t know the ground and draw for the Arc, but given what we have seen in the last three seasons of excellence from Enable, whatever terrain ParisLongchamp throws up, I have no worries, heavy ground aside.

With regards the draw, while a stall allocation in single figures would be highly desirable, such is Enable’s versatility I for one am not particularly concerned about what slot she receives. We saw in this season’s epic renewal of the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot the outstanding adaptability of the five-year-old once more, to sit in the second half of a field if needs be, in what has been a career mostly dominated by prominent running.

Watch the 2019 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) on Sunday 6th October.

This follows on from Enable winning races run at an end-to-end gallop on soft ground or dominating events that turn into sprints on quick going; you name it, this mare has done it all from a tactical point of view and this versatility is one of her main assets.

Unless things go drastically wrong from the gates next week, I can’t see Frankie Dettori playing out a negative tactical approach because in Enable he has a high-class horse blessed with early tactical pace and an attitude to do whatever her jockey asks of her.

There is a run of over five furlongs or so to the first turn; ample time for Dettori to ask Enable to sit where he pleases. Dettori, a master of his craft through not only brilliant athleticism and horsemanship but razor-sharp tactical nous will no doubt look to keep things as simple as possible, and with him riding a horse who can aid his every call, it would be a surprise if Enable wasn’t in the first six encountering the opening turn.

From here, it will prove tough for those trying to turnover the daughter of Nathaniel, whose competition will need significant career bests to win, should Enable run to or in-and-around her official rating of 128.

I have Enable down as a 125 performer, not including her 3lb sex allowance, so it will take something almighty to defeat thoroughbred racing’s Queen if she is on song. 

Below, I have looked at her main dangers - including my own ratings - who appear in order of their current ante-post prices.

JAPAN (119+)

Japan (6/1) was seemingly Ballydoyle and Coolmore’s great hope for the 2019 Derby, but a set-back in the spring halted the son of Galileo’s progress. An encouraging return in the Dante Stakes when said to be nowhere near ready was followed by a huge run in the Derby, finishing third, beaten half-a-length despite being hampered early, getting further back than ideal and the jockey Wayne Lordan dropping his whip.

Just three weeks later the three-year-old was asked to compete at Royal Ascot, where I had worries about the race coming too soon, but Japan, visually, was explosive in winning the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes by 4½ lengths. That margin didn’t do his victory total justice either, given the ultra-safe wide ride he got turning for home.

Like the King Edward VII, the Grand Prix de Paris wasn’t a strong renewal, but unlike Royal Ascot, Japan was nowhere near as visually impressive. A change to more prominent tactics with no cover maybe didn’t suit, but while he didn’t win like a 1/2 shot, Ryan Moore never really looked worried in what was a ready success.

What followed in the Juddmonte International Stakes at York however, was a clear sign that the Coolmore-owned colt was a horse going the right way after an unsexy French victory. Beating top-class older horse Crystal Ocean by a head, under a fine no nonsense Ryan Moore ride, was a real mark of progression, for all I’d be confident the runner-up was comfortably below his King George level behind Enable.

Heading into the Arc with an upwardly mobile three-year-old in the care of Aidan O’Brien will mean Enable’s connections must respect Japan, especially as he too likely doesn’t have any major ground concerns.

Stepping up in trip to 12f again could unlock even further improvement, the only potential concern being his lacklustre (in victory) win around the Arc course and distance.

SOTTSASS (118p)

With just a pair of lowkey juvenile starts last season, Sottsass (7/1) didn’t come into the 2019 campaign with anywhere near the level of expectation as fellow three-year-old Japan. Understandably so given his lesser known connections and the races he contested at two, but make no mistake, trainer Jean-Claude Rouget and owner White Birch Farm (Peter Brant) are to be respected.

Rouget, of Almanzor, Avenir Certain, Brametot, Ervedya, Olmedo, Stacelita and Qemah fame, who has his team in great form at the moment, is a consistent winner of Group 1 races in recent seasons, while American entrepreneur Brant has got the cash to buy the pedigrees needed to compete at the top level.

Indeed, Sottsass was a €340,000 yearling purchase by Siyouni out of Galileo dam Starlet's Sister, making the French Derby winner a half-sister to the top-class American filly Sistercharlie.

It was the Prix du Jockey Club where Sottsass announced himself to the world, his two-length defeat of Persian King, with the runner-up coming two lengths clear of the rest, marking him down as a colt of progress and quality.

It was exciting to see him take his form to an even higher level when winning his Arc prep in the Group 2 Prix Niel, despite a torrid run through and his trainer being adamant that his inmate would come forward significantly for the run. While words as such need to be taken on trust, if that is the case, Sottsass needs massive respecting.

The French-based runner will come to the Arc on the back of a typical French prep, where by a mid-season break is undertaken with the aim of peaking for France’s greatest race. On that score, everything has gone according to plan, the only potential negatives I can see be Sottsass’s habit of breaking slower than ideal and potential soft ground stretching his stamina.

GHAIYYATH (?)

The potential fly in the ointment to Enable was a pretty late entry to the scene. The Charlie Appleby-trained Ghaiyyath (12/1) burst to the fore of the Arc market after winning the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Baden at Baden-Baden racecourse by a colossal 14 lengths at the start of September.

Visually, it was an astonishing success, but with regards form, I couldn’t possibly guess to what level the son of Dubawi has run to as I don’t follow German racing closely. If you believe the LONGINES World’s Best Racehorse handicappers, Ghaiyyath is a 126-rated animal. For comparison, Enable is currently rated 128, Japan 122 and Sottsass 120.

If your own view falls in line with the above 126, the 12/1 available about the Godolphin-owned colt looks pretty big. The bookmakers however, certainly don’t take the handicappers view judging by their prices and I’d be inclined to agree.

While Ghaiyyath was brilliant in winning the same prep race Danedream did before her 2011 Arc heroinism, I do wonder is he a candidate to bounce next Sunday? Having suffered a setback earlier in the season, his German victory was by far-and-away a career best off a long break and this situation can lend itself to a below par effort next time out.

MAGICAL (117+)

While Magical is clearly a top-class filly, she has never struck me as good as her official rating of 122 good. That 122 no doubt comes from her excellent second to Enable in last season’s Breeders' Cup Turf at Churchill Downs, where she surely met a below par Enable, on the back of John Gosden’s filly having a tough campaign with numerous setbacks.

This season, she hasn’t run anywhere near 122, for me, for all I’m not sure she has been given ample opportunity to. Aidan O’Brien’s inmate won her first three starts of the campaign over 10f in Ireland, three farcical races in truth, before being put in her place by Crystal Ocean in the Prince Of Wales's Stakes (10f) at Royal Ascot.

She again clashed with Enable in the Coral-Eclipse (10f), but again, she met John Gosden’s mare when not at her best, considering it was Enable’s first start of the season. In comparison, Magical was hard fit after four runs. While Magical ran well, she was again put in her place over a trip I continue to find short of her best.

Finally, Magical would challenge Enable over 12f again, in the Yorkshire Oaks, but this time, Enable had the upper hand on fitness, with Magical returning from a small mid-season break in a race that was essentially handed to Enable on a plate. For my money, connections used the Group 1 at York as a springboard for the remainder of the season.

That plan is seemingly going swimmingly, with Magical comfortably winning the Irish Champions Stakes on her next start in a race where she had a significant tactical advantage. Under Ryan Moore, the daughter of Galileo made no mistake and teed herself up nicely for a shot at the Arc.

The only downside where Magical is concerned, is knowing that she hasn’t beaten Enable in four goes. In two of those runs, I’d argue that the Coolmore filly has taken on a below par Enable and still not won. With that in mind, it makes sense for Ryan Moore to ride Japan, a move that will likely give Donnacha O’Brien the chance aboard Magical.

While the case, in my own mind, there is very little between Magical and Japan in terms of raw ability, for all Japan is likely open to more improvement, and the 16/1 about the filly with William Hill compared to the best-priced 6/1 around on Japan is a colossal difference.

With no ground concerns, I feel she is the one horse in the line-up consistently overpriced across all books, especially if getting another positive ride.

WALDGEIST (124)

A fine fourth in last season’s Arc behind Enable, the diminutive but tough Waldgeist has taken his form to an even higher level this season. In the 2018 Arc, I have André Fabre’s horse running to 120, but his King George third behind Enable and Crystal Ocean now sees him on 124.

That is his standout effort this campaign, and comfortably better than his Prix Ganay, Prince Of Wales’s and Prix Foy runs. On ratings alone, the 16/1 available about the son of Galileo is a big price, especially on the back of a nice prep in the Foy where he didn’t have a hard race.

The question I ask myself however, is why is the five-year-old’s King George run so much better than anything else he has done this season? Well, in the Ganay, while brilliant, he was likely running over a trip short of his best on seasonal debut.

At Royal Ascot, the ground and trip and how the race panned out completely played against him. In the King George though, the pressure put on class and stamina to really shine through off an end-to-end gallop clearly played to his strengths. While you couldn’t for one second suggest Waldgeist is slow, he thrives in strong-run 12f events on preferably decent ground, and in this case, at a stamina-sapping track like Ascot.

Whether the ParisLongchamp course puts enough emphasis on stamina to allow him to produce his very best remains to be seen. He may well just be doing his best work at the end when the bird(s) has flown. More prominent tactics may help, but in general, he is a hold-up performer.

All that said, 16/1 is a decent bit of value, where the each-way part of the bet is concerned.

IS THERE A BET?

A week out from the Arc, it’s hard to know what will run. The last 10 Arcs have attracted fields of 19, 18, 16, 17, 20, 17, 18, 16, 18 and 19 meaning on the day, punters may potentially get each-way four places, but this year’s race has a distinctive feel of potentially getting a smaller field than usual.

With Enable obviously looking the most likely winner, it’s an each-way betting event or even better, a race to play in the ‘without Enable’ market.

Ghaiyyath (12/1) isn’t for me at the prices, as he may have left a big Arc run behind him in Germany. On the proviso of good or better ground, I would have Sottsass (7/1) ahead of Japan (6/1) in the betting, but the market differential between the three-year-olds to the fore of the market and the older horses of Magical (16/1) and Waldgeist (16/1) is simply far too big.

I couldn’t put anyone off backing either of the older horses, but if pressed for one now, with no ground worries and her likely to have better early tactical speed, MAGICAL is the each-way bet. In all likelihood, we are going to lose the win part, but the each-way part is value.

Declan Rix
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