Declan Rix

Declan Rix takes a closer look at the two horses dominating the 2020 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe - Enable and Love - putting forward a case for why he feels John Gosden's inmate should be ante-post favourite.

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Who should be ante-post favourite for the Arc; Enable or Love?

With Love’s facile Yorkshire Oaks victory still fresh in the memory and Enable set to have her Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe prep race at Kempton this weekend, I thought it might be good to have a closer look at the two horses who dominate the betting for France’s greatest race.

At the time of writing, Love is a best-priced 2/1 shot and as short as 7/4. Enable is as low as 5/2, with a bit of 3/1 around. I do however wonder; should these prices be the other way around in an ante-post market, given what we know about these two top-class performers?

This trail of thought, of course, doesn’t factor in bookmakers’ specific books, and the current markets could be a result of the weight of money seen for Love.

That scenario would be understandable given Love’s current campaign, which has seen Aidan O’Brien’s inmate garner many fans in the process of kicking her opposition into touch with ease. On the contrary; Enable’s aura of invincibility has been weakened in the minds of some; the great mare losing two of her last three races; one of those in last year’s Arc at odds of 1/2 when beaten attempting a historic third win in-a-row in the race.

The momentum is no doubt with Love, both in the minds of fans and from a career trajectory view, but for my money, she still needs to improve to get to the level Enable was at last season when John Gosden’s stable star was at the peak of her powers.

Enable’s epic defeat of Crystal Ocean and subsequent Arc hero Waldgeist in last year’s King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes is arguably her career best performance (125), or at least on a par with her maiden Arc triumph (125) – on my figures at least – and at the moment, this is a level Love aspires to get to.

In black and white, Love’s season looks incredible – and it is; a 4½ lengths 1000 Guineas victory, a 9 lengths Oaks success all followed by an easy 5 lengths Yorkshire Oaks drubbing when taking on older fillies for the first time, but digging a little deeper I think you can pick holes in all that form, in the context of her going to meet the best horses she will have ever faced in the Arc.

Her biggest fans – of which I am one – will say I am being picky, fussy and not giving her full respect, but I do my best to looks at these things objectively and of course, get things wrong; but I am not for one second saying Love cannot win the Arc, but whether she deserves to be ante-post favourite is another question so, please hear me out.

In Love’s Guineas win (113p), I thought she beat a non-stayer in second (Cloak Of Spirits) while the third, the race favourite, Quadrilateral, was clearly too keen and has ultimately been disappointing this season, for all you could make excuses for her. The 98-rated Final Song (100/1) was fourth and 200/1 shot, the 97-rated Romsey was fifth; this pair beaten 5½ and 6 lengths, respectively. 

Heading to the Oaks, I was a little concerned about Love over the trip, just because I thought she had adapted to miling so well, and was worried the rhythm of 12f races may not suit. My concerns were unfounded as she adapted to the test superbly, as her winning margin suggests, but going into the race, the Oaks looked a terrible renewal; maybe not helped by a Covid-19 affected season.

Both the runner-up and third – Ennistymon and Frankly Darling – looked Listed level fillies on ratings heading into the race, with the caveat they both had progressive-looking profiles and could potentially improve. On the day however, I don’t they did progress; Ennistymon ran well but got an inefficient ride after a big mid-race move off a strong gallop and Frankly Darling reportedly didn’t handle the track; and looked badly overrated, officially, going into the race.

To be fair to Love, she absolutely destroyed them at the line, and although she didn’t need to improve on what she did in the Guineas to win, I feel she did, and had her running to 116p (+3lb). I know the BHA and Timeform rated the performance higher, but I struggled to see the 122 the BHA gave her.As ever, I could be wrong.

Do I think Love could get to 122 on the back of this evidence? Yes, absolutely, especially with how hard she hit the line, her straight-forwardness and great attitude, but ultimately, it looked a poor renewal and I’d rather have a ‘p’ (confident the horse can climb the ratings higher) than assuming a horse can get to a higher level without proving it.

The Yorkshire Oaks, pre-race, on paper, looked like it would be Love’s biggest test so far, but she again dominated with a classy five lengths success, not having to improve to win. I was looking forward to her taking on fellow 3yo and Nassau Stakes runner-up One Voice, but on the day, Jessica Harrington’s inmate looked below her best. Under Tom Marquand, I never felt she travelled with any purpose, was off the bridle too soon and she likely didn’t stay either, all this while being weak in the market.

With second favourite Franconia not running her race, it was left to 33/1 shot Alpinista to chase Love home; coming from a poor position given the pace compared to the winner. Alpinista at least is a well-bred, likable filly who came into the race in good order, having dominated a Listed event at Salisbury a week earlier, but all these horse’s that Love has beaten are so far removed from what she will take on in the Arc.

Grounds for concern?

Inferior form is one reason why I think Love shouldn’t be ahead of Enable in the ante-post market, but another potentially significant variable is ground. With Love, I think it is pretty clear; the faster the ground, the better her chance. The daughter of Galileo is such a fluent, elegant mover, firm going would likely be no issue to her as she really does glide along the turf.

In her 2019 juvenile campaign, after her Group 3 Silver Flash Stakes success at Leopardstown – where she stamped herself as a potential top-class filly – she was beaten twice in her subsequent three starts. In the Group 2 Debutante Stakes at the Curragh, on officially yielding going, she was beaten at odds of 6/4 on a day she never looked happy early in the race.

She would bounce back on a much quicker surface next time out in the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes before again being beaten in the Fillies’ Mile (Group 1) at Newmarket on ground with juice in it. The evidence suggests – at least from her juvenile season – that rain affected going doesn’t allow Love to show herself off at her best.

On the other hand, the Coolmore partners-owned filly is clearly a much better horse this season, and likely much stronger too, so she may well handle potential soft going better this year, but should ParisLongchamp come up as soft as their 2019 Arc renewal, Love’s chances of winning decrease, even with her 3yo allowance.

Much I’m sure will be written about the 3yo allowance that Love will receive in the run-up to this year’s Arc, but it should be remembered, this is a weight-for-age allowance that deemed physically inferior horses are entitled to so they can compete with their elders on a fairer footing. It is not some gift, some circa four-and-a-half lengths (7lb) ‘head start’ that some will have you believe.

To balance that, overall, 3yos obviously do well against their elders in the total horse population, especially over middle-distance and staying trips, but concerning the Arc, concerning Love, I feel she needs to improve her over-all form to warrant her current market position, especially against Enable.

Many will correctly point to 3yos winning five of the last 10 Arcs, three of those with fillies; Danedream (2011), Treve (2013) and Enable (2017); and two colts; Workforce (2010) and Golden Horn (2015), but while I couldn’t confidently talk about Workforce or Danedream, the rest of the aforementioned trio really were superstars (hindsight helps) heading to Paris who, in my own mind, achieved more in terms of ratings than Love currently has heading to this year’s renewal.

The caveat with Love however, is she could easily have been at a higher level going into this year’s Arc, but she simply hasn’t been tested, mainly racing against her own age group and sex. As ever, there is also a chance I have got her wrong, but I have hopefully put forward my case above to why I have her on 116p, 6lb behind the BHA.

The 3yo allowance will be of more significance if I have indeed have got Love wrong, where say, she should be sitting on 122p, but I prefer to judge races on their individual merits on the day, when all variables are known, and on what I have seen so far this season, I see no reason why Enable cannot give Love 7lb and a beating.

On soft(ish) ground, you would be even more confident about the Prince Khalid Abdullah-owned mare turning over Love, especially as Enable will likely head to Paris this year a fresher horse. OK, she is a year older, now a 6yo, and that has to be taken into account, but she looked great – travelling with all her old enthusiasm – at Ascot when winning this season’s King George (121+) and had nowhere near the same gruelling race as she did against Crystal Ocean the year previous.

That could be a major factor heading to this year’s Arc; freshness. When beaten last year, a tougher than ideal campaign, near heavy ground at ParisLongchamp and Frankie Dettori maybe kicking a bit soon, maybe all added up to Enable's slightly below par performance (122) on the day.

This year, assuming all goes well at Kempton on Saturday in the Group 3 September Stakes, Enable will likely head to ParisLongchamp a fresher horse. Based on what we saw in the King George, I see no major concerns in terms of her performance levels dropping and she is so incredibly versatile and adaptable to different pace, ground and tactical scenarios, that she still looks the horse to beat in the Arc.

Hopefully she – and Love – and the rest of the Arc contenders – get to ParisLongchamp in tip-top shape, and from there, may the best horse win.

Declan Rix
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