Kevin Blake

The day after Waldgeist won the 2019 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, leading racing writer Kevin Blake looks back on the race that crushed Enable's historic third Arc bid.

  • Monday 07 October
  • Blog
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The build-up to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was all about Enable and her bid for a historic third win in the race, but Waldgeist didn’t read the script.

The Andre Fabre-trained five-year-old had ground to make up on a top-form Enable based on their previous meetings. He had met with some trouble in running on his way to finishing one-and-three-quarter lengths fourth to her in the Arc last year, but there had been no real excuses when he finished two lengths third to her in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot this year.

His supporters are also unlikely to have welcomed the rain that arrived in Paris either given that he had been beaten on all five of the occasions he raced on ground that Timeform called soft or heavy. Yet, he produced the run of his life to silence the Longchamp crowd.

Despite the bad memories of their troubled passage in the race last year, Pierre-Charles Boudot took Waldgeist back in the early stages. Waldgeist didn’t travel all that well through the first half of the race, but he very much came alive in the final half mile.

Having found the outside with a furlong-and-a-half to run, Waldgeist wound up a tremendous finishing effort that saw him power home in the final half furlong to seize the day.

It very much seemed to represent a career-best effort from Waldgeist and it came on the day that mattered most. Incidentally, there may be nothing in it, but it is an interesting fact that he has never won in seven starts outside of France, whereas he has won nine of his 14 starts in France.

Where he goes from here has yet to be confirmed, but it seems likely that the son of Galileo will retire to stud next season.

Now, onto Enable. It would be simple to look at the closing stages of the Arc and conclude that Enable ran her race and just found one too good in testing conditions. Given that she powered to the front two furlongs out and ultimately saw off everything bar Waldgeist with authority, it would seem a reasonable conclusion to draw.

However, for me there were significant signs in the early stages that Enable wasn’t quite herself.

From the very outset of her career, we have been accustomed to seeing Enable taking a strong hold in the early stage of her races. At times, if anything she has over-raced. The power with which she travels is what makes her so tactically versatile, as she is always there in Frankie’s hands if he wants her to take closer order.

This was not the case on Sunday. Not only did she not travel with her usual zest, Frankie had to urge her along on a couple of occasions in the opening furlongs. In fairness to her, she did pick up the bridle and travel better in the middle and latter sections of the race, but those uncharacteristically laboured opening few furlongs offer compelling evidence that she wasn’t quite herself on the day.

Dettori has confirmed that interpretation of her performance, saying: “I struggled in the first bit of the race and let her find her feet. She came good for me in the false straight and I waited for the 300m pole, but I didn’t find as much as I thought I’d left and I just folded a little bit.”

So, why might that have been the case? Many, including Gosden and Dettori, have pointed an accusatory finger at the ground, but I’m not so sure that was to blame. The thing is, the ground wasn’t riding nearly as testing as has been generally been reported.

Official ground descriptions are often unreliable in France and this looks to be an example of that. Timeform produce their own ground descriptions after racing has taken place based on analysis of the race times.

They have concluded that, far from being soft or even heavy as had been suggested, the ground at ParisLongchamp on Sunday rode good-to-soft.

Enable has gained four of her 10 Group 1 wins on ground that Timeform described as softer than good. It shouldn’t be forgotten that one of the most impressive performances of her career came on ground that Timeform called soft in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot back in 2017.

Given how she powered to the line in what was a well-run race that day, she is clearly not shy of stamina at the trip either. Considering she was just a three-year-old at that stage, the stamina test or the ground in the Arc shouldn’t have been problems to her at this stage of her career.

It is of course impossible to know with certainty, but my view is that she was just a little bit flat and not quite at her best on the day. Many observers seem to associate running flat with never travelling and finishing well beaten, but like everything else, there are varying degrees of running flat.

It is possible to be a little bit flat and the marked contrast from the norm in Enable’s early-race demeanour very much hints at that. While she has clearly still run a very big race, racing is a game of millimetres and a horse being just a tiny bit off their game is enough to be the difference between winning and losing.

Prior to the race, it was interesting to hear Jason Weaver give an insight into Enable’s work at home of late on Sky Sports Racing. He suggested that the word was that her recent work had only been considered adequate. This concerned John Gosden enough that he had changed her routine and asked her to make the running in a recent gallop, seemingly in the hope of sparking her up.

John Gosden isn’t one for making excuses after big defeats, but one can’t help but wonder whether he was concerned about her form going into the race.

The 2019 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe
Waldgeist (right) flies home to scupper Enable's (left) Arc history

Was there anything more that Frankie Dettori could have done on the day? Hindsight-ologists might suggest that he could have ridden her a little bit more quietly and looked to strike a shade later in what was a well-run race in testing conditions. In reality, he didn’t do anything notably different to what has worked so well for her all her career, including in the aforementioned soft ground King George where he struck the front even earlier.

A peak-form Enable would have put the Arc to bed from that position on Sunday, but she just didn’t have anything left to give him in the closing stages.

Both John Gosden and Frankie Dettori have excelled with Enable every step of her career. One can only hope that she is remembered for the wonderful body of work she put together throughout her racing life rather than this defeat.

Great credit must also be given to Prince Khalid Abdullah. As was the case with Frankel, it was his sporting decision to keep Enable in training has allowed her to put together a remarkable career.

So, what happens next? Enable’s connections haven’t ruled out the possibility of her having another run this season. That decision will seemingly be made next week. Personally, I wouldn’t be clamouring to see her again this season after that run. It would be wonderful to see her given a long break and be brought back into training next season as a six-year-old, but that doesn’t seem a likely possibility.

If this is indeed the end for Enable’s racing career, what a joy it has been to witness it. She won’t take high rank in any all-time lists that rank horses by peak rating, but she will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the great race mares of recent decades.

The list of the big-race wins she put together is sensational and that she did it whilst showing such consistency and versatility only enhances it.

Highly-rated horses come and go, but not all will be remembered. Enable will be remembered.

Kevin Blake
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