Kevin Blake

Leading racing writer Kevin Blake looks back on a memorable Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at ParisLongchamp.

  • Monday 08 October
  • Blog
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Reflections on a magnificent Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe

French racing may not be in a great spot in terms of their equine talent at the moment, but their feature race of the year the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe delivered a contest worthy of its status as one of the very best races in the world. It was two British-trained fillies that came to the fore and in becoming just the eighth horse to win the race for the second time, ENABLE sealed her place in racing history.

Before one even gets to her achievements, it must be said that Enable is just the most wonderfully straightforward and versatile filly. She allows Frankie Dettori great flexibility in how he rides her and as was the case last year, he was able to keep it simple on her at ParisLongchamp on Sunday. While she looked set to win well approaching the final furlong, it all got a bit desperate late on as Sea Of Class finished very strongly from the rear and closed her down to within a short-neck.

As remarkable an achievement as Enable’s victory was, when one delves into the circumstances in which it was achieved in spite of, it only become more impressive. That she was coming into the race with the benefit of just one run this season having suffered a setback earlier this year was a tough enough ask of her, but John Gosden revealed after the race that all had not gone smoothly for her since that comeback run at Kempton just four weeks prior to the Arc. She reportedly had a temperature that required him to ease off her, meaning that he had to perform a balancing act of pushing enough to have her in near peak condition for the Arc, but not push her so hard as to put her over the edge. He felt that she wasn’t in top form as a result and that it was the interrupted preparation that resulted in her tiring inside the final furlong. That she could win one of the world’s great races when seemingly not at her best speaks volumes as to just how good she really is.

In the aftermath of the race, the question of whether John Gosden should have revealed the temperature issue she had after Kempton to the public was raised. Given that he said that the setback had led to her only being at “85%” in his opinion, revealing it publicly is likely to have affected how many people weighed up her prospects. Given that this is the greatest of racing stages, the argument that he should have disclosed it before the race is a valid one. If he was happy to talk about it after the race, why not before it? That said, in more general terms, it is the reality of training racehorses that preparations regularly don’t go 100% to plan and in many cases, the horses will run up to form regardless of it. Revealing every little unquantifiable doubt and concern to the public would be likely to create far more uncertainty than clarity. It is a complex question that doesn’t have a definitive answer.

Another feature of Enable’s victory was the presence of Prince Khalid Abdullah at ParisLongchamp to greet her in the winner’s enclosure. While his appearances at the track are rare these days and his racing empire has been trimmed in recent years, he is without doubt one of the finest owner-breeders of modern times and it has been wonderful for him to produce another world-class filly like Enable. With him having kept Midday, his last filly of comparable profile to Enable, in training as a five-year-old, hopes will be high that Enable will be back on the racecourse in 2019. That would be tremendous for the sport.

As impressive as Enable was, this was an Arc of two fillies, with the three-year-old Sea Of Class running her heart out to finish a never-nearer second for William Haggas. As is always the case when a horse finishes a never-nearer second having been held up a long way off the pace in a big race, debate has raged as to whether James Doyle got it right on her. Ultimately, she is a filly that her connections clearly feel is best ridden with exaggerated patience and given her wide draw, she was always going to be dropped in. Such tactics in a big-field contest like the Arc will always leave a jockey at the mercy of factors that they have no or limited control over such as the all-important pace of the race and luck in running. As it transpired, the sectional times suggest that Doyle’s cause was helped by what was a solid pace throughout and in the straight, he found as smooth a passage as he could have reasonably expected.

Doyle has ridden Sea Of Class beautifully this season and having boiled himself down to what is an absolute minimum for him of 8-9, there didn’t seem to be a huge amount more he could have done in the circumstances. That said, Doyle will no doubt be already dreaming about having another crack at the race in 2019 when she will have to carry 9-2 rather than 8-9. Given the rate of her progression both in terms of ability and mental maturity this season, perhaps by the time the race comes around again next year Sea Of Class will be more tactically versatile and won’t need to be ridden with such notable patience to show her very best. Only time will tell on that score.

To conclude, the fact that it is widely anticipated that both Enable and Sea Of Class will be back in training next year only served to make the aftermath of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe that much more exciting. Rivalries are what can take sport to the next level in terms of engagement and the prospect of seeing these two wonderful fillies doing battle once again would excite even the stoniest of souls.

Prix de l’Abbaye visuals remain awful

It really is disappointing that ParisLongchamp didn’t bother to address the horrendous viewing of their sprint track during the redevelopment of the track. The Prix de l’Abbaye has long been a truly awful race from a viewing perspective. While the sprint track is too far away from the stands for most in attendance to see it properly, this could be remedied to a large extent by well-placed camera positions, but there has seemingly not been any effort made in this regard. Thus, what we were subjected to on Sunday was a camera view from the grandstand that was so far away that it was hard to make out which horse was which, with most of the shots being taken up by the car park in the middle of the track. It really isn’t good enough for what is a worldwide showcase for French racing.

Fillies dominate Arc Day

It is a remarkable fact that of the four Group 1 races that were open to both colts and fillies on Arc day at ParisLongchamp, three of them were won by fillies. The exception was the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere in which no filly participated in. Thus, including the two fillies only Group 1 races, fillies won all five of the Group 1 races they contested on the day.

Kevin Blake
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