Kevin Blake

Can Enable enter the history books on Sunday? Kevin Blake presents both sides of the case surrounding a third Arc success.

  • Tuesday 29 September
  • Blog
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Enable and Dettori seek immortality

This Sunday, we are set to witness something genuinely special as Enable makes her second attempt to become the first horse to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on three occasions. In all likelihood, even the young amongst us may never see such a feat even attempted again in their lifetimes. It is that special and remarkable.

The positives and negatives surrounding Enable’s chance on Sunday are sure to be analysed in great depth between now and then. The main points of focus are likely to be whether she retains all her ability, and how suitable the rain-softened surface will be for her? But, one aspect of her chance that is unlikely to be as widely discussed is Frankie Dettori’s mindset going into the race.

In the aftermath of Enable’s most recent victory at Kempton, it was fascinating to hear John Gosden say: “I also have to manage Frankie. He gets emotional. Too emotional.” Many will have taken that comment as being tongue in cheek, and no-one seemed to pick up on it, but I would have little doubt that it is a source of at least some concern.

Watch every race from Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe weekend at ParisLongchamp on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) on Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th October.

Frankie’s emotional ride

Last season it was impossible not to notice just how emotional Frankie was when dealing with Enable. He broke down in tears on more than one occasion after her races and even when just speaking about her. Enable clearly means an awful lot to Frankie.
While Frankie has been on an almighty run in recent years, he knows that with his 50th birthday just around the corner, it is unlikely Dettori will ride a horse like Enable again. He will almost certainly never get another chance to be a part of something so historic and unprecedented as riding the first-ever three-time Arc winner.
This reality seemed to weigh on Frankie last season, and manifested itself in the unusual amount of outward emotion he showed when riding or even speaking about her in the build-up to the Arc. It was clear he wanted to win that race more than any other.

There is a widespread perception out there that “wanting it” is a good thing for a sportsman. The thought is that emotional investment in a pursuit translates to a greater likelihood of success. However, this isn’t true in most walks of life and it certainly isn’t true in sport.

Look to the example of combat sports. So many people think it’s a good thing for a fighter to have a genuine personal dislike or even hatred for an upcoming opponent. In fact, the opposite is the case.

The likes of Muhammed Ali and Conor McGregor were masters of getting inside their opponent’s heads before they fought them. They wanted their opponents and everyone around their opponents to hate them. They understood that emotionally-charged fighters waste valuable nervous energy before a punch is even thrown. When the contest begins, they want to beat their opponent so badly that they overcommit, overextend and make poor decisions in their forced efforts to win. An emotional fighter is a less effective fighter.

Just as emotion is not a fighter’s friend, it isn’t a jockey’s friend either. When it comes to being a jockey, confidence and a cool head are big parts of what separates the good from the bad. When it comes to race-riding on the biggest stages, the ability to retain composure in the most demanding and high-pressured situations is what sets true big-race jockeys apart from the rest.

As well as that, anyone that has an understanding of horses knows they have a very acute sense of any tension or nerves in those handling or riding them. They are flight animals, and any tension in the person in control of them will put them on edge and lead to wasted nervous energy.

Frankie Dettori has been the very definition of a big-race jockey throughout his career, but last year’s Arc and everything that was at stake clearly tested him. In terms of objective assessment, one strongly suspects that if he was given a chance to ride the race again, he would have waited longer before asking Enable for her full effort. Only Frankie knows how much his emotions impacted his own performance and decision making on the day, but Gosden’s comments at Kempton suggest it is a factor that is in their minds.

That said, I personally believe there were other factors at play that led to Enable’s defeat in the race last year. I strongly suspect she wasn’t at her very best on the day based on how she raced during the early stages. She just didn’t look herself, with her usual enthusiastic or even strong hold being replaced by a comparative lethargy that led to Dettori urging her forward from an early stage.

That may well have been a product of her feeling the effects of what had been a tough preparation, or perhaps she just was flat on the day, but whatever the cause, she just didn’t look usual herself. It is a testament to her that she went on to run so well, but I will always struggle to believe she was at her very best that day.

This time around, Enable’s build to the Arc has been steadier and started from a lower base. Indeed, it could readily be argued that this is the best preparation she’s had for an Arc since she won it as a three-year-old.

Being beaten by a cherry-ripe Ghaiyyath was readily excusable given the difficulty that John Gosden reportedly had in getting her back to race fitness. She may well not have had to show much more than that to run out an easy winner a below-standard King George VI on her next start. From there, it was telling that Gosden choose to avoid a potential gut-buster of a clash with Love in the Yorkshire Oaks, perhaps with her preparation for last year’s Arc in mind. Her alternative engagement at Kempton earlier this month served an ideal function, getting a race into her that didn’t necessitate her having to dig deep in for victory.

While none of Enable’s three starts this season have given us a full look under the bonnet to see if her powers remain the same as last year, this more gradual preparation promises to give her the best opportunity to show her very best at Longchamp on Sunday.

Steering clear of Paris slip-ups

If there was anything potentially significant to take from either of Enable’s long odds-on victories this season, there was one ever-so-slightly concerning feature of her win at Kempton last time. She has almost always been notably sharp from the gates throughout her career, but she jumped in the air slightly as the gates opened and forfeited at least three lengths to her sharpest rival at Kempton.

There may well have been nothing in it and it could prove a one-off, but it wouldn’t be unheard of for an older horse to develop a quirk such as this. While Enable is one of the most tactically-versatile stars we’ve seen for quite some time, it would be far from ideal to see such a start repeated on Sunday, where it would be much more heavily punished in a significantly more competitive environment. It would be a particular negative if she dwelt at the gates from a low draw and Frankie became bottled up in traffic as a result.

That minor quibble aside, Enable will have no excuses on the preparation front for her second bid for history this Sunday. Likewise, Frankie should be better placed than he was last year to be in the right frame of mind. Given that Enable is a year older and has been beaten a couple of times, this year’s bid for a third Arc will be more driven by hope than the wave of expectation that followed her into last year’s race. He’ll know better than anyone the tricks that his mind played on him last year, and having experienced the bitter disappointment of such an agonising defeat with so much at stake, he’ll be better prepared for the mental tests that this year’s race will present. Perversely, the lack of crowds and all the emotion they can fuel will only be a help in this task.

Once again, history will call Enable and Frankie Dettori this Sunday. The immortal titles of the first-ever three-time winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and becoming only the second horse in history to regain the race await them. Will they answer the call? I can’t wait to find out.

Watch every race from Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe weekend at ParisLongchamp on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) on Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th October.

Kevin Blake
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