Racing: Pilsudski can take wind out of French sails

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The Independent Online
The first four home in last year's Arc may fight out the finish again tomorrow and Richard Edmondson believes that victory this time may go to last year's British-trained runner-up.

It would make sense, this weekend, if the sails on the ornamental windmill sited by Longchamp racecourse turned for the very first time.

It is hard enough work to win a Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, but this year's victorious animal will have to fight it's way through the most insalubrious, stagnant air ever to have descended on France's capital. They should turn on the fan.

Traffic problems have caused the high level of nitrogen dioxide in the Parisian air, and traffic problems will also have a decisive effect on an Arc contested by 18 bustling runners.

It is a feature of this year's contest that it is being run against the most interesting backcloth in Gallic racing for many years. The antiseptic world of the French turf has been contaminated by a feud between two jockeys who have both ridden last year's Arc winner, Helissio, with contrasting success.

Since a public dispute over tactical riding in a race at Longchamp last month, Cash Asmussen and Olivier Peslier have become the Tom and Jerry of Continental racing. Tomorrow, Peslier is contracted to ride Helissio's rival for supremacy in France, Peintre Celebre, while Asmussen has not been selected to continue his brief association with Helissio.

Last year's winner will instead be ridden instead by Dominique Boeuf, who was himself guillotined from the horse after failing to win last year's French Derby.

Boeuf was the man who found himself incarcerated awaiting serious drug offences two years ago; misdeeds the authorities took so badly they shut him up in prison almost all day. He was let out to ride work on the gallops every morning before returning to his bunk, and eventually escaped with a suspended sentence.

Peslier is now united with Peintre Celebre, the masterpiece of the Wildenstein art family. Papa Daniel was in fact the champion owner in Britain in 1976, since when he has got through more trainers than Liz McColgan's feet. At the age of 80, Wildenstein snr is trying to make some sort of sense of his son Alec's marriage.

Alec's estranged wife, Jocelyn, has never been a great one for housework. It is said she is unable to work that hugely complicated piece of machinery in the kitchen of the family's Manhattan town house, the item they call the oven.

Dear Jocelyn is reported to travel on the Wildenstein jet (with its horseshoe logo on the tailfin) accompanied by her pet monkey and five Italian greyhounds. Perhaps she has been unsettled by finding Alec, 57, in bed with a 19-year- old girl. Mathematicians more gifted than Jocelyn have calculated her husband's age as exactly three times that of the girl.

The conundrum about whether Peintre Celebre is good enough to win an Arc may therefore seem like small beer to Daniel Wildenstein tomorrow afternoon. It may well be that this beautifully bred colt once again shows the awesome acceleration to remove his owner's preoccupations.

A startling fact, however, is that despite the victories of Helissio and Lammtarra in the last two years, Peintre Celebre will be the only three-year-old colt to go to post. Either he has frightened off all his contemporaries or they are considered to be a pretty ropey crop by their respective trainers. Either way, Peintre Celebre is worth ignoring among such a gifted bunch of older horses.

It is entirely possible that this year's Arc could be virtually a re- run of 12 months ago. The first four from last season reoppose, and they include the first three from this year's King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, the supposed race of the decade. So tomorrow's event cannot be too bad either.

Helissio commanded his field last year, covering each furlong in 12 seconds until cranking it up at the entrance to the straight and leaving the posse behind. Subsequent efforts suggest he may be a bully of a horse and, if anything takes him on, that old head may go to one side and his challenge subside.

Oscar Schindler and My Emma will certainly not be in the vanguard early on, but their form suggests they will be finishing competitively to share the minor honours with Swain.

There can be only one prediction for the animal to be at the head, however. Pilsudski was second last year and later champion of the Americas in the Breeders' Cup Turf. The signals, especially his latest effort, in the Irish Champion Stakes, hint that he is not quite ready for a roaring fire and slippers. Go to your maximum.

British success in the Prix de l'Abbaye used to be as integral a part of the weekend as having your French belittled by waiters on the Parisian boulevards. However, Kistena led home a 1-2 for Criquette Head 12 months ago and the filly is again in the field. Royal Applause, who took the Haydock Park Sprint Cup for Barry Hills, seems to be a more potent performer this year and he will need to be.

In tomorrow's other Group One, the Prix Marcel Boussac, Ashraakat must go well if she is to maintain her elevated position in the 1998 1,000 Guineas ante-post market. But then she probably will as John Dunlop chooses to plonk only his best fillies in this contest.

This afternoon there are British runners spattered across the card at Longchamp, but the two old faithfuls are undoubtedly features of the Prix du Cadran. A few sentimental francs will be placed on Celeric and Double Trigger, who not only have to survive the home challenge but also the Republic's filthy air being pumped into their lungs for the best part of four and a half minutes.