Cry heralds dark Arc hopes

The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe is just five weeks away and Neil Young pinpoints the contenders to watch in the trials
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The Independent Online
The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, the biggest race of the European season, is one of the year's most cryptic puzzles and the first clues are falling into place.

Last week it was announced that Lammtarra would go straight to the race that would give him the rare Derby-King George-Arc treble last completed by Mill Reef in 1971, while on Saturday last year's runner-up, Hernando, signalled his well-being with a second consecutive smooth triumph in Deauville's Prix Gontaut-Biron.

This pair heads the early market for the 1 October Longchamp showpiece, along with last year's winner, Carnegie, and two others in Sheikh Mohammed's ownership, the Irish Derby winner, Winged Love, and the Epsom runner-up, Tamure.

A glance through the roll of recent winners of the race reveals, however, that the Arc introduces a Subotica or Urban Sea, the unheralded winners in 1992 and 1993, much more often that it confirms a Dancing Brave or a Suave Dancer.

This year's winner is probably residing in semi-obscurity somewhere in France, and it is worth recalling that Carnegie was relatively unheard of and unconsidered for the Arc before he ran away with the Prix Niel less than a month before the race.

The average SP of the last 20 Arc winners is over 18-1, more than double the equivalent figure for the Derby (13-2) and over three times that of the King George (9-2), because of the Arc's large fields, lateness in the season and tendency to be run on soggy ground.

Expect the unexpected and scour the ante-post lists in search of progressive or underrated horses before the Longchamp trials on 10 September, the Prix Niel and Prix Vermeille for three-year-olds, and the Prix Foy for older horses.

Carnegie needs to win the Foy convincingly to retain hopes of emulating Ribot and Alleged with their back-to-back Arc wins. He looked as good as ever when beating Luso and Only Royale in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud but then faded tamely in the King George.

Fast ground was blamed for the disappointment, but it could be that Carnegie is not the force of last year and he may be usurped in the market by Sheikh Mohammed's current "second string", Tamure.

His return to the track is overdue, but the subsequent wins of Lammtarra, Presenting and Fahal give his Derby run a solid look. Sunday's Grand Prix de Deauville had been suggested as a possible comeback race for Tamure but the unbeaten Swain will now do duty for the Sheikh there. He is perhaps the most interesting of the darker French three-year-old candidates.

The Arc preparation of this Andre Fabre-trained colt has been unorthodox, his only Group win coming over a mile and threequarters in the Prix du Lys in June. But he was not inconvenienced by the drop back to Deauville's extended mile and a half this month, beating his stablemate Lord Of Appeal with a rusty Richard Of York -25-1 for the Arc -in third.

Now 20-1 for Longchamp, Swain is already very smart and probably capable of better, a comment which also applies to his lightly raced stablemate Dancing Beggar, who was compared to Carnegie by connections earlier in the season.

He finished close up in the Grand Prix de Paris last time and needs to pick up a decent Group race on his imminent return, in order to make the Arc cut, which is decided on prize-money won.

Yet another possible three-year-old contender from Fabre is Bobinski, touted as a potential champion in the spring. An unlucky loser in the Prix Jean Prat, he was then fortunate to stay on his feet in the Grand Prix de Paris when barged into. He may try to emulate his half-brother Saumarez, who used the Prix du Prince d'Orange, a week after the main trials, as a stepping-stone to his 1990 Arc win.

The Grand Prix de Paris winner, Valanour, is as short as 14-1 with one firm, but his owner, the Aga Khan, has a more plausible middle-distance colt in Rifapour. Touted as the leader of the home defence in the Prix du Jockey-Club after smooth defeats of Winged Love and Poliglote in successive spring trials, his down-the-field performance at Chantilly was all the more frustrating as those rivals filled the minor placings behind Celtic Swing. He could return to prominence in the Niel.

The Prix Vermeille is the likely next round in the ongoing Carling/Matiara feud, but the one to look out for is the filly who lost her unbeaten record behind that pair when favourite for the Prix de Diane, Daniel Wildenstein's Muncie.

A daughter of Sadler's Wells, Muncie is bred to stay all day and found the 10 furlongs of the French Oaks on the nippy side. The Vermeille's mile and a half will be much more to her liking and Arc quotes of 25-1 could soon look very generous.

Another Vermeille hope is the progressive Angel In My Heart, who ran away with the Prix de Psyche at Deauville last time. She returns to the seaside track on Sunday for the Prix de la Nonette, and is improving so dramatically she could go to post favourite for the Vermeille.

Angel In My Heart is the second string of her owner, Stavros Niarchos, behind Hernando, who would be the most popular winner of all following the death of his former handler, Francois Boutin.

Now with John Hammond, Hernando was beaten only a short neck in last year's Arc and was impressive on Saturday, his first run for three months. However, his family is noted for inconsistency and he was receiving 9lb from the runner up, Freedom Cry.

Indeed, at current prices it is Freedom Cry who offers the outstanding bet for value seekers. His Deauville form is arguably the best shown by a French horse over middle distances this season, and as this four-year- old has had only eight career runs he may be capable of better still.

A cosy defeat of Alderbrook over 1m 3f on soft ground at Baden Baden in May suggests he will have no problem with the Arc conditions, despite his miler's pedigree, and he returns to Germany for his final tune-up, at Frankfurt on 17 September.

Trained by Fabre for Wildenstein, Freedom Cry will be coupled with Muncie if both line up on the day, so it is advisable to take the current British odds of 25-1, which are as difficult to understand as to resist.

Ladbrokes: 5-1 Lammtarra, 10-1 Hernando, Pure Grain, Carnegie, 14-1 Tamure, Winged Love, 16-1 Sunshack, 20-1 Lando, Strategic Choice, Swain, Valanour, 25-1 Freedom Cry, Luso, Millkom, Monsun, Muncie, Only Royale, Poliglote, Richard Of York, Rifapour, Singspiel, Spectrum, Song Of Tara, 33-1 others.

Coral: 6-1 Lammtarra, 12-1 Carnegie, Winged Love, 14-1 Hernando, 16-1 Pure Grain, Tamure, 20-1 Angel In My Heart, Carling, Swain, Strategic Choice, 25-1 Freedom Cry, Muncie, Richard Of York, Rifapour, Sunshack, 33 Bobinski, Larroche, Song Of Tara, 40-1 others

A R Dennis: 5-1 Lammtarra, 8-1 Carnegie, 10-1 Hernando, Tamure, 12-1 Winged Love, 14-1 Pure Grain, Valanour, 16-1 Presenting, Sunshack, 20- 1 Swain, 25-1 Angel In My Heart, Diamond Mix, Lando, Luso, Strategic Choice, 33-1 others.