Today's 85th Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe has turned into an anorak's delight. For a start, the eight-runner field is the smallest ever in peacetime; only when Le Pasha beat six rivals in 1941 have fewer competitors taken part. Victory for Hurricane Run would make him the first dual winner since Alleged in 1978. Deep Impact is trying to become the first Japanese-trained horse to take the great autumn showpiece and St Leger hero Sixties Icon the first to progress successfully from the oldest Classic. And then there is Pride, who must overcome statistical prejudice against both her sex and her age.
Rudyard Kipling was alluding to bears in the Himalayas when he remarked that the female of the species was more deadly than the male, but not so long ago his line seemed equally applicable to thoroughbreds in the Arc. In 1976 Ivanjica became the third successful filly in five years, after San San and Allez France. In the seven Arcs that followed, Alleged was the only winning colt, his pair prefacing a sequence begun by Three Troikas and continued by Detroit, Gold River, Akiyda and All Along. But after 22 more renewals of Europe's most prestigious event, only Urban Sea has added to the distaffers' win tally.
Since her success in 1993, several of the sisterhood have knocked on the door. Borgia ran third to Peintre Celebre in 1997 and Leggera beat all bar Sagamix in 1998. In 2000 Sinndar was followed home by Egyptband and Volvoreta, in 2001 Aquarelliste chased Sakhee and two years ago Ouija Board was third behind Bago and Cherry Mix.
Pride, trained in Chantilly by Alain de Royer-Dupré, is arguably better and certainly more battle-hardened than any of the placed ones were when they turned up for the fray. In 23 races over five seasons for three different trainers she has won seven and been placed in 12, including seconds in the Champion Stakes and Hong Kong Cup last year. She is now at the peak of her powers at the age of six, but there's a rub, for none of her age have won the Longchamp prize, though Ardross came close.
The bay mare will be running in her third Arc, having finished 13th behind Bago as a four-year-old and a respectable seventh last year, probably unlucky not to be closer. Her year has been geared to this afternoon; after beating Hurricane Run in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud in June she had a summer seaside holiday in Deauville before her eyecatching third in the older-horse sighter, the Prix Foy.
Twelve months previously Pride had won the phoney war of the Foy, with Shirocco behind her. This time she had that rival and Hurricane Run just in front and was finishing best of the trio on ground firmer than ideal. Since then, she has thrived and completed her preparation with a sparkling gallop on Les Aigles four days ago, deploying her trademark change of gear to excellent effect. "She was very good," said Royer-Dupré. "I was very pleased. We are hoping for rain, because she is best with cut in the ground. But her premier quality is her acceleration, which is exceptional."
As the son of a cavalryman who ran the showjumping side of one of the French National Studs Royer-Dupré, 62, is steeped in horsemanship. He is best-known as trainer to the Aga Khan, who chose him to succeed François Mathet when that legend died in 1983, and countless elite victories in the famous green and red include the 2003 Arc with Dalakhani.
Pride, though, is owned by her breeder, Sven Hanson, whose previous brush with the big time came 18 years ago when Fair Salinia completed the Epsom-Curragh-Yorkshire Oaks treble. Pride could have been planned for the first Sunday in October; her sire is Peintre Celebre and her maternal grandsire Alleged.
She will be ridden today by Christophe Lemaire, who knows her best. "The Foy was not the main objective," added Royer-Dupré, "and she is now ready. Of course the Arc is a tough race but a small field and a possible slower pace will suit her."
The betting suggests that only Hurricane Run, Shirocco and Deep Impact need bother turning up, the anticipated showdown between the perceived "big three" providing the focus of attention. André Fabre trains not only the first two-named, but also the progressive three-year-old Rail Link. No clean Arc sweep has ever been accomplished and only one man has produced a one-two, Etienne Pollet with La Sorellina and Silnet in 1953.
Shirocco, unbeaten in three this term, and Hurricane Run, winner of the King George, have the runs on the board. Deep Impact is the unknown quantity in these parts, a four-year-old with a bullet-train reputation in Japan. He has won all bar one of his 11 races, from 10 furlongs to two miles, but has never run on soft ground and it's raining in Paris. Get that anorak hood up, for Pride may come before all.
BETS OF THE DAY
Alexandrova (2.50) and Mandesha would not be out of place in the Arc, with the Oaks heroine favoured in a bonne-bouche to savour.
The consistent Pivotal Flame (2.15) can reward each-way support in Group One sprint traditionally dominated by British and Irish raiders.