Racing: Kinane to put a twist in the Scorpion's tale

Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe: Return to the Ballydoyle team for the big-race master can give the Leger a classic boost
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The Independent Online

Kinane, 46, seems to have been born again since the parting of the ways with Ireland's most powerful operation nearly two years ago, and as a man for the major occasion he is still without peer. Three days ago, on his first ride for six weeks after breaking an arm in two places, he won his seventh Group One race of the season. He has not yet sat on Scorpion in public, but neither had he on Proclamation before the Sussex Stakes nor Electrocutionist before the York International.

Ireland's 13-times champion jockey knows his way round Longchamp better than most, having missed only one Arc since scoring on Carroll House in 1989, his first ride in the race. His second victory came 10 years later on the mighty Montjeu, the sire of Scorpion.

That year, O'Brien's first runner, Ghengis Khan, came in last. Since then, the 35-year-old Co Tipperary maestro - who is still, relatively speaking in a sport where time is measured in decades rather than years, a new kid on the block - has come closest with High Chaparral's two third places, in 2002 and 2003.

Only one St Leger winner has won an Arc (Ballymoss, who hailed from Ballydoyle in the era of a more famous O'Brien, in 1958) but he did it as a four-year-old. The record in Paris of heroes and heroines of Town Moor is not entirely without honour, though; of the 21 to have tried, nine have been placed. The most infamous loser was Nijinsky, beaten a head by Sassafras in 1970. Since then, Crow, Sun Princess and User Friendly have also finished second.

O'Brien rates his latest St Leger winner a cut above Milan, who ran a creditable fifth in Sakhee's Arc four years ago. "Don't forget," he said, "Scorpion is a dual Group One winner. And he very nearly won three." He did indeed. In the Irish Derby, he gave the odds-on favourite Hurricane Run the fright of his life by running him to half a length, and then showed the mettle that O'Brien had always believed existed with a dazzling display in the Grand Prix de Paris over today's course and distance.

Despite testing conditions at Doncaster, Scorpion again showed the ability to quicken that marks the top-class performer. "That was a tough enough race," added O'Brien, "and you never really know until the next time whether it will have left a mark. But the horse is giving us all the right signals at home. We waited until he told us, rather than the other way round."

Although Scorpion's sire did win his Arc, there remains a matter of family honour to be avenged. His maternal grand-dam is a half-sister to Ardross, beaten a head by Akiyda in 1982.

Scorpion, who runs in John Magnier's dark-blue silks, is one of three sons of Montjeu, the latest stallion sensation at Magnier's Coolmore Stud, in today's field. Hurricane Run, vying for favouritism with the filly Shawanda, also runs under the Coolmore banner, though in the colours of Michael Tabor and trained in France by André Fabre. As the mount of Fallon (also going for a maiden Arc win, though Fabre has won five), he is the operation's first string.

The Derby winner Motivator, trained by Michael Bell for the Royal Ascot Racing Club syndicate, is the other. Only four Epsom winners have followed up at Long-champ - Sea-Bird (1965), Mill Reef (1971), Lammtarra (1995) and Sinndar (2000) - and although Motivator looked exceptional on his day of days in June, he has been beaten on his two runs since. He returns today, however, to his optimum mile-and-a-half distance, and the easy ground will be in his favour.

No filly has won an Arc since Urban Sea in 1993, and no three-year-old distaffer since Akiyda, who carried the same Aga Khan colours as today's prime female candidate, Shawanda. Though untested against colts, the daughter of Sinndar could not have been more impressive in her two top-level triumphs, the Irish Oaks and Prix Vermeille.

The 84th edition of Europe's middle-distance end-of-season showdown may provide fireworks even before the off. As well as his glittering talent, Montjeu has undoubtedly bequeathed his feisty temperament to his offspring, and the Arc preliminaries are a crucible. Mindful of this, O'Brien, with his usual attention to detail, has already obtained permission for Scorpion to lead the pre-race parade of the gladiators in front of the stands. He will be first out, and can be first back.


1 Scorpion

2 Shawanda

3 Motivator

4 Westerner

Longshot: Shirocco