The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe will be contested by the smallest field in half a century after connections of Mandesha yesterday decided to take the "soft" option. They fear that give underfoot at Longchamp on Sunday might deplete her staying power for a mile and a half against mature colts, and will instead run her over two furlongs less in the Prix de l'Opera.
Not that Alexandrova and possibly Ouija Board will make the company of her own sex especially genial. But the decision will have been eagerly approved by Christophe Soumillon, who expressed misgivings about her stamina after her suave success over the Arc distance in the Prix Vermeille.
Cynics might suggest that he would have taken a different view had he not already ridden Shirocco to beat Hurricane Run and Pride in his own trial, half an hour earlier. The French champion is contracted to ride for the Aga Khan and his family, and would have been obliged to partner Mandesha in the Arc.
In fairness, Mandesha had previously shown enough speed to win a Group One over a mile. None the less her trainer, Alain de Royer-Dupré - still represented in the Arc by Pride - confirmed that the race will be Mandesha's main target next autumn.
Though three outsiders still have their hats in the ring, the core of the race has now dwindled to a bare half-dozen. Nobody could quibble with its quality, but a tactical race would not favour Hurricane Run, who has tended to run in snatches this season and dropped right out before pouncing to win it last year.
Deep Impact, the Japanese champion, quickened past two lead horses in his final gallop under Yutaka Take yesterday. "He went two lengths clear and I think it was the best work he has done since arriving here," Take said. "We want to gain the honour of being the first horse and first jockey from outside Europe to win the Arc. Deep Impact is a world-class horse and I will ride him with that belief. I've received encouragement from so many people back in Japan, and want to make their dream come true."
Sixties Icon, the only British runner, must be supplemented today and can now be ridden by Frankie Dettori, who had been loitering around Shirocco.
Dettori will be hoping for a better weekend than the last one, having embarrassed himself and the sport with his protests about "team tactics" at Ascot on Saturday. Whatever else might be said, there is no way he should have been exposing his mount on the outside. Certainly it is hard to imagine his deputy at Godolphin, Kerrin McEvoy, committing such a basic tactical solecism - a lynching job in his native Australia.
Despite Godolphin's frugal season, McEvoy has continued to impress and will almost certainly receive overtures from elsewhere during the winter. He leaves for Australia on 14 October to ride Imperial Stride in the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups, and is scheduled to return to Dubai in the new year. But his reserve status is hardly doing justice to his talent, and he may yet face some awkward decisions, whether here or back in Australia. If playing his cards right, he could easily become a championship contender in Britain.
Having ridden two winners at Nottingham on Tuesday, he rode another three at Salisbury yesterday - including two for Sir Michael Stoute. Their record together over the past eight days is four wins from four runners.
No horse has responded to his tranquil style better than Smart Enough, favourite for the Totesport Cambridgeshire at Newmarket on Saturday. This eager front-runner has won mile handicaps at Newmarket and York under McEvoy but this time must travel an extra furlong with 34 rivals breathing down his neck.
"But I like the way he relaxed for me at York," McEvoy said. "He had been a bit free the time before, but if he keeps going the right way I think he will get a mile and a quarter eventually and maybe even further. He has certainly come on in leaps and bounds and I haven't found a horse to lead him yet - he's very quick for a big horse."
The Australian still has some way to go, of course, before the phrase "the real McEvoy" obtains general currency on the Turf. In contrast Tony McCoy returns to action at Hereford today intent on reminding young Tom O'Brien that his share of the lead in the jump jockeys' table is only temporary. O'Brien has joined McCoy on 49 winners during the champion's eight-week absence with a broken wrist, while Richard Johnson is just two behind.
In the circumstances, McCoy could not have chosen a more brazen comeback mount: Absolutelythebest. Ladbrokes take the point and make him 1-4 to win his 12th successive title. Richard Johnson is 100-30, with O'Brien and Timmy Murphy 40-1.
* A date has been set in January for the jockeys Robert Winston, Fran Ferris, Robbie Fitzpatrick and Luke Fletcher to face a Horseracing Regulatory Authority hearing. The four were charged with "the passing of information for reward and aiding the commission of a corrupt practice" last month following a HRA investigation. The hearing is estimated to last 10 days. Winston's application that he has no case to answer has been scheduled for 20 and 21 November.
NB: South Cape
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