Racing: Rail Link's express finish steals Arc honours from Japan's hero

At this rate, by the time he has finished André Fabre will have produced a winner to rename each of the dozen boulevards meeting round the monument itself. Yesterday le petit general of the French Turf won his seventh Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe - not with Hurricane Run or Shirocco, but with Rail Link.

Yet this is one of those rare races that obtained its most memorable flavours from the vanquished. It had seemed the ultimate spectacle for the purists, one that would nearly seem contaminated by a bet. In the event, however, a cyclone of Japanese patriotism swept through the Bois de Boulogne and created the most surreal betting environment anyone present could remember.

Thousands of pilgrims had come to show their fealty to Deep Impact, the greatest champion to have shed the insular habits of Japanese racing. Certain of his invincibility, indifferent to the odds, they queued patiently all afternoon to pour yen into a pari-mutuel pool shared with the best middle-distance field in Europe. Some said that they would not even cash their tickets, preferring to take them home as a souvenir. Others were more purposeful, two individual bets of €1m (£700,000) helping to flood the pool.

Totalisators reflect market forces at their purest, and this spree created opportunist fervour among the British visitors who normally dominate this meeting. Deep Impact, available at nearly 3-1 with the bookmakers in Britain, was suddenly showing 1-10, while Hurricane Run and Shirocco were paying around 16-1. For hours, the place was going berserk with amateur arbitrage. By the time the field went to post, Deep Impact was out to 1-2, and each tier of the crowded stands seemed riven by intense partisanship.

Deep Impact, his flanks gaining richness from the sinking autumn sun, pranced on to the track and was saluted by hundreds of miniature Japanese flags. And when the steady early pace suddenly became more earnest, there was a roar of anticipation as Yutaka Take, alone among the jockeys, remained motionless in the saddle. For a few strides it seemed as though Deep Impact might glide clear, but suddenly it became obvious that the coronation was going to be insolently interrupted. No sooner had Deep Impact put his nose in front, 300 metres out, he was joined by Rail Link and in the end it was Pride, emerging from the rear, who would provide the graver challenge to Stéphane Pasquier, foiled by a diminishing neck.

Deep Impact trudged home in third, beaten another half-length. The depth of Japanese despair could be measured when Take hacked back in front of the stands. This was one of those moments that plainly called for stoical affection, but it must be said that applause was lukewarm at best.

The fact is that Deep Impact ran a very similar race to his compatriot, Heart's Cry, in the King George this summer. It seems pertinent to ask whether Japanese trainers have grasped the importance of a preparatory race in the European racing environment.

No trainer teaches that lesson more strictly than Fabre, of course, and Rail Link had conformed to his classic formula - beating the best of his generation in midsummer, taking a break and then blowing away the cobwebs in the trials over course and distance three weeks ago.

Rail Link is the seventh winner of the Prix Niel to follow up in the Arc during the past decade. Three-year-olds overall have now won 11 of the past 13 Arcs, and there will doubtless be those who feel that the weight-for-age scale should be revised in accordance with the new British legislation concerning age discrimination.

"It's just part of the chain to win the Arc again," Fabre shrugged. "But of course I'm delighted, I'm very proud - and very proud for the horse. It is always great to beat older ones with a three-year-old."

While his strengths and foibles are long familiar, Rail Link also hastened the emergence of the tearful Pasquier, whose principal commitment at 28 is to the Daniel Wildenstein string, and Dansili, the winner's remarkable young sire.

Rail Link had arrived as the junior of Fabre's three runners, but the trainer's Shirocco was only sixth, ultimately eased on this quick ground, while his Hurricane Run found the rail blocked and lost vital momentum before regrouping for fourth. "It was a messy race, they went no pace and the ground was too lively for him," Kieren Fallon said of last year's winner. The British runner, Sixties Icon, trailed in last.

Though he failed to retrieve the Midas touch on Hurricane Run, Fallon had earlier found all the right breaks on Holy Roman Emperor, whose convincing success in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardère sets up a gripping rematch with Teofilo in the Dewhurst Stakes.

Aidan O'Brien felt that the colt had "improved hand over fist" since his defeat by Teofilo at the Curragh last time. "He's getting better with every run," the trainer said. "Racing brings out the best in him."

Teofilo's trainer, Jim Bolger, responded in the fillies' equivalent, the Prix Marcel Boussac, with an even more resounding winner in Finsceal Beo. The filly showed huge improvement here and was introduced in to Stan James 1,000 Guineas betting at 12-1 by the sponsor. By the end of the day, however, the last thing anyone wanted to hear about was a betting opportunity.