It's a real shame that Seabiscuit got there first. For the film director Jim Sheridan would have a ready-made heart warmer should his horse Vinnie Roe triumph this afternoon in Europe's great autumn showpiece, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The five-year-old is named for his disabled brother-in-law, who provided if not the storyline, at least the inspiration for his critically acclaimed work My Left Foot.
Like his owner, the equine Vinnie Roe has carried himself proudly through life, from small beginnings. Trainer Dermot Weld, as thoughtful and erudite a man as can be found in the racing world, has a great deal of time for them both. "Jim is a wonderful man," he said. "He comes from the hard inner city of Dublin and through his work and talent he has taken himself away from the back streets. But he has not changed, has never forgotten his roots and there's no side to him. As an Irishman, I'm very proud of him.
"The horse is just a true professional and a joy to train. For heaven's sake, he has won nine of his last 11 races and look at his two defeats last year; beaten a neck by Royal Rebel in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot and then fourth under top-weight in the Melbourne Cup to stablemate Media Puzzle. That's the record of a top-class performer."
But Weld is as aware as any of the task facing his pride and joy in the Bois de Boulogne today, with four Derby winners in the field: High Chaparral (English and Irish) and Kris Kin (English), Dalakhani (French) and Dai Jin (German). Vinnie Roe is perceived primarily as a stayer, and these days stayers are not supposed to win Arcs. But sometimes durability will be as prized a quality as brilliance; when the going gets tough, the Vinnies of this world get going. Left or right, he will be putting his best foot forward.
And there are factors in his favour. His campaign this year has been geared to this first Sunday in October and the ground has eased in his favour. "It's not that he doesn't act on fast ground," said Weld, " but soft going will slow the others down."
Vinnie Roe is not flashily-bred, nor was he expensive. He is a son of Weld's short-head Irish Derby runner-up Definite Article and cost 50,000 guineas as a yearling, back-pocket change in the bloodstock business. He has kept good company all his life and, by all accounts, been that as well. At three he won the battle of the St Leger winners by beating Doncaster hero Millenary in the Irish version at the Curragh. Then last year came those so-gallant defeats at Ascot and Flemington, punctuated by a second success in the Irish St Leger, an all-aged contest. This year has, by his standards, been deliberately light.
"The Melbourne Cup took a great deal out of him," said Weld, "the travelling, the race, the whole package. I feel that horses going there take six months to recover and with that in mind I didn't really train him until the second part of the year. The Arc has been his target all along. It's a calculated risk, with the drop back in trip, but we all think he deserves a crack at it."
Vinnie Roe made his seasonal comeback over 12 furlongs, winning at Leopardstown. Then it was on to the Curragh for an unprecedented third win in the Irish St Leger, going one better than a celebrated trio of dual winners: Vintage Crop, the Weld-trained legend whose victories sandwiched his ground-breaking Melbourne Cup win; Oscar Schindler, who followed each of his wins by making the frame in the Arc; and Kayf Tara, a dual Gold Cup winner. Irish St Legers are no sinecures. "When he won that race for the third time," said Weld, "the reception he got was like he'd won at Cheltenham. Jim had brought a huge crowd of friends and they're all going to the Arc as well. They will enjoy the day; Vinnie Roe enjoys every day; win, lose or draw, we'll have a great time."
Despite his outsider's price, Vinnie Roe is no mug. Neither is his trainer - his record worldwide is testament to that - and the Arc is not yet on his global CV. "A lovely sunny autumn day in Paris, with fastish ground, and I'd think the younger horses will have too much pace for him," said Weld. "For Vinnie Roe to win an Arc I'd like to see two things happen. One is that we get a lot of rain, so the track comes up like is always used to be at Longchamp at this time of year.
"And the other is that we get a really wet, miserable day so his unlimited qualities of determination and resilience come into play, so he can look the others in the face and say come with me, if you can. If he gets it like that, he'll run in the first three, I can assure you. Rain lashing, mud flying, conditions tough, Vinnie Roe is the horse for you."
The Ballydoyle No 1, High Chaparral, third last year, will probably go two better, emulating the likes of Tony Bin, Allez France, Nuccio and Djebel as horses who have warmed up for victory with a place. But Vinnie Roe will give a run for money at a much better price, with the two greys, Dalakhani and Ange Gabriel, the best of the home side.