Sinndar has the valuable virtues

Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe: Aga Khan's prize colt pits his power against the spine-tingling speed of Montjeu

If you were looking for a Matthew Pinsent among horses, it would surely be Sinndar. A supremely talented athlete, an open, uncomplicated, generous personality. Everyone who has had anything to do with the handsome dual Derby winner is unanimous that he is a thoroughly decent chap. And his main rival in this afternoon's 78th Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe could be considered another in the same boat. Montjeu is older, with a better performance record; more to win, more to lose but on the verge of immortality. He is a nice guy, too, but one with attitude, the more complex character.

If you were looking for a Matthew Pinsent among horses, it would surely be Sinndar. A supremely talented athlete, an open, uncomplicated, generous personality. Everyone who has had anything to do with the handsome dual Derby winner is unanimous that he is a thoroughly decent chap. And his main rival in this afternoon's 78th Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe could be considered another in the same boat. Montjeu is older, with a better performance record; more to win, more to lose but on the verge of immortality. He is a nice guy, too, but one with attitude, the more complex character.

The focus today will be sharpest on Montjeu. Victory this afternoon would make him only the seventh horse to win two Arcs and bring his tally of gold medals - sorry, European Group One races - to seven, a total bettered only by three crack fillies, Triptych, Miesque and Allez France. If he wins he will be regarded as one of the true giants. Sinndar will be trying to equal one of his achievements, that of following two Derbys with an Arc, though this has been rather overshadowed.

Sinndar's task today is a mighty one, not just to vanquish Montjeu, the German ace Samum and the good fillies Volvoreta and Egyptband, but to rectify a surprising omission. It is a fact that his owner, the Aga Khan, who operates the world's most successful private breeding empire, has yet to win the industry's flagship all-aged race with a colt, or even have one in the first three. His sole victory in 36 attempts came courtesy of the filly Akiyda 18 years ago.

An Arc-winning distaffer is not to be despised. But an Arc-winning colt is better, in terms of both prestige and the practical consideration of stud value. The Aga Khan, with his racing HQ in Chantilly and breeding base at Gilltown, Co Kildare, is one of the game's heavyweights and although he does not operate with the commercial imperative of some of his rivals - like the John Magnier-led Coolmore team behind the French-trained Montjeu - his horses still have to pay for themselves, and more.

In 1957 the Aga Khan became the Imam of the Ismaili Muslims on the death of his grandfather, the third of that ilk. Three years later, at the age of 23, he inherited the family horses after his father, Aly Khan, was killed in a car crash and, when his spiritual duties and business commitments allowed him to turn his gaze on the equine empire 10 years on, he discovered that he had the old Aga's shrewd touch. And nothing would please him more than for Sinndar to tread in the hoofprints of the previous Khan colt Arc winners Migoli (1948), Nuccio (1952) and Saint Crespin (1959).

"Breeding and racing is a long-established and much-loved tradition in my family," he said. "The goal, the driving objective for all these years, has been to breed outstanding thoroughbreds. The motive, therefore, has never been profit. But the regular availability of resources to breed well has been a requirement which has imposed from time to time unwelcome economic decisions." Retiring, selling and culling are facts of life for any noncommercial operation. But perhaps there is a fourth way. Daylami, seen a year ago as the most likely thorn in Montjeu's side in the Bois de Boulogne, had his global glory days on the track in Sheikh Mohammed's blue Godolphin silks, but he was bred by the Aga Khan and retired in the spring to Gilltown.

"The top players mobilise different scales of resources, operate in different countries and premiate [put a premium on] either breeding results or racing results," he said, "so each will operate with pragmatism within his own parameters. This was the case with my decision to enter the partnership with Sheikh Mohammed over Daylami. He was an outstanding racehorse but I did not want to end his career as a three-year-old, as his sire, Doyoun, was still at Gilltown. The arrangement enabled me to retire Daylami there once Doyoun had been sold and to secure to him, in addition to my own mares, the high-quality mares of the Sheikh."

For all the racecourse rivalry, there is a constant symbiosis between the elite players. Magnier would prefer Montjeu, being groomed as a successor to his veteran nine-times champion sire Sadler's Wells at Coolmore, to win today, but would not be suicidal if Sinndar emerged the victor; the dual Derby winner is a son of the Tipperary stud's most exciting young stallion, Grand Lodge. Last Tuesday at the Tattersalls yearling sales in Newmarket, Magnier outbid Mohammed at a European record of 3.4m guineas for a yearling colt by Sadler's Wells out of the Prix Vermeille winner Darara, sold by the Aga Khan for 470,000 guineas six years ago.

Sinndar comes from the same family as Darara, the one descended from his three-greats grandmother Tourzima, foaled in 1939. With a pleasing symmetry it is also the clan of Akiyda, Tourzima's great-great granddaughter.

If he was a lesser human than Pinsent, Sinndar would probably not bother turning up today, such is the weight of history on his broad bay back. He is trained at the Curragh by John Oxx; only three Irish-based horses have won, most recently Alleged in 1978. Of the 16 Derby winners to contest the Arc as three-year-olds, only the exceptional trio of Sea-Bird, Mill Reef and Lammtarra have succeeded.

With the smallest field since Caracalla beat nine rivals in 1946 there should be no hard-luck stories. It should be a showdown between Sinndar's long, powerful run for home and the lightning-thrust of Montjeu, shown to such spine-tingling effect with his breeze past Fantastic Light and Daliapour in the King George. On the book the younger horse has not achieved the same level of form but his marked physical and mental progress was evident in his eight-length tour de force in last month's Prix Niel over the Arc course.

His partner, Johnny Murtagh, finished last 12 months ago on Montjeu's pacemaker. "I watched the finish on the big screen then, shouting for Montjeu," he said. "He's a monster, but this time I'll be at the sharp end. Sinndar has it all; talent, courage, temperament, soundness. And he's a better, sharper player away from home."

Samum, unbeaten in six races in Germany, may find himself unfortunate to be involved in a vintage era. For the first time since 1963 there are no British Arc challengers, but national boundaries are increasingly irrelevant in racing. The four-legged athletes, whatever their origins, are the stars. The Aga Khan sums it up well. "Seeing a good horse give of its best," he said, "is a joy that, to me, can never lose its power and its fascination."

Arc delighters: The magnificent six who have doubled up at Longchamp

KSAR 1920-21

Ksar restored the pride of breeding and racing in France after the ravages of the Great War. At three he had won the Prix du Jockey-Club but French horses were held in such low esteem that the British challenge was headed by a winner of the Royal Hunt Cup. Ksar's victory was so decisive that no foreign raiders bothered turning up the next year. Despite his two wins he was no more than average on the track but was a huge success at stud, with two Arc winners, Djebel (1942) and Caracalla (1946), and the influential stallion Tourbillon.

Trainer: William Walton; Owner Mme Edmond Blanc; Jockeys George Stern, Frank Bullock

MOTRICO 1930-32

Motrico's second victory came as a seven-year-old after two seasons at stud. His hocks were so straight as to be deformed and he excelled only on soft ground. On the night of 4 October 1930 the storm that brought downthe airship R101 produced a quagmire at Longchamp. The going was heavy again two years on and Motrico, no champion but genuine and much-loved, justified favouritism to become the oldest Arc winner. His legacy to the breed was that the legendary jump sire Vulgan was a grandson.

Trainer: Maurice d'Okhuysen; Owner: Max de Rivaud; Jockeys: Marcel Fruhinsholtz, Charles Semblat

CORRIDA 1936-37

If you were a desperate, starving German soldier retreating from France towards the end of the war, a horse in a field - even a pregnant dual Arc winner - meant, not to put too fine a point on it, food. Poor Corrida disappeared, presumed eaten, from Marcel Boussac's Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard during the battle of the Falaise Gap in July 1944. Always at her peak in the autumn, she was one of the most brilliant fillies of the last century, third in the Arc at three before her two victories and her only surviving foal, Coaraze, won the French Derby.

Trainer: John Watts; Owner: Mar-cel Boussac; Jockey: Charlie Elliott

TANTIEME 1950-51

Tantieme was the star of a golden post-war racing era in France. His first Arc victory confirmed him the best of a vintage crop of three-year-olds; his Poulains victim, Galcador, won the Derby and his short-head Jockey-Club conqueror, Scratch, took the St Leger. Tantieme, never at his best in Britain, finished only third in the inaugural King George the following year but showed his true colours in his second Arc, in which he beat the next winner, Nuccio, under a hands-and-heels ride. At stud his best son, Reliance, beat all but Sea-Bird in the 1965 Arc.

Trainer: François Mathet; Owner: François Dupré; Jockey: Jacko Doyasbere

RIBOT 1955-56

Named after a minor French painter, Ribot was the masterpiece of the Italian breeding legend Federico Tesio. Nicknamed Il Piccolo as a youngster, he became a giant of the sport, unbeaten in 16 races including a King George and two Arcs on his three ventures outside Italy. First time in Paris he was unknown, started at 9-1 and won by three lengths. A year later, at 6-10, he produced one of the race's definitive performances, a relentless six-length trouncing of a top-quality field. He was an outstanding stallion, too.

Trainer: Ugo Penco; Owner: Mario Incisa della Rochetta; Jockey: Enrico Camici

ALLEGED 1977-78

Team Sangster & O'Brien pulled Alleged off the subs' bench after The Minstrel, winner of two Derbys and the King George, was whisked off to stud in the US. Alleged was outstayed by Dunfermline in the St Leger, his only defeat in 10 runs, but started favourite at Longchamp to reverse the form. Doing so was as easy as ABCD; Alleged quickened clear to beat Balmerino, Crystal Palace and Dunfermline. Second time round he was even more authoritative as he disposed of the good filly Trillion.

Trainer: Vincent O'Brien; Owner: Robert Sangster; Jockey: Lester Piggott

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