If you are going to drink too much champagne, Longchamp racecourse is one of the most pleasant places in the world to do so, not least when the favourite has just strolled home in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
Less advisable, though, is any attempt at objectivity, and the bubbles were surely working their magic on too many brains 10 minutes after Sunday's race, when many mentioned Helissio in the same excited breath as Sea Bird II. Monday morning, inevitably, demanded a more sober analysis, and the conclusion must be that while Helissio's effortless five-length defeat of Pilsudski marks him out as one of the better Arc winners, comparison with Sea Bird is an insult to the best horse anyone is still alive to remember.
The Timeform organisation, which makes judgements with a lack of emotion which would do credit to a Vulcan, yesterday promoted Helissio to a handicap mark of 137, comfortably ahead of this season's middle-distance runners but still several pounds behind the post-War greats. When 2lb is removed (for technical reasons) at the end of the season, his final rating of 135 will not even allow him the status of being the best horse of the 1990s, which will remain with Generous, allotted 139 in 1991, while among his own generation, the miler Mark Of Esteem is rated more highly on 138. The likes of Brigadier Gerard (144), Ribot (142), Mill Reef (141) and Dancing Brave (140) are still further ahead, and though Helissio may continue to improve next season, the summit which is Sea Bird's mark of 145 appears distant indeed.
"Helissio's is the rating of a very good horse, the best Arc winner since Dancing Brave in 1986," Chris Williams, Timeform's middle-distance handicapper, said yesterday. "You can't win by much more than five lengths, so we don't want to be seen to be knocking the horse. He's improved a great deal since the summer, and the step-up from his Arc trial in the Prix Niel was very dramatic, Darazari was beaten much further on Sunday.
"But it wasn't as strong a field as either Sea Bird or Dancing Brave beat. The first three in the King George, Pentire, Classic Cliche and Shaamit, all ran below their best, and you can pick holes in the form with Luna Wells, Le Destin and Leonila finishing close up."
It may also prove difficult for Helissio to improve his status. If he again pursues a typically French campaign next season, which would preclude the King George, the 1997 Arc might be the only race of sufficient calibre to merit a rise in the ratings (always assuming, of course, that he managed to win it). More immediately, meanwhile, Helissio is expected to contest the Japan Cup next month, and given the current yen-dominated state of the world bloodstock market, few will be surprised if he checks in at Charles de Gaulle airport with a one-way ticket.
A long trip also beckons for the Longchamp third, Oscar Schindler. His connections may decide today whether to send the Irish St Leger winner to Flemington for the Melbourne Cup on 5 November, and the scales are finely balanced. Oscar Schindler is a big, late-maturing colt who might be better prepared for the push and shove of Australia's most competitive race next year, but as he is fit, sound and, most importantly, well handicapped this time around, the temptation may be difficult to resist. The Japan Cup, if he is invited, is an alternative.
Wherever Oscar Schindler runs, though, it is unlikely that Cash Asmussen, his partner on Sunday, will retain the ride. Kevin Prendergast, his trainer, was not impressed by Asmussen's Longchamp performance, where Oscar Schindler was last with two furlongs to run.
"We were trying to give a Group One horse 100 yards' start, which is impossible," Prendergast said yesterday. "Our horse met all sorts of trouble and did well to be beaten just five lengths. I would blame the jockey because we told him to ride in fifth or sixth."
Asmussen, who is not the type to take such a slight quietly, was quick to respond. "I would be the first to admit that I was too far out of my ground," he said, "but I was dragged back by being behind two horses I didn't want to be behind and I had to sit and suffer. I didn't want to go on the outside because you don't win at Longchamp by going five wide round the bends like some had to."
THE TIMEFORM GREATS
145 Sea Bird II
144 Brigadier Gerard
143 Tudor Minstrel
141 Mill Reef
140 Dancing Brave
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