Racing: A Stoute fellow to follow

Sue Montgomery assesses the form and pedigree of today's Arc rivals
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The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe is the hardest race in Europe to win. It is always competitive, often rough, and the course is difficult and deceptive to ride. The purse is large - pounds 750,000 is on offer this year - and no quarter is ever given.

The mile-and-a-half right-handed track is a fair test for a horse in that there are no extreme undulations, tight turns or odd cambers. But for the jockey, there are plenty of traps. One of the key points in the race comes as the downhill gradient from the farthest point of the course levels off and the bend into the straight unwinds not once, but twice. The lesser horses may be dropping back and the temptation is to go for home, but the first turn is but an illusion with a siren call that must be resisted.

The race is billed as a championship - and some horses, such as Ribot, Sea-Bird, Vaguely Noble, Mill Reef and Dancing Brave, have used it to set the seal on their greatness - but there have been some ordinary victors and luck can be as vital as talent.

There are trends to note when trying to identify the winner. Of the last 10 only one, Subotica, had not won his previous outing. Proven winning form at the top level is desirable; over the same period only Trempolino, Urban Sea and Carnegie failed to win a Group One race previously.

Three- and four-year-olds have a far better record than their seniors; when Tony Bin obliged in 1988 he was the first five-year-old to win since Star Appeal 13 years previously. The French have the best record on their home turf, winning on all bar 20 occasions since the first Arc in 1920. In the past decade there have been two British winners from 63 runners, and there has been no success for Ireland since Alleged 19 years ago.

There was a golden era for fillies between 1972 and 1983, when colts posted only four victories in 12 years. But things have been thinner for the distaffers since, with none in the first three since Urban Sea's win four years ago. No British-trained filly has ever won.

Unusually this year, there is no representative of British Classic form in the field. The burden of carrying the three-year-old standard seems to rest with the Prix du Jockey-Club winner, Peintre Celebre, who would be unbeaten this year but for a rare moderate ride from Olivier Peslier last time. Once he saw daylight his speed was electrifying and he may prove the best of his generation.

Horses often run well in the Arc several times, and the King George winner, Swain, has finished third and fourth in the past. But the five-year-old is much better on soft ground. At his best, last year's hero, Helissio, must be respected, but is not likely to get his own way this time.

The mere presence of the Yorkshire Oaks winner, My Emma, is a testament to the skill of her trainer, Rae Guest, for the filly was stiff and sore with a blood-blister on her backside 10 days ago. This race has been her target for a year, and she has place prospects. Of the other fillies, there is growing confidence behind Germany's Borgia.

Despite an unfavourable wide draw, Pilsudski can buck several trends, turn a few tables, and give Michael Stoute and Lord Weinstock, whose Sun Princess and Troy failed gallantly, their first Arc victories. The five- year-old is a magnificent individual at the peak of his powers, will have his perfect ground and with Michael Kinane in the saddle can, with that essential luck, emulate Allez France by following up a second place with a win.

Forecast: 1 Pilsudski, 2 Peintre Celebre, 3 My Emma, 4 Borgia.