Visitors to Paris this choking autumn have been left wheezing by the capital's smog and the gasping came to a peak in the Bois de Boulogne yesterday afternoon. Peintre Celebre left not only 17 rivals gulping in his wake but also awed an audience which witnessed one of the great Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winners. He was breathtaking.
The 76th Arc was run in a time almost two seconds faster than any other that had gone before and there were plenty of excellent horses made to look rather indifferent by the great chesnut which led them home.
For those close to Peintre Celebre there was no huge sense of surprise. A greater commentary came from the previous disbelievers whose notions about which horse would win the race were swept into the gutter.
Pilsudski might have won two Arcs had been born in another era, but once again he was beaten into second place yesterday, the position he filled behind Helissio last year. "I've just run into another one," Michael Kinane, the partner of Michael Stoute's colt, said. "That was a monster out there."
Frankie Dettori, on the unplaced Swain, detected Peintre Celebre and Olivier Peslier at his quarters just after the entrance to the straight. "He came to me about 400 metres out and I started to say `go on, Olivier', because I knew I couldn't win," the Italian reported. "But before I could get all the words out he was gone into the distance. He looked like winning by two lengths but suddenly it was five. It was amazing."
Peintre Celebre had not been the most dominating figure circling under Las Platenes, the plane trees of Longchamp's long parade ring. That honour belonged to Pilsudski, who looked as though he had not been trained for the race, but rather painted. Helissio, who is usually as daunting in this arena as a junk yard dog, bared his teeth to suggest he might once again frighten his opposition into submission.
Helissio, as expected, took over the lead from Busy Flight soon after the stalls opened, but on this occasion the hounds never appeared as if they were going to let their quarry slip away. Peintre Celebre had to be shaken into racing consciousness by Peslier, who settled down to find an old adversary at his side. Cash Asmussen and the French champion jockey are no longer on speaking terms following a spat in the Arc trials, which is a pity as the pair could have swapped words as the American clamped Oscar Schindler at Peintre Celebre's rib cage.
Peslier's response was to wriggle forward, employing the huge range of gears his vehicle afforded him. Oscar Schindler was left rooted but there were others far more embarrassed than him.
Helissio finished back in sixth as Peintre Celebre left him standing, while Borgia, giving Kieren Fallon a fine first ride in the Arc, finished powerfully to snatch third, two and a half lengths behind Pilsudski. Oscar Schindler ran on to be fourth, Predappio, Godolphin's second-string, was fifth, two places ahead of Frankie Dettori on Predappio's stable-mate Swain. Paul Cole's Posidonas was ninth and the Barry Hills-trained Busy Flight 10th.
If Peslier has planned to repeat his final furlong acrobatics of 12 months ago on Helissio, the speed of his mount's closing flourish removed the option. Peslier had to content himself with a kiss blown to the stands after the line had been crossed.
"He was a bit lazy early on and I kept pushing, but there was plenty of gas there," the jockey said in his debriefing. "He changed his legs one and a half furlongs out and then he went very quick."
If Andre Fabre is getting bored by continually sweeping all of France's greatest prizes into his personal dustpan, he's not showing it much. This was his fourth Arc and, according to the Chantilly trainer, his best winner of the race. "He is the best middle-distance horse I have ever trained," Fabre said. "The only other horse to compare with him is Zafonic and he was at a different distance. He has won a Classic and now he has beaten the older horses in the Arc de Triomphe. A horse cannot do more than that."
It may have been for our benefit that Fabre wore a tie decorated with ostriches. Many had chosen to bury their heads at the thought that this Arc would go to any horse other than a seasoned athlete, and this despite messages seeping out of Camp Fabre that Peintre Celebre was exceptional even by the standards of the little man's masterclass.
"I didn't want to say it before the race, but I thought if he was two or three lengths behind Pilsudski and Helissio in the straight he would make them look like donkeys," Fabre said. ``They are very, very good horses, but this is a champion.
"I have a really special feeling for this horse, because of his name, his owner and his pedigree. He really is one of my favourites."
Peintre Celebre, the 2.2-1 favourite, may not be trained on these islands but he brought a smile to many thousands of British punters who had doubled him up with another successful favourite, Pasternak, in Saturday's Cambridgeshire Handicap at Newmarket.
Peintre Celebre is owned by the art dealer Daniel Wildenstein, who may have Cezannes, Renoirs and Van Goghs coming out of his ears, but reserves his greatest pleasure for the flesh and blood of other property. Wildenstein has been in this game a long time now, and finally, at the age 80, the ultimate masterpiece has been presented to him.
Peintre Celebre, in whom a half share was sold to the Coolmore Stud over the summer, will not run again this year, but will be back for duty next season. For the congregation that was filled with adrenaline by his performance yesterday the next fix cannot come soon enough.
Longchamp results and
today's racecards, pages 16 & 17
PRIX DE L'ARC DE TRIOMPHE
1. Peintre Celebre O Peslier
2. Pilsudski M J Kinane
3. Borgia K FallonReuse content