Racing: Magic victory can keep the Arc in France: Greg Wood on the prospects for this afternoon's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe

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WHENEVER two racing fans are gathered together in the days leading up to Europe's greatest event, it is as certain as a cloudburst when the favourite wants it fast that one of them will eventually observe: 'Of course, some very strange horses win the Arc.'

For the benefit of anyone unfamiliar with punterspeak, this translates directly as 'Why on earth can I never back the winner of the wretched race?', and anyone giving the idea legroom is trying to have it both ways. You cannot hail the Arc as the definitive, winner-takes-all middle-distance event on Saturday, and then talk it down the following evening because the Derby winner finished ninth.

Yet it is the very nature of the race which makes each renewal irresistible, no matter how financially ruinous it might have been 12 months before. Of course, you reason, everyone knows that handicaps and claimers are just there to draw in the mugs and benefit the bookies, but surely it must be possible to find the winner of a race involving the best horses in Europe carrying nothing more confusing than weight-for-age?

The problem is that the marriage between the form books of June and October is not a happy one: at best, they are barely on speaking terms, and at worst hopelessly estranged. The fact that Mill Reef in 1971 was the last Derby winner to succeed in Paris four months later is all the evidence you need of how fleeting the formlines of summer can be. Strange, then, that punters and bookies alike seem concerned with little else when it comes to framing the market.

It will be no different at Longchamp itself as the travelling punters begin their annual feeding frenzy at the pari mutuel windows, and their francs will make either St Jovite or User Friendly favourite, with Dr Devious not far behind. Yet all three have been racing at Group One level since June, in User Friendly's case with barely a pause for breath, while St Jovite and Dr Devious may have given all they had during their ferocious duel at The Curragh last month.

History tells us to look for a French-trained animal whose light and meticulously planned campaign has always had the Arc as its sole objective. Jolypha, the French Oaks winner, passes the first test but fails the second, leaving Magic Night, last year's runner-up, as the only sensible selection.

It almost seems too obvious. Only the brilliant and much-missed Suave Dancer proved too good for her last year, and her connections feel that, after a textbook and trouble-free preparation, she is better still this time around.

In the face of such strong support for the market leaders, the British bookies are generally showing 7-1 against Magic Night (4.30), an offer which must not be refused. Jolypha should fill the runner-up spot, while Market Booster is an outstanding each-way bet and can complete a clean sweep for the fillies.

The last rites will be read over the career of Arazi a couple of hours earlier. Despite his brilliant Breeders' Cup success last year, the organisers of the event will not even invite him this time if he fails to win the Prix du Rond Point. Alhijaz (2.35) can be the one to persuade Arazi's connections that their prodigy has had enough.

Keen Hunter (3.45) should repeat last year's success in the Prix de l'Abbaye, while Sheikh Mohammed's tailor was probably up all night making extra sets of silks, so strongly is the owner represented in the Prix Marcel Boussac. Marillette (3.10) looks the best.