There will certainly be no repeat of the value on offer before last year's race, for which White Muzzle was sent off at an astonishing 54-1 on the Pari-Mutuel, only to finish second, beaten just a neck, by Urban Sea. It is not difficult to pick holes in the form of yesterday's contest - thanks to the sluggish early pace so typical of French contests, the winning time was slower than that for the preceding claimer - but the balance of White Muzzle's racing record suggests that he is perfectly capable of bringing the Arc to Britain for the first time in five years.
John Reid, White Muzzle's jockey, chose to strike for home half a mile out yesterday, rather than find himself short of speed if the race turned into a sprint. From the moment he hit the front, the result was not in doubt, though White Muzzle jinked noticeably as he came down the straight (it is likely he was distracted by polo practice surprisingly taking place in the middle of the course).
Reid, however, is still unsure whether he will be holding White Muzzle's reins on Arc day. At the insistence of the colt's Japanese owner, he was replaced by Yutake Take, the champion of Japan, for the King George at Ascot last month.
Take was criticised by some observers after White Muzzle's apparently unlucky second to King's Theatre, and while interference by the riderless Ezzoud was as much to blame as pilot error, Ascot is a fairly straightforward course by comparison with Longchamp. Many excellent jockeys have made painful tactical errors when steering through its twists and turns with insufficient experience and, until a jockey booking is confirmed, a short price about White Muzzle is easy to resist.
In any case, since White Muzzle will not appear again before the big day, he will probably drift as other leading contenders, Hernando and Only Royale in particular, complete their preparations. Those who cannot wait will find that, unusually, the best prices about all three are offered by the same firm, Coral. They bet: 5-1 White Muzzle, 7-1 Hernando, 10-1 King's Theatre and Only Royale, 14-1 bar.
There was a significant success for Europe on Saturday night when Hatoof, trained in France by Criquette Head and ridden by Walter Swinburn, picked up a purse of more than pounds 200,000 when winning the Grade One Beverly D Stakes at Arlington Park in Chicago.
The success was particularly sweet for Swinburn, who did well to steady Hatoof after a bump leaving the stalls and came with a strong late run to pass Flawlessly, the favourite, in sight of the wire. 'This meant more to me than just winning the race,' he said later. 'I did this for English jockeys as an answer to Jerry Bailey, who didn't say very nice things about English riders last year (after winning the Breeders' Cup Classic on Arcangues).'
Head said of her winner: 'She'll go for the Champion Stakes at Newmarket and will retire from racing at the end of the year.'
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