Racing: Peintre Celebre is best Arc winner since Brave days

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The Independent Online
The visual impression was spectacular and now the experts' analysis confirms the initial impression that Peintre Celebre's Arc win puts him up with the greats. Greg Wood reports.

You did not need to be in Paris to appreciate the majesty of Peintre Celebre's performance in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, but while his acceleration and athleticism were more than enough to satisfy armchair punters on Sunday afternoon, Monday morning brought a need to quantify his talent more precisely. At times like these, backers turn to Timeform, and that organisation's new rating duly confirmed that Andre Fabre's colt is one of the best Arc winners ever to gallop up Longchamp's home straight.

The next edition of the Timeform Black Book will lodge Peintre Celebre on a rating (expressed in lbs) of 141. For technical reasons, this will be reduced when the firm publishes its definitive list of handicap marks at the end of the season, probably to a mark of 138, but even this places him shoulder to shoulder with some very famous names. He is the best Arc winner since Dancing Brave in 1986, who finished the year on a mark of 140, while among all the horses of the 1990s, only Generous stands ahead of him, and then by 1lb.

"It really was a very good performance," Chris Williams, the Timeform handicapper responsible, said yesterday. "The only thing that seems to hold it down is Predappio [sixth], who appeared to run his best ever race. We feel Pilsudski was a little below his Irish Champion Stakes form and Helissio was 4lb below his best for this season, but Oscar Schindler ran up to his best.

"Generous beat the subsequent Arc winner [Suave Dancer] in the Irish Derby and then won the King George by seven lengths, which is a record for the race. People tend to forget that."

Most encouraging of all is the possibility that, with just seven races behind him, Peintre Celebre will improve still further as a four-year- old. As Williams points out, "we thought that about Helissio last year", but since it seems unlikely that Fabre will pursue the same erratic course with his Arc winner that Elie Lellouche, albeit somewhat unwillingly, took with Helissio (Dubai, the King George, then the Moulin over a mile), there is every reason to think that the Arc winner will be better yet next season.

While praise was being heaped upon Peintre Celebre yesterday, something altogether less pleasant was being thrown in the direction of the British Horseracing Board. Mel Davies, best known to punters as the owner of Barnbrook Again, and his business partner Jack Bennett, whose plans to build a new racecourse in South Wales were scuttled by the BHB last week, issued a statement on the affair which threw more punches than Lennox Lewis did in Las Vegas on Saturday night.

Their scheme to build a track at Pembrey was effectively turned down when the BHB refused to guarantee an allocation of fixtures for the course. In their statement, Davies and Bennett allege that "every obstacle that could be dreamed up was put in our way. The whole approach by the BHB was negative".

Specific complaints include a claim by the BHB that its decision was taken in the best interests of racing as a whole. "We would like to know how denying half the population of Wales the chance to go racing is in the best interests of the industry," the statement says. "Welsh people might like to know that they, through their betting shops, are contributing over pounds 3.5m per annum towards the betting levy and only less than pounds 1m per annum is coming back into Wales. Perhaps the new Welsh Assembly will want to look into this disgraceful situation."

Davies and Bennett are also angry at BHB claims that their scheme would not involve sufficient expenditure on facilities for the public, and relied too heavily on a loan from the Levy Board. "We were at great pains," they say, "to assure all concerned that the facilities for the public would be as good as most smaller courses, and indeed better than several in existence today. We can [also] state that at no time have we approached the HBLB for any such loans, and it has never been our intention to do so until we receive an offer of fixtures."

As for apparent concerns that the Pembrey site is below sea-level, they point out that so too are large part of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, and urge supporters of the new course to write to the BHB to express their interest and concern. The administrators in Portman Square may have thought that they had heard the last of Pembrey, but you can only hope that they did not bet on it.

The 1996 Grand National winner, Rough Quest, is to return to action in December, his trainer, Terry Casey, said yesterday. The 11-year-old has been out of action for 10 months due to tendon damage. "Rough Quest is in very good form," Casey said. "I rode him in a canter on Saturday and he was razor-sharp. His objectives will be the Gold Cup and the Grand National - I'd like to think he is a proper Gold Cup horse."