Racing / Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe: Sea defence keeps the British challenge at bay: Preparation proves crucial in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe as an outsider becomes a family favourite. Richard Edmondson reports from Longchamp

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The Independent Online
BRITISH stables suffered frustration yet again here yesterday as the home team kept the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe through the forgotten pairing of Urban Sea and Eric Saint-Martin.

Urban Sea was largely neglected by punters and started at odds of 37-1, while her jockey had been living in the shadow of his father, Yves, who was successful four times in Europe's premier race.

Britain's nearly men, filling four of the first six places, came in two by two. White Muzzle and Opera House were second and third, and Only Royale and Bob's Return followed in fifth and sixth behind the French filly Intrepidity, who finished fastest of all.

But the main prize eluded them, stolen by a piece of quick thinking from Saint-Martin. Unlike his father, who was France's champion jockey 15 times and won the Arc on Sassafras, Allez France, Akiyda and Sagace, Eric Saint-Martin has failed to find a place among the leading French riders and in his best year, 1988, he achieved the relatively modest score of 47 wins. That he was riding in his first Arc at the age of 28 is not without significance and he would almost certainly have been overlooked again had Cash Asmussen, the filly's regular partner, or Walter Swinburn not been claimed for other mounts.

However, as the field fanned out for a frantic dash up Longchamp's straight, Saint-Martin saw one small gap on the rail, and one small chance to emulate the deeds of his father. Urban Sea proved an obedient servant and by the time the rest of the field had extricated themselves from the problems posed by the careering Talloires, they were half way home.

'As I crossed the line I thought of my father and his four Arcs,' Saint-Martin said. 'We like to keep this race in the family.

'I don't know if I'm ever going to be the king like him, but I have won the big one. Now I have some money to pay the rent.'

As Saint-Martin hugged his grandmother in the winner's enclosure, Jean Lesbordes, who trains Urban Sea and 40 others at Chantilly for David Tsui, a Hong Kong businessman, cried with joy. Peter Chapple-Hyam, White Muzzle's trainer, almost joined him.

'I am devastated,' Chapple- Hyam said. 'I really thought before the race that we would win and if he hadn't got stopped in his run by that horse that ran across the track, he would have.

'I backed him at 20-1, 25-1, 33-1, 78-1 and when he came in to 58-1. All the bets were each-way, I'm no mug punter.

'I've always said he was the best three-year-old in the country and he'll be really something next year. He'll win the Arc.'

Michael Stoute, Opera House's trainer, offered no excuse for his colt save the watery nature of the Longchamp track. 'He would have preferred good to soft ground as he always struggles in this extreme going,' he said.

The ground certainly proved against Hernando, another of the favourites. He finished 16th, while the Irish Oaks winner, Wemyss Bight, also failed to fire. 'I was following the winner all the way but when she went I couldn't,' Pat Eddery reported.

With prize-money down to fourth place, Only Royale, the worst sufferer in the meanderings of Talloires, and Bob's Return narrowly failed to recoup the pounds 36,000 it had cost to supplement them last week. Italy's Misil finished seventh despite losing a shoe but Armiger faded tamely into 15th and User Friendly, second a year ago, beat only Shemaka after being baulked. 'We nearly got flattened twice,' her jockey, George Duffield, said.

The visitors, treating the Arc as the mints and coffee course of a racing year, had once again failed to conquer a horse prepared all season with the race in mind.

----------------------------------------------------------------- PRIX DE L'ARC DE TRIOMPHE ----------------------------------------------------------------- 1. URBAN SEA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . E Saint-Martin 2. White Muzzle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . J Reid 3. Opera House . . . . . . . . . . . . . . M Roberts -----------------------------------------------------------------

Report, results & picture, page 27