Chris McGrath: In autumn all roads lead to Longchamp so beware big traffic problems in the Arc
It is not just the way so many of the season's different boulevards converge upon the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe that lends aptness to its name.
Anyone who has ever driven round the eponymous monument – it appears to be conventional, if not strictly compulsory, for motorists to wear a blindfold between the dozen arms of L'Étoile – will know just how the jockeys feel in contesting the greatest prize on the European Turf.
At the best of times, three bends and a short straight ensure that things happen quickly in an Arc. Now that Paris in the fall is when it sizzles, knuckles may become whiter still. A field of 16 runners on fast ground would seem to guarantee traffic chaos tomorrow, and a low draw may again confer an advantage.
Certainly it is an environment that calls more obviously for machismo than any subtler brand of brilliance. Yet while the extraordinary Zarkava remains the only filly to win the Arc since 1983, this field owes much of its fascination to females.
Sarafina, admittedly, can testify to the perils of her assignment after being all but brought down last year. She did remarkably well to regroup for third and, stronger now, has long been considered the leading home hope. But the fact remains that she been exploiting a turn of foot in small fields, and must find some brute stamina from a wide draw.
There is no better pedigree in the race than that of Galikova, a half-sister by Galileo to Goldikova (who makes her final appearance on home soil on the same card). Galikova added another Group One bloom to the family tree over course and distance three weeks ago, so confirming that she needs rather more of a test than her sibling, but her form as it stands leaves her with improvement to find against the colts.
Though available at twice the price, Snow Fairy arguably looks better equipped for the particular demands of the race. Her stunning performances in the Far East last autumn confirmed her as very much at home in a big field on firm ground. Though she was narrowly held by So You Think in the Irish Champion Stakes last time, Frankie Dettori had little choice but to shadow the favourite in a small field and she might do better still if produced late and fast – as when cutting down an international field of colts in Hong Kong. Her race-by-race progress since a setback delayed her comeback promises a new peak tomorrow.
So You Think still commands respect, quite literally. With his intimidating physique, he will certainly be able to look after himself. Not everyone is convinced that his third place in the Melbourne Cup is terribly pertinent, but both his style of running and pedigree qualify him not just to last the trip, but to improve for it. As things stand, however, his achievements in the northern hemisphere do not quite match the reputation he imported from Australia, and he must overcome a pretty ghastly draw.
The horse has been somewhat shoehorned into the race by the sad retirement of Pour Moi, who won the Derby in the same ownership and whose form is instead represented by one of So You Think's stablemates at Ballydoyle. Only collared in the final stride at Epsom, Treasure Beach gained due compensation in his home Derby and looked convalescent after those two generous efforts when running flat on his reconnaissance here in the Grand Prix de Paris. He has since improved his stud profile with a Grade One success over 10 furlongs in Chicago, but will be happier restored to this trip and should not be underestimated under his excellent rider – albeit he, too, might have been better drawn.
Three-year-olds, after all, have a formidable record in recent Arcs. They have won 14 of the last 17, in fact, but these do not look a vintage crop and may struggle to press home their advantage at the weights. Few would cavil with the seasoned judgement of John Gosden in supplementing Masked Marvel, but this none the less represents a whole new challenge for the St Leger winner, while Reliable Man is said to need softer ground.
Workforce bids to become the first back-to-back winner since Alleged, but everything fell into place for him last year and his trainer is so wary of fast ground that he sent him home from Kentucky with the Breeders' Cup Turf at his mercy. Perhaps the best value among the males is instead Hiruno D'Amour, recommended here a couple of weeks ago at 25-1.
He is now no better than 14-1 but that still looks a fair price, given how close the Japanese have previously come from just a handful of runners – as when Nakayama Festa nearly shocked Workforce last year. That one is back for another crack, but has had problems since and offered little behind Sarafina in their trial. Hiruno D'Amour, in contrast, was only just run down and, judging from the template of previous raiders, can be expected to make radical improvement for the run. He beat five Grade One winners over two miles earlier in the year, so will mercilessly exploit his rails draw, and will relish conditions.
Both Hiruno D'Amour and Snow Fairy represent each-way value, the latter being preferred only because of Dettori's relative wealth of experience round this tricky track. His filly will need luck from her draw, but would want to be dropped out anyway. And it can only help that her chauffeur knows his way round here blindfolded.
Paris turns the taps on for Workforce
They called in the rice farmers to irrigate Longchamp for Arc weekend, but elsewhere the Turf retains its comforting familiarities. It was raining cats and dogs yesterday at Gowran, where the dual Cheltenham Festival winner Sizing Europe reappears today. Ryan Moore made his own comeback at Ascot, with an undiminished air of derision for perfectly sensible questions.
Riding in anger for the first time since fracturing a thumb and humerus at Goodwood in July, he had two uneventful spins, finishing third and fourth. As Moore said himself, he would not have rushed back to ride at Wolverhampton. But he is astonishingly short of match practice for his return to Paris tomorrow with Workforce.
Connections seem confident that conditions will not be too firm for last year's winner, after the extensive watering. Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager to Khalid Abdullah, went so far as to describe conditions as "on the easy side of good" after walking the track yesterday morning. Though hot sunshine is forecast all weekend, it is easy to picture the uproar among trainers in this country if course managers were to interfere to that extent with the going.
Many of the supporting races have none the less cut up. Two of the Group Two prizes today are contested by four and five runners respectively, and the juvenile Group Ones tomorrow have fields of six and seven. Dabirsim, so impressive in the Prix Morny, tries a seventh furlong in the Prix Lagadère, with his candidature as the season's top juvenile helped by news that Harbour Watch has had a setback and will miss the Emaar Middle Park Stakes next Saturday.
But top billing, the Arc aside, remains with Goldikova. She seeks her 15th elite success in the Prix de la Forêt tomorrow, a final bow in Europe before her momentous quest for a fourth Breeders' Cup.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Jameel (3.35 Newmarket)
Bred to be smart and, against exposed rivals, can step past his initial rating after being heavily eased in winning his maiden. Stamina gene from sire.
Smarty Socks (3.50 Ascot)
One of the best of many advertisements for his young trainer, David O'Meara, and looked better than ever with a stylish finish over C&D last time.
One to watch
Shirocco Star (Hughie Morrison)
Bred to need 12 furlongs next year, but travelled sweetly when beaten only by a smart prospect on midweek debut at Nottingham, pulling clear of the rest.
Where the money's going
Masked Marvel is 11-1 from 16-1 with Coral for the Arc, while Goldikova is 8-11 from 4-5 with William Hill to see off Dream Ahead and Co in the Prix de la Forêt on the same card tomorrow.
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