Chris McGrath: It may be a grey old Arc but it can still be a Famous day for the Irish
Saturday 02 October 2010
According to Cole Porter, winter in Paris is when it drizzles.
Anyone making the annual fall pilgrimage to Longchamp this weekend, however, may be seeking a different meteorological authority in future. This looks like proving one of those Arcs when the sky over the timeless town is grey, and the terrain, lourd.
Nor do those horses gathering for the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe tomorrow seem terribly likely to introduce their own private beams of sunshine to proceedings. In fairness, we have been spoiled in the last two years by consecutive champions – in Sea The Stars and Zarkava – who not only dominated the build-up but obligingly dominated the race as well. And the previous year we had one of the most dramatic Arcs of all, when Kieren Fallon, getting Dylan Thomas home in a photo, offered a poignant snapshot of his mastery on the very eve of what proved a perfectly ridiculous prosecution at the Old Bailey.
Remarkably, the runner-up in each case was the same animal, Youmzain, and he is back for one last crack at the European Turf's richest prize. In a quite literal sense, however, he has always been a very good loser. And while there could be no more gratifying result, it is surely too much to hope that Youmzain will finally consent to stick his head in front at age seven.
Nor is he necessarily even the most enigmatic of a cross-Channel challenge reduced this year to just four horses. Workforce, the Derby winner, was only confirmed an intended runner on Thursday, reflecting how precariously his reputation hinges upon his next move. A career hitherto comprising four starts includes that runaway romp at Epsom, and then a ghastly disappointment at Ascot in July. He has not been seen since, and his backers pin their hopes on the judgment of his trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, for whom this race remains one of the last unrequited cravings. Workforce has never run in testing conditions, and the most talented of some largely pedestrian victims at Epsom, Rewilding, did not handle the track.
It is just as well, mind, that Workforce has given British punters some patriotic focus. Duncan and Cavalryman look exposed as inadequate, and many will instead be switching their allegiance to the Ballydoyle runners – even though Aidan O'Brien has been fretting about the conditions.
Cape Blanco won his home Derby, by half a length from Midas Touch, more through class than stamina. He then got closest to Harbinger in the King George, albeit that is not saying much, before proving a revelation returned to 10 furlongs in the Irish Champion Stakes. Back up in distance, and with the emphasis on stamina, he must deal with some obvious reservations.
O'Brien's stable jockey, Johnny Murtagh, has duly stuck with Fame And Glory, who was only sixth last year but had by then seen enough of Sea The Stars. He has been suitably indulged this time round, starting odds-on for each of his five starts, and facing only one properly searching examination in the Coronation Cup back in June. Having won a Group One prize over 10 furlongs as a juvenile, in heavy ground, he has solidity as well as class, and sets the clear standard.
Somehow the home defence this time struggles to capture the neutral imagination. Behkabad narrowly held Planteur in their trial over course and distance, three weeks ago, but neither had a hard race. Previous meetings had already demonstrated that there is little between them, and it is hard to envisage either imposing himself decisively on this deeper field.
Christophe Lemaire, the Aga Khan's retained jockey, prefers Behkabad to Sarafina, who shaped nicely in her own rehearsal behind Midday without being able to demonstrate conclusively that she relishes this distance. While it does remain feasible for one of the Japanese raiders to improve significantly, having only tested the water three weeks ago, that can only be guesswork. At the likely odds, admittedly, a few yen each-way could prove harmless enough. But on familiar, reliable evidence, Fame And Glory (3.05) looks a really fair price at 6-1, not least with a rails draw.
There are, of course, six other Group One races on a card that has now caused covetous revision of our own autumn programme. Goldikova's abiding priority remains the Breeders' Cup, however, and it is unnerving to see her risked on this ground in the Prix de la Forêt, a race in which she was turned over last year. She duly looks vulnerable to the Richard Hannon pair, Paco Boy and Dick Turpin, though Joanna (2.20) will be no pushover for any of them.
Total Gallery, last year's winner, leads the usual strong raid on the Prix de l'Abbaye, but with the future in mind the most interesting of the supporting races is the Prix Lagadère, where King Torus, Wootton Bassett and Treasury Devil (1.45) all offer intriguing but very different profiles.
Funnily enough, there is a horse running in the Totesport Cambridgeshire at Newmarket today who was beaten only a length and a half by Behkabad in France last year. Emirates Dream bounced back to form when dropped in trip last time and joins (quite a long) shortlist also embracing Start Right and the trio trained by the race specialist, John Gosden – High Twelve (3.40) being most tempting at 25-1.
This could also be the day when Seta (3.0) finally confirms her elite calibre, but either side of the Channel it is going to be tough going for horses and punters alike. As Porter also asked, in "Can-Can": who said Gay Paree?
Simcock has dreams of Dewhurst showdown with mighty Frankel
It is quite something when you can win a Group One race by nine lengths and still not be considered the best juvenile winner of the week. Such, however, was the singular fate yesterday of Dream Ahead, who annihilated his rivals for the Shadwell Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket and was promptly promoted to second favourite for the 2,000 Guineas behind Frankel – a 10-length winner at Ascot last Saturday.
Nor do we necessarily have to wait until May for the pair to meet, as David Simcock indicated that Dream Ahead could return to his local track for a showdown with Frankel in the Dubai Dewhurst Stakes on 17 October.
Regardless, Simcock's handling of this colt has confirmed the impression made at a lower level when he started out in 2004 with just 10 horses. Having gone straight from a Nottingham maiden to win the Prix Morny, this time Dream Ahead cruised through the race before surging clear of Strong Suit – the only blemish in his performance again being a tendency to drift left.
His rider, William Buick, reckoned Dream Ahead had given him "a feel like no other horse has ever given me". As usual, a few caveats may be prudent. Temple Meads was last after pulling hard, the race perhaps too soon after his Newbury win; Strong Suit looked less comfortable in the soft going.
Simcock does not feel that the winner actually requires cut underfoot, but acknowledged his pronounced knee action. "In France, it had dried out to good ground, and as long as there is no 'firm' in the going description I'm happy to run him anywhere," he said. Though adamant Dream Ahead will stay another furlong in the Dewhurst, he is reserving judgment on a mile. Coral offer Dream Ahead at 7-1 for the Guineas, from Frankel on 2-1. Saamidd, another intended Dewhurst runner, is 8-1.
The day's other big prize, the Adnams Cheveley Park Stakes, was claimed by one of the town's established masters in Sir Mark Prescott. Hooray has flourished since being given her head, and bounded into the teeth of the gale to win by over four lengths, in a faster time than Dream Ahead.
Prescott artfully refuses to let her lead on the gallops – "It lets you keep that electricity for the racecourse" – and offered a characteristic assessment. "Though she is one of mine, I thought she was very impressive," he said. "But she has bags of speed and would have a job to keep that up for a mile. The owners would probably love to have a go at the 1,000 Guineas, if she has a good winter, but we have always regarded her as a two-year-old."
Sir Michael Stoute may have a legitimate Classic type in Havant, who took the fillies' Group Three in persuasive fashion.
Turf Account: Chris McGrath
Modeyra (2.05 Epsom)
Stable tends to know when its maiden winners have been given a manageable rating, and has persevered for nearly a year with this superbly-bred filly since she stylishly dispatched some good types on her debut.
Snow Magic (8.30 Wolverhampton)
Quiet progress through her maidens and won readily on her handicap bow over course and distance, giving the impression she had more in reserve than the relatively narrow margin but still raised only 3lbs.
One to watch
Academy (Sir Michael Stoute) went into every notebook at Newmarket on Thursday, as a debutant by Montjeu who soon had plenty to do but crept through a big field into second.
Where the money's going
Credit Swap is 16-1 from 33-1 with today's Totesport Cambridgeshire sponsors after finishing strongest for a close fourth at Newmarket on Thursday.
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