A surprise challenger for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe was yesterday unmasked by John Gosden – even as he gave up hope on the ground coming right for his long-term contender, Nathaniel. As Paris basks in the Indian summer, the Newmarket trainer will this morning ask the owners of Masked Marvel for a decision on the €100,000 (£90,000) fee required to supplement their St Leger winner to Sunday's field.
The colt is understood to be in excellent fettle since his success at Doncaster and relishes fast ground. The original intention was to prepare him for the Canadian International on 16 October, but a good run at Longchamp would have the virtue of opening up a more convenient interval to the Breeders' Cup. Nathaniel, meanwhile, is now set to be held back in the hope of more congenial conditions for the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot a fortnight on Saturday.
That race has also been one of the options available to Snow Fairy, but she seems destined to contest the Arc. Her trainer was doing his best to watch two hockey matches at once yesterday afternoon, with his daughters engaged on adjacent pitches, but his focus no longer seemed quite so divided so far as this other cherished female was concerned. While reserving the right to leave a final decision until this morning, Ed Dunlop could come up with no substantial grounds to arrest the snowballing Arc gamble on his filly.
Snow Fairy twice produced explosive acceleration on firm ground in the Far East last autumn and is expected to adore conditions in Paris. Her performances in Japan and Hong Kong also lend substance to the suspicion that she will relish the all-action environment of a big field and a turning circuit. Dunlop was also receptive to the theory that Snow Fairy might not have been suited by an obligation to track So You Think in what amounted to a match at Leopardstown last time – rather than cut him down late.
"That's a difficult thing to say, when according to the official ratings she has run the best race of her life," Dunlop said. "But I do know what you're saying. The number of runners is not an issue for us, nor is the going, and I'm very pleased with her. It's all very exciting, if we go – and as long as the horse is OK, I think we will.
"Certainly, if she goes to France, it will be to run in the Arc rather than the Prix de l'Opera. She had her last blow this morning and if the owner is happy to run, then she'll get the green light tomorrow. We just have to dot every 'i' and cross every 't' and confirm everything with her owner."
Like Nathaniel, Reliable Man could also be diverted to Ascot if Alain de Royer-Dupré concludes that he should not be risked on the fast ground at Longchamp. The trainer is already represented by the leading French fancy, Sarafina, who will be aimed at the Breeders' Cup Turf assuming she runs well on Sunday.
Jack Mitchell, meanwhile, faces an awkward crossroads in his young career when the British Horseracing Authority disciplinary panel convenes today to consider a failed drugs test at Newmarket on 28 May. They will find the jockey in contrite mood, judging from a statement issued yesterday.
"I acknowledge that my actions which led to me testing positive for a metabolite of cocaine were unacceptable as well as foolish," Mitchell said. "I would like to reassure everyone in racing that this was a one-off occurrence and will never happen again."
Chris McGrath's nap
Courtesy Call (3.0 Wolverhampton) Given a break and has been gelded since disappointing last time out, but had previously run a good second in a race that worked out well at Epsom.
Mahfal (5.0 Wolverhampton) Useful middle-distance pedigree and has shaped nicely in maidens since his arrival from France. Steps up in trip for his handicap debut.
One to watch
Neutrafa (John Mackie) is lightly raced and was beaten by only half a length at Musselburgh the other day despite running into traffic problems during a sustained challenge.
Where the money's going
Galikova is 6-1 from 15-2 with Coral for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Sunday.