The latest bright star to twinkle tantalisingly over the European middle-distance landscape, the new Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe favourite Montmartre, will have the classic French build-up to his tilt at Europe's richest prize. In other words, a summer holiday and a run in the Prix Niel three weeks before the big one.
The striking grey colt's performance as he exploded from his rivals in the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp on Monday night was more supernova than echo of light in its magnitude. The instant Christophe Soumillon gave him his head he accelerated clear in a matter of strides and was four lengths clear at the line, his rider easing down.
"I didn't think he would win so easily," said trainer Alain de Royer-Dupré yesterday. "But he did a very good gallop just before and we have always known he was good. That's why we to ran him in the Prix du Jockey-Club straight from winning a maiden."
That in-at-the-deep-end venture at Chantilly did not go strictly to plan. Montmartre, by Montjeu, seems to be a chip off the old block in terms not only of his raw power but also his feisty mind and became upset by the jazzy atmosphere at his local track, particularly the public address system, and finished 15th of 20.
There were still signs of restiveness on Monday but Royer-Dupré is confident that situation is under control. "The Jockey-Club was only his third race and he didn't run at two," he said. "Now he is showing he is becoming more mature. We have taken him to different courses for schooling and he is getting better and better."
Montmartre's progress to the ranks of the elite has presented Royer-Dupré, Soumillon and his owner, the Aga Khan, with an embarass de richesse, for the colt has supplanted his stablemate, the unbeaten filly Zarkava, at the head of the Arc betting.
The ground at Longchamp in October could dictate whether the two will meet, a prospect not ruled out in principle. "We are sure Montmartre will go on all ground," said Royer-Dupré. "The soft will not be an issue. With Zarkava, good to soft would be fine but softer might not be."
Royer-Dupré would not be drawn on the relative merits of the prince and princess at 3 Chemin des Aigles. "It is difficult to compare them because they have never galloped together," he said. "But they have both worked with Sageburg over a mile with the same weight. They finished in the same position."
With trial tackle of the calibre of the winner of the Group One Prix d'Ispahan, Royer-Dupré had reason to be sanguine about Montmartre's prospects. "I had no way of knowing how good the English were," he said, "against the French I was confident."
Best of the raiders was Doctor Fremantle, seven lengths behind in fourth, with Prospect Wells and Madagan intervening, though he might have been closer with a clear run. When fourth in the Derby, he was six and a half lengths behind New Approach. On Monday he confirmed his superiority of just under a length over Alessandro Volta, sixth in both races, to the inch.
Timeform have awarded Montmartre a rating of 137+, meaning there are five Arc candidates above him – Duke Of Marmalade (141), New Approach (140), Youmzain (140), Soldier Of Fortune (139) and Getaway (138) – and Zarkava a nose behind on 137p.