This is a sport that revels in statistics; indeed, its financial lifeblood is generated by analysis and interpretation of facts and figures. So it would be a brave anorak who would stand against the winner of next month's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe being seen at the afternoon of dress rehearsals staged over the big-race course and distance yesterday.
In 20 years the Prix Foy, Niel and Vermeille have between them produced 12 heroes or heroines of Europe's most valuable middle-distance contest, plus seven runners-up and seven thirds. And bookmakers duly took evasive action over all three of yesterday's winners, respectively Sarafina, Reliable Man and Galikova.
Sarafina was already favourite for the Longchamp showpiece based on her third place last year after a troubled passage and her cosy defeat of the ultra-reliable yardstick Cirrus Des Aigles at Saint-Cloud in June. She came to her latest fray after the traditional midsummer holiday normally accorded by French trainers to their Arc candidates and her performance only confirmed what was already known – she is a classy, professional performer.
Her trainer, Alain de Royer-Dupré, and owner, the Aga Khan, together have an excellent recent Arc profile, having combined to win with Zarkava three years ago and Dalakhani in 2003, and Sarafina was shortened across the board – she is now generally a 7-2 shot – after blowing the cobwebs away. She had to survive a stewards' inquiry after her rider, Christophe Lemaire, had thrust her through the narrowest of openings between St Nicholas Abbey and the Japanese raider Hiruno d'Amour inside the final furlong, but she willingly responded and, though her margin at the line was only a short-neck, it was comfortable enough.
The four-year-old's stablemate Reliable Man gives Royer-Dupré impressive ammunition in his quest for another Arc. The three-year-old was the most significant market mover yesterday after his dashing two-length success in the Niel, traditionally the most prolific of the trials, cut from as big as 20-1 to as short as 7-1.
Reliable Man, who began his career only in April, bounced back to his best yesterday as, ridden positively by Gérald Mossé, he comprehensively took revenge on his Grand Prix de Paris conqueror Meandre. The Arc thread runs strongly in the grey; his sire, Dalakhani, as mentioned, won and he carries the colours of Sven Hanson, whose admirable mare Pride, also trained by Royer-Dupré, went under by just a neck five years ago.
The Chantilly trainer was, understandably, happy with a good day's work. "Exactly what we wanted," he said. "The filly didn't have a hard race and found a lot at the finish. She was a little fresh today but will not be in three weeks' time. The colt found the ground too firm for him here in the Grand Prix de Paris and did not come down the hill well, but he came with a good run today and he has the action of a top horse."
The last Niel winner to take the Arc was Rail Link, who beat Pride, and the last from the Foy to follow up was Subotica back in 1992. The Prix Vermeille, a Group One contest in its own right, was the most recent trial to supply the winner of the big one, the peerless Zarkava.
Yesterday's winner Galikova is now perceived as back-up to Sarafina in the home side's Arc defence. She is as short as 6-1, with only the British raiders Workforce and Nathaniel splitting the French fillies in the betting.
The rapidly improving Galileo three-year-old has some hoofprints to follow – she is a half-sister to the mighty miler Goldikova – but she certainly owns her share of the family talent, though in a different department. Yesterday's test was to prove her stamina for a mile and a half, which she did in decisive fashion; the further she went the further she surged clear under Olivier Peslier, with a two-and-a-half-length margin over the progressive, proven stayer Testosterone. "I loved the way she finished," said her trainer, Freddy Head, "she's quite something."
The Prix du Moulin, almost lost among the Arc trials, provided Excelebration with his first success at the top level and established his position as Europe's second-best three-year-old colt over a mile as he quickened smartly to account for Rio De La Plata, Rajsaman and Dubawi Gold, and has a choice of immovable objects next. "He'll either have to face Frankel [at Ascot] or Goldikova [in the Breeders' Cup]," said his trainer, Marco Botti, "but he deserves the chance to try."
* Chris McGrath's Nap
Winner's Wish (3.10 Kempton)
Was not given a hard time after a slow start on her debut at Newmarket last month and should have learnt plenty from that considerate debut.
* Next best
Right Result (4.50 Musselburgh)
Is best judged on some progressive placed efforts in maidens rather than his near-last finish in the hurly-burly of a sales race cavalry charge last time.
* One to watch
Burano (Brian Meehan), who took on some smart ones in his maidens, ran a solid second on his nursery debut at Doncaster on Saturday, his first try over a mile, and looks progressive.
* Where the money's going
Sea The Stars' half-brother Born To Sea is as short as 6-1 (with Paddy Power) for the 2,000 Guineas after his impressive winning debut at the Curragh on Saturday.