Sizing Europe, former two-mile champion chaser and an honourable runner-up at the last two Cheltenham Festivals, returns to the fray at Gowran Park today seeking to supplement last year’s win in the local Champion Chase against a familiar supporting cast, a sure sign of the changing seasons. But Paris in the autumn presents the bigger stage at Longchamp tomorrow and the theme will be sizing up Japan.
The country has endured a series of agonising Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe near misses, from El Condor Pasa’s second to Montjeu in 1999 to the traumatic defeat of the national hero Deep Impact in 2006 and Nakayama Festa giving best to Workforce three years ago. And then last year, when Orfevre surged two lengths clear only to idle and hang so badly he collided with the rail and snatched a neck defeat to the unheralded Solemia.
Orfevre returns, again as favourite and reinforced by this year’s Japanese Derby winner Kizuna, who lies fourth in the betting. Both won on Longchamp’s Arc trials day last month, Orfevre imperiously, and the five-year-old was schooled in his last workout in the art of navigating between horses. Connections are optimistic there will be no déjà vu. “His preparation has gone very well. It was a serious workout and he came through without hesitation and, once he was in front, he finished well,” said his trainer, Yasutoshi Ikee. “Orfevre had a relapse [last year]. I want to set the record straight.”
Kizuna was a narrow winner of his trial, in which the Derby victor Ruler Of The World could be accounted an unlucky loser. “We have been very happy with him since, he goes there in good form,” said the latter’s trainer, Aidan O’Brien, who also saddles the St Leger winner Leading Light.
Rain-softened ground has reduced the British challenge to two, Al Kazeem and Joshua Tree, in the absence of The Fugue. Al Kazeem will be suited by conditions underfoot, but is drawn widest and could finish sixth in a strong field without in any way disappointing, as his trainer, Roger Charlton, acknowledged. “On ratings he’s classed to be within two to three lengths of the favourites, which isn’t a lot to make up over a mile and a half, but obviously we haven’t been helped by the draw, he said. “I’m optimistic that he’ll run very well, but he might need more.”
André Fabre, the trainer of seven Arc winners, saddles five of the 18-strong field, but his main contenders, Intello and Flintshire, attract stamina and going doubts respectively.
Novellist won the midsummer equivalent, Ascot’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, with ease and should prove equally adept in the autumn, but may meet his match in an unbeaten filly given the classic French preparation. Treve scooted away from the subsequent Irish Oaks winner Chicquita in the Prix de Diane in June, then showed the same acceleration to reel in Wild Coco in the Prix Vermeille last month. Treve’s trainer, Criquette Head-Maarek, who won the 1979 Arc with Three Troikas, said: “The draw is no problem. There are good horses everywhere and there are bad horses everywhere, the best horse will win.” She probably trains her.