Workforce repays Stoute's faith to add Arc crown to his Derby victory
There were just inches in it at the line – une tête, to be precise – but the contrast with that seven-length annihilation of his rivals for the Derby in June was instructive of margins that are finer still. Workforce was only confirmed as an intended runner on Thursday morning, but the fact that he had finally satisfied a judgement as fastidious as that of Sir Michael Stoute should have told us all we needed to know. Yesterday, contesting the richest prize on the European Turf, Workforce vindicated his trainer in gripping fashion – and in the process redressed the most painful of the few remaining omissions in Stoute's CV.
The unequivocal authority of the colt's success at Epsom had been disastrously diluted by a lifeless display behind Harbinger at Ascot in July. Stoute, who had also saddled Harbinger, was baffled. And he resolved that the decision to run in the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe would only be made once he had achieved as much certainty as experience and instinct would allow. Trainers will tell you that the best horses are often the easiest. It is fitting, then, that one of the masterpieces of Stoute's career should condense so gloriously the daily imponderables of his vocation – as shared by horsemen all around the world, with thoroughbreds good, bad and indifferent.
So much for the traces of genius latent in the colt's very presence here. As a spectacle, this dramatic race more obviously amplified the complementary talents of horse and rider. Ryan Moore, remember, had begun this season still lacking the accomplishments commensurate with his status as champion jockey. Most grievously, he had never won a Classic. But Workforce, at Epsom, became his second such winner in 24 hours, and now he has won the Arc itself. It was, moreover, a white-knuckle ride.
On paper, a big field had implied a potential want of distinction. In honesty, Workforce arrived as one of barely a handful eligible to honour the standards recently embellished by Sea The Stars and Zarkava. More to the point, the presence of 19 closely matched rivals would require luck as well as talent. This, after all, was only the fifth start of Workforce's career.
It required considerable daring, then, for Moore to settle his mount on the inside, towards the rear. In the straight, they would have to weave his way through as tiring rivals faltered in the testing ground. In the event, Workforce could pierce most gaps through sheer class, but as he finally broke towards the lead, around 300 yards out, he badly hampered a weakening rival. The only horse meanwhile able to match his surge was the Japanese raider, Nakayama Festa, who then harried him all the way to the post. Having opened up two and a half lengths on Sarafina, in third, this was a magnificent failure to rank with that of El Condor Pasa, a pioneering second for the Japanese in 1999.
French stewards have so often startled visiting jockeys here with strict liability that a long stewards' inquiry after the race was not free of tension, though they exculpated Moore in time for him to join the quaint landau procession to the podium. "The horse really wanted to do it," Moore said. "He put his head down and stuck his neck out. There was some scrimmaging but fortunately he got a nice clean run through most of the race."
Moore was wearing the silks of Prince Khalid Abdullah, who was winning the race for the fourth time. Self-effacing as he is, this time Abdullah was glad to yield centre stage to his trainer. "It's been a long time coming," Stoute admitted. "We've run some very good horses here, and several of them ran well without winning. And I'm so pleased to do it with this one. He looked outstanding at Epsom, and then ran inexplicably badly at Ascot. Ryan felt that he may have got his tactics wrong, that he was too forceful, and on reflection perhaps I had trained this big, immature horse too hard."
Inevitably, Stoute found himself pressed over the saga preceding Thursday's final decision to proceed to Paris. In fairness, however, those vexed by all the prevarication were only ever being distracted by semantics. "We were always aiming him here," Stoute said. "But all the connections wanted to make sure that absolutely every box was ticked. At every stage, we were always getting positives. But we were never going to decide until we had seen him after his final piece of work. There was always great clarity about that. I know a little bit about punters, and they understood that."
In all the circumstances, Stoute probably feels relieved as much as overjoyed. With Workforce and Harbinger in his care, he was never going to have a better chance to satisfy this unrequited craving. But no sooner had Workforce disappointed than Harbinger broke down and was retired. Suddenly the triumphant parade down the Champs-Elysées became a tense, underground campaign, a matter of synchronised timings and attention to detail.
Stoute has long been celebrated for the way he brings a maturing horse to full bloom – Harbinger being a perfect example – and that makes it especially gratifying that the raw and imposing Workforce is likely to stay in training. It sounds unlikely, however, that he will tackle the Breeders' Cup this time round.
Among his victims, those obliged to regroup include Behkabad, who met heavy traffic before managing fourth, and Fame And Glory, one-paced in fifth after also suffering interference.
Stoute's was by no means the only breakthrough of a day that provided gourmet racing on a gourmand scale. Paul Hanagan and Richard Fahey crowned their stellar domestic seasons with a first Group One success when Wootton Bassett made all in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardère, and likewise Luke Morris and Clive Cox when Gilt Edge Girl sprang a shock in the Prix de l'Abbaye. Hanagan, incidentally, was refusing to count his chickens after Richard Hughes, his rival in the race for the jockeys' title, was banned for seven days at Wolverhampton the previous evening. Regardless, with Wootton Bassett likely to be trained for the 2,000 Guineas next spring, Hanagan can now look forward to an assignment fitting for a champion.
Aidan O'Brien is a more familiar face on the Classic trail, and has an obvious Classic filly in Misty For Me, who rallied gamely in the Prix Marcel Boussac. But perhaps the most significant performance on the card came from Goldikova, who held Paco Boy in the Prix de la Forêt despite her jockey's overt dread of giving her a hard race in bad ground so close to the Breeders' Cup. All those present, however, would remain unanimous in identifying the day's defining tour de force.
Workforce, the 24th to try, is the sixth Derby winner to have won the Arc in the same year.
One of the immortals, the French colt coasted home from a subsequent Irish Derby and King George winner at Epsom and routed his rivals on home soil by six lengths.
Mill Reef (1971)
Though beaten in an epic 2,000 Guineas, Mill Reef proved a champion over middle distances and won the King George by six lengths and the Arc by three.
An extraordinary career of just four races. Shattered the course record on his reappearance at Epsom and then showed courage to match his brilliance in the King George and Arc.
First to win Derby, Irish Derby and Arc in the same year. Trained by the remarkable John Oxx, who went on to handle Sea The Stars.
Sea The Stars (2009)
An unprecedented three-year-old campaign, winning six Group One races in six months, from a mile to 12f. He would never win by far but as leisurely as ever when set his stiffest task in the Arc.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Plan A (4.40 Pontefract)
Soon stepped up in trip to exploit the modest mark he acquired learning the ropes in maidens, doing especially well to close for second in a race dominated by front-runners at Hamilton last time.
Ullswater (2.10 Pontefract)
Ten furlongs over this stiff track permits a two-year-old no hiding place and this one showed he is made of the right stuff when seeing off all bar one from the front at Bath last time.
One to watch
Poplin (L M Cumani) made a promising impression in her first nursery at Newmarket on Thursday, coming from a long way back to join a three-way photo, in the process looking set to improve again at 10 furlongs next year.
Where the money's going
Ladbrokes offer Misty For Me at 10-1 for both the 1,000 Guineas and Investec Oaks after outstaying Helleborine – herself 8-1 for the Guineas, having travelled well before tiring – in soft ground at Longchamp yesterday.
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