Strategic plan for those who seek value

Richard Edmondson sifts through an exclusive field and finds a British winner
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The Independent Online
Milestones will fall like dominoes at Longchamp tomorrow if Lammtarra nudges his way home at the head of affairs in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

If the Derby and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner does complete the hallowed troika, he will be only the second horse to do so, following Mill Reef in 1971.

In addition, he will join a club of two, comprising Paul Mellon's colt and Sea Bird II to have won the Derby and the Arc.

Lammtarra would also be the most callow winner of the race. The striking chestnut colt, who would be the sixth animal to win the race while undefeated, will be having just the fourth race of his life. The least experienced horse previously was scoring on a sixth outing. There is a very real possibility that Lammtarra may sign off for stud duties after a mission to the Breeders' Cup, leaving behind a career as lamented for its brevity as that of James Dean.

So much for the statistics, what do those who have made the horse think of his prospects? Walter Swinburn, who had Lammtarra's reins ripped from his hands and passed to Lanfranco Dettori after success in the Derby, remains the jockey who knows more about the colt than any other. After that victory in the Epsom rough house, Swinburn has no worries about the colt's combativeness, but there are other reservations.

"He's got the right battling qualities, but the ground would be a worry," he said this week. "He goes so well on the other that you wonder what would happen when it's soft. He's got that low action which suggests he might not handle heavy ground."

While Lammtarra has shown his best private form of the year recently, on the sodden Newmarket turf, the state of the terrain remains a worry for his sponsors, Godolphin.

Team Desert also saddles Balanchine (Swinburn's mount), who, like Strategic Choice, Luso and Pure Grain, will be flagged as running for Britain. Balanchine appeared to returning to her best when a runner up in the Prix Foy to Carnegie earlier this month, but that may be an illusion as the early part of the race was run at a tortoise-like pace.

The prospects of Strategic Choice were illuminated when Danjing, the horse he eats for breakfast, won at Newmarket on Thursday. Not that the colt needed much encouragement from his lead horse. The son of Alleged, a dual winner of this race, Strategic Choice looks as though he was designed in a tank factory and considerable physique is required in this equine version of Pamplona.

More importantly, there is form in his log. A good third to Lammtarra in the King George on unsuitably fast ground, Strategic Choice crushed the loftier reputations of Moonax and Vintage Crop in the Irish St Leger last time out.

That proves he has the stamina for an encounter that will be closer to a yomp than a race.

Martyn Arbib, Strategic Choice's owner, not only wants his horse to win the Arc, he would also like Lammtarra to lose it. Defeat for the Godolphin colt would keep another item of his property, Snurge, sitting comfortably as Britain's highest ever earner.

It may also be instructive that Paul Cole, who trains Strategic Choice, has not broken down over Fahd Salman's failure to stump up the supplementary fee for another Whatcombe inmate, Riyadian. He won with such ease at Ascot last week that many observers felt a venture to Longchamp was obligatory.

As ever, the French will give up the trophy as easily as a hyena surrenders a bone. Andre Fabre runs three, which is almost a skeleton staff for him, and it could be that the consistent Freedom Cry, the least fancied of his trio, emerges as the best. There are messages also about the Prix Vermeille winner Carling, although the strongest signal of all is that she was sold recently and it is hard to imagine anyone would pawn off a prospective Arc winner.

Of interest among the others is El Sembrador, the Argentinian horse who was supplemented this week. He should add a splash of colour from the pampas without figuring in the closing stages, rather like Gabriella Sabatini, really.

Sterner efforts should come from the Fabre team and Lammtarra, as long as his perfectly bred little feet do not get stuck in the mud. On balance, however, it may be that the French have fallen and the dominoes are still standing at the end of play, as the value lies with Strategic Choice.