Win or lose, Frankie Dettori will extend a remarkable record in Paris this afternoon. His ride on Snow Fairy in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe will be his 24th in succession in Europe's richest race, a near quarter-century sequence which is testament to his skill, professionalism and consistency. Dettori, rather as did Desert Orchid, has become one of the few racing icons recognisable outside the confines of the sport. And, as in the case of the horse, his very fame and charisma may have slightly obscured what a very good rider he is.
The Italian, now 40, has already taken three Arcs, on Lammtarra in 1995, Sakhee (2001) and Marienbard (2002) and once his place in Snow Fairy's saddle was confirmed, she became one of the best-backed horses for today's £3.5 million purse at Longchamp. The filly is now around 12-1 – having been twice that price a week ago – to put her jockeyalongside Jacques Doyasbère, Freddy Head, Yves Saint-Martin and Pat Eddery as a four-time winner.
Dettori's three previous winners were all for his retaining Godolphin stable, but he has ridden for eight others in the 12-furlong contest. Snow Fairy is trained by Ed Dunlop in Newmarket and has persuasive credentials for her greatest test.
The four-year-old, a dual Oaks heroine, already has two top-level international victories on her CV, having taken valuable prizes in Hong Kong and Japan last autumn. Cristina Patino's tough little globetrotter has not won since then but produced a career-best last time when running today's second-favourite So You Think to half a length at Leopardstown.
She steps back up to her optimum 12 furlongs today, the warm, dry conditions should keep the ground firm enough for her, and her come-from-behind style should cancel out her unfavourable draw.
The last four-year-old filly to take the Arc was Urban Sea in 1993, and only one of her sex, three-year-old Zarkava three years ago, has scored since. But females have a respectable record towards the sharp end and, indeed, last year's arguably unlucky third, Sarafina – another four-year-old – heads the market this time. The six-strong girlpower contingent includes a perhaps under-rated outsider from Germany, Danedream.
Out of luck at Longchamp yesterday when Rio De La Plata was mugged in the last stride of the Prix Daniel Wildenstein by Rajsaman, Dettori is in search of his 500th Group winner, another extraordinary achievement. It may be safely recorded before the big one, when he rides exciting juvenile Dabirsim in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere.
All sorts of statistics will be under sprightly threat in the main event. The Antipodeans have never won an Arc; New Zealand-bred Australian champion So You Think, now in the care of Aidan O'Brien in Ireland, is aiming to go one better than 1977 runner-up Balmerino.
Nor have the Japanese, who have come closest with El Condor Pasa in 1999 and Nakayama Festa, beaten a short head by Workforce 12 months ago. Last year's second tries again, alongside compatriot Hiruno d'Amour. As does his Sir Michael Stoute-trained conqueror. But the latest of six horses to take back-to-back Arcs was Alleged back in 1978.
A St Leger winner has yet to take an Arc; John Gosden-trained Masked Marvel, longest-priced of the three Newmarket raiders, carries the honour of the oldest Classic this time.
Only one man has both ridden and trained a winner, Charles Semblat between 1927 and 1949. Freddy Head, victorious on board Bon Mot, San San, Ivanjika and Three Troikas, bids to match him with Galikova.
At Longchamp yesterday there was a strike for the raiders – Sea Of Heartbreak, from Roger Charlton's Wiltshire yard, swooped late to take the Prix de Royallieu. On the domestic front Richard Hannon extended his lead in the defence of his trainer's title as Coup De Ville and Tell Dad gave him a one-two in the £500,000 Tattersalls Millions 2-Y-O Trophy and Mick Channon's charge Samitar, a Group 1 runner-up eight days previously, stamped her class on the equivalent filly race.
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