10 possible Breeders' Cup contenders in action on Arc Day
By RON FLATTER
Saint-Cloud, France – It sounds odd to say that a $5.6 million race – the world’s richest on turf – is a prep for something else. But with the Breeders’ Cup five weeks off, that is an essential element of Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1).
“The Breeders’ Cup is a possibility, but we first have to see him run properly in (the Arc) to make a decision.”
That was what racing manager Georges Rimaud said about The Aga Khan’s 7-to-1 Arc contender Harzand. But that may as well have been the push-button response by any connection discussing any highly regarded horse headed to Chantilly this weekend – not just for the Arc but also some of the other group stakes that could be way stations to Santa Anita.
No fewer than 10 horses in Sunday’s Group 1 races appear to carry legitimate Breeders’ Cup ambitions of owners and trainers. They include at least five Arc runners – the 2-to-1 favorite Postponed, defending Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) champion Found, Highland Reel, Left Hand and The Grey Gatsby. They also may include So Mi Dar and Pleascach from the Prix de l’Opéra (G1), Limato from the Prix de la Forêt (G1), Whitecliffsofdover from the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardère (G1), and Promise To Be True from the Prix Marcel Boussac (G1).
Going for his seventh consecutive victory, Postponed would be the biggest international “get” for the Breeders’ Cup. The 5-year-old Dubawi horse is at the top of British racing and is widely considered a certainty for the Turf at Santa Anita. But trainer Roger Varian took the one-race-at-a-time approach, saying, “Not at the moment. We’ll see how we go on Sunday before we make any plans for him thereafter.”
From his English home base at Newmarket, Varian was completely zeroed in the Arc, including Postponed’s getting post position 7 in the field of 16 during Friday morning’s draw at Saint-Cloud Racecourse.
“It’s a fair draw,” he said. “We didn’t want to be 1, and we didn’t want to be 16. Somewhere in the middle, we can’t argue with that.”
Coolmore’s Arc horses that may go to the Breeders’ Cup are trying to bounce back from losses. Found, the 15-to-2 third choice Sunday, won an Irish Group 3 in May. But she has strung together second-place finishes in her last five races, including the Irish Champion S. (G1) three weeks ago. Her stable mate Highland Reel, the 2015 Secretariat S. (G1) winner at Arlington Park, is 25-to-1 for the Arc after finishing seventh in the Irish Champion (G1).
At 22-to-1, Left Hand is the only 3-year-old filly in the Arc field. She won this month’s Prix Vermeille (G1) at Chantilly, putting her in the conversation for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1). Conversely, 5-year-old The Grey Gatsby, 66-to-1 Sunday, has not won in two years and needs a strong showing Sunday to justify consideration for the Turf.
Undefeated 3-year-old So Mi Dar was cross-entered in the Arc. Instead she landed as the odds-on favorite in the Opéra, a “win and you’re in” qualifier for the Filly & Mare Turf.
“She won the Musidora Stakes (G3) at York in May, but she sustained an injury in the race,” her British trainer John Gosden said of the 4-for-4 filly by Dubawi. “She finally ran back in the middle of September and won a listed race, so we’re happy to go to the Opéra and go a mile-and-a-quarter against fillies and mares. A mile-and-a-half against older fillies and males in the Arc probably would have been too soon too quick.”
As for whether she will go to the Breeders’ Cup, Gosden admitted from Newmarket that she is his stable’s best candidate. But he also followed the pattern of caution and said, “Sunday will tell.”
After a long layoff Pleascach is a 9-to-1 fourth choice for the Opéra. Since winning last year’s Yorkshire Oaks (G1), she had some fitness problems this year and is racing for the first time since finishing fourth in last year’s Irish Champion Stakes.
For the second year in a row Limato is favored in the Forêt, historically a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1). The 4-year-old gelding finished second to Make Believe in the 2015 race at Longchamp. Favored in his last four races, Limato has won only one – the July Cup (G1) at Newmarket. He might also be considered for the Turf Sprint (G1).
Whitecliffsofdover and Promise To Be True are Coolmore 2-year-olds racing in Sunday’s other “win and you’re in” races. Whitecliffsofdover is a War Front colt that is the 11-to-4 second choice in the Lagardère, from which the winner is invited to the Juvenile Turf (G1). Promise To Be True is a Galileo product and a 5-to-1 third choice in the Boussac, from which the winner is qualified for the Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1). O’Brien fillies have won the last two Boussacs, including Found in 2014.
With only a shower tonight in the forecast and a dry run of weather lately, Chantilly was watered enough Thursday to soften the ground from firm going to good. Gosden, who got his first Arc win last year with Golden Horn, said what is known in England as “decent summer ground” replicates what Santa Anita probably has in store.
“In the States you need a horse with tactical speed,” said Gosden, who began his training career in southern California. “If you’ve got a good, class horse that can travel and then can handle itself coming out of the gate and get a good position, then you have a chance in the Breeders’ Cup.”
But Gosden held that thought long enough to consider the European transfer who's yet to lose since joining Chad Brown and has shown no signs of doing so on his way to being a strong favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
“Flintshire’s form is so good right now,” he said. “He finished a very strong second in the last two Arcs on similar ground. He should find Santa Anita to his liking.”
Photo by Ron Flatter