Arc weekend: Cirrus des Aigles headlines Saturday action at Longchamp

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October 1st, 2015

The day before Treve bids for immortality as the two-time defending champion in Sunday's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1), Longchamp kicks off the banner weekend with four Group 2 stakes on Saturday.

The star of Arc Eve is Cirrus des Aigles, who will be competing in the Prix Dollar (G2) for the sixth straight year. The nine-year-old living legend owns three wins in this contest (2010, '12-13), and could have claimed a fourth victory if he hadn't been disqualified from first to fifth for interference here last year. The only rival who's ever finished in front of "Cirrus" in the Dollar was Juddmonte's classy Byword (2011), and he just prevailed by a short neck while receiving four pounds.

But that brings us to the inevitable question about Cirrus: has Father Time finally caught up with him? Trainer Corine Barande-Barbe has done a fantastic job to keep him performing at such a high level year in and year out, even nursing him back to peak form after injuries. His latest setback occurred this summer. A dull last of seven in his comeback in the Irish Champion (G1), Cirrus is entitled to improve second time back, on the class drop and in his pet race. Yet I confess to some lingering concern that maybe the old boy isn't quite the force he once was, and he's conceding the rest of the field six pounds.

Godolphin veteran French Navy will retire to stud in France after this race. According to trainer Charlie Appleby, this was deemed a better spot to go out on top than in the October 10 Darley (G3) at Newmarket. That bespeaks a bit of confidence from the Godolphin camp, which also has defending "champ" Fractional, the promoted winner at Cirrus' expense in the 2014 Dollar.

French Navy, who captured the 2010 Prix des Chenes (G3) here as a juvenile, threw in a clunker when ninth behind Byword and Cirrus in the 2011 Dollar. But that feels like a lifetime, and a couple of trainers ago. The sparingly raced seven-year-old brings a four-race winning streak, capped by the April 16 Earl of Sefton (G3) in his only outing this season. The placegetters have gone on to bigger and better things -- Arod, who ranks a threat in the Cox Plate (G1), and eventual Woodbine Mile (G1) winner Mondialiste.

Fractional has been largely disappointing this campaign. On the other hand, the Andre Fabre charge did win the July 5 Prix Messidor (G3) the one time he got good ground. If he can be forgiven his flops on rain-softened going, and if the course continues to dry out, he could get back into the mix.

An interesting alternative to the old guard is British shipper Air Pilot. A consistent improver for Ralph Beckett, he was last seen landing the three-runner International (G3) at the Curragh June 28. A raid on Germany for the July 26 Grosser Dallmayr-Preis (G1) went awry when he acted up in the gate, suffered a puncture wound on his leg, and had to be a last-minute scratch. Given time to recover, Air Pilot could well resume his progress here. His prior British form is respectable, and with just nine career starts under his belt, he's still got upside.

Free Port Lux is a frustrating hit-or-miss type, but the son of Oasis Dream and 2007 Beverly D. (G1) winner Royal Highness has turned in some of his best efforts in the vicinity of this trip at Longchamp. The Freddie Head trainee shortens up off a fifth in the Prix Foy (G2), an Arc trial, making him a live longshot.

Here are the other Group 2s on Saturday, with post times:

Vazirabad looms large in the Prix Chaudenay (8:30 a.m. EDT) for three-year-old stayers. The Aga Khan's homebred has won three straight, including the September 6 Prix de Lutece (G3) at this course and 15-furlong distance, and it's tough to envision a reason why Lutece runner-up Big Blue, fourth Pilansberg, or fifth Gaius Caesar should turn the tables. The Twisler just defeated a smart older stayer in Fun Mac in the March Stakes at Goodwood, earning himself a supplementary entry to this race. He'd appreciate it if the ground is a little softer than expected.

Another Aga Khan homebred, Candarliya, rates as the one to beat in the Prix de Royallieu (9:40 a.m. EDT) for distaffers. It took a mare called Treve to snap Candarliya's winning streak last time out in the Prix Vermeille (G1), but the sophomore was still best of the rest in a deep group. Her most dangerous opponent is John Gosden's improving Martlet, who rolled to a convincing score in the Galtres at York in her latest. The two supplementary entries, Lady of Kyushu and Marypop, may fight it out for the minor placings in the 12 1/2-furlong test.

The Prix Dollar is held over nine furlongs and 165 yards (10:15 a.m. EDT).

Miss France, last year's 1000 Guineas (G1) heroine, makes her second start off an 11-month layoff in the Prix Daniel Wildenstein (11:15 a.m. EDT). Runner-up to such classy older distaffers as Esoterique and Integral in her final two outings of 2014, Miss France just shook off the cobwebs with a near-miss in the September 6 Prix de la Cochere at this track and one-mile trip. Fabre considered another crack at Saturday's Sun Chariot (G1) at Newmarket before opting to stay in France. Although you'd expect her to gain revenge on Cochere winner Sonnerie in their rematch, she faces two even better sophomore fillies in Impassable and Akatea. Impassable has not raced since her good-looking win in the May 31 Prix de Sandringham (G2), while Akatea was a rallying second in the course-and-distance Prix du Moulin (G1). Gosden's three-year-old colt Johnny Barnes has warranted a class hike off his visually impressive victory in the Prix Quincey (G3), and like Akatea, he appears to thrive in softer going. The only older male in the line-up is German Group 2 romper Wild Chief, coming off a third in the Prix Jacques le Marois (G1) and fifth in the Moulin.

Cirrus des Aigles, pictured last December, courtesy of Hong Kong Jockey Club.