Can anything thwart an Arc three-peat for Treve?
Treve appears poised for immortality as she seeks an unprecedented Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (G1) three-peat on Sunday. The champion mare enters the Longchamp showpiece in superb form, having won all three starts this campaign. And trainer Criquette Head-Maarek's latest bulletins present a consistently positive refrain -- Treve is at the peak of her considerable powers.
All of which brings up the burning question: can anything thwart her Arc troika?
Three factors come to mind. These do not rise to the level of vulnerabilities, but they could play a role. In other words, if Treve doesn't succeed, any of these could be cited as reasons.
1. Treve ran too well in her prep, the September 13 Prix Vermeille (G1). Although she won doing handstands, on her ear (pick your favorite expression for an easy romp), the upshot is that she probably ran right up to her best. Compare the usual tendency of leaving room to improve in the Arc. Treve would essentially have to duplicate another top performance in the span of three weeks.
Rival trainer Andre Fabre doesn't think this is the way you want to head into the Arc. Obviously he's got a vested interest in hoping that Treve isn't quite up to par. Nevertheless, as the top trainer in Arc history with a record seven wins, his opinion's worth considering.
"The experience I have is if you want to have a chance in the Arc, you need an easy prep race," Fabre told Racing Post. "I'm not involved with Treve, but I would repeat that you need an easy race before the Arc."
2. Treve's younger rivals are more formidable than last year's sophomores. In 2014, Treve had no problem giving weight away to Taghrooda and Kingston Hill and company. The 2015 classic generation is led by Golden Horn and New Bay -- both eligible to pose a much stronger challenge. Golden Horn's participation is dependent on the ground, but with the weather looking pretty good in Paris, his chances of showing up are increasing all the time. And his odds are accordingly shortening.
Trainer John Gosden has hailed Golden Horn as the best middle-distance three-year-old he's ever had. And unlike some, Gosden isn't in the business of hyping his horses. Although Golden Horn hasn't looked invincible of late, that's a function of how his recent races have been tactical affairs. The Arc will probably unfold much like his scintillating Derby (G1) victory. A robust early pace over 1 1/2 miles (on good ground) may well bring out the best in him. With Treve's pacemaker on hand, Golden Horn won't have to worry about a messy pace scenario.
The Fabre-trained New Bay is proven over both course and distance, with a convincing win in the Prix Niel (G2) last time. Fabre was pleased that it was exactly the kind of cozy prep he wanted. And the Juddmonte homebred, who captured the May 31 French Derby (G1) in record time, is still improving.
Another sophomore worth a look is Aidan O'Brien's filly Found. She has yet to try 1 1/2 miles, but the daughter of Galileo has reportedly been set for the Arc according to a long-range plan. Already a winner over the course in the Prix Marcel Boussac (G1) on 2014 Arc Day, she shaped like one who wanted much more than a mile when just missing in the Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) and Coronation (G1). Stepping up to 1 1/4 miles, Found outclassed a couple of older males in the Royal Whip (G3), and she exits a rallying second to Golden Horn in the Irish Champion (G1).
That's not to overlook the four-year-old Free Eagle, whom I've always liked. He was about to throw down a real challenge in the Irish Champion before Golden Horn clobbered him, and I think that Free Eagle can run very well here too. The only thing is that as an older male, he's got to give Treve weight. It's the rule, but in this situation, it hardly seems fair!
3. Post positions won't be drawn until Friday, and an outside draw could be a complication. Treve scoffed at post 15 when crushing the 2013 Arc, but that's when she was getting all of the weight advantages accorded to a three-year-old filly. A poor post this time may be a different story. She benefited from post 3 in 2014, and we'll see if her luck at the draw holds.
I could have added the ground as a fourth possible factor, since Treve is so devastating on softish going. But she's not desperate for rain either. In 2013, she trounced the French Oaks (G1) in record time at Chantilly, and in last year's Arc, she posted a fast 2:26.05. Her tenderness on the firm ground at Royal Ascot in the summer of 2014 was largely the result of her foot problems at the time. In any event, "firm" will not be in the ground description for the Arc. You could also point to her having to work a little bit when beating Flintshire in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (G1) back in June, but I don't think that's applicable to how she whizzes around Longchamp. To sum up: good ground in itself won't play against Treve in the Arc. But those conditions will enable her opponents to put their best foot forward.
Later this week, we'll be back to discuss all of the Arc weekend events. On Thursday, the final fields will be declared for Saturday's Prix Dollar (G2) at nearly 1 1/4 miles, the Prix Daniel Wildenstein (G2) at a mile, the Prix de Royallieu (G2) for fillies and mares over 1 9/16 miles, and the Prix Chaudenay (G2) for three-year-olds over 1 7/8 miles. The Arc Day fields will be finalized Friday, including the Prix de l'Opera (G1) at 1 1/4 miles for fillies and mares; the seven-furlong Prix de la Foret (G1); the five-furlong Prix de l'Abbaye (G1); the 2 1/2-mile Prix du Cadran (G1); and the one-mile Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (G1) and its companion race for juvenile fillies, the Marcel Boussac.
Treve photo courtesy of Frank Sorge/Horsephotos.com.