Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe: top five contenders

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

September 29th, 2016

The field is now set for Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) at Chantilly, with only post positions remaining to be drawn on Friday.

Of the 16 entrants, five rate as the strongest win chances, and logically sit at the top of the early betting market. Let’s consider them in order of their antepost odds.

Postponed (trading between 7-4 to 2-1): The Roger Varian trainee has gone from strength to strength all campaign. The first ever to turn the Dubai City of Gold (G2)/Sheema Classic (G1) double at Meydan, the five-year-old was emphatic in his European return in the Coronation Cup (G1). Despite getting sick over the summer and missing a title defense in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1), and then shortening up in trip for the Juddmonte International (G1), Postponed still flaunted his class with a professional display at York.

Postponed has dispatched an impressive list of victims, including vaunted Japanese champion Duramente as well as Arc rivals Found and Highland Reel. His tactical agility ensures he’ll be well placed at Chantilly, and he goes on a range of ground conditions.

But as an older male, Postponed will be spotting weight to his leading rivals, a significant eight pounds to three-year-old males and 11 pounds to sophomore filly Left Hand. No older male has managed to win the Arc since Dylan Thomas in 2007, with distaffers and three-year-olds taking full advantage of the weight scale in the interim. Unless Postponed is much the best, even above and beyond the extra weight, he could be a vulnerable favorite.

And if you’re really poking around for more reasons, it’s worth wondering if Postponed is better going left-handed. All of his victories this year have come in that direction. Even though his streak began last season for Luca Cumani, with scores in the King George and Prix Foy (G2) around right-handed tracks, both were accomplished in more workmanlike fashion.

The obvious retort is that the 2016 model of Postponed is simply a lot better, in keeping with the maturing tendencies of Dubawi’s progeny. And that’s the likeliest case. But some horses are simply more comfortable turning left or right – a point to consider at very cramped odds.

Makahiki (5-1): The once-beaten Japanese Derby (G1) winner aims to take home the Arc trophy that’s so far eluded his compatriots, perhaps chief among them his sire, the great Deep Impact. Poetic justice would have a son or daughter of Deep Impact furnish the breakthrough.

I can envision Makahiki carving out a trip eerily similar to his classic trial victory in a Grade 2 in March at Nakayama. Under Arc jockey Christophe Lemaire, he smoothly advanced out wide on the far turn, thereby putting himself into perfect striking range by the top of the stretch. Makahiki’s effortless action belied just how fast he was closing, and with only a tap of the whip to supplement a hand ride, he surged ahead of Japanese champion juvenile Leontes at the wire.

Lemaire wasn’t aboard for his next two, an absence that may have been the difference in the Japanese 2000 Guineas (G1). With new pilot Yuga Kawada (long-suffering Harp Star fans will recall the name), Makahiki was left too much to do late. He still closed with a field-best :33.9 for his final three furlongs, but that wasn’t fast enough to catch Dee Majesty (who posted a stakes-record 1:57.9 for about 1 1/4 miles).

Kawada made amends in the Japanese Derby, putting him in a better position. Makahiki had to thread the needle between foes to create a seam, and accelerated deftly. That experience in a crowded 18-horse field implies he won’t be shy about finding a gap in Chantilly traffic either. It was no easy success, though, for Satono Diamond also erupted to produce a thrilling photo. Makahiki found enough to hold him at bay, despite racing on his left lead. Having competed right-handed in all of his other starts, the Tokyo classic marked his first (and so far only) attempt at a left-handed course, and it showed.

Makahiki limbered up with a useful score in the September 11 Prix Niel (G2) over the Arc course and distance. Well below peak fitness off his summer vacation, he nabbed another comebacker, Midterm, without being asked a serious question. Midterm was once a leading fancy for the Epsom Derby (G1) before being injured, and the very fact that Sir Michael Stoute threw him right into an Arc trial off the layoff is illuminating. The Juddmonte homebred has plenty of time to live up to his lofty reputation, possibly as soon as the October 15 Champion (G1) at Ascot. Makahiki’s connections likewise expect him to move forward in leaps and bounds off his prep.

Meanwhile, Makahiki’s form in Japan continues to hold up. Dee Majesty and Satono Diamond have both captured trials for the Japanese St Leger (G1).

That leads to the one scruple about Makahiki: if he’s closely matched with Japan’s other leading sophomores, it implies he isn’t in the same league as Deep Impact, or fellow Arc heartbreaker Orfevre, who were unambiguously the best of their generation.

On the other hand, perhaps Makahiki doesn’t need to be Deep Impact or Orfevre in a race that could prove more open than the betting market implies. Remember that Nakayama Festa, overlooked at 22-1, nearly beat Workforce in the 2010 Arc. And Makahiki’s trainer, Yasuo Tomomichi, believes Chantilly suits Makahiki more than Longchamp.

Found (6-1): American fans are well familiar with the Aidan O’Brien filly, who famously outdueled 2015 Arc hero Golden Horn in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1). Golden Horn had snapped a four-year streak of female Arc winners, and Found boasts the world-class formlines to reclaim the crown for the distaffers.

Yet nearly all of those formlines appear as runner-up efforts. Her lengthy list of seconds runs from the 2015 Champion and Irish Champion (G1), Coronation (G1), and Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) to this term’s Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1), Coronation Cup (to Postponed), Prince of Wales’s (G1), Yorkshire Oaks (G1), and most recently the Irish Champion again. The daughter of Galileo tends to find one too good, but you’ve got to being your “A” game to beat her.

On the plus side, Found blossoms at this time of year, and jockey Ryan Moore has chosen her in preference to stablemates Order of St George and Highland Reel. Moore had a luckless passage aboard Found in last year’s Arc, where she was ninth without getting a proper run. Tha remains the only unplaced effort in Found's 18-race career. There’s precedent for horses to flop in one Arc and win the next, although you’ve got to go back a bit to dig up Rainbow Quest (1985), Sagace (1984) and All Along (1983).

Harzand (7-1): Any Aga Khan homebred who turned the Epsom/Irish Derby (G1) double should be on my short list for the Arc, but I’m unfortunately cool toward the Sea the Stars colt.

In part that’s because he’s trying to become only the second horse in history to sweep both Derbies and the Arc – a feat achieved uniquely by another Aga Khan standard-bearer, Sinndar. Not even the legendary Nijinsky II could pull it off. Based upon how the form of this year’s renewal is working out (or not), I’m hard pressed to put Harzand in this category.

Another reason revolves around his mishap in the Irish Champion. Trainer Dermot Weld brought him back from his summer vacation for the lucrative prize, but he never had a chance to fire after being gouged into early. Harzand wasn’t outpaced on merit in the 1 1/4-mile contest; he was hurting and came out lame. As he did on Epsom Derby morning, however, Harzand has made a fantastic recovery and is working well ahead of the Arc.

But Weld must have expected him to have a real race in the Irish Champion en route to the Arc. Dragging himself around Leopardstown with a flesh wound doesn’t count. He’s fit to go, but is he as sharp as he otherwise would have been? For all intents and purposes, the Arc is his first end-to-end race since the June 25 Irish Derby. Is that enough, especially for a stamina-laden type who’ll need to summon a turn of foot?

Finally, there's the matter of the ground. Weld is on record hoping for rain, but will it arrive in sufficient amounts to slow the surface?

New Bay (12-1): All of the caveats about Postponed’s disadvantage at the weights apply to four-year-old New Bay, who will carry the same 131-pound impost. Yet New Bay offers several factors in compensation, starting with the price on a top-class individual who’s proven over the course, and to a certain extent, in the Arc itself.

Trained by the maestro Andre Fabre, who’s won seven Arcs already, New Bay scored arguably his most brilliant win at Chantilly in last spring’s French Derby (G1). The Juddmonte homebred produced a devastating late kick to down Highland Reel in record time. New Bay concluded his sophomore campaign with a fine third to Golden Horn in the Arc, which was officially rated as the best Group 1 race held anywhere in the world in 2015.

New Bay’s 2016 hasn’t gone swimmingly. A hoof issue was bugging him when he was drubbed by A Shin Hikari here in the Prix d’Ispahan (G1) on awful ground, and he took three months off. New Bay outclassed the opposition in his comeback in the Prix Gontaut-Biron (G3), and returned to the deep end in the Irish Champion. Striking the front after chasing the torrid pace, he was passed late but kept on for fourth. That was an excellent prep, considering that the other pace factors gave way.

The Arc marks his third start off the layoff, and perhaps more significantly, Fabre is replicating the pattern from last fall. The spacing of his two lead-up races is the same.

Like Postponed, New Bay is a son of Dubawi who could be stronger now than he was a year ago. There’s precedent for a horse to place in an Arc before winning the next year, the last being Tony Bin (1988).

Postponed photo courtesy Mathea Kelley/Dubai Racing Club

Makahiki photo courtesy/copyright Japan Racing Association

Photo of Found beating Golden Horn courtesy Wendy Wooley/EquiSport Photos

New Bay photo courtesy Racing UK via Twitter

Coming up next: the Arc wildcard and longshots to know