The Arc wildcard, longshots to know, and the rest of the field
After considering the top five contenders in Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), it’s time to look at the rest of the field, beginning with the most interesting candidates.
Order of St George: I’m pegging the Ascot Gold Cup (G1) winner as the Arc’s wildcard. If he can transfer his superb ability to Europe’s classic distance, the Aidan O’Brien charge may just be good enough to go close. And if he is, he’ll be a pick-up mount for the ages for Frankie Dettori.
That’s a giant “if,” of course. Order of St George has been campaigned in the stayers’ division from the beginning of his three-year-old campaign. A trip to the two-mile Melbourne Cup (G1) in November would have been attractive, especially for his Australian co-owner, Lloyd Williams. But Flemington’s off the radar since Order of St George was named co-highweight; in light of his resume, his big impost can’t have come as a surprise.
Order of St George is instead trying his hand at Europe’s fall championship, tackling elite performers at a distance he’s never actually tried. Racing at up to nine furlongs at two, he jumped straight to 1 3/4 miles at three.
Still, there’s no doubting that Order of St George has displayed star quality at longer trips. The way he simply ripped apart a quality cast of older horses in last year’s Irish St Leger (G1) was a thing to behold. This was no plodder. His main goal for 2016 was the Ascot Gold Cup, and again, the way he scythed through the field from an unpromising position was remarkable. The Galileo colt overpowered his foes; the race might have been a marathon 2 1/2 miles, but it was over in a handful of strides.
That blunt force was missing last time in his title defense in the Irish St Leger, where he surprisingly couldn’t catch a loose-on-the-lead Wicklow Brave. I’m not too crestfallen by the loss. The Curragh was playing kindly to on-the-pace types that day, and he gave the pacesetter too much rope. More to the point, you’ve got to think that the Arc was already bubbling in O’Brien’s brain. Why get him to peak for another Irish St Leger, when he can transform his biography one race later?
Another intriguing angle is the tactics in play in the Arc. With his superabundance of stamina, Order of St George wants the Arc to turn into an all-out war. A long crawl that turns into a sprint finish would play into his rivals’ hands. Enter stablemate Highland Reel, who was himself in line for a trip to Australia before being rerouted to Chantilly. A very effective front runner, Highland Reel wired last summer’s Secretariat (G1) and the July 23 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1). Why not send Highland Reel forward, ratchet up the tempo, have Order of St George pick up the baton, and try to open up before the closers can strike? Whatever the plan, master tactician Dettori will make the best use of his mount’s stamina.
Although it’s been 47 years since a reigning Ascot Gold Cup winner landed the Arc (Levmoss in 1969), absolute top-quality stayers have factored in the intervening years. The legendary Ardross missed by a head (1982), Oscar Schindler placed third (1996) and fourth (1997), and Westerner was second (2005). Marienbard doesn’t quite fit the category, since he wasn’t up to their level as a stayer, but he improved for turning back in trip and won the 2002 Arc – with Dettori at the helm.
Of course, those results were all recorded around the more testing Longchamp circuit, not Chantilly. And Ardross had the opportunity to slog it out on soft ground, which Order of St George probably won’t. Yet a horse of his talent isn’t easily discarded when he turns his attention to a new task.
Recall that Order of St George was nominated to the King George as well, so it’s not as though the Coolmore brain trust hasn’t at least entertained a 1 1/2-mile sortie before.
Highland Reel: The O’Brien globetrotter could hang on for a minor award if Seamie Heffernan rides to control the pace, but I have a nagging suspicion that he’s going to be on a mission. Order of St George isn’t the only Ballydoyle runner who’d benefit from a strong pace. Found wants the table set for herself. Is Highland Reel deemed expendable in the service of his stablemates? That isn’t necessarily as bad as it sounds. If connections don’t think he can win the Arc however it unfolds, give him a nice day out here that helps his buddies, and that simultaneously sets him up for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).
The Grey Gatsby: Maybe I’m just living in the past (it is my natural habitat), but I keep thinking that “Gatsby” has another big race in him. Two years ago in his heyday, he was a scintillating winner of the French Derby (G1) at this course, and shocked O’Brien’s Australia in the Irish Champion (G1). He’s winless in the interim, albeit with some fine efforts in defeat (i.e., to Golden Horn in last year’s Eclipse [G1] following a near-miss in the Prince of Wales’s [G1]). His best recent performance coincided with his only try at the Arc trip this season, a fast-finishing second to Melbourne Cup hopeful Big Orange at Newmarket. Could a return to Chantilly, quick ground, 1 1/2 miles, and new rider James Doyle spark a revival? Maybe not enough to win, but I wouldn’t leave him out of the bottom rungs of the exotics.
Left Hand: The lone sophomore filly in this year’s Arc is worth a look not only because she gets in at a light 120 pounds (11 fewer than the older males), but as an upwardly mobile type with solid form. By Dubawi (the sire of Postponed and New Bay), the Wertheimer et Frere blueblood is a different animal since adding cheekpieces. She was a close second in this track’s French Oaks (G1) to La Cressonniere, who was second favorite for the Arc before being sidelined. Left Hand is trading at several times La Cressonniere’s price, with but a half-length between them. Subsequently taking the Prix Psyche (G3) when the cheekpieces were omitted, Left Hand was more authoritative with the equipment back on in the Prix Vermeille (G1) over the Arc course and distance. She hasn’t reached her ceiling yet for Carlos Laffon-Parias.
Silverwave: Another on the upswing, the Pascal Bary-trained Silverwave enters in career-best form off back-to-back wins in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (G1) and Prix Foy (G2) at this track and trip. That suggests he can do better than his 10th in last year’s Arc. How much better, though, is the rub. The form leaves it questionable, but he does pick up Christophe Soumillon.
One Foot in Heaven: I’d kept hoping that this son of 2006 Arc runner-up Pride was well on his way with his early-season scores in the Prix d’Hedouville (G3) and Grand Prix de Chantilly (G2). Unfortunately, he’s since been unplaced twice behind Silverwave. Trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre has said he reminds him of Pride, so fingers crossed that the lightly-raced four-year-old has more up his sleeve.
Savoir Vivre: The near-misser in the German Derby (G1) from far off the pace, he just stole the Grand Prix de Deauville (G2) on the front end under a crafty ride. It’s anyone’s guess if he’s good enough to factor on this stage, but his tactical virtuosity – and rapid improvement in just a handful of starts – must be considered plusses. The Stall Ullman homebred hails from the extended family of Stacelita and Steinlen too. As a potential downside, however, trainer Jean-Pierre Carvalho previously thought Savoir Vivre might be “a little tender” for the Arc at this point in his career.
Siljan’s Saga: The veteran mare came up a neck shy of catching Savoir Vivre when seeking a repeat victory in the Grand Prix de Deauville (G2). While that continued her useful current form, it’s some way below what’s required here. She’s been unplaced in the past two Arcs, and barring unexpectedly heavy rainfall, the soft-ground aficionado looks up against it again.
Talismanic: This smacks of Godolphin really wanting be represented in the Arc, because he doesn’t bring the hefty credentials you’d normally see in an Andre Fabre pupil. Fourth to Almanzor in the French Derby, and fifth in the Grand Prix de Paris (G1), Talismanic dropped to listed company to regain the winning thread last out at Saint-Cloud.
Migwar: Another who looks like an owner-driven entrant, Migwar sports the colors of an Al Thani family member, the Qatari dynasty sponsoring the Arc festivities. The Sea the Stars colt, out of a full sister to Rule of Law, was third to New Bay in last year’s Prix Niel (G2) and second as the favorite in the Prix du Conseil de Paris (G2) at this course and distance. Not seen again until this summer, he’s been warming up in conditions races and faces the cauldron in his Group 1 debut.
Vedevani: Third to Talismanic in the recent Prix Turenne, the Aga Khan homebred has failed to build on his promising juvenile campaign and is slated to be sold at Saturday evening’s Arqana Arc Sale. He may well be here only to boost his appeal in the auction ring. Prospective buyers know they’re bidding to have a runner in their colors in the Arc.
Order of St George photo courtesy of Irish Champions Weekend via Facebook
Check out all of the Arc news and notes on our compilation blog.