No six-year-old has won the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe in the last 100 years, but, as the most anticipated European horse race approaches, not one but two six-year-old champions appear central to the drama that will unravel over 2400m at Longchamp on Sunday (4 October).
Not only that but the two famous jockeys aboard this pair of superstars are not far short of 100 between them, with 49-year-old Frankie Dettori searching for a history-making third Arc win aboard superstar mare Enable and 47-year-old Olivier Peslier now booked for Stradivarius, unquestionably Europe’s outstanding stayer during the past three years.
Both great riders have a fabulous record in this spectacular event, Dettori’s won it six times, Peslier on three successive occasions in the late 1990’s and again when snatching a gripping victory on Solemia in 2012.
But Dettori, in particular, won’t want a repeat of last year’s experience.
“Last year’s Arc day was the longest two hours of my riding career, make no mistake. I had the anti-climax of the Arc (Enable looking all set for that historic victory until Waldgeist surged past) but I then had three more rides. It felt like a very long afternoon.”
An added twist this year is that it will be the last race of the extraordinary career of Enable, an 11-time Group One winner. She may well start favourite but Dettori is not screaming her winning chance: “I’m sure she will run her very best as she always does but that might not be good enough against the likes of Love, who gets 7lb, and of course Stradivarius.”
Trainer John Gosden gives an insight into the preparation of Enable, who prepped for Sunday with a winning romp in the G3 September Stakes (2399m) on the all-weather track at Kempton, observing: “Like those old boxers, she has taken a while to get up to full fitness at training camp. And it depends on whether she’s lost any of her old speed but thankfully she seems in very good shape.”
Stradivarius, also trained by British champion Gosden, shares with Enable a will-to-win that is uncanny even by the standards of top class racehorses – his courage on show again and again including in his three consecutive victories in that super demanding marathon, the G1 Ascot Gold Cup (3991m). Early in his career he won over shorter distances than the Arc, and, though yet to win over 2400m, his short neck second to Anthony Van Dyck in September’s G2 Prix Foy (2400m) at Longchamp was highly encouraging in a race that virtually turned into a 600m sprint. The more hectic gallop certain over the same distance on Sunday can only help.
Dettori has ridden Stradivarius in his last 12 starts and is an expert on the quirks of this horse who can hit a flat spot during a race but Peslier’s enthusiasm for this fresh challenge is infectious: “It is wonderful. He’s a super horse, strong and a famous stayer – a champion who just gallops. And I think he will be very good in the Arc because there is a lot of rain in Paris.”
Soft ground is a concern for supporters of the Aidan O’Brien-trained Love as none of her six wins has come on ground officially described as slower than good. However she has been devastating in 2020, unbeaten in three G1’s latterly the Yorkshire Oaks (2371m) in August. A strong traveller, her minimum winning distance in those three top Group 1 events was four and a quarter lengths whilst O’Brien has commented this week that Love is a very strong filly who has looked to handle slow ground on the home gallops.
The Irish maestro may also run Mogul, and this muscle-bound colt ran some notably fast fractions when stylishly winning the G1 Grand Prix de Paris over the Arc course and distance last month, whilst Serpentine would be a fascinating contender for the twice Arc-winning trainer if supplemented. As an outsider in the G1 Epsom Derby (2405m) he grabbed an early lead, and, despite near-universal expectations that he would fade out, accelerated instead to win the famous British Classic by five and a half lengths.
Prospects of a French winner of their greatest race seem to rest mostly with the talented Jean-Claude Rouget-trained three-year-old filly Raabihah and Persian King, sole contender for 30-times French champion trainer Andre Fabre. Persian King was a brilliant winner of the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp (1600m) last month, though with dual concerns for Sunday regarding prospects of slow ground and the rise to the Arc trip. Of the stamina issue regarding the Kingman colt’s pedigree, eight-time Arc winning-training Fabre says: “There is some indication on the dam’s side which encourages us.”