There are sporting stars – such as Wayne Gretzky, Lionel Messi or Tiger Woods – whose brilliance is transcendent and overwhelming. There are others who make the most of what they’ve got to earn their place in the pantheon. Enable, the favourite for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on Sunday, is somewhere in between.
Enable is not, on the dull numbers, the best racehorse on earth, nor even beyond argument the best horse in her Newmarket stable. She is certainly not another Frankel, whose unbeaten career in the same colours less than a decade ago was built on such complete dominance that his starting price rarely bettered 1-10.
Yet Enable is also just two-and-a-half minutes away from doing something that no thoroughbred has done. Many millions of racehorses have been foaled since the first running of the Arc in October 1920, but not one has ever managed to win the showpiece event of European racing three times.
As a result 4 October 2020 is a date that was circled on thousands of racing calendars as long ago as November 2019 when it was confirmed that Enable, the runner-up in last year’s Arc after consecutive victories, would be allowed one more tilt at a unique piece of racing history. In the pre-Covid world, only the 24-Hour Race at Le Mans ever tempted more sports fans across the Channel on an annual basis, and 20,000 or more Enable fans started planning their trip to Paris as soon as the news dropped.
Eleven months later and in a world that no one then could have imagined, the race on Sunday still promises to be one of the great shared sporting experiences of recent years, albeit via the television coverage and social media and not first-hand in the Bois de Boulogne.
There is a simple answer to the question of what makes Enable so popular: it’s everything. Speed, stamina, durability, determination and consistency: Enable has them all in abundance. She has stickability too, racing on as a six-year-old when many Oaks winners would have been packed off to stud three years earlier.
And in Frankie Dettori she has the most famous and popular jockey of the past 30 years holding her reins and orchestrating the post-race celebrations as only he can. The bond between horse and rider is now so deep and obvious that it is a toss-up what comes first when she crosses the line in front: the flood of tears or the flying dismount.
But if there is one attribute which promises to make the race on Sunday truly compelling, it is Enable’s fallibility. As we discovered last year, when she hit the front inside the final quarter-mile but succumbed to Waldgeist within sight of the line, her talent is not always enough. And where many of Frankel’s wins in the latter part of his career were processions, this year’s Arc will surely be a fight – not just against her 14 opponents but also the same deep ground which took the edge of Enable’s finishing kick 12 months ago.
The same rain which will make this Arc such a demanding test also persuaded Aidan O’Brien to keep Love, this year’s Oaks winner and Enable’s biggest rival on paper until earlier in the week, at home. But even so, she is still odds-against at 11-8. A short price, yes, but one of those carrots that has been catching out punters for centuries. It shouts that she is a likely winner, while whispering the fact that it is more likely that something will beat her.
Enable is not head-and-shoulders in front of the field on Sunday. If she is going to head into retirement as the only three-time winner of the Arc, Enable and Dettori will need to combine to produce a better run than that of last year, and probably better than anything since her second Arc victory in 2018.
Dettori will feel the lack of a crowd more than anyone on Sunday. Racing’s greatest showman feeds off the buzz of a big-race atmosphere like no one else and a near-empty Longchamp will give him nothing with which to work. But the horse underneath him will give her all, as ever, and for an audience scattered far and wide from the place where they would give almost anything to be it promises to be a send-off that no one will ever forget.