“Heavy, like last year” was Frankie Dettori’s verdict on the going here on Saturday on the eve of Enable’s attempt to make history as the first horse to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe three times . Even from underneath a face mask his expression was clearly that of a rider who could have done without last-minute dramas.
He is not the only one. The shape of this year’s Arc has already changed significantly in recent days as rain has drenched the Bois de Boulogne and did so again late on Saturday, when Aidan O’Brien’s four remaining runners in the race tested positive for the banned substance zilpaterol as a result of eating contaminated feed.
O’Brien was due to field Japan, Sovereign, Mogul and Serpentine. Their absence was announced via a tweet on the account of O’Brien’s Ballydoyle yard. It read: “Unfortunately the results of the urine samples taken from the horses yesterday have come back positive from the French laboratory.
“There is a possibility that the contaminant may have left their system by the time of racing tomorrow – however we have no guarantee of this, and in order to protect the integrity of racing we have decided to withdraw all our horses from racing tomorrow. Joseph and Donnacha O’Brien will do likewise.”
The field will be reduced from 15 to 11 as a result and lose its most obvious pacemakers, with Serpentine and Sovereign missing.
If the race has as many twists and turns as the days leading up to it, then the handful at Longchamp to witness it first hand will love every minute.
Enable’s name at or near the top of the betting has been one of the few constants in this year’s Arc, and even with the memory of her narrow defeat 12 months ago still painfully fresh for many punters, plenty will be tempted to add some hard cash to their emotional investment at around 5-4.
Remove the sentimental blinkers and try to forget the sport’s urgent need for a good news story at the end of a difficult season. How does her price look now?
Try as you might, it is impossible to justify such short odds on the basis of Enable’s form over the past 12 months. She has had three races this season: a commendable defeat behind Ghaiyyath on her return to action in the Eclipse, an easy win in a three-runner King George and an exercise canter against five outclassed rivals at odds of 1-14 at Kempton Park last month.
The last time Enable ran to the kind of form she is likely to need to win a third Arc was when she won her second, in 2018. Wanting something to happen and putting money on it to happen are – or should be – very different things, and her odds are simply too short.
Enable also faces several new opponents, three-year-olds for the most part, that could find enough improvement to give her a race, as well as three rivals – Persian King, Sottsass and Stradivarius – with an official rating that is already within striking distance of her own.
Stamina is the big doubt about Persian King, particularly on heavy ground, for all that André Fabre’s Arc runners can never be discounted lightly. Stradivarius presents a different concern, as the Ascot Gold Cup winner could find the wet ground bringing his abundant stamina into play if – and it is a significant if – he travels on it as sweetly as he does on a sound surface.
But he is a shorter price than Sottsass, even though Jean-Claude Rouget’s colt arguably has fewer questions to answer. Last year’s French Derby winner was less than two lengths behind Enable 12 months ago, and closing fast. He returns to 12 furlongs on Sunday for the first time since then and has form on heavy ground. Rouget, who has yet to win an Arc, has almost certainly been training him with Sunday in mind since last year’s race and at 8-1 he looks an outstanding each-way bet to leave Enable and her legion of fans frustrated once again.