As Enable prepares for an unprecedented three-peat in the October 6 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), her trainer John Gosden has mentioned that the three-year-olds pose the biggest challenge. That was certainly true last year, when then-sophomore filly Sea of Class came close to thwarting Enable’s title defense, and this time, it’s a pair of colts prominent in the antepost market.
While Aidan O’Brien’s Japan comes in fresh from his victory over the now-retired Crystal Ocean in the Juddmonte International (G1), star French sophomore Sottsass warmed up in Sunday’s Prix Niel (G2) on Arc Trials Day at ParisLongchamp.
A half-brother to reigning Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) champion Sistercharlie, and likewise owned by Peter Brant, Sottsass has been set for the Arc since his scintillating performance in the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) (G1). The Jean Claude-Rouget pupil had something to prove that day going up against hot favorite Persian King, but he roared past in deep stretch to win decisively in course-record time at Chantilly.
Sottsass’ heroics at about 1 5/16 miles don’t automatically translate to the Arc trip of about 1 1/2 miles, so his course-and-distance tune-up in the Prix Niel took on added resonance. Would the son of Siyouni be as effective going longer? Jockey Cristian Demuro certainly thought so, and Sottsass came through with flying colors. Despite being strung up on the inside and only forcing his way through late, the chestnut posted the fastest of the three Arc Trials, albeit marginally, in 2:27.46.
Of course, being a short-field dress rehearsal with Sottsass by far the class act, the Niel didn’t answer every lingering question. Sottsass quickened off the pace doled out by his stablemate, but what if the Arc features a robust, end-to-end gallop? What if the Coolmore brain trust decides that their only chance of beating Enable is to throw in a relay team of pacemakers in hopes of setting the table for Japan or Magical? Moreover, Godolphin’s 14-length Grosser Preis von Baden (G1) winner Ghaiyyath is sure to be prominent, and Japan’s Kiseki can mix it up with the best of them early if so desired. Such a race shape would subject Sottsass to an entirely different type of test, and expose any stamina weakness without mercy.
Still, Sottsass has demonstrated that he could be a rare enough talent to cope with anything. As a three-year-old in peak form with a superb turn of foot, he brings a tantalizing profile into the Arc.
The aforementioned Kiseki, one of the projected Japanese Arc hopefuls along with Blast Onepiece and Fierement who prepped at home, arrived early enough to contest the trial for older horses, the Prix Foy (G2). Although setting a much more leisurely pace than he’s capable of, Kiseki found little in the stretch, and defending champion Waldgeist swept to a sharp repeat victory in 2:27.57.
The Andre Fabre-trained Waldgeist was a somewhat unlucky fourth to Enable in last year’s Arc, where traffic arguably prevented him from a better placing. Nevertheless, he was well adrift of her in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Churchill Downs, and his third in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1) two back came at a respectful distance behind the Enable-Crystal Ocean throwdown. If Waldgeist again shapes up as a realistic place chance in the Arc, it takes a bit more imagination to envision him finally getting the better of Enable.
It also doesn’t help that an older male hasn’t won the Arc since Dylan Thomas (2007), the intervening years dominated by the fairer sex. Even three-year-old colts have found it tougher in the last decade, with only Derby (G1) winners Sea the Stars (2009), Workforce (2010), and Golden Horn (2015) turning back the distaff tide.
Kiseki flies in the face of the same demographic trend as Waldgeist, and his tame third in the Foy was deflating, even allowing for its being a simple tightener. Trainer Katsuhiko Sumii, however, was satisfied according to Racing Post. If Kiseki moves forward in the next couple of weeks, he could become a wildcard, recalling his bold second to record-setting Almond Eye in last fall’s Japan Cup (G1).
Enable’s younger stablemate, Star Catcher, captured the trial for distaffers – the Prix Vermeille (G1) – in front-running fashion in 2:27.63 to make it a hat trick following scores in the Ribblesdale (G2) at Royal Ascot and the Irish Oaks (G1). Godolphin’s Musis Amica was the eye-catcher, rattling late to take second in her best performance in a year, while the O’Brien duo of Fleeting (fifth) and Pink Dogwood (eighth) didn’t run up to standard.
Star Catcher would get all the weight allowances in the Arc as a three-year-old filly, but owner/breeder Sir Anthony Oppenheimer sounded very reluctant to supplement her. Gosden nominated the October 19 British Champions Fillies & Mares (G1) at Ascot or the Breeders’ Cup as likelier targets under consideration.
Two other prep races were held Sunday for Group 1s on the Arc undercard. City Light advertised his chances for the Prix de la Foret (G1) with a convincing score in the Prix du Pin (G3), finding new life at the about seven-furlong trip. Glass Slippers got up to deny fellow British shipper Shades of Blue in the about five-furlong Prix du Petit-Couvert (G3), but it would be a surprise if the Prix de l’Abbaye (G1) winner took part there. Nunthorpe (G1) record-setter Battaash lies in wait, along with Fairyland and others from Sunday’s Flying Five (G1).