January 20, 2022

Ron Flatter previews 2019 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe from Paris

Enable at the 2018 Breeders' Cup
(Coady Photo/Churchill Downs)

By RON FLATTER

From the track in Paris

There may not be an American in Paris to run in Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1). But an American certainly could have the start of a big day if Enable’s bid to make history comes up short.

REILLY: Enable odds-on to make Arc history; new stars, old foes hope to thwart three-peat

Peter Brant has done well buying offspring of Starlet’s Sister. The Galileo mare foaled reigning U.S. female turf champion Sistercharlie. She also produced the three-year-old colt Sottsass (7-1), one of the two most highly regarded challengers trying to keep Enable (4-5) from becoming the first horse to be a three-time winner of Europe’s richest race.

If Sottsass pulls off the upset, it could set up Brant for a transoceanic double, since Sistercharlie will be racing later Sunday in the Flower Bowl (G1) at Belmont Park.

Although both horses began their careers in France, they reached a fork in the road when Sistercharlie went to Chad Brown and became one of the most accomplished closers in America. Sottsass, meanwhile, stayed over here and turned into a pace chaser that has a sprinter’s blood via his sire Siyouni.

Seeking his first win in the Arc, trainer Jean-Claude Rouget told reporters Tuesday at Deauville that Sottsass is as ready as he can be. “He is not good,” Rouget said. “He is very good.”

Winner of three in a row, Sottsass is coming off a victory against only four rivals in last month’s Prix Niel (G2). Like the Arc, it was 1 1/2 miles. It went up the gentle slope of the famed course at ParisLongchamp, then downhill to the false straight and on to the 550-yard homestretch. Whether Sottsass can stay the same distance against a tougher field Sunday is the question bettors have to answer for themselves.

They certainly will not have the draw to blame. Sottsass drew ideally into post position 1, giving him a chance to make a ground-saving trip on what is expected to be a rain-softened course – yielding in American terms. Rouget also wanted an inside gate because his colt has a mind that has been known to wander when he is by himself.

“Obviously it would be better not to start outside,” Rouget said before Thursday’s draw. “He is a horse that has caused trouble being immature, and he is still a little fresh on race day. But that’s normal. You just have to manage that.”

Like Sottsass, Enable will need to stay in touch with the early lead that is all but certain to be held by the Japanese long shot Kiseki (100-1) and Godolphin’s German Group 1 winner Ghaiyyath (12-1). Although they could set an impossible-to-maintain pace, they also carry the legitimacy evidenced by Timeform speed ratings of more than 120. In the last 20 years of the Arc there have been only three other frontrunners with the same figures.

But the Arc and ParisLongchamp do not traditionally cater to early speed, which brings everything back to Enable. At age 5, she is at the top of her game, something that she most certainly was not when she was coming off surgery and a fever in huffing and puffing to win last year’s Arc. With 12 consecutive wins including 10 Group 1s – all with jockey Frankie Dettori – she also has shown the ability to do what sideline reporters always ask about at halftime. Namely making adjustments.

“She’s raced on so many different racecourses and in different countries,” Enable’s trainer John Gosden said. “She’s obviously raced in England, Ireland, France, the U.S.A. I think she’s only raced twice on the same track, namely Ascot. She’s gone left-handed, right-handed, up hill, down dale, so she’s pretty well done everything.”

Two forward-running Coolmore horses also loom as possibilities to spoil Enable’s three-peat. Japan (6-1) has impressively won his last three, including the King Edward VII (G2) at Royal Ascot, the Grand Prix de Paris (G1) and the Juddmonte International (G1) 1½ months ago at York. And Magical – remember her? – has been second in three of Enable’s last four wins, including the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).

What gives horseplayers pause in betting Coolmore is Aidan O’Brien’s poor record here. He won in 2007 with Dylan Thomas, but that was the only one of his 28 non-rabbits that finished first in Arcs at ParisLongchamp. (Found won in 2016 at Chantilly.) In the eight times since that the race has been run here, all 19 of O’Brien’s contenders failed to finish in the money.

It is foolhardy to exclude Enable from any Arc bet; she is an all-timer. But the search for value brings Ghaiyyath into the picture, especially if the ground softens. Fierement (40-1) carries the best hope of a first-time Japanese breakthrough – and maybe the best chance for a big number in exotics.

And yes, Sottsass has to be included, if only to see if he can really stay the 12 furlongs in a $5.47 million race. Think of it this way. If Peter Brant has a big day Sunday between the Bois de Boulogne and Long Island, imagine how it would feel to be left out.

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