February 24, 2024

Cracksman may not get crack at Arc despite Niel romp; Ribchester, Decorated Knight mull Breeders’ Cup

Cracksman Arc if allowed to join Enable (File photo courtesy Racing UK via Twitter)

On Sunday’s “Arc Trials Day” at Chantilly, Sir Anthony Oppenheimer’s homebred Cracksman scored an authoritative victory in the Prix Niel (G2) for three-year-olds. But the owner-breeder remains reticent about advancing to the October 1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1).

Oppenheimer’s concern is twofold. First, regular rider Frankie Dettori will guide stablemate – and antepost favorite – Enable in the Arc, and Oppenheimer also believes that the still-maturing Cracksman is one for next year. All things being equal, such patience is to be commended in an era when horses are sometimes pressed to make their connections’ desired timetable.

But anyone watching how Cracksman has progressed from the spring classics, when he was a close third in the Derby (G1) at Epsom and missed by a neck in the Irish Derby (G1), to the present, must object that all things certainly aren’t equal. And with the uncertainties of the racing game, isn’t it advisable to strike while the proverbial iron is hot?

A six-length conqueror of the Great Voltigeur (G2) at York last time, the John Gosden pupil looked a class apart in the Niel as the 2-5 favorite. Confidently handled by Dettori, the son of Frankel stalked the pace set by Finche, dispatched him in short order, and hacked up by 3 1/2 lengths from Avilius. The form isn’t as deep as his Anglo-Irish record, but Cracksman was hardly under the gun.

The other big Arc development was a negative one, as Japan’s latest hopeful, Satono Diamond, fizzled in the Prix Foy (G2) for older horses. Drafting in the slipstream of his pacemaker Satono Noblesse, he made his move in the lane but folded and wound up fourth in the field of six. Finishing best of all was Germany’s Dschingis Secret, who prevailed with 1 1/2 lengths to spare over Godolphin’s duo of Cloth of Stars (the 8-5 favorite) and Talismanic.

Trained by Markus Klug and piloted by Adrie de Vries, Dschingis Secret had a race-fitness edge as the winner of the Grosser Preis von Berlin (G1) and Grosser Hansa-Preis (G2) in his last pair. Cloth of Stars hadn’t been seen since beating Zarak in the May 1 Prix Ganay (G1), and this should bring him on perfectly for trainer Andre Fabre. Satono Diamond had been off since April 30, when third to record-setting Kitasan Black in the two-mile Tenno Sho Spring (G1). Jockey Christophe Lemaire and trainer Yasutoshi Ikee both cited the fitness issue, adding that the soft ground was a detriment as well.

The Prix Vermeille (G1) for distaffers was the fastest of the three trials at the Arc trip of 2,400 meters (about 1 1/2 miles), a function of the most genuine pace. That played into the hands of Al Asayl Bloodstock’s Bateel, greatly improved since joining Francis-Henri Graffard this season. Rallying in the hands of Pierre-Charles Boudot, the 5-1 chance subdued 4-1 favorite Journey by 2 1/2 lengths.

Journey deserves extra credit for staying on so well, the best of those in proximity to the pace, particularly in these conditions. Defending champion Left Hand reported home a further three lengths back after a troubled trip, rounding out a trifecta for sire Dubawi. Baiyouna (ninth) and Blond Me (distanced in last) were both the victims of interference that prompted a stewards’ inquiry.

Bateel, runner-up to Marmelo when taking on males in her reappearance in the Prix de Barbeville (G3), has won three straight since. The five-year-old has methodically climbed the ladder from the Pinnacle (G3) at Haydock, to the Prix de Pomone (G2) and now the Vermeille. She’d need to be supplemented to the Arc, so connections have a decision to make.

The other Group 1 on the Sunday program was the Prix du Moulin (G1), won by top miler Ribchester as the even-money favorite. Already the hero of the Queen Anne (G1) in course-record time and the Lockinge (G1) this season, the Godolphin runner nearly made it a hat trick in the Sussex (G1), only to be upset by Here Comes When in wretched conditions.

The ground was soft at Chantilly, but the day and tactics were otherwise pleasant, and Ribchester asserted his class. With James Doyle taking over for injured William Buick, he held Taareef off by a cozy three-quarters of a length. The stewards took a look at his hanging in the direction of the runner-up, but the drift did not materially affect the outcome.

Trainer Richard Fahey gave American fans the news we wanted to hear: the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) may be on the cards. The Queen Elizabeth II (G1) on Champions Day comes first, but Fahey believes that the Iffraaj colt is a robust customer who’ll handle the two-week turnaround to Del Mar. While nothing’s set in stone just yet, it’s a positive signal.

Should Ribchester turn up at Del Mar, he might meet Saturday’s Irish Champion (G1) upsetter Decorated Knight. Trainer Roger Charlton is warming to the idea of cutting back in trip for the Mile on firm ground rather than the initial idea of the Champion (G1) at Ascot. In any event, Charlton insists he won’t do both. It’s either Breeders’ Cup or Champions Day.

Among the stayers, 9-10 favorite Vazirabad repeated in the Prix Gladiateur (G3) over a stubborn Holdthasigreen, setting himself up for another tilt at the Prix du Cadran (G1) on Arc Day. The Aga Khan homebred just missed in the marathon last October, and now there’s the prospect of a clash with Gold Cup (G1) hero Big Orange.

The course-and-distance prep for sprinters, the Prix du Petit-Couvert (G3), may not be as key to its Arc Day feature, the Prix de l’Abbaye (G1). The 18-1 Lady Macapa came out on top of a three-way finish with Gold Vibe and Fashion Queen. Third in the Hackwood (G3) to Magical Memory last out, the British shipper was earning her first black-type victory here for trainer Clive Cox.