October 6, 2022

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

Enable is on a mission to become the first horse to win the Arc three times (Coady Photography)

Two-time defending Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) champion Enable is trading as the odds-on favorite for an unprecedented three-peat at ParisLongchamp on Sunday. Drawn in post 9 in the 12-horse field, the great mare meets challengers both new and old who aim for her crown – or more circumspectly, a cameo appearance in the placings should she make history.

Enable sets her rivals a tall task between her exceptional physical talent, tactical versatility, ability to go on all types of ground, and her inexorable will to win. If her sophomore season highlighted her pure ability, her subsequent career has proven her moral fiber.

In her title defense here last year, the Juddmonte homebred overcame an unorthodox preparation thanks to an early-season setback. Trainer John Gosden had to get Enable ready off just a single prep, a task complicated by her coming down with a fever between that September (G3) comeback and the Arc. She couldn’t have been at her absolute best, but Enable dug deep to hold on from the rallying Sea of Class, while conceding her younger rival seven pounds. Shipping to Churchill Downs for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), Enable repelled a stiff challenge from another younger filly, Magical, to defy the “jinx” against reigning Arc winners in the Breeders’ Cup.

Kept in training by the sporting Prince Khalid Abdullah precisely to go for her third Arc trophy, Enable has kept on rolling. At the beginning of the Flat season, Gosden exercised patience, not rushing her to make an arbitrary return date, but letting her blossom in her own sweet time. Thus the daughter of Nathaniel didn’t launch her 2019 campaign until the July 6 Eclipse (G1) at Sandown, where she once more prevailed over Magical.

Three weeks later in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1), Enable was put to her severest test by top older male Crystal Ocean. She bravely won the protracted duel by a neck, overcoming a tricky trip from post 11 that forced regular rider Frankie Dettori to employ off-the-pace tactics. Her only ensuing start of the summer was a comparatively simpler wire job over Magical in the Yorkshire Oaks (G1).

Enable is following the same King George/Yorkshire Oaks trajectory as she did in her 2017 Arc romp, and she’s in superior shape compared to 2018. But she’s also facing a few serious threats on Sunday.

RISING EUROPEAN STARS

Although three-year-old colts have been overshadowed by distaffers in recent Arc history, this demographic has still won three times in the last decade, and the elite of the classic generation remains the place to look. Aidan O’Brien’s Japan boasts collateral form with Enable through Crystal Ocean, but French star Sottsass arguably has more panache.

Trainer Jean-Claude Rouget has been unstinting in his praise of Sottsass, who like his American champion half-sister, Sistercharlie, is owned by Peter Brant. After a 6 1/2-length romp in the May 2 Prix de Suresnes on soft ground, Sottsass was overlooked at 13-1 in the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) (G1), but zoomed past favorite Persian King in course-record time at Chantilly. The way that Sottsass dismissed Persian King as if he were standing still – a high-class colt and classic winner in his own right – marked him out as something potentially special.

Sottsass has raced only once since, in his prep score in the Prix Niel (G2). Stepping up to the Arc distance of about 1 1/2 miles for the first time, he reiterated his stellar turn of foot out of a tight spot. Some question if the son of Siyouni conclusively proved his proficiency at the trip. But his broodmare sire is Galileo, and a colt with the requisite acceleration mustn’t be underestimated.

O’Brien has won the Arc with a pair of older horses (Dylan Thomas in 2007 and Found in 2016), but not yet with a three-year-old. Japan brings a formidable resume to the task. One of Ballydoyle’s top-tier juveniles of 2018, the Galileo blueblood wasn’t yet at his peak when a half-length third in the Derby (G1) at Epsom. Japan has gone from strength to strength since. After slamming them in the King Edward VII (G2) at Royal Ascot, he earned a narrower decision in the Grand Prix de Paris (G1) at this course and distance.

But Japan’s key result came last time out in the Juddmonte International (G1), his first try versus elders, where he reverted to about 1 5/16 miles and wore down Enable’s foe Crystal Ocean. While it’s doubtful that Crystal Ocean ran up to his best, Japan has the form in the book with Ryan Moore. Dettori reportedly cited Japan as Enable’s most dangerous opponent.

Godolphin’s Ghaiyyath, long well regarded but sparingly raced, was a revelation in the Grosser Preis von Baden (G1) in his latest. Making an early move to take the lead, the Charlie Appleby trainee drew off by an astounding 14 lengths. In hindsight, that breakout performance lent substance to Appleby’s comments following his deflating third at odds-on in the April 28 Prix Ganay (G1). Appleby believed that the son of Dubawi, and half-brother to Grade 1 winner Zhukova, was looking for a stretch-out to 1 1/2 miles. Ghaiyyath previously had won four straight, including the Prix du Prince d’Orange (G3) in his sole start of 2018, and the Prix d’Harcourt (G2) in his 2019 debut.

The burning question is whether Ghaiyyath can transfer his Baden-Baden heroics to Paris, against a far deeper field. Note that Godolphin used the same springboard with 2002 Arc upsetter Marienbard (trained by Saeed bin Suroor), and more recently, German filly Danedream (2011) advanced from there to Arc glory.

OLD FOES

Magical has yet to find a way to overturn Enable in four tries, but there’s reason to suspect that the Ballydoyle filly will run closer to her Breeders’ Cup Turf level. Their first meeting in last year’s Arc hardly counts in the tally since Magical was not yet rounding into form in a non-factoring 10th. That effort brought her on to victory in the British Champions Fillies & Mares (G1), and wheeling back for the Breeders’ Cup, she served up a challenge to Enable.

By the time they met this summer, Magical had been on the go, and she was supposed to begin her midseason holiday. O’Brien called an audible to run her back in the Eclipse, where she was a fine second. The Yorkshire Oaks was also a case of the two being at different points of their preparation – Enable was coming off her epic King George, and getting in her final Arc prep, but the freshened Magical was basically having a day out ahead of her fall targets. Magical benefited from the tune-up to score her biggest win in the September 14 Irish Champion (G1), and chances are she’ll carry that form forward in Paris.

Waldgeist, an unlucky fourth to Enable in last year’s Arc, could do better with a clean trip at his favorite track. Trained by the maestro Andre Fabre, the son of Galileo hasn’t managed to challenge Enable (or Magical) elsewhere. Fifth behind the dynamic distaffers in the Breeders’ Cup, he was third to Crystal Ocean and Magical in the Prince of Wales’s (G1) at Royal Ascot and third to Enable and Crystal Ocean in the King George. But he looks sharp enough around ParisLongchamp, where he blew Ghaiyyath away in the Prix Ganay and just repeated in the Prix Foy (G2).

JAPANESE CONTENDERS

Older males haven’t won the Arc since the aforementioned Dylan Thomas a dozen years ago, but the Japanese have come close with near-missers Nakayama Festa (2010) and Orfevre (2012). Still searching for an elusive first Arc trophy, Japan relies on four-year-old colts Fierement and Blast Onepiece and five-year-old veteran Kiseki. None has the flair of reigning Japanese Horse of the Year Almond Eye.

Blast Onepiece, the champion three-year-old colt of 2018, has traded decisions with up-and-coming Fierement at home. Last October, Fierement handled the about 1 7/8-mile trip of the Kikuka Sho (Japanese St Leger) (G1) to spring a 13-1 upset in only his fourth career start, with favored Blast Onepiece winding up fourth in what looked a shade beyond him. The duo met again in their Arc prep in the August 18 Sapporo Kinen (G2), where Blast Onepiece scored his first win of the year, and Fierement checked in a useful third.

It could be significant that Fierement has turned in similar placed efforts prior to both of his Grade 1 wins. In his graded debut in last July’s Radio Nikkei Sho (G3), he flew from the rear after steering widest of all to miss by a half-length en route to the Kikuka Sho. Resurfacing in the January 20 American Jockey Club Cup (G2), his first try versus older horses, Fierement rallied once clear and came up just shy. That was a perfect prep for his hard-fought verdict in the about two-mile Tenno Sho Spring (G1). Fierement showed himself of the highest class by prevailing with a different running style. Creeping into contention earlier and striking the front entering the stretch, he battled like a lion with ears pinned back. Regular rider Christophe Lemaire has said that Fierement doesn’t need marathon trips to excel. Indeed, the well-bred colt shouldn’t be pigeonholed just yet, and he has a proper turn of foot. By the late, great Deep Impact, whose 2006 Arc disappointment still rankles, Fierement has untapped potential.

Blast Onepiece clinched championship honors last December by capturing the prestigious Arima Kinen (G1) over top older horses, including champion Rey de Oro and Arc rival Kiseki. The son of Harbinger has been beaten in his other Grade 1 attempts, finishing fourth in the 2018 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) (G1) and Kikuka Sho and sixth in the March 31 Osaka Hai (G1). His rebound last time at Sapporo coincided with a new rider in Yuga Kawada.

Kiseki hasn’t won since the 2017 Kikuka Sho on a rain-sodden course, but the forwardly-placed type has collected minor awards in six of his last seven, most notably when runner-up to Almond Eye in the record-setting Japan Cup (G1) last fall. Second again in the Osaka Hai and to Cox Plate (G1)-bound Lys Gracieux in the June 23 Takarazuka Kinen (G1), Kiseki prepped at ParisLongchamp with a ring-rusty third to Waldgeist in the Prix Foy. Trainer Katsuhiko Sumii is likely to have him fitter for the main target, and Christophe Soumillon retains the mount.

OUTSIDERS

French King enters in the form of his life after winning four straight, progressing from Qatar’s signature H.H. The Emir’s Trophy in February to the Gerling Preis (G2), Hansa Preis (G2), and Grosser Preis von Berlin (G1) (with Godolphin’s Old Persian third). Still, this requires another level of improvement with four-time Arc hero Olivier Peslier aboard. Rouget supplemented Sottsass’s stablemate Soft Light, citing the owner’s wish. Only fifth behind Japan in the Grand Prix de Paris, the son of Authorized was a much better runner-up versus elders in the Grand Prix de Deauville (G2) where Nagano Gold was third. Nagano Gold, the pride of the Czech Republic, was a fantastic second at big odds in the Hardwicke (G2) at Royal Ascot, and might well have pulled the shocker if not for being hampered at the start. He has course form here as well, versus lesser, and it would be quite a story if he can make his presence felt.

***

After rain in Paris, the turf is expected to remain softish, but we won’t know until Sunday just how soft. Enable won’t mind, and most of the principals have won on some degree of rain-affected tracks. Kiseki is the lone Japanese runner proven on a bog, since his classic victory came on heavy, but Lemaire believes that Blast Onepiece would be helped by conditions too.

The Arc serves as a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Enable has already earned a ticket in the King George, but connections have not sounded bullish about another Breeders’ Cup bid.