Picture : Ace Impact, favourite for Sunday’s Arc at Longchamp (APRH)
The Racing Post (Matt Butler)
The Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (3.05 Longchamp, Sunday) is a real highlight of the Flat calendar and this weekend’s running has a wide-open feel to it, with ante-post favourite Ace Impact a general 3-1 to deliver Jean-Claude Rouget a second win in the race.
Here, we go through the leading contenders for the €5 million contest and produce an early verdict on who will come out on top . . .
Strengths: There is plenty to like about Ace Impact’s chance so it is no surprise he heads the market. He’s unbeaten in five starts, with Al Riffa getting the closest to him in his comeback in the Prix Guillaume d’Ornano when three-quarters of a length behind. His trainer, Jean-Claude Rouget, knows what is required to win an Arc and this has been the target since his win in the Prix du Jockey Club. The Racing Post Rating of 125 he achieved at Chantilly would have been good enough to win four of the last seven Arcs. The likely ground conditions remain a bit of an unknown, but that won’t be a worry for Ace Impact backers. He’s won on ground ranging from good to heavy this season.
Weaknesses: It cannot be said with certainty that he will definitely stay a mile and a half, having never gone further than the 1m2½f of the Prix du Jockey Club. Despite being the leading player in the home team, he has yet to run at Longchamp.
What they say: Jean-Claude Rouget, speaking on Monday following Ace Impact’s gallop in Deauville: “Everything has gone very well up to this point and we’re now just six days from D-Day. I hope that continues to be the case and that we have no problems with him. The horse is very well and has got stronger since August.”
Strengths: Boasts the best form on RPRs with the 128 figure he was awarded for his brave King George win. Has taken his form to new heights this season and is an assured stayer over a mile and a half. He has won at Meydan, so travelling holds no fears, and he’s fairly versatile regarding ground, with wins on surfaces ranging from soft to good.
Weaknesses: No six-year-olds have won the Arc (although seven-year-old Motrico did in 1932). Heavy ground would be an unknown, while only Workforce has defied a longer gap from his last start to win an Arc this century.
What they say: Owen Burrows, trainer: “I massively respect Westover because he doesn’t have much to find with us and the three-year-old [Ace Impact] looks a bit of a monster who could be anything. But the Arc is a different ball game and Hukum is an older horse who has won a King George and is pretty versatile ground-wise. He doesn’t have a lot to prove.”
Strengths: The Arc experience won’t faze him given he was an encouraging sixth last year. Ralph Beckett continues to have his team in mighty form, Westover’s best run was his most recent outing behind Hukum in the King George, and he’s a Group 1 winner in France this season.
Weaknesses: Probably wouldn’t want it to be a bog – the very soft ground for last year’s Arc was his only outing in such conditions. Can be keen at times. The concerns about the gap between the King George and the Arc equally apply to Westover.
What they say: Ralph Beckett, trainer: “The weather doesn’t really bother me unless it was going to rain for 48 hours beforehand, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. It was fast ground in Dubai and good to soft in the King George and he handles everything in between. We’re looking forward to it.”
Strengths: Has a bit to find with the best three-year-old in the race, Ace Impact, but is rapidly improving. Won’t be stopping at the end of the race given his proven stamina over further, but was also quick enough to win the Great Voltigeur over a mile and a half on fast ground. He’s trained by Aidan O’Brien and the likely ride of Ryan Moore, so that helps. Won a Group 3 in France last season on very soft ground.
Weaknesses: Will he have recovered sufficiently from the St Leger 15 days on? No horse has won the Doncaster Classic and the Arc in the same season. This is O’Brien, so it can’t be ruled out, but it highlights the enormity of the task. Needs to be supplemented on Wednesday. Finished well behind Ace Impact in the Prix du Jockey Club.
Odds: 6-1 (needs to be supplemented)
What they say: Aidan O’Brien, trainer: “Everything looks good with him at the moment and, if everything remains good up until Wednesday he will probably be supplemented by the sound of what the lads are saying. That’s what I’m thinking will happen. The ground doesn’t matter to him. Whether it’s fast or heavy, it doesn’t really seem to matter. He has form on all sorts of ground.”
Feed The Flame
Strengths: Unlike his fellow French-trained three-year-old Ace Impact, Feed The Flame knows Longchamp very well. Four of his five starts have come at the Parisian track, resulting in three wins and a staying-on second in the Prix Niel. His Grand Prix de Paris win proved his suitability for this mile-and-a-half test and he seems versatile with regards to ground, running well in conditions ranging from very soft to good.
Weaknesses: Is he as good as Ace Impact? He has nearly seven lengths to find on their clash in the Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly. He was also turned over at odds-on in the Niel.
What they say: Pascal Bary, trainer [after the Prix Niel]: “Feed The Flame accelerated well but in the last 100 metres he looked tired and blew very hard afterwards, while I think the winner [Fantastic Moon] is a good horse. He was in among horses for once and I think it will serve as a good preparation, although of course it’s always better to win than be second. Softer ground would be a big help on Arc day.”
Strengths: His best performance came in the Champion Stakes last autumn and he undoubtedly has plenty of class. Conditions will not be fast at Longchamp so are unlikely to be a concern, while he looked somewhere near back to his best when running out a dominant winner of the September Stakes. That race has been used by some great horses, including Enable, as a launchpad for greater days, and it also eased concerns about his suitability for a mile and a half.
Weaknesses: The Arc is often a true test at the distance and the fact Bay Bridge has not run in a Group 1 over the trip is a concern. He’s also not won on his two international trips, including at Longchamp in April, but those performances were not terrible either.
What they say: James Savage, assistant trainer to Sir Michael Stoute: “The plan is to go as long as the ground stays on the easy side. He would go over on Friday morning, he would stay probably in Chantilly, and have a canter at Chantilly before the race.”
The French three-year-olds are to be feared, but Ace Impact is untried over a mile and a half and Feed The Flame might lack the class for an Arc. With conditions likely to be suitable, Bay Bridge is a live contender for Sir Michael Stoute. He peaked last autumn in the Champion Stakes and a similar performance would see him go close.
Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (3.05 Longchamp, Sunday)
bet365: 3-1 Ace Impact, 4 Hukum, 5 Westover, 6 Continuous*, 7 Feed The Flame, 10 Bay Bridge, 16 Simca Mille, Through Seven Seas, 20 bar
*needs to be supplemented