THE SWITCH to Chantilly for Sunday’s Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe from the traditional home of Longchamp, which is being refurbished, throws up some interesting questions.
Europe’s richest race promises to be one of the highlights of the Flat season, but how different will the race be run at Chantilly? The Arc is a notoriously rough race where horses can get into more trouble than James Bond especially when drawn out wide.
A low to middle draw is considered advantageous with stalls 4-10 seen as prime spots, but speed from the gate can be just as important as highlighted by the fact that over the last 10 years the winner of the French Derby over an extended 10 furlongs has come from a draw as low as four and as high as 20.
Can anybody beat Postponed? The 2-1 favourite has had a long and hard campaign which began with a Group Two contest in Dubai on March 5 and will prove to be some animal if he stays at his best seven months later, especially after suffering mid-season illness. He hung right when winning the Juddmonte at York and the official ratings suggest he has little in hand - he could be vulnerable.
Have Japan finally found their champion? Ten years ago Japanese hopes were dashed when Deep Impact finished third after being sent off 9-4 favourite and this year his son Makahiki lines up.
The Prix Niel winner has been lined up for the Arc but if you fancy him don’t leave it until the day as the thousands of Japanese who make the pilgrimage to France every year will smash him up on the Paris Mutuel.
Do we forgive Harzand his latest run? The dual Derby winner was sent off the heavily-backed 2-1 favourite the Irish Champion Stakes, but he was one of the first off the bridle and trailed home eighth. Dermot Weld later explained that he had been struck into but he has been in a race against time to get ready and it may be a step too far for him.
I’m still deliberating which way to go and may plump for an each way gamble on Highland Reel who is freely available at 25s despite being a three time Group 1 winner with impressive figures over the Arc trip of 511241.
I will also be supporting the unbeaten Frankel filly Toulifat who will race in the Prix Marcel Boussac (Chantilly 1.45) with a new owner as she will be sold the day before the race and undoubtedly for big money.
Back home the Mark Johnston trained Rainbow Rebel will be looking to make it five wins in a row in the Market Cross Jewellers Handicap (Sat Redcar 5pm), and local connections who are part of Owners Group 004 suggest the Acclamation gelding may still have something to give.
Squats in Ascot’s 3.40 on Saturday looks a good each way bet and jockey Georgia Cox gets on well with the William Haggas trained 4-year-old gelding, having already been booked to ride him in the Totescoop6 Challenge Cup at the same track.
For me The Arc brings back great memories of George Carrigill’s legendary bus trips of the 80s where two charabancs of colourful characters would head to Newmarket’s Cambridgeshire meeting before crossing the channel to Paris.
George’s bus was loaded with thoroughbreds whilst selling platers like me were boxed in bus two under the ‘care’ of George’s charismatic cohort Francis Hamilton, who was definitely more Clark Gable than Reg Varney.
Carrigill’s trips were planned with military precision but one year plans went awry when one of a group from the Tommy Wass pub in Leeds (yes you’ve guessed it bus two) failed to make it back to the bus after the Arc meeting.
Concern grew when this lad, who had never been out of Beeston before let alone Yorkshire, failed to turn up at our central Paris hotel and after a sleepless night and constant liaison with French police (and probably Interpol), George had Longchamp searched at first light.
This exercise proved fruitless and we reluctantly headed for Calais.
This was before mobile phones, and I remember George ringing the pub from a restaurant on Sunday lunchtime in the hope that the landlord would be able to contact loved ones to deliver to bad news.
As it turned out our missing man was sat at the bar having a pint. The intrepid traveller had been overserved and worse for wear had commandeered a taxi to take him to Calais.
Untypically the French taxi driver persuaded him to go to Charles de Gaulle airport and he caught a flight back to Leeds arriving home some 48 hours before we did.
Ah yes, those were the days!
AUGUR’S TIP FOR THE WEEKEND: Chantilly 3.05 Saturday Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe: Highland Reel each way
AUGUR’S ONE TO WATCH: Crackdeloust. Trainer Brian Ellison rates this as one of his best jumpers as we head into the National Hunt season.