By Duane Fonseca
After a great deal of consideration and reconsideration, supplementing and withdrawals and everything else that can possibly go right and wrong in between, 15 runners are poised to line up for the 2023 running of the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at ParisLongchamp on Sunday.
Europe’s showpiece middle-distance contest has as much to do with the weather as with pedigree, with climatic conditions prevalent in the French capital in the days leading up to the race and of course those on race day having a big say in determining who will Triomphe (excuse the pun!).
This year is pretty much the same. However, with things looking brighter, sunnier to be more precise with sporadic cloud cover tipped to be the order of the day, le Arc might pan out as a race whose finish works itself into a free-for-all with wide-ranging possibilities rather than one where the final furlong is turned into a match-race.
Winning or losing in sport is most often a matter of having a good or bad day at the office. Particularly in horse racing when track conditions are deemed good, with no cut in the ground to aid a few and go against the rest. Like the predicted ground for ParisLongchamp this weekend.
It’s no wonder then that Ace Impact has been installed as the clear favourite for the autumn feature.
Jean-Claude Rouget’s charge tops the six-strong French contingent that bid to bring the trophy back home, after all the 3yo Cracksman colt, who was unraced as a juvenile, has a short but impeccable five from five career record, which includes a commanding three and a half length victory in the Group 1 Qatar Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) at Chantilly in June; a race in which he beat the formidable Big Rock, who failed to fire once he exploded in the straight.
Rouget will relish the prospect of a second Arc, especially since he was the last Frenchman to lay his hands on one after Sottsass’ grit helped him prevail in truly heavy conditions in the 2020 renewal.
This year’s contender Ace Impact carries solid form into the race and has won on just about all kinds of ground. He landed the Prix du Jockey Club on a surface deemed good, the Prix Jacques Dogny, a conditions event at Bordeaux, on heavy ground and most recently the Group 2 Prix Guillaume d’Ornano at Deauville on a surface that was good to soft. Rouget’s versatile ward has furthermore enjoyed a month off to freshen up which means Cristian Demuro, who partnered Sottsass in the Arc, should have a very potent horse under him as he looks to double his race tally.
Another strong home contender is the Pascal Bary-schooled Feed The Flame, who moved through the gears effortlessly when winning the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris over trip and strip in July but then, in an effort to be regain some condition on a drop down in grade, was second in the Group 2 Qatar Prix Niel, again over course and distance.
The Kingman colt does have what it takes to upset his Derby conqueror, with his sharp turn of foot his greatest asset, as was showcased at Sunday’s venue not so long ago.
Among the others in a strong home team are Stephane Wattel’s Group 1 Westminster 133rd Grosser Preis von Berlin champ Simca Mille, Adrien Fouassier’s Group 3 Prix d’Hedouville winner Haya Zark, Onesto, who won the 2022 Grand Prix de Paris for Fabrice Chappet, and Andre Fabre’s Group 2 Prix Foy heroine Place Du Carrousel.
The main threat to Ace Impact from among the British trained horses is likely to hail from Hukum, trained by Owen Burrows for Shadwell, while Juddmonte’s Ralph Beckett-conditioned Westover, last year’s Irish Derby winner, was second in the top-class Longines Dubai Sheema Classic in March.
The pair traded blows during the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Qipco Stakes at Ascot in July, eventually won by the brilliant Hukum, who somehow managed to find more when put under severe pressure by his rival in the final furlong.
Running close twice combined with a couple of top-tier wins puts Westover in a strong position too, particularly since his last Group 1 scalp was on French soil in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, where he beat Zagrey who went on to win the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Baden in Germany earlier this month.
Other names representing Britain include Sir Michael Stoute’s Qipco Champions Stakes winner Bay Bridge, and Free Wind, winner of the Group 2 Middleton Fillies’ Stakes at York for joint trainers John and Thady Gosden.
The indomitable Frankie Dettori is likely to ride in the race for the last time aboard the latter.
Legendary Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien has supplemented St Leger winner Continuous as he searches for a third victory, while his countrywoman Jessica Harrington’s yard is served by Group 3 Derby Trial Stakes winner and eventual Epsom Derby fourth Sprewell.
Representing Germany are the Henk Grewe-trained pair Sisfahan and Mr Hollywood, who was a brave runner-up in the Grosser Preis von Baden on his last start, while Tomohito Ozeki’s Through Seven Seas will look to end Japan’s hunt for an elusive first title, however they all face a stiff task upsetting Ace Impact.