Arc weekend: six things we learned from Chantilly

Aidan O’Brien trained the first three home in the Arc on Sunday

  PICTURE: Getty Images  

 By Stuart Riley 1:55PM 3 OCT 2016 

In the aftermath of Chantilly’s first ever Arc weekend, we reflect on six things we learned from France’s premier meeting . . .

Aidan O’Brien is a genius

Okay, we didn’t learn that this weekend, we’ve known for years. But Sunday’s one-two-three in the Arc was the ultimate proof of his training talents and the single greatest achievement of a glittering career.

That he was able to do it with perrenial runner-up Found, the solid but by no means exceptional Highland Reel and staying king Order Of St George is a reflection of the fact this was a below-par renewal, but O’Brien’s ability to peak his horses when it truly matters is exceptional.

He is Europe’s pre-eminent trainer to exactly the degree the result suggests. That all three were sired by Galileo perhaps isn’t as surprising as the fact they were the only three by the sire in the race.

Criquette Head-Maarek saw her worst season saved by National Defense

  PICTURE: Getty Images  

French trainers are struggling

But for Criquette Head-Maarek’s Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere victory with National Defense, French-based trainers would have drawn a blank in the seven Group 1s over the two days. However French failings are not just confined to Arc weekend. National Defense was just Head-Maarek’s third winner of the year. Furthermore, the fact Andre Fabre has won just two Group 1s this year (and one of those was in Germany) compared to O’Brien’s 18 Group/Grade 1 Flat winners worldwide – does not help.

Jean-Claude Rouget, who has swept all before him in France this year with eight Group 1 wins, was unfortunate in losing his Arc horse La Cressonniere to injury in the build up to the race and decided against supplementing Almanzor, who beat Found by three-quarters of a length in the Irish Champion Stakes. He will instead wait for the Champion Stakes on British Champions Day. Victory would give a much-needed boost to his home country.

Postponed, the 2-1 favourite for the Arc, could not land a blow

  PICTURE: Martin Lynch (  

Favourites flopped

Over the two days, comprised almost entirely of Group races, there were just three winning favourites – and one of those was a 1-2 shot in the Arab race. If sticking to the thoroughbred contests only, Doha Dream in the Prix Chaudenay – the first race on the Saturday, and Limato, in the Prix de la Foret – the final race on the Sunday, obliged.

Zarak, Vazirabad, Whitecliffsofdover, So Mi Dar, Postponed and Mecca’s Angel were all turned over at short prices and given all that was made of the difference between Longchamp and Chantilly in the build up, perhaps it was not factored into the betting quite enough.

Position is so important at Chantilly. Ignoring the Abbaye as it is over a straight 5f, not a single winner of a Group 1 travelled more than one wide around Chantilly’s long sweeping home bend. While Found scraped paint and Order Of St George and Highland Reel travelled one off the rail, the better fancied Postponed and Makahiki found themselves three and five wide respectively – and never landed a blow.

Wuheida stepped up from her maiden win to secure a Group 1 triumph

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (  

Classic clues

Both Prix Marcel Boussac winner Wuheida and Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere hero National Defense look the types to have a major impact on next season’s Classics.

After Wuheida’s success Charlie Appleby said: “For me, she was one of the stand-outs in the paddock in terms of a filly going forward to a three-year-old career. She’s a lovely, big, scopey filly and one we’ve always had our eye on as maybe being an Oaks filly.”

As for National Defense, the way he was cruising when all around him were under pressure, and then drew well clear when asked, was scarily similar to the performance Limato produced several hours later and smacked of a classy horse.

Harry Bentley winning the Prix de la Foret on Limato

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (  

Making a name for themselves

A look at the winning jockeys suggests, if not a changing of the guard, then at least some new names who are starting to make their presence felt. Yes the incomparable Ryan Moore won the big prize, and William Buick has been performing at this level for several years, but for George Baker, Pierre-Charles Boudot, Freddie Tylicki, Luke Morris and Harry Bentley it was a wonderful way to cap breakout seasons.

At just 23, Boudot is the coming force in French racing, while for Baker it was a fourth winner at the highest level in the last three years. He is beginning to establish himself at this level. For Bentley and Tylicki, it was proof their first Group 1 successes earlier this year on the same horses were no fluke, and for Morris – as the undisputed hardest-working jockey in the weighing room – it was just reward.

The Arc will also be held at Chantilly in 2017

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker ( 

Change of scene a good thing

The change of location to Chantilly, due to the rebuilding work at Longchamp, was brilliant and it brought another element to the racing – which suited a different type of horse to usual.

Perhaps it is something for racing to consider? Cycling changes its course for the world championships every year, the World Cup is played in different locations and Test match cricket moves venue to provide fresh challenges and conditions.

Why shouldn’t the Arc move around every year? Why shouldn’t all these meetings move around? There is only a limited number of courses capable of hosting such crowds, but why not rotate these major meetings like they do with the Breeders’ Cup?

Horse Racing News | Racing Post

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