By Ron Flatter
PARIS – It sure felt important today when they drew for post positions for Sunday’s $6.7 million Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
There were expensive suits and ties and dresses here at Longchamp Racecourse. There were canapés and champagne. Executives came adorned with imposing-sounding job titles. Behind a podium that may have been rescued from a game show, a player from the French women’s national soccer team helped draw jumbo ping-pong balls in front of a giant HD screen, every move being shown live on France’s racing TV channel.
But if it was all so important, where was the team looking after Trêve? She is, after all, just the 11-to-10 favorite for Europe’s richest race. The 5-year-old mare targeting an unprecedented third consecutive Arc victory drew number 8 in the field of 18. Statistically, it is not ideal, but it is pretty close.
“It doesn’t mean much on that course,” trainer Criquette Head-Maarek said. “The first year Trêve won the Arc, she was sent out (to gate 15), she had the worse race you can have on that course, and she won. Last year she was on the rail and she won.”
Head-Maarek actually said all that Thursday. Today, while the party went on and the ping-pong balls were unscrewed like plastic containers of nylons, Head-Maarek was doing what she does nearly every day – training her horses up the road at her home base in Chantilly.
Without her, it was left to her husband, racing journalist Gilles Maarek, and Rupert Pritchard-Gordon, the manager of Al Shaqab’s operation in France, to represent owner Sheikh Joaan and the rest of the team. As for Trêve’s rivals, they did as all connections do worldwide: praised the luck of a good draw or declared a bad one to be a non-factor.
“It was actually a very good draw for this kind of horse,” jockey Stéphane Pasquier said after getting post 4 for Erupt (33-to-1), a 3-year-old colt by the top sire Dubawi and with a Group 1 win at Longchamp. “He can travel close without having to do much effort over the first part. I’ll just have to follow Trêve and New Bay and pass them for the winning post.”
Since 17 of the last 21 Arc winners drew one of the inside seven gates, Pasquier and Erupt have the numbers on their side, not to mention less of a grind up the hill that opens the 1½-mile race. Found (25-to-1), a 3-year-old filly by Galileo, was not so fortunate. She drew 15.
“We have had better draws,” said Mathieu Legars, who represents Found’s powerful owner Coolmore. “But at the same time, Ryan Moore is back (to riding after a neck injury). He’s in good form. So the 15 hole gives you a good chance of putting the filly wherever you want in the race. Trêve won from the 15 (in 2013), so we’ll see.”
Trêve has been a trend buster in the Arc. After defying her outside draw two years ago, she overcame age and weight last year. She was only the third horse over 3 years old to win the Arc in its last 11 runnings. That extra year of age also brings with it eight extra pounds.
“Good 3-year-olds usually have the edge in the Arc,” said Claude Beniada representing Juddmonte Farms. Sheikh Khalid Abdullah’s stable may have the best hand coming in with 3-year-old New Bay (5-to-1), winner of his last three, and 4-year-old Flintshire (20-1), last year’s Arc runner-up and the impressive winner in August of the Grade 1 Sword Dancer on Travers day at Saratoga.
“Flintshire won like we expected him to win,” Beniada said. “He won like he should win if he was to have a chance in the Arc. He has a very decent draw with number 11. He’s a fighter. He’s a warrior. Yes, he has a very good chance.”
Golden Horn (5-to-1), a 3-year-old colt that has two wins and a second against older horses in his last three races, got stuck with the number 14 post for three-time Arc-winning jockey Frankie Dettori and English trainer John Gosden, whose 4-year-old colt Eagle Top (50-to-1) drew better at 3. Like Head-Maarek, though, Gosden and his team stayed home.
As if the draw and age were not enough, here are two more sets of numbers to consider. The winners of the last four Arcs have been female, and 24 of the last 29 won their last prep before the first Sunday in October.
So the perfect Arc horse then is a 3-year-old filly that draws inside and comes in on a winning streak. The number of horses that tick all those boxes this year: zero.
Perhaps Head-Maarek crystallized this analysis the day before the draw when she said, “You look at the numbers, but I’m not really concerned.”
Photos by Ron Flatter
1. The Arc post draw is complete at Longchamp as overseen by (from left) French national soccer player Laure Boulleau, emcee and journalist Liz Price and France Galop executive François Boulard.
2. Food for the midday gathering at the post draw for the Arc.
3. François Boulard (left), France Galop executive, and Gilles Maarek, husband of trainer Criquette Head-Maarek, as Trêve draws post 8 for the Arc.
4. A terrace at Longchamp Racecourse in Paris, empty on Friday but it will be full the next two days for Arc weekend.