By Ron Flatter
From the writer’s desk in Paris
She has the great stallion Galileo in her bloodlines. That’s her grandsire. And since Galileo’s daddy Sadler’s Wells is also on her dam side, names like Northern Dancer and Nearctic are prominent on both the top and bottom of her pedigree.
But Enable might even have a little bit of cat in her.
The story goes that the morning after she won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), she was being led out of her barn at Churchill Downs to be loaded onto a trailer and start her trip back home to England. That is when her trainer John Gosden saw a familiar face from his ’80s days at Santa Anita.
John Sadler had also won the day before with Accelerate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. As the two of them were having a brief catch-up, Gosden told Sadler to pay attention as Enable walked across the pavement.
They listened. And they heard … nothing.
“There was no sound at all,” Sadler said. “She was that light on her feet.”
Reminded of that story last week, Gosden was cat-quick himself.
“Very smooth, a very smooth mover,” he said. “She has a very long, low, even stride. She doesn’t waste a lot of energy. She doesn’t slap them down, that’s for sure.”
That efficiency of movement has helped Enable become the world’s top-ranked Thoroughbred. Her run at history will reach a noisy climax Sunday afternoon, when they hold Europe’s richest race – the $5.47 million Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) – for the 98th time. And for the first time the race may have a three-time winner.
In probably her last race before becoming a broodmare, Enable should be an odds-on favorite. Digesting her career record of 13-for-14 and a dozen wins in a row including 10 Group/Grade 1s, bettors had her at 8-11 in midweek, ante-post markets here in Europe. This came as Enable and 11 challengers formed the smallest Arc field in 12 years.
“She doesn’t know that,” said Lord Teddy Grimthorpe, the longtime racing manager for Enable’s owner, Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms. “Well, she probably doesn’t know that. I think there’s a lot of sentiment in some of the people backing this filly. There is a wave of good will that everyone at Juddmonte has had with her in what has been a pretty exceptional year.”
There is no doubt 2019 has gone more smoothly than 2018 did for Enable.
An operation to fix a blood vessel that burst behind her knee left her out of races for 11 months after she won the 2017 Arc. Then she spiked a fever after a minor, comeback win last September. She still became the only horse to put together an Arc-Breeders’ Cup double, but Gosden said that Enable was no better than 85 percent of her normal self.
Her jockey – the ageless, now 48-year-old Frankie Dettori – knew that 85 percent of Enable was still better than anyone else could put on the soft grass last fall at Churchill Downs.
“I was just waiting for her to give me the message that she was ready to go,” Dettori said that day. “When I asked, ‘Come on, baby, let’s go,’ she went a half-length up. I knew then that she was fighting for me. She’s a superstar.”
Enable has certainly lived up to that description and all the high expectations of her this year.
Held out of Royal Ascot in order to focus on winning a third straight Arc, Enable found herself in a pair of rematches with Magical, winning the Eclipse Stakes (G1) by three-quarters of a length in July at Sandown and leaving her 2¾ lengths behind six weeks ago in the Yorkshire Oaks (G1). In between she and former world No. 1 Crystal Ocean put on Europe’s race of the year with Enable prevailing by just a neck in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (G1) at Ascot.
“In all my career it is probably the hardest and most hard-fought race I’ve ever had,” Dettori said after that eyeball-to-eyeball showdown down the stretch. “Not only is she a super mare, she showed what a courageous will to win she has. I don’t want too many races like that. I’m absolutely exhausted. She is unbeaten for two years. I’m carrying the pressure of the nation.”
That day it was Great Britain. Now it is fair to say that the pressure is coming from across Europe and beyond. Since the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities finally saw fit to promote her to No. 1, Enable now carries the burden of expectations from around the Thoroughbred world.
However that may manifest itself Sunday, this script is likely to say “fin” before next month at Santa Anita.
Connections have long said that the Arc would be it for Enable.
When asked about the possibility of the Breeders’ Cup and a possible repeat next month in the Turf, Grimthorpe laughed, knowing full well that he was going to hear that question from an American reporter.
“You never say no with any of those things,” he said. “Nothing’s been said. The answer is that Prince Khalid will decide after the race, but not immediately after the race.”
Between the lines, that says there will be no Hollywood sunset for Enable. Instead, the plan is for her to make her farewell on an autumn Sunday in the Bois de Boulogne. And for Grimthorpe and Co., the hope is that she does it as the first three-time winner of Europe’s most prestigious race.
Then she can get back to the barn, and resume walking on little cat’s feet.