2022 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe: 10 storylines to know

September 26th, 2022

Europe’s richest race, the €5 million Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1), is the centerpiece of a fantastic Sunday at ParisLongchamp. Six Group 1 events – including “Win and You’re In” contests in five Breeders’ Cup races – make it a must-see attraction for international racing fans.

Aside from the weather, a perennial topic of discussion for the Arc, here are 10 storylines involving the main contenders.

1. Luxembourg’s remarkable recovery to Arc favoritism

When Aidan O’Brien’s longtime Derby (G1) favorite was ruled out of Epsom with an injury, he was up against it to make the Arc, let alone arrive in Paris as the favorite. Yet that’s just what Luxembourg has done, hitting the targets that O’Brien methodically laid out for him.

Luxembourg used the Royal Whip (G3), where he was far from fit but still scraped home, to bring him on for the Irish Champion (G1). Thriving on a tough training regimen ahead of Irish Champions Weekend, Luxembourg indeed improved the 20-30% that his trainer had forecast. He bested top French colts Onesto and Vadeni at Leopardstown, and took over the mantle of Arc favoritism.

Now the question is how much more Luxembourg will have to offer in the Arc. Another move forward is likely on the step up to about 1 1/2 miles, since the son of Camelot is bred to excel at the European classic distance. The rub is that no horse since Saumarez (1990) has won the Arc in his first attempt over the trip. Of course, if not for his spring setback, Luxembourg would have been a proven commodity.

2. Can Onesto or Vadeni turn the tables?

Onesto, on the other hand, scored his signature win at this course and distance in the Grand Prix de Paris (G1). Only beaten a half-length in the Irish Champion off a freshening, Onesto has claims to reverse form on the change in venue, and in his major objective.

Vadeni, the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) (G1) and Eclipse (G1) hero, has yet to try this distance. In the immediate aftermath of his third in the Irish Champion, trainer Jean-Claude Rouget indicated that the Aga Khan homebred would not go to the Arc, preferring to stick to 1 1/4 miles in the Oct. 15 Champion (G1) at Ascot. But then the plan changed, and Vadeni was rerouted here, with the view that the ground would be better for him in Paris.

The forecast has since called that hope into question. The amount of rain that materializes could be detrimental to his chances. Soft going at Leopardstown was believed to have blunted his acceleration, although a checkered passage didn’t help. Deep ground in the Arc would subject Vadeni to an even more rigorous stamina test. If conditions turn adverse, connections may yet revert to the original idea of Ascot.

Rouget already has another sophomore contender in Al Hakeem, coming off a new career high in the Prix Guillaume d’Ornano (G2). While he faces the same distance question, Rouget has compared him in the past to Sottsass, who won the 2020 Arc (but as a four-year-old). If the Sottsass parallel holds, Al Hakeem would place on Sunday.

3. Torquator Tasso’s back to defend his title – but with Dettori

One year after springing a stunning upset in the 100th Arc, Germany’s Torquator Tasso will bid to make more history as a two-time winner. That honor roll is brief – Ksar (1921-22), Motrico (1930 and 1932), Corrida (1936-37), Tantieme (1950-51), Ribot (1955-56), Alleged (1977-78), Treve (2013-14), and Enable (2017-18).

Torquator Tasso reveled on heavy going in the 2021 Arc, so plenty of rain would be a welcome sight. He does act on better ground as well, as evidenced by his fine second in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1) on good-to-firm at Ascot. Although overturned in his title defense in the Grosser Preis von Baden (G1), Torquator Tasso was compromised by the race shape in a four-horse field.

That loss does reflect, however, a noteworthy difference from last year. His Arc-winning rider, Rene Piechulek, is the stable jockey for rival Mendocino. Piechulek guided Mendocino to beat “Tasso” at Baden-Baden, and they’ll re-oppose him in the Arc. Frankie Dettori picked up the mount on Tasso that day, and as the Arc’s leading jockey with six wins, he might have learned something to put to use here.

4. Alpinista’s seven-race winning streak on the line

Another difference for Torquator Tasso is the presence of the streaking British mare Alpinista. The last horse to beat him going into the 2021 Arc, Alpinista did not try her luck in Paris then, but she stayed in training for this precise purpose.

Trained by the crafty Sir Mark Prescott, the Kirsten Rausing homebred earned her first Group 1 win at Tasso’s expense in last summer’s Grosser Preis von Berlin (G1). She plundered two more German majors that season, the Preis von Europa (G1) and Grosser Preis von Bayern (G1), and extended her skein in her July 3 reappearance in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (G1). Alpinista made it seven in a row in the Yorkshire Oaks (G1), and as her winning habit hints, she handles a wide range of conditions.

5. Japan tries again with a quartet led by Titleholder

Japan’s longstanding quest for the Arc has come up short, at times agonizingly so. A four-strong squad, led by Titleholder, aims to erase that stat.

Titleholder looms as a potent pace presence. Proven at much longer distances, as the front-running hero of the 2021 Kikuka Sho (Japanese St Leger) (G1) and the May 1 Tenno Sho Spring (G1), he shortened up to about 1 3/8 miles in the Takarazuka Kinen (G1) and pounced in record time. Titleholder has won on less than firm surfaces at home, but Japanese “good” isn’t the degree of soft he might encounter here.

Compatriot Deep Bond struggled on the going in last year’s Arc, trailing home last, after winning the local prep, the Prix Foy (G2), in much quicker conditions. This time, he enters fresh off a fourth to Titleholder in the Takarazuka Kinen. Both are coming off a longer layoff than historically works in the Arc.

In contrast, the other two hopefuls did use French stepping stones. Japan’s top sophomore, Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) (G1) star Do Deuce, ran a useful fourth in the Prix Niel (G2) that didn’t set up for him pace-wise. The race shape of the Arc should suit him much better, if not for ground concerns. Jockey Yutaka Take reported that the son of Heart’s Cry was feeling his way on the unfamiliar, soft going in the Niel.

Stay Foolish, trained by Breeders’ Cup-winning horseman Yoshito Yahagi, tuned up with a second in the Aug. 28 Grand Prix de Deauville (G2). Some way below the top tier in Japan, he used his tactical speed to win a pair of staying events in the Middle East earlier this campaign – the Red Sea Turf H. (G3) on Saudi Cup Day and the Dubai Gold Cup (G2) on World Cup night.

6. Australia's Verry Elleegant rounding into form - if she can get in

Verry Elleegant also would like to seek a landmark victory for her part of the world. The New Zealand-bred mare has risen to stardom in Australia, with 11 Group 1 laurels including last year’s Melbourne Cup (G1). But after Monday's first forfeit stage for the Arc, she could be on the outside looking in as 27 remain in contention.

Now French-trained since joining Francis-Henri Graffard, Verry Elleegant is stealthily rounding into form. The seven-year-old badly needed the race when last of seven, but not beaten far, in a nearly merry-go-round Prix Jean Romanet (G1). She moved forward with a close third in the Prix Foy, where she wound up in front in a paceless race.

Third off the layoff, Verry Elleegant could be poised to improve again, so connections have decided to supplement her for the Arc. Yet the overflow number of horses standing their ground at this point is a complication, as reported by Racing Post and Paris-Turf. Unless others withdraw over the course of the week, or French authorities decide to allow more than 20 to enter, she would be left out. Tuesday update: France Galop confirmed that the 20-horse maximum will remain in force, so Verry Elleegant will need defections.

Wednesday update: Since Verry Elleegant was at high risk of being left out of the Arc, connections ended up declaring her for Saturday's Prix de Royallieu (G1) versus fellow distaffers instead. They could wait no longer upon events; the Saturday card is finalized Wednesday, and they could not declare for two different races at that final stage. At least she is assured of running in the Royallieu. 

Verry Elleegant’s collateral form, through British globetrotter Addeybb and ill-fated 2019 Epsom Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck, would have put her in the Arc mix, and she goes well on soft. Antipodean runners have held their own here in the past, notably Balmerino, the runner-up in 1978; So You Think, fourth (when trained by O’Brien) in 2011; and Strawberry Road, fifth in 1984.

7. Adayar returns older and wiser – if the ground is good

Last year’s Epsom Derby and King George hero remained on the sidelines for most of 2022, until resurfacing with an easy conditions race score at Doncaster Sept. 8. The Godolphin homebred only had two overmatched rivals to dispatch, but he did it in grand style to enter Arc calculations.

Adayar was a respectable fourth in the 2021 Arc, despite being too headstrong early, especially in that ground. An older, wiser colt can go a lot closer on Sunday. Trainer Charlie Appleby wants to avoid very soft going, though, so his participation hinges on the weather.

Tuesday update: Adayar has been ruled out of the Arc in favor of a tilt at the Champion at Ascot. 

8. Gosdens call an audible with Mishriff

Unlike recent years with such standouts as Enable and Golden Horn (2015), the Gosden yard has been on the periphery in the build-up to Sunday. That could change, though. On Monday’s first forfeit stage, John and Thady Gosden unexpectedly left in their globetrotting money-spinner Mishriff as well as Mostahdaf.

Although Mishriff is winless so far this campaign, the multiple Group 1 veteran has placed a few times. Missing narrowly to Vadeni in a troubled Eclipse, he was a slow-starting third in the King George, best of the rest behind the unbeaten Baaeed in the Juddmonte International (G1), and a staying-on fourth in the Irish Champion. The Breeders’ Cup has been in the mix for his career finale, but until Monday, the Arc wasn’t in his publicized plans. Connections are relying on the weather to cooperate, since he will not want the ground too soft. 

Mostahdaf carries the Arc hopes of the Shadwell Stable team, rather than fellow homebred Baaeed, who concludes his phenomenal career in Ascot’s Champion. On an upward curve at this time last year, Mostahdaf sustained losses over the summer, but roared back convincingly in the September (G3) on Kempton’s Polytrack.

9. Westover reaches for Workforce analogy

A smashing classic winner for Juddmonte flops in the King George, then restores his reputation with a dramatic victory in the Arc. That sums up Workforce, the record-setting Epsom Derby romper of 2010 who lost the plot at Ascot and rebounded in Paris. Current Juddmonte runner Westover hopes to reprise the theme, if with a different accent.

Unlike Workforce, Westover was a troubled third at Epsom. The Ralph Beckett pupil instead earned his classic stripes at the Curragh, where he crushed the Irish Derby (G1). Westover’s bid for the King George was ruined by going too fast early. His failure to settle was taken as a sign of being over the top.

Now rejuvenated by a holiday, Westover will try to make the proverbial lightning strike twice. He reunites with original rider Rob Hornby, aboard for his first Group tally in the Sandown Classic Trial (G3).

10. Fabre flying under the radar

As the Arc’s all-time top trainer with eight wins, Andre Fabre can be expected to have worthy prospects. Yet his best runners aren’t here. Baratti, runner-up to Alpinista at Saint-Cloud, unfortunately is retired with an injury. Botanik, who reeled in Stay Foolish at Deauville, is ineligible as a gelding.

Such is the depth of Fabre’s yard that he is still in contention with Mare Australis. While the lightly-raced five-year-old was a subpar seventh behind Alpinista last out, he fits on his best day as the winner of the 2021 Prix Ganay (G1) and the June 5 Grand Prix de Chantilly (G2). In the latter, he defeated Bubble Gift and Mendocino.

Fabre has a second contender in True Testament, if he can get in. Third versus fellow three-year-olds in the Guillaume d’Ornano and Prix Niel (G2), he is in the same boat as Verry Elleegant, in danger of not getting into the field as it stands.