International spotlight: 10 storylines for 2023 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe
Sunday’s €5 million Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) is living up to its historic legacy as a fascinating intergenerational clash, pitting current classic winners versus older stars.
As Europe’s fall championship at about 1 1/2 miles, the ParisLongchamp prize often informs the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1). The connection is rightly reflected in the Breeders’ Cup Challenge schedule, with the Arc offering a free berth to the Turf. Moreover, four Group 1s on the undercard are also “Win and You’re In” events for other Breeders’ Cup divisions at Santa Anita.
The promising weather forecast holds out hopes of the ground riding on the better side of good-to-soft, or at least not as soft as Paris can be on the first Sunday in October. As always, though, keep an eye on evolving conditions.
Pending final declarations on Thursday, here are the top 10 storylines for the Arc.
1. Undefeated Ace Impact makes bid for history.
The antepost favorite is unbeaten sophomore Ace Impact, who burst to the forefront with a stunning French Derby (G1) victory. The Jean-Claude Rouget trainee posted a record time of 2:02.63 for the about 1 5/16-mile Chantilly classic, leaving in his wake subsequent Group 1 heroes Feed the Flame and Continuous.
Although Ace Impact was less breathtaking in the Aug. 15 Prix Guillaume d’Ornano (G2), the sedate pace didn’t play to his strengths in a race that was purely a prep. And he still reeled off a :10.92 penultimate furlong to get the job done.
On the other hand, Ace Impact is trying to join a pretty exclusive club of unbeaten Arc winners. The most recent are stellar fillies Treve (2013) and Zarkava (2008). You have to go back another decade to find the last colts to accomplish the feat, Sagamix (1998) and Lammtarra (1995), who was the first since the mighty *Ribot (1955-56) to stay perfect through the Arc.
But Ace Impact doesn’t have quite the same profile. They were all tested over 1 1/2 miles before the Arc, and nearly all had beaten elders already (the lone exception being the forgettable Sagamix). Ace Impact has yet to try the Arc trip, or older horses.
In fact, as a record-setting French Derby winner, Ace Impact is vaguely reminiscent of Rouget’s Sottsass, who lost in his first Arc attempt (third in 2019) but won the next year at four. One difference, aside from Ace Impact’s unbeaten status, is that he prepped earlier at Deauville. Might the added time, compared to the more traditional prep by Sottsass in mid-September of 2019, help Ace Impact’s cause?
2. Hukum and Westover renew rivalry from the King George.
Very few Arc winners have come straight from the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1), but Hukum and Westover are employing that strategy after their thrilling exacta at Ascot. While it’s historically advisable to have a tune-up for the autumn showpiece, perhaps in these particular circumstances, Hukum and Westover are right to roll in fresh.
The King George was a particularly grueling event that came down to a pitched battle between them. Thus it makes sense not to go to the well again too soon, and possibly have it backfire – especially because these two are proven capable of performing off a break. Note that Hukum’s trainer, Owen Burrows, was working in Sir Michael Stoute’s yard when Workforce bucked history to win the 2010 Arc off a King George debacle.
The more interesting question is whether Westover will gain revenge on Hukum in Paris. If so, Westover would give Juddmonte a record-breaking seventh Arc win.
Hukum probably has the advantage if it’s softer; he’s adept on good ground too, but if conditions do end up being on the quicker side, that suits Westover more. And Westover’s past experience is a plus. He tried the Arc last year after flopping in the King George, and ran a respectable sixth on very soft going that undermined him.
Seventeen Arc winners had failed in their initial attempt at the race, according to france-galop.com, and Westover fits the profile as an improver from three to four. Indeed, the Frankel colt did well to run away with the 2022 Irish Derby (G1) while still unfurnished. Flourishing this term for Ralph Beckett, Westover was runner-up to the world’s top-rated horse, Equinox, in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) and went on to set a course record in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (G1).
3. Japan’s Through Seven Seas boasts Equinox form – but can you take it literally?
Equinox would have loomed large here, particularly if he got his preferred quick surface, so how about a progressive mare who came awfully close to him last time out? Through Seven Seas rallied to miss by just a neck to Equinox in the June 25 Takarazuka Kinen (G1) at Hanshin, despite meaningful traffic trouble.
The result has to come with something of an asterisk, since Equinox went comically wide to avoid the worst of a chewed-up course. Nor was jockey Christophe Lemaire exactly asking him for the supreme effort. Also, Through Seven Seas wasn’t viewed as a prime contender going in; on the contrary, she was a 55-1 shot.
Nevertheless, the Carrot Farm colorbearer had been regarded well enough, even before then, to be given an early Arc entry. Trained by Tomohito Ozeki, who’s best known on the international scene for preparing two-time Hong Kong Vase (G1) winner Glory Vase, Through Seven Seas is clearly in the form of her life. The also-ran in two Japanese fillies’ classics in 2021 has blossomed at the age of five, earning her first stakes win in the March 11 Nakayama Himba (G3) with a final 600-meter sectional in :33.8. Through Seven Seas clocked a faster final sectional than Equinox as well (:34.6 versus :34.8), albeit with the aforementioned caveats.
There would be a touch of poetic justice if Through Seven Seas is the one to give Japan a long-coveted Arc trophy. Sire Dream Journey, a two-time Japanese champion, is an older full brother to Orfevre, who came agonizingly close in 2012.
4. Continuous tries to defy historical stat versus St. Leger winners.
Japan has another rooting interest, albeit in a colt trained at Ballydoyle by Aidan O’Brien. Japanese-bred Continuous is by one of Sunday Silence’s exceptional sons, Heart’s Cry. Other than his anomalous eighth behind Ace Impact in the French Derby, Continuous has been reliably high-caliber, and he enters off back-to-back new career highs in the Great Voltigeur (G2) and St Leger (G1).
The Coolmore “lads” are bullish enough to supplement him for the Arc, where he is expected to be the lone Ballydoyle runner. As an upwardly mobile sophomore who’s arguably yet to reach his peak, and impervious to ground conditions, Continuous has obvious appeal.
The sticking point, though, is the negative stat about St Leger winners wheeling back for the Arc; namely, none won. The latest to try for the double in the same year, Hurricane Lane, went close in third in 2021.
It’s a tall order to drop back from the extended 1 3/4-mile test at Doncaster, versus fellow three-year-olds, and face the Continent’s top older horses who have been primed for this. The Arc is literally an add-on to Continuous’s program, and given how O’Brien is a master at building up to the desired target, can he summon another new top on the two-week turnaround?
5. Feed the Flame the forgotten horse?
Hero of the course-and-distance Grand Prix de Paris (G1) on Bastille Day, Feed the Flame blitzed his last 600 meters in :33.78 in a sparkling last-to-first rally. Moreover, that result gives him collateral form with O’Brien’s dual Derby (G1) and Irish Champion (G1) star Auguste Rodin. In the Grand Prix, Feed the Flame beat Adelaide River, who had been a close second to stablemate Auguste Rodin in the Irish Derby. And finishing a solid third in the Grand Prix was Epsom Oaks (G1) winner Soul Sister.
Hence Feed the Flame was bet down to 1-2 favoritism in his Arc prep, the Sept. 10 Prix Niel (G2), only to wind up second to German Derby (G1) star Fantastic Moon. But there were mitigating factors. Feed the Flame’s pacemaker executed his job rather idiosyncratically, allowing Fantastic Moon to work out the advantageous stalking trip. Even so, Feed the Flame was apparently in need of the race and short on fitness. Pascal Bary will have him fine-tuned for the Arc.
But what about his French Derby loss to Ace Impact? It’s worth remembering that Feed the Flame was such a late developer that he wasn’t even nominated at the early closing stage for the French Derby. Connections decided to supplement once he won his first two career starts impressively in April. Thus in that context, his fourth-place effort was full of merit. Now further along the developmental curve, and excelling at the Arc distance, he has a case to turn the tables on Ace Impact.
6. Fantastic Moon among several bringing German form angles.
Fantastic Moon originally was supposed to focus on international ventures further afield, including the Breeders’ Cup or Japan Cup (G1), but the good-ground aficionado could now be supplemented for the Arc in anticipation of sunny weather. His German Derby form was boosted when runner-up Mr Hollywood came back to go close in the Grosser Preis von Baden (G1), beaten only a neck by Zagrey, who’s been chasing Equinox and Westover.
Older horses Simca Mille and Sisfahan likewise bring a German form angle to bear, having served up the exacta in the Grosser Preis von Berlin (G1). The 2021 edition of that Berlin feature famously produced the next two winners of the Arc. Berlin runner-up Torquator Tasso went on to win the Grosser Preis von Baden en route to upsetting the Arc, while Berlin heroine Alpinista would go on to score in Paris in 2022.
French-based Simca Mille has course-and-distance credentials, as the near-misser to Onesto in last year’s Grand Prix de Paris and later victorious in that fall’s Prix Niel. Onesto appeared back in business with a sneaky fourth in the Prix Jacques le Marois (G1), his belated comeback at a metric mile, but he disappointed last time out in the Irish Champion. If at his best, Onesto has sleeper potential.
Sisfahan has back class from his 2021 sophomore campaign, when he landed the German Derby, placed second to Torquator Tasso in Baden-Baden, and finished third to Alpinista in the Preis von Europa (G1). Only seventh behind Yibir in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Del Mar, Sisfahan picked up an injury, and he hasn’t been the same force since. Yet his strong second to Simca Mille two back in Berlin hints that he’s not totally out of it.
7. Place du Carrousel the femme fatale for Arc maestro Fabre?
Eight-time Arc winner Andre Fabre, whose total is twice that of his nearest pursuers in the record book, has set Place du Carrousel for Sunday’s renewal. She sports the distaff angle that has been so successful historically, and especially in recent years, with eight of the last 12 Arcs going to the fairer sex.
Place du Carrousel upset last year’s Prix de l’Opera (G1) on Arc Day, and resumed in the spring with a subdued fifth behind Iresine, Simca Mille, and Bay Bridge in the Prix Ganay (G1). But she’s come to hand in late summer to win her past two over males. Significantly, she warmed up with a course-and-distance win in the Sept. 10 Prix Foy (G2), dethroning hot favorite Iresine (who can’t run in the Arc as a gelding). That form reversal from the Ganay offers the tantalizing thought that she could mix it up better with Bay Bridge and Simca Mille here.
8. Bay Bridge a finely-brewed Stoute?
A premier 1 1/4-mile operator last season, Bay Bridge is best remembered for winning the 2022 Champion (G1) at Ascot, where hitherto unbeaten Baaeed wound up fourth in his anticlimactic career finale. The Stoute veteran went winless at that distance in his first three starts of 2023, coming nearest when beaten a half-length by O’Brien’s high-class Luxembourg at the Curragh.
But a stretch-out to 1 1/2 miles in Kempton’s September (G3) revealed a new dimension. Bay Bridge utterly demolished them in good time over the Polytrack and thrust himself into the Arc reckoning. While he prefers a bit of ease in the ground, chances are it won’t be rattling too fast for him.
It would be extraordinary if Bay Bridge can defeat Hukum in the Arc, after upstaging his brother Baaeed in the Champion. That’s not only because he’d be the bete noire for two famous brothers. You have to go back to *Migoli to find a horse who won both the Champion (1947) and the Arc (1948).
9. Free Wind a fairy tale for Dettori – and Galileo?
Frankie Dettori, the Arc’s all-time leading jockey with six wins, would love to add one more on his farewell tour. His likely mount, the mare Free Wind, will also try to deliver for trainer John Gosden and her late sire, Galileo. If she can summon a career-best to surprise the more logical players, Gosden would rack up a fourth Arc, putting him in a tie for second behind Fabre on the trainers’ list. Galileo would equal the record of siring three winners, a feat achieved by Bruleur in the Arc’s formative years about a century ago.
Free Wind has displayed both class and toughness in her marquee wins versus distaffers at the Group 2 level, and she was possibly a shade unlucky to miss in her lone Group 1 attempt in the Yorkshire Oaks (G1) last out. Dettori rued the traffic that kept him strung up while Warm Heart made the winning move; Warm Heart followed up with a similarly gritty decision in the Prix Vermeille (G1). Yet Free Wind needs to step up on that form, and her lackluster fifth versus males in the Hardwicke (G2) at Royal Ascot, to threaten here.
10. Sea the Stars seeks to join Arc-winning sires’ club.
Galileo’s sublime half-brother, Sea the Stars, went out in a blaze of glory in the 2009 Arc. Their dam, 1993 Arc winner Urban Sea, is firmly in the pantheon as a blue hen.
Now Sea the Stars, as the sire of Hukum, could join the exclusive club of Arc winners to sire an Arc winner. Only six Arc heroes have done so, the latest father-son tandem being Montjeu (1999) and Hurricane Run (2005). Sea the Stars is also the paternal grandsire of Fantastic Moon, a son of Sea the Moon, and the broodmare sire of Onesto.
If Hukum can prevail, he’d become an unprecedented third-generation Arc winner, following Sea the Stars and Urban Sea.