Talking Horses: Dettori’s lapse adds to intrigue of 100th Arc de Triomphe


Some Arcs revolve around whether there is anything to beat the favourite. Others have no obvious favourite at all. It’s a matter of opinion, but personal preference is for the latter and after four years in which, both in victory and defeat, it was all about Enable, this year’s race is shaping up to be a four-cornered affair at the very least.

Snowfall’s unexpected defeat by Teona in the Prix Vermeille was, in some respects, an ideal result with the Arc itself in mind. Frankie Dettori offered an excuse for her below-par performance afterwards – well, he seemed to blame Hollie Doyle for setting too steady a pace – and it is up to individual punters whether or not they accept it.

The fact that Doyle’s mount La Joconde finished third behind Teona and Snowfall does tend to back up the theory that the pace was modest. But it does not really explain why, having sensed that the gallop was not all that it might be, one of the best jockeys of this or any other generation did not respond to the situation and sit a little closer to the lead.

The only near-certainty here is that there will surely be a stronger gallop in the Arc itself on 3 October – while the ground may well be more to Snowfall’s liking too – so backers who keep the faith can now get 5-1, when she was no better than 9-4 on Sunday morning.

Adayar, meanwhile, is now vying for favouritism with Dermot Weld’s mare Tarnawa, having failed to make his intended trial in the Prix Niel as the result of a minor injury. He will go to post as a Derby and King George winner, but available all the same at 3-1 or bigger.

Tarnawa’s supporters will suggest that she was robbed in Saturday’s Irish Champion Stakes, having been carried a long way across the track by the winner, St Mark’s Basilica. And whether or not the stewards got it right, even a close second behind the world’s highest-rated horse is a rock-solid trial for the Arc, since Tarnawa’s very best form is at a mile-and-a-half.

Then there is Hurricane Lane, attempting to do what no horse has ever done and win just three weeks after landing the St Leger. Add in at least two challengers from Japan, including the outstanding mare Chrono Genesis with Oisin Murphy taking the reins, and the 100th running of the Arc should not take much selling to the European racing public.

And yet, it is anyone’s guess how many fans will be there to see it on 3 October, so much so that France Galop issued an urgent appeal to British and Irish fans last week to put the Arc back on their “must do” list. The nagging fear among French racing’s executives is that if a second Arc passes without the traditional 10,000 or 15,000 visiting racegoers, and without a significant number of Japanese fans either, the habit will be broken for good. And since they have recently spent a nine-figure sum on a
magnificent new grandstand, it seems fair to assume the spreadsheets and projections will turn a deep shade of red if spectators do not return in something close to their former numbers.

France Galop argues that getting to Paris and Longchamp in the post-vaccination era is not that much more trouble now than it was in 2019. And having made the trip on Sunday, it is fair to say that they are right – in one direction at least, and for anyone who is fully vaccinated against Covid, there is no extra expense at all, and only the minor issue of a form to download from a French government website to confirm that you have no symptoms of coronavirus.

Coming back, on the other hand, is a little more demanding, in terms of both time and expense. There’s a lateral flow test to get you back into the UK, the PCR test on day two after you return, and a locator form that needs filling in too. But it adds maybe £80 to the (already significant) travel, hotel and entertainment bill for what is, for many, the best weekend of the racing year, and it takes an hour at most to complete all the necessary paperwork.

So whether you are a pre-Covid Arc regular who is still wavering about this year, or perhaps someone who has always wanted to join the annual exodus to Paris but never quite got around to it, there is still time to make it happen this year. Longchamp, believe me, will be waiting with open arms.