Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe favourite Behkabad is reported to be in rude health following his narrow victory in the Prix Niel at Longchamp on Sunday.
The Aga Khan’s colt was treading a familiar path in the recognised trial, with two of the owner’s previous four winners – Sinndar (2000) and Dalakhani (2003) - both landing the Niel en route to Arc glory.
Behkabad now holds sway in the ante-post betting for Europe’s Premier middle-distance prize on October 3 and Georges Rimaud, racing manager for the Aga Khan, has warned there is plenty more in the tank.
“It was a prep race for him and he won it barely, but he did win it and there will be some improvement before the Arc,” said Rimaud.
“The ground was softish but it was not holding and he showed he is able to handle that sort of ground also.
“The ground is not really an issue with him and he has come out of the race absolutely fine.”
As well as Sinndar and Dalakhani, the Aga Khan has also tasted Arc glory with fillies Akiyda (1982) and most recently the brilliant Zarkava (2008).
Both ran in the Prix Vermeille beforehand, with Akiyda finishing second and Zarkava maintaining her unbeaten record, and the owner’s representative in that contest this year was Sarafina.
Although she had to make do with minor honours as she finished fast to grab third behind Midday, she too could line up in the Arc if the owner wishes.
“She was beaten by two four-year-old Group One winners and ran very well,” Rimaud continued.
“She needed the race as she had not run since winning the Prix de Diane in June, so she will be better for having the run.
“She needs to be held back in her races a little bit and that wasn’t really the problem. She may have just lacked a little bit of work and she will improve.
“We’re not sure yet (if she will run in the Arc). This is a question for the Aga Khan and he is looking at the options.
“Right now both horses are entered in the Arc and we could run both of them, but we’ll see.
“We will see how both Behkabad and Sarafina are in the weeks to come and see how they look and make a decision then, although this is their ultimate goal.”
Christophe Lemaire was the man in the saddle in both trials at the weekend and he will have to decide which to ride in the Arc if they both line up.
“Behkabad confirmed his victory in the Grand Prix de Paris by beating Planteur again and it was a good performance,” said Lemaire.
“He likes the 2400 metres (mile and a half) and he had to fight again at the finish, so it was a good trial.
“I hope he will improve as I think Jean-Claude Rouget brought him to Longchamp with a bit of margin left.
“He was a bit fresh and very happy to gallop. I just had to use the whip in the last 150 metres, so I don’t think he had a hard race and we hope that for the Arc he will be 100%.
“It was a comeback for Sarafina and a test of a mile and a half for her.
“I was pleased with her during the race because she settled well. She took the bit a little early in the straight so I had to give her a chance to settle again.
“At the 300 metre post she showed a very good turn of foot and I thought she could fight with Midday but in the last 100 metres, she couldn’t give any more.
“We think it was because she was coming back after a long break, so it was a good performance.
“It is not decided which one I would ride yet if they both run. I think we need to talk to the connections and analyse both performances.
“Then we will decide later on – there is no rush.”
Youmzain, meanwhile, is looking ``better than ever'' ahead of a fourth crack at the big race.
The seven-year-old enjoyed a routine spin at Mick Channon’s base as part of his preparation for Longchamp.
“Youmzain did some light work and we were happy with him. He doesn’t overdo himself and he looks a million dollars – he looks better than he’s ever looked,” said Bruce Raymond, racing manager to owner Jaber Abdullah.
Youmzain has finished second in the Arc for the last three years behind Dylan Thomas, Zarkava and Sea The Stars, and Raymond saw nothing coming out of the trials at the weekend to give him cause for concern.
He said: “He definitely excels round there, he’s a different horse there so I’m sure whatever you’ve seen of him this year you’ll see better at Longchamp.
“I’m surprised they are making such a big do out of Behkabad. It certainly wasn’t impressive. I’d be surprised if he was to beat Youmzain, and I’d hope we’d be able to beat Duncan (winner of the Prix Foy).”
Youmzain is generally available at 20-1 to finally land Europe’s most prestigious middle-distance prize.