Zark de Triomphe

ANTICIPATION and expectation gave way to awe and amazement as the incredible Zarkava confirmed herself a genuine champion with a stunning success in the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp yesterday.

Wins over a mile, a mile and quarter and a mile and a half have come alike to Alain de Royer-Dupre’s three-year-old since she arrived on the scene with a Group One win on this card 12 months ago.

Owned by the Aga Khan, Zarkava has built up a faultless CV with victories in the French 1000 Guineas and Oaks and she gave her career record a gilt-edged appearance when slaying older colts in the autumn showpiece.

She had propelled herself to favouritism when overcoming a worryingly slow start with a stylish last-to-first success in the Prix Vermeille three weeks ago, and despite concerns over the rain-softened ground she retained that position to the off.

The trouble in the gate many had predicted never came, although the 13-8 favourite failed to keep a straight line leaving the stalls under Christophe Soumillon, who did pretty well to stay in the plate.

From box one the ice-cool rider settled her on the rail and started to weave a passage once in the home run.

Her rivals parted like the Red Sea at the required moment and the Aga Khan’s famous green and red silks majestically swept into the lead inside the final furlong.

Solider Of Fortune and It’s Gino had been doing battle at the head of affairs but were left standing as Zarkava swept past to become filly since Urban Sea in 1993 to win the race, and the first three-year-old of the female division to score since 1982.

Mick Channon’s Youmzain had a rough passage and flashed home two lengths away to take the runner-up honours for the second year running, while Solider Of Fortune and It’s Gino dead-heated for third.

Royer-Dupre, following up Dalakhani’s success in 2003, said: “My reaction is that it is so great to train a filly who has so much talent and is so good.

“It is marvellous and I was very confident during all of the race, expect for the start where she didn’t go straight but after that it was OK.

“Every day you are anxious in case she has a problem or if something goes wrong. She is a filly who can be a little bit nervous sometimes, but I have a very good assistant who looks after her well.

“From the beginning of the week I felt she would go well but you are always afraid of a last-minute accident.

“When I saw the filly in the parade I was very confident as she was very strong and I was thinking everything is OK, and she didn’t pull as hard going to the start as she did last time.

“I can’t say she doesn’t like soft ground, but she was racing against older colts who go on soft ground better.”

Soumillon was ecstatic after the win, throwing his riding helmet into the crowd and even treating the Parisian racegoers to a Frankie Dettori-style flying dismount.

Referring to he slow start in the Vermeille, he said: “Journalists often try and find a weakness in champions but this filly has no weakness. She has a temper but you need a temper to be a champion.

“She gave me a similar feeling to Dalakhani and I think he is the only horse who might have defeated her. She is an outstanding filly and will remain in my memory for the rest of my life.

“I was not worried about her making a mistake and she didn’t jump slowly today.

“It was the greatest moment of my like when she came into the straight going so easily, just like Dalakhani. They are two champions who will be in my life forever.”

For the Aga Khan the result was a massive boost for his breeding operation, with the unbeaten daughter of Zamindar related to his family’s champion Petite Etoile.

His Highness said: “This is as well as you can do in breeding thoroughbreds. After nearly 90 years of breeding in the family this is a remarkable occasion.”

Aidan O’Brien said of Soldier Of Fortune and seventh home Duke Of Marmalade: “I’m not using the ground as an excuse, they’ve both run good races. They both have plenty of options and we’ll see what happens.”

Duke Of Marmalade’s rider Johnny Murtagh added: “The ground was fine for us and I am not using that as an excuse.”

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