Amid all sorts of absences, Alpinista can be the Arc angel

A maximum field of 20 go to post and unusually the top five in the market all hail from different countries
Amid all sorts of absences, Alpinista can be the Arc angel

GREY DAY: Alpinista got the better of Tuesday in the Yorkshire Oaks to stretch her winning sequence to seven. Victory in Sunday's Arc would crown the career of her trainer Mark Prescott. Picture: Healy Racing

If a horse race was confectionary, then Sunday’s Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (3.05pm) would be a big bag of dolly mixtures with all sorts of outcomes possible. Europe’s greatest Flat race has existed for over a century, but seldom has the contest been as laden with uncertainty and the result this year is as predictable as the value of sterling on international currency exchanges.

Much of the intrigue is a by-product of some great horses that won’t run and whose absence ensures a more open and democratic race. The brilliant and still unbeaten American colt Flightline was always going to stay home for the Breeders' Cup Classic, while Desert Crown suffered a season-ending injury after his Derby win.

Baaeed’s connections, disappointingly, have prioritised the likely easy pickings of the Ascot Champion Stakes over the immortality available at Longchamp and the talented Group 1 winners Pyledriver and Hukum are also significant absentees.

Additionally, France Galop have rated the multiple Group 1 Australian mare Verry Elleegant at just 113, too low to secure a run. She had been sent north specifically to be prepared for the Arc and her new trainer, Francis-Henri Graffard, is far from pleased. “The French authorities have put us in a very bad situation and I'm ashamed by their reaction,” he said on Wednesday. “I'm sure this will cost horses being sent to France by foreign owners in the future.” 

While the quality of the race is diluted by these absences the quantity of possibilities remains strong.  A maximum field of 20 go to post and unusually the top five in the market all hail from different countries.

Luxembourg is the strongest of the two Irish contestants, Alpinista heads the English challenge while Torquator Tassor bids for a German repeat. Vadeni leads a weakish-looking home team and Titleholder could be the horse that at last breaks the seal on this race for Japan.

Winning the Arc has become a national obsession in Japanese racing circles and given their huge investment in high-grade breeding stock from Europe and America it is now a matter of when, not if they reach their holy grail. They’ve hit the bar with El Condor Pasa, Deep Impact, and Orfevre in recent years and there are solid reasons to believe that Titleholder will be the one to finally plant the rising sun flag on the summit of international racing. He comes into the race on a streak of three wins, including the Japanese Leger over two miles. He was then dropped down a half a mile to win another Group 1 next time out, clearly demonstrating that he has both the stamina and tactical speed necessary for tomorrow’s contest.

Vadeni has a significant stamina question to answer. His intended autumn target was the 10-furlong Champion Stakes but his trainer, Jean-Claude Rouget, pulled a sudden handbrake turn when it became known that Baaeed was heading for that race too. On average only one horse a decade wins the Arc without a previous run over a mile and a half and the last to do so, Bago, was a long 18 years ago.

By a miler in Churchill, Vadeni looks a mile and quarter specialist having won the French Derby and Eclipse before finishing an unlucky third at Leopardstown in the Irish Champion Stakes. It’s hard to see him hitting the line hard enough to win especially as the word ‘soft’ is likely to be in the going description.

Luxembourg, Vadeni’s Leopardstown conqueror, is the strongest of the Irish duo, but as he too has never run over the Arc distance, he also faces stamina questions. In his case, however, there is a stronger possibility of a positive outcome. By a Derby winner in Camelot, he had stayed well to win over a mile on soft as a two-year-old and his style of racing suggests he should get 12 furlongs handily.

A small setback ruled him out of the strenuous high-summer contests and he comes to the race with relatively few miles on the clock and this freshness will be beneficial. Aidan O’Brien sounds hopeful. “We think he’s in a good place and when we run we will know,” he said this week. "It’s not long since he ran, so his work hasn’t been too tough, but we’re happy with everything he’s doing.” 

Torquator Tasso outstayed talented rivals to spring a 72-1 surprise in this race last year on going that was officially described as ‘very soft’ which is the French term for ‘bottomless.’ The German challenger is less than a tenth of those odds tomorrow in his bid to become the eighth back-to-back winner in the history of the race. He’s had an inconsistent season but likes the time of year, the course, the distance, and the going and will be battling on when many rivals have cried ‘enough’. A wide draw in stall 18 is not ideal but he is tough and resolute and should still be involved in the finish.

The main English challenger, Alpinista, is trained at Newmarket by the 74-year-old raconteur and general man of mischief, Mark Prescott, who, when not training horses enjoys a spot of bullfighting and hare-coursing. If he can crown a lengthy career by winning the Arc then the media interviews in the aftermath are bound to be enjoyable.

His five-year-old grey mare looks to have solid chances and is well drawn in stall six. She comes into the race on a sequence of seven wins, the last five of them in Group 1 contests which included a victory over Oaks winner Tuesday in the Yorkshire Oaks in August.

The 2022 Arc definitely lacks the quality of many previous editions but it's still a compelling race and few of the runners can be completely ruled out of contention. In fact, maybe it’s more like a box of chocolates than a bag of dolly mixtures. You just don’t know what you’re going to get.

Verdict: 1. Alpinista 2. Torquator Tasso 3. Luxembourg.

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