Never has a picture changed so dramatically in the final stages of its creation. Just seven days ago, Europe licked its lips at the prospect of a showdown between the Japanese Triple Crown winner, Orfevre, Danedream, Snow Fairy and Nathaniel - but to name a few. With a matter of days until the gates burst open in the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe, that picture has now been significantly altered with redemption a more likely taste with Camelot bidding to bask in victory just three weeks after his Triple Crown near miss.
Photo: Emma-Louise Kerwin/Goodtosoft.co.uk
Unbeaten prior to his historic attempt in the St Leger at Doncaster on September 15th, Camelot returns amid a cloud of scepticism as to whether he really is as good as the British racing fans and media alike had once hoped. Beaten by three-quarters of a length by Encke in the St Leger, many were quick to blame the riding actions of Joseph O'Brien after the race. However, despite being aboard for all of Camelot's previous six races, O'Brien will not be reunited with Camelot this time having been unable to get down the the weight required to ride Camelot this Sunday. Instead, the intriguing booking of Frankie Dettori, who rides in his twenty-fifty consecutive Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe, is exceptionally eye-catching. Dettori has not ridden for Coolmore and Aidan O'Brien since the controversial victory aboard Scorpion in the 2005 St Leger at a time when Coolmore and Godolphin were at loggerheads. Things are different for Dettori seven years on; Now having to share his retainer with Mikael Barzalona and Silvestre de Sousa, and with no Godolphin runner in the race, Dettori is free to acquire rides from the very best. Whilst the racing media believed that Johnny Murtagh or Kieren Fallon may have been considered by their old retainer, the booking of Dettori is a shrewd move by Coolmore and one that could reap the awards in a weak Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe. A three time winner of the race, Dettori is vastly experienced in riding the perfect race in Europe's premier event.
Japan have fired many bullets at the race in the past with Deep Impact and Nakayama Festa coming agonisingly close to victory. In Orfevre, Japan could have its best chance yet of victory. A quirky four year old son of Stay Gold, Orfevre is not only widely known for his Triple Crown dominance, but also for his erratic performance in the Hansin Daishoten in March, in which the horse bolted to the outside of the field giving away twenty lengths before consenting to race again.
An intriguing effort given that Orfevre was virtually pulled up on the back straight, for Orfevre to come to within half a length of victory at the wire is a performance of exceptional ability. The quirky attributes were long absent by the time of Orfevre's preparation run in France, the Prix Foy, in which the Japanese raider readily accounted for Andre Fabre's in-form Meandre when reportedly only 75% fit for the race. Meandre will return to the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe to reoppose Orfevre with Fabre not confident of the form lines being reversed.
Shareta and Saonois, winners of the other two traditional Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe trials, both enter the race with lofty expectations surrounding them. Shareta, second in the race last year, posted an exceptional time in the Prix Vermeille shaving four seconds off of Orfevre's time over the same course and distance. With Danedream absent, could Shareta go one better? French-based three year olds are also regularly focused on for this race and, other than Saonois, Masterstroke and the Aga Khan's Kesampour look to enter the race with big chances. St Nicholas Abbey, Sea Moon, Yellow and Green and a plethora of pacemakers look to complete the field.
Make no mistake, this is a Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe that has been deprived of the plethora of riches that it deserved. No Danedream, Nathaniel and Snow Fairy takes away the shine of a race which was shaping up to be one of the best renewals for many a year. However, this is Europe's premier race, a race which is no easier to win with the withdrawal of top level competition. If Camelot does win, we may just have to start believing he is more than just the 'best of a bad crop of three year olds'.
Photos Courtesy of Emma-Louise Kerwin (Goodtosoft.co.uk)