Enable, John Gosden’s great racemare, already the most accomplished racehorse in the last half century, gets a second shot at racing history on Sunday when she bids for a record third Qatar Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp.
However in a career which encompasses 18 starts and 15 wins, 14 of them under Dettori, three King Georges, two Arcs, a Breeders’ Cup, an Oaks and £10.6 in winnings, the vastly experienced six-year-old will never have encountered conditions as testing as she and her 14 rivals will meet in this soggy corner of the Bois de Boulogne.
Enable does not have much left to prove. She is already one of the greater racehorses of all time. But victory, in tomorrow’s conditions, would make a strong case for elevation to the superlative version of that adjective.
Heavy is not what she or any of her rivals are expected to relish although they are talking up the conditions for the German Derby winner In Swoop but whether it will be enough to bridge the vast gulf in proven ability between he and she remains to be seen.
Enable’s first Arc in 2017 was on soft ground, her second was on good and her length and three quarter defeat to Waldgeist on the very soft last year with one of today’s chief rivals, Sottsass, in third, was down to getting sucked into racing too far out. The conditions will inconvenience her less than most.
Dettori is, however, the master tactician. He rides Longchamp as he does Ascot and you can argue that three of his Arc wins have been down to the split-second timing of his challenge, particularly his narrow victory over Sea of Class two years ago. In his own mind he might count to ‘dieci’ before pushing too many buttons this time.
“They come at you like arrows at your back,” said Dettori about the Arc. His tactical headache on Sunday is Serpentine, ridden by another Longchamp expert Christophe Soumillon, if he gets loose on the lead.
Will he come back to an Arc field as he famously didn’t in the Derby? He is likely to be there to tempt Dettori while Ryan Moore rides Mogul, the Grand Prix de Paris winner, chilly out the back and tries to explode past everything up the straight.
“It doesn’t get any easier does it?” said Gosden putting Sunday’s quest – no six-year-old has ever won an Arc – into perspective. “As a three-year-old you get the weight allowance, particularly a three-year-old filly. She came back from injury as a four-year-old then last year they all went a bit hard too soon in very testing ground.
“Every year trying to come back again it’s like a heavyweight boxer coming back to the gym, the older you get the tougher it gets. And the older you get the more likely you can lose a bit of speed the greatest example being Muhammed Ali, the all-time great. But that’s what you’re facing so for her it becomes a tougher challenge every year.”
“But her mental strength is there. You can argue a filly peaks at four and five and she is now going slightly the other side – there’s probably a case to be made for that but we’ve aimed for the Arc, we haven’t overdone it, just the three runs.”
So is Enable as good as she was? It is a job to tell from the King George, a race which fell apart in her lap or her Kempton trial, but her Eclipse second to Ghaiyyath at 80 per cent fitness is not far off the best form in Sunday’s race.
Last year, as the trainer of Waldgeist, it was Andre Fabre, a man whose eight Arcs are two more Arc than Dettori’s six, who shot Bambi.
One imagines he does not enjoy autumn without an Arc runner so he runs the miler Persian King. He has to be respected because of the name in the trainers’ column but the four-year-old will surely not last home in Sunday’s conditions.
It would, of course, be ironic were Gosden to provide the bullet for Bambi today in the shape of Stradivarius, the three time Ascot Gold Cup winner. The more stamina required, the more it plays into the stayer’s hands.
He was not supposed to like soft ground until he won this year’s Gold Cup by 10 lengths. He constitutes a huge threat to his stable companion and it should not be overlooked either that victory for him would sweep him to the top of the pile for the all-time great stayers.
“His owner-breeder, Bjorn Nielsen, remembers the great Ascot Gold Cup winners running in the race and running huge races in it if not necessarily winning,” explained Gosden. “It’s something he’s always wanted to do.
“He’s a remarkable horse. He’s bigger and stronger than he’s ever been. He’s been working well, full of the joys of life. He went over to run in a trial but it was a French trial, it was run at a steady pace and a sprint. I was very thrilled with the way he quickened and to that extent we’re expecting a big run.”
Of the home team Sottsass was only two lengths off Magical in the Irish Champion after a break and has been trained for the race. He looks a big danger although nine of the last 10 winners have been receiving a weight advantage (fillies’ or three-year-old’s) which, as a four-year-old colt, he does not.
Raabihah, also from Jean-Claude Roget’s stable, gets all of those as a three-year-old filly and carrying the equivalent of seven bags of sugar less on this ground could be advantageous but the ground is unknown. My idea of an each-way shot is Gold Trip who is effective in the ground.
Gosden will watch it all unfold on television as he cannot afford to be self-quarantining during this week’s yearling sales.
“Frankie is the one who sows all the emotion – he makes Maria Callas look easy to deal with,” he joked about Enable’s farewell. “I might have a drink and shed a tear afterwards but at the moment I feel the responsibility of training her – that weighs so heavily on me.”