Tony Calvin discusses the ante-post betting on this year's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp. Can our man find anything in the field to back against hot favourite Enable?
"I would actually lay a private 'pay-on-the-day' bet a 5-4 myself – in theory obviously, Mr Gambling Commission - but I can’t be tying up funds for eight months, with the Rugby World Cup kicking off on Friday."
It was a touch surprising to see that some of Her Majesty's racing press ventured over to France for the Arc trials on Sunday, as I am not sure what they expected to see.
The field sizes at Doncaster got a proper kicking last week, but the three main prep races at Longchamp only attracted 18 runners between them (and I know these trials are rarely chunky affairs when it comes numbers) and it was all a bit tame and lacking in five-star quality.
Before we get on to looking at those contests, just another word on Donny and the disappointing lack of runners at the St Leger meeting last week.
The unseasonably quick ground undoubtedly played a part in some pretty pitiful turn-outs, including a match, as did the fact that it was again race-saturation point for good-class horses throughout last week, with high-class fare not only present in Ireland and France, but there was also Grade 1 action abroad at the likes of Woodbine, which attracted the Europeans, too.
The prize-money situation reared its ugly head at Doncaster, too, but - and I am a bit of a stuck record on this subject - why is the St Leger being run for the thick-end of £700,000 when the cash is so lacking in races elsewhere across the four-day meeting?
Spread it out, for god's sake.
This recent obsession of chucking more money at the top Group races - invariably won by owners who aren't short of a bob or two - at the expense of a balanced card for the lesser patrons is not a healthy situation, and it should be called out more than it is.
There are too many cheerleaders when it comes to unnecessarily bloated and overblown prize-money in the big league.
Can anything shake up the betting?
Anyway, back to Longchamp and whether Sunday's action made any ripples in a pretty static Arc market dominated by Enable.
In short, no - especially when it comes to Star Catcher and the Vermeille - and you suspect the betting for the race would have only got a proper shake-up were there any talk of the uber-impressive St Leger winner Logician being supplemented for the race.
And that isn't going to happen any time soon with the stable's star filly, in the same ownership, going for an historic third straight Arc.
Injury could change all that, I guess.
Perhaps I am being a bit unkind to Sunday's trial winners though, especially Sottsass, who did shorten up a bit to around 7/1 on the exchange (and he is that price on the Betfair Sportsbook, too).
He was patently value for more than the winning margin suggests after overcoming a very troubled passage on the inner to win the Prix Niel, quickening up smartly once the gap finally appeared.
The bare form is nothing to write home about clearly, but it was a very pleasing return after that traditional midsummer break - not least because it was his first start over 1m4f - and his 2-length defeat of Persian King in June's French Derby clearly makes him a big place player at the very least next month.
We know where we stand with Waldgeist though, and he was his solid self when winning the Prix Foy.
He was beaten under two lengths when fourth to Enable last year and you can easily argue that he is an improved horse in 2019.
He is 0 from seven on his travels but his two-length third to Enable and the recently-retired Crystal Ocean in the King George in July was a career-best. Home is where his winning heart is, too.
A win-only price of [17.5] on the exchange under-estimates his chances, but you have to be Stretch Armstrong's optimistic brother to make a convincing case for him beating Enable.
The potential is at least there with Sottsass and Ghaiyyath, though the latter has cooled in the market, out to 15/1 on the exchange, after being matched at nearly half that level in the immediate aftermath of his 14-length win a Group 1 in Germany last time.
I am not sure why he has drifted so much given an official rating of 127 puts him bang in the Arc formbook picture, but it looks like the Betfair layers are disbelievers and are willing to back it up with hard cash.
O'Brien circumspect on Magical's chances
The race has very little depth this season, and the sixth-favourite is Magical, who doesn't seem sure to head for another crack at Enable at Longchamp after winning an admittedly below-strength Irish Champion Stakes easily on Saturday.
Exchange prices of 20/1+ clearly underplay her claims too, but the immediate post-race comments from Aidan O'Brien (pictured above with Ryan Moore) - "The plan was to go to the Arc from here but usually what happens is we see how they come out of it, talk to the lads and they see if they stay on the program or go a different way" - suggest caution should be advised with her on the Arc betting front.
I suppose they could maybe try and keep her fresh for Ascot's Champion Stakes, 13 days after Longchamp, but this is not a filly they have kept in cotton wool this season.
O'Brien also has International winner Japan for the Arc too, and in fact he vies for second-favouritism on the 7/1 mark.
But, as good as the defeat of Crystal Ocean looked at the time and the step back up to 1m4f won't be a problem, I can't get over-excited by that York form.
To me, the runner-up underperformed to a large degree, and the third Elarqam did nothing for the form at Leopardstown at the weekend, so Japan has a fair amount to progress to be giving John Gosden sleepless nights.
Unless something happens to Enable before October 6, you suspect this has the look of a very stable market, with few twists and turn to come.
If anything, Enable looks a decent enough price at [1.98] and you can see her being the shortener.
Ante-post odds on Pinatubo shorten after win
There was another odds-on poke to enter the ante-post scene at the weekend, with Pinatubo now as short as 4-5 in a place for the 2000 Guineas after his breath-taking nine-length defeat of a couple of Ballydoyle Group 2 winners in the National Stakes at the Curragh on Sunday.
Of course, you have to judge the merit of any ante-post price by the best price available, not the worst, but 5/4 looks to be the top price in the village - I thought of Big Mac when writing that - and that underlines what a devastating performance we witnessed.
But a price of 5/4 for a race eight months away, for god's sake?!!
I personally think bookmakers have to be a bit braver than that, and Godolphin wouldn't have the best of recent records of getting their star 2yos to the track the following May, but then again someone is asking to back the horse at [2.4] on the exchange and I haven't pressed "lay" just yet, so maybe I'm all mouth and trousers.
I would actually lay a private "pay-on-the-day" bet at 5-4 myself - in theory obviously, Mr Gambling Commission - but I can't be tying up funds for eight months, with the Rugby World Cup kicking off on Friday.
I need plenty of money in my Betfair account to blow on that, thanks.
As is often the case after such a top-heavy bout of class racing, this weekend is rather more low-key, and it was amusing to hear the Leger-winning Frankie Dettori's post-race answer to a question about whether we would see him at Ayr.
"No" was pretty much the gist of it. The Ayr Gold Cup is obviously the three-day meeting's centrepiece but I think we can park the analysis of that race until we have a better handle on the draw and ground - though the ground is currently good to soft and the forecast looks dry, if mild - so I will leave you until later in the week.
Ayr, alongside Newbury, isn't on ITV until the weekend, but I will see how Thursday and Friday's cards pan out and I may knock up a non-terrestrial column if I fancy anything.
Until then, over and out.