Joe Rendall takes a look at Sunday's Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe from Longchamp and picks out a value bet...
"It’s quite possible that such an improver might also hail from the East, in the progressive filly Harp Star."
I think it's fair to say that the Arc field looks somewhat less exciting than it did in the first half of the season. Several ante-post favourites have been and gone in the intervening period, with the likes of Taghrooda, Treve and the recently-retired Sea The Moon all heading the betting at some stage before subsequently disappointing. In the meantime a clutch of three-year-olds from all over the globe have stated their cases with the result that the market for Sunday's race has been significantly more tumultuous than in recent years.
Whether you take a positive or negative view of this is largely moot but as we stand now, five days before the race, there look to be some interesting prices around. This is no truer than with the Japanese trained-trio, whose chances have been expertly analysed by Timeform's French racing expert John Ingles here. Just A Way is the shortest-priced horse currently on the back of his impressive performance in the Dubai Duty Free in March. However with the concerns over his stamina so well publicised by connections and analysts alike, this seems a case of pricing based as much on reputation as anything more substantial.
At almost double the odds you can back Gold Ship, who has no such doubts surrounding his staying power and who became the first dual winner of the Takarazuka Kinen, Japan's most recognised Arc trial, earlier in the summer. He's by the same sire as the quirky Orfevre, who memorably threw away the 2012 Arc, but the cheekpieces he has raced in this season seemed to have served him well and will hopefully prevent another disastrous meltdown. The only doubt surrounding Gold Ship is that his age and profile leave a niggling doubt about whether he's capable of the required improvement, and although he looks a decent each-way bet at around 12/1, you suspect something might improve past him.
It's quite possible that such an improver might also hail from the East, in the progressive filly Harp Star. She's won five of her seven career starts thus far, and was only narrowly beaten in the other two, and looks to be improving fast. One of the defeats came in the Japanese Oaks, and there were still plenty of positives to take from her performance. Not only did it prove Harp Star stays the required trip, but also that she has an excellent turn of foot to complement her stamina reserves. Her prep run saw her take another big step up when beating the older horses, including Gold Ship, in the Sapporo Kinen with the pair finishing well clear of a classy field. She is versatile in terms of going, gets a decent weight allowance and at around 8/1 looks the best bet at current prices to continue the fine recent record of three-year-old fillies in the race.
There are several other contenders bidding to emulate the likes of Treve, Danedream and Zarkava, principally the current ante-post favourite Taghrooda. If John Gosden's filly had come straight from her top-class performances in the Oaks and King George to Longchamp she would probably be a very short price. As it is she had her colours lowered unexpectedly in the Yorkshire Oaks and although the news she was in season constitutes a legitimate reason for her performance, she still goes to Paris with questions to answer. She drifted out to as big as 10/1 following her narrow defeat to Tapestry and although she looked visually impressive in a recent racecourse gallop, you feel her current favouritism is partly due to her offering the line of least resistance. She rates as a live contender if she's on song, but she doesn't appeal at the prices.
Avenir Certain has claims to be the forgotten horse amongst this year's contenders when you take into consideration she is unbeaten in six career starts and has the French 1,000 Guineas and Oaks on her résumé already this season. She's shown a potent turn of foot in her outings thus far but as a strong traveller who hasn't raced beyond an extended 10 furlongs, there is a worry about whether she will stay the trip. She's certainly one for the shortlist if she does, but at this stage that is still a significant if.
If Avenir Certain was the forgotten filly in the race then until recently Ectot was the forgotten colt. A top juvenile who has missed much of his three-year-old career through injury, he stormed back onto the scene with an impressive win over Sunday's C&D in the Prix Niel. The enthusiasm that his storming turn of foot inspired was tempered slightly by the manner in which he idled in front on that occasion, but if he's produced slightly later then he looks a highly talented, unexposed contender.
Although there are plenty who merit discussion in the interests of keeping this relatively concise a final mention must go to Treve, who since putting up a superb display in the race last year has yet to win again. There was no disgrace in succumbing to a race-fit Cirrus des Aigles in the Prix Ganay or losing out to The Fugue at Ascot, where she picked up a back injury and looked uncomfortable on the summer ground, but there is a concern that she hasn't quite trained on as expected. She will reportedly come on a good deal from her fourth in the Prix Vermeille last time but with the ground looking to be a good deal faster than last year, she will arrive to defend her crown with serious question marks surrounding her.
This year's Arc field has an interesting if slightly unconventional look to it, but it may be that just such a unique set of circumstances is required for Japan to finally win the race that's so craved by its racing fraternity and fans alike. In Harp Star they look to have a horse with the right profile, temperament and level of ability to gain compensation, and the advice is to keep her on side.
Back Harp Star in the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe