Tony Calvin previews the upcoming Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Sunday and the favourite Enable is shortening by the minute...
"I would favour Sottsass ahead of Japan of her main market opposition, as I am not sold of the International form at York, even if that trip was very much on the sharp side for the Ballydoyle colt, a course-and-distance winner courtesy of his win in the Grand Prix de Paris in July."
Sunday set for small field
Just 16 entries, down from 81, in the Arc after Monday morning's forfeit stage and we could be set for the smallest field in the race since only a dozen rocked up for Dylan Thomas's win in 2007.
I say win but most people are still bemused by how Youmzain didn't get the race in the stewards' room that year. But I better not get started on that personal tale of betting woe again, or else you will be reading this for the rest of the day.
Actually, there is a chance we could get more than 16 runners given we have a supplementary stage on Wednesday and it looks as if Nassau winner and unlucky Irish Champion Stakes fourth Deirdre - well, unfortunate not to finish second, anyway - will be added then. And maybe others.
It is doubtful whether Deirdre will be ending Japan's near-misses in the race over this 1m4f trip, though - she has only raced over the distance once, when fourth in the Oaks in her native country in 2017 - but the same applies to all Enable's opponents on Sunday.
When I looked at the race here three weeks ago, Enable was trading around the even money mark.
She is now into [1.78] and set to get even shorter - she was actually [1.83] when I started writing this piece on Monday morning - especially after the market translates into a day-of-race line (with money back and rule 4 applied to any non-runners) later in the week.
Let's face it, she does look a class apart, even if the official ratings don't give her that much in hand. The ground is currently soft at Longchamp, by the way.
It is commonly accepted that she has not quite scaled the exceptional heights of her King George-Yorkshire Oaks-Arc triple-header in 2017, but her five straight Group 1 victories coming into this race have hardly represented any marked decline, real or imagined.
Indeed, the official handicapper rates her recent defeat of Magical at York last time as the equal of her 2017 Arc success, no doubt buoyed by what he saw from the runner-up at the Curragh subsequently.
She just looks more of a 2s-on poke to me, rather than around a 4-5 or 8-11 chance, and I suspect that is the price she will go off if lining up on Sunday afternoon.
The issue that creates to anybody having an each-way punt now against the filly is that they will be taking a bath on the win price to get with the place part of the bet.
And that doesn't really stack up - unless you think that Enable will drift, obviously - especially when you just know that most fixed-odds firms will be offering at least an extra place when the final field is known.
And offering betting a "without Enable" market too, something that will surface from Wednesday onwards.
Actually, I am not exactly sure why the without favourite line hasn't been introduced weeks ago to re-ignite a static market. There may be a reason why it isn't offered on ante-post markets, but I can't think of one at the moment. I am probably being dumb, though.
Anyway, back to Enable's rivals.
Sottsass a step ahead
I would favour Sottsass ahead of Japan of her main market opposition, as I am not sold of the International form at York, even if that trip was very much on the sharp side for the Ballydoyle colt, a course-and-distance winner courtesy of his win in the Grand Prix de Paris in July.
At basically the same price, I would prefer Sottsass, especially as the Aidan O'Brien stable is maybe not firing on all cylinders at the moment.
We learned nothing new about him in the Prix Niel, save the fact that he emerged from the traditional French Arc prep (a mid-summer break) in good nick and that his first attempt at 1m4f was a winning one.
His stamina will be more vigorously tested in the bigger field on Sunday but there is no doubting that the impressive French Derby winner is capable of a big step forward after just six starts.
But it could be worth holding fire if you are interested in backing those two 6/1 chances each way, for the reason(s) outlined above.
Strictly on official ratings then Ghaiyyath is overpriced at an industry-best 12/1 in the fixed-odds marketplace with the Betfair Sportsbook - and even bigger win-only price on the exchange at [14.0] - as he was given a mark of 127 (just 1lb shy of Enable, who obviously gets the sex allowance, too) after winning his Group 1 in Germany by the small matter of 14 lengths last time.
The runner-up wasn't disgraced in Group 1 company on his next start - beaten 3 lengths - and the dual course winner is certainly of major interest for those who like to be led by the official figures.
By the same token, plenty will be suspicious of that wide-margin success, especially in the context of his earlier run behind Waldgeist in the Ganay in April.
Waldgeist appears the rock-solid each-way man of the party.
He can't quite cut it on his travels - though his last foray to England only saw him beaten 2 lengths by Enable in the King George - but the recent Prix Foy scorer is a three-time Group 1 winner, with four course victories to his name, and was beaten less than 2 lengths in the race last year.
But can you see him beating Enable?
The answer has to be no, and fourfold no if you ask the same question of the favourite's old sparring partner Magical.
I can see the argument of Magical finishing second in the Arc, given she has twice got within 3/4 length of Enable in the last 12 months, but therein lies the "problem" of this market.
I know there are improvers in here but Enable will probably have to run below a fair way below form to lose this race and it is not as if her profile gives you much encouragement on that score.
A third Arc looks her for the taking, but my interest in the race will probably centre on the day-of-race market later on in the week, or the without favourite line.
It is not often a Derby winner trades at [150.0] for an Arc but that is the situation with Anthony Van Dyck - though of course it is not known if he is an intended runner at this stage - and Japan do also have another three other contenders in Blast Onepiece, Fierement, and Keseki, and just as well given the dwindling race numbers.
Chariots of fire
The Arc is not the only contest in town this weekend - or out-of-town, in fact - as ITV are showing eight domestic races on Saturday, with Newmarket's Group 1 Sun Chariot the centrepiece of that coverage.
It is tricky to call who is going to go off favourite there, let alone the winner - the Sportsbook go with Veracious at 11/4 - so I am happy to let Thursday's declaration stage at 10am tell us more.
Mind you, naming the jolly for Ascot's 7f Challenge Cup is even harder, with plenty of the usual suspects like Raising Sand and Kynren featuring at the five-day stage in a handicap that is 10/1 the field.
Bedouin's Story is also among the entries after costing me a fair few quid after missing out in the Cambridgeshire on Saturday with a morning abscess, but we can revisit the weekend fare down the line.
Back on Friday and Saturday with those tipping lines.
Until then, try and top up that betting balance.