Timeform's Matt Gardner takes an ante-post look at the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, which is shaping up to be one of the highlights of the season...
"There is no reason for Danedream not to confirm superiority over Nathaniel or any of her re-opposing rivals from last year's Arc..."
The World 20/20 Cricket competition has just got underway and, with the shorter form of the game seemingly taking over, this may be an opportune moment to remember some of the great defensive batsmen that have graced the game.
Geoffrey Boycott and Rahul Dravid would head up many a list, the former known for his steadfast determination and grit whilst Dravid was nicknamed "The Wall" (a moniker he did not appreciate) in celebration of his almost impenetrable batting. In addition, the flamboyant Kevin Pietersen once claimed that the "block" was his favourite cricketing shot, although he is now more famed for the fantastic "Switch Hit".
It is from Pietersen that we draw inspiration for our thought process with regards to one of the world's most prestigious horse races, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Think of it like an over of cricket, where we play the first five deliveries with a straight bat and very little risk of losing our wicket before reaching for the spectacular finale, switching our hands and attempting to smash the ball out of the stadium.
Ball One and the nerves are well and truly jangling, so we're going to stretch into our locker and pull out our most dependable stroke. Since winning the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot last year, Nathaniel's five runs have resulted in performances worthy of a Timeform rating between 127 and 129, the four-year-old repeatedly showing himself to be consistent, tough and top-class. He was just edged out by Danedream in the King George before finding Snow Fairy too strong in the Irish Champion Stakes, although connections made no secret of the fact that the latter event was very much a preparation for Longchamp. There is likely to be very little between Nathaniel and his re-opposing rivals, although it is difficult to argue a robust case in favour of him reversing the form with either.
Ball two and the solid shot we have just played has instilled some confidence, so we're going to take a chance and suggest that Snow Fairy will confirm the Irish Champion Stakes form. The five-year-old has landed seven Group 1s in her time and, having suffered an injury, has returned in 2012 as good as ever, winning the Prix Jean Romanet prior to her Leopardstown success. A repeat of that effort would give her an excellent chance here, her sharp turn of foot a boon in this particular event, and she seems sure to go very close indeed.
With the confidence bar raised even higher in the knowledge that Snow Fairy gives us a fighting chance of landing the spoils, we're now bordering on arrogant, and the time is ripe to come crashing back down to earth as we edge ball three through the slips for a streaky boundary. Ballydoyle seem certain to have at least one leading contender in the Arc with St Nicholas Abbey, and possibly Camelot if he lines up, but it is the former that we are going to focus on. The five-year-old has worked wonders to repair his somewhat damaged reputation in the last two seasons, a brace of Coronation Cups and success in the Breeders' Cup Turf alongside a whole host of top efforts in defeat cementing his position among the European middle-distance elite. He is an attractive proposition and will tempt plenty into backing him, however he seemingly had no excuses when fifth in this race last year and, for all that he's pretty consistent, there always seems to be an element of risk when supporting him. Followers of St Nicholas Abbey may be rewarded, but at Santa Anita in November rather than Longchamp in October.
That last delivery shook us up and we're now on the back foot, not really knowing what to expect. Those that stake their cash on Orfevre, the Japanese raider, are similarly stepping into the unknown as his win in a typically slowly-run Prix Foy did not really tell us anything. Happily, Timeform's International team are on hand to quantify his achievements in the Far East, and his weight-adjusted rating of 140 puts him right in the thick of the action. To be fair to the four-year-old, he was as impressive in the Prix Foy as the ridiculously slow pace allowed him to be, travelling well before quickening to the lead and having the race sewn up from that point, and there is no doubting that he has the ability to trouble the judge in the Arc. We weren't sure which shot to play at ball four but our choice was rewarded with a resounding thud out of the middle of the bat, completely restoring our confidence ahead of the penultimate delivery.
The racing equivalent, in terms of satisfaction, to creaming a drive through the covers is seeing your selection stride clear of its rivals and securing victory. Those that were on Danedream, at a Betfair SP of 44.043/1, in last year's Arc enjoyed that exact same sensation as the then three-year-old demolished the field, putting five lengths between herself and her nearest pursuer. Although yet to return to that level, Danedream has won three of her four starts in 2012, comprising a Group 2 and a pair of Group 1s, and her sole defeat came in a small-field affair which is unlikely to have played to her strengths. There is no reason for her not to confirm superiority over Nathaniel or any of her re-opposing rivals from last year's Arc and, if arriving in top form, she is likely to take the world of beating.
Certain that we have nailed the winner and hit the best shot possible we are going to allow ourselves to run wild with a crowd-pleasing "Switch Hit", and only time will tell whether the attempt clears the stands or leaves us looking rather foolish. Yellow And Green is a three-year-old filly trained in France by Nicolas Clement (he of French Fifteen fame), who gained herself the faintest dot on the Arc radar when finishing fourth in the Prix Vermeille on just her fifth start. That represented her best effort yet, having taken the Group 2 Prix de Malleret 12 weeks earlier, and she did particularly well to get as close as she did given that circumstances did not fall particularly favourably. Held-up in rear, Yellow And Green was forced to wait for a run, belatedly switched to the outside and finishing best of all with patently too much ground to make up, her effort certainly catching the eye. Clearly she has to improve plenty and she is definitely an outsider, but if you fancy something a bit different, taking a Kevin Pietersen-esque risk, you could do far worse than getting behind Yellow And Green.
Were we to stray into a second over, the likes of Sea Moon (more likely to head to Canada), Meandre, Reliable Man, Shareta, Saonois and Masterstroke would come into play, but it would be a surprise were the winner to come from that list rather than the six mentioned earlier. Yellow And Green, at her current price of 75.074/1, is one for the more reckless and foolhardy but the most likely winner is Danedream, her win in this contest last year still fresh in the memory and confidence abound that she can confirm her superiority over those that she has already defeated. Orfevre is the fly in the ointment, his record in Japan pitching him in with a mighty chance, but he will have to be at his very best, and then some, to get the better of Danedream.
Back Danedream @ 5.95/1 in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe