Updated on 10/03/2011 6:54PM

Arc de Triomphe deep with top contenders

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Barbara D. Livingston
Workforce is attempting to become the first winner of two straight runnings of the Arc de Triomphe since Alleged in 1977 and 1978.

The 2011 renewal of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe has such depth that 2010 winner, Workforce, is nowhere near the early betting favorite for Sunday’s race.

Workforce, bidding to become the first winner of consecutive Arcs since Alleged in 1977 and 1978, is one of 16 entrants in what should be a highly entertaining Arc edition. Workforce, the Aidan O’Brien-trained So You Think, and two Japanese horses, 2010 Arc runner-up Nakayama Festa and Hiruno D’Amour, are the top older male horses. The solid 3-year-old contingent includes French horses Reliable Man and Meandre, St. Leger winner Masked Marvel, and Secretariat Stakes hero Treasure Beach. And the fillies look strong, too. Four-year-old Sarafina has been among the early betting favorites since she won her Arc prep, the Prix Foy, while Snow Fairy gave So You Think a scare in the Irish Champion Stakes. Three-year-old fillies Galikova and Danedream both appear capable and receive a nine-pound weight break from the older males.

The Arc, contested at about 1 1/2 miles around one right-handed turn, is one of seven Group 1 races scheduled Sunday at Longchamp in Paris. Carded as the next-to-last race, the Arc has a scheduled post time of 10:15 a.m. Eastern, and is widely available for live viewing in the United States. It’s immediately preceded on the program by the Prix de la Foret, which features three-time BC Mile winner Goldikova.

The weather has become a major Arc storyline. Sunday’s forecast high is an unseasonable 79 degrees, and the hot, dry weather has turned the Longchamp course unusually fast and firm. Course conditions led to the scratch of Nathaniel, and Workforce’s connections also voiced questions about the going, though their concerns were allayed after walking the course late this week. Groundskeepers had applied about 10 millimeters of water as of Friday and more could be added before racing commences Sunday.

Workforce beat Nakayama Festa by a head and an unlucky Sarafina by 2 1/2 lengths in the 2010 Arc, but the overall quality of that race seems suspect in retrospect, and Workforce’s year hasn’t gone smoothly. He beat overmatched opposition in his 2011 comeback but was outrun by So You Think going 1 1/4 miles in the Eclipse at Sandown before drifting to the outside rail when second to Nathaniel in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes on July 23, his most recent start and one at his preferred 1 1/2-mile trip. Workforce breaks from post 8, the same stall from which he won a year ago, and will be ridden by Ryan Moore, who only returned from an injury layoff Friday.

The unlucky ones at the draw were So You Think (post 14), Sarafina (13), and Nakayama Festa (16), since inside posts are vastly preferred. Hiruno D’Amour landed the coveted one hole, with Danedream to break from post 2.

So You Think finished third in the two-mile Melbourne Cup, but some remain skeptical of his ability to show top form at 1 1/2 miles. He faced inferior foes in his lone start beyond 1 1/4 miles since being imported from Australia, and trainer Aidan O’Brien himself conceded this week that 1 1/4 miles seemed So You Think’s specialty. The O’Brien-trained St. Nicholas Abbey is in too deep, but Treasure Beach is mildly interesting at a long price, though he ran poorly in his previous Longchamp start.

Sarafina bulled between horses to win the Prix Foy in an ideal prep, and seems poised for a representative effort, though that might not be good enough to win. Her trainer, Alain de Royer-Dupre, has the longshot Shareta as well as capable Reliable Man. Reliable Man won the French Derby, disappointed in the Grand Prix de Paris, and rebounded to capture the Prix Niel, an important Arc prep, on Sept. 11. Meandre, sent out by legendary Arc trainer Andre Fabre, easily handled Reliable Man in the Grand Prix de Paris and did not show his best when beaten two lengths in the Niel. Meandre was supplemented to the Arc at a cost of about $136,000, as were Danedream and Masked Marvel.

Galikova, the 3-year-old half-sister to Goldikova, showed she stays 1 1/2 miles with a sharp win in the Prix Vermeille, her Arc prep. She has progressed steadily throughout the year and is highly regarded by trainer Freddie Head.

Danedream, the other 3-year-old filly, crushed decent competition in Germany, and though her win in the Grosser Preis Von Baden came on sodden course, trainer Peter Schiergen says she will handle firmer going Sunday.

Snow Fairy and the Japanese pair cannot be discounted. Snow Fairy has lost all three starts this year while rounding toward top form with every race, and she possesses a potent turn of foot. Nakayama Festa has raced only twice since the 2010 Arc and could easily come on from his Longchamp prep, while Hiruno D’Amour was making his first start in four months when beaten a neck by Sarafina.