10/03/2014 2:36PM

Contention runs deep in Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe


First Treve, then Taghrooda, later Sea the Moon, and now a horse named Ectot – those have been the ante-post betting favorites for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Such shifting favoritism speaks clearly: The Arc is wide-open this year, the 20-horse field a captivating mix of 3-year-olds and older horses, fillies and colts, French, English, German, and Japanese runners.

Which is as it should be. The Arc, at about $6.2 million, is the world’s richest grass race. The 2014 renewal comes Sunday at Longchamp, the race scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Eastern under good weather and over good turf.

There are seven fillies and mares and 13 colts and horses in the 1 1/2-mile Arc, run around right-handed bends. Weight plays a significant role: Older horses carry 131 pounds, 3-year-old fillies a feathery 120. Three-year-olds have won the race in 16 of the last 20 years, and 3-year-old fillies have won two of the last three. In 2013, it was Treve, who blasted home such an impressive winner that as her 2014 campaign began, a repeat Arc bid was already being eagerly anticipated.

But there has been no repeat Arc winner in 35 years, and Treve looks unlikely to end that drought. She has battled foot and back problems – issues her trainer, Criquette Head-Maarek said Treve has adapted to rather than shed – and Treve is 0 for 3 in 2014. She was just fourth in the Prix Vermeille, her Arc prep, and is unlikely to get the softer ground that she prefers Sunday.

There are five 3-year-old fillies in the race, including Taghrooda, who probably would be the defined favorite had she not taken a shocking loss in her most recent start, the Aug. 21 Yorkshire Oaks. Taghrooda leveled her competition in the Epsom Oaks and went on to easily beat older horses in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, but she was narrowly defeated in the Yorkshire Oaks by Tapestry, who was supplemented to the Arc on Thursday.

Trainer John Gosden, who seeks his first Arc win, repeatedly has said that Taghrooda was found to be coming into season, which might excuse her Yorkshire defeat, and she is a proven, high-class commodity over 12 furlongs on good going, though post 15 is wider than ideal.

Another 3-year-old filly, Avenir Certain, enters unbeaten in seven starts, two at the Group 1 level, but none longer than 1 5/16 miles, and her regular rider, Gregory Benoist, chose Ectot over her.

The 3-year-old filly Harp Star is one of three Japanese horses entered and rates a serious chance. Four times first and twice second in six starts, Harp Star was left too much to do in her only 1 1/2-mile try, the Japanese Oaks, finishing a hard-charging second. Far, far back in her early races, Harp Star moved earlier and successfully in beating fellow Arc runner Gold Ship in the Sapporo Kinen on Aug. 24.

The third Japanese invader is Just As Well, who made his international mark brilliantly in winning the Dubai Duty Free by more than six lengths, perhaps the best single performance anywhere in the world this year. Just As Well is classy enough and gets the right course condition, but he has raced only once over 12 furlongs and seems to prefer shorter distances.

Ectot, a 3-year-old colt, is a surprisingly short price, favored almost by default. Only once has he raced beyond one mile, and though he won the 12-furlong Prix Niel, his Arc prep, the flashy turn of foot he showed a quarter-mile out had run its course by the finish, and the competition there was nothing like he meets Sunday.

Perhaps just as competitive at five or six times the price is the French 3-year-old Prince Gibraltar, who had serious trouble when third in the French Derby.

The race also includes the 2014 St. Leger winner, Kingston Hill, and the 2013 English Derby winner, Ruler of The World.