09/24/2010 1:48PM

This year's Arc not up to its usual high standards


NEW YORK – While many people might consider the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe to be the most important race in the world, next Sunday’s 91st running at Longchamp cannot be mistaken for a first-class edition. The retirement of Harbinger, the 11-length winner of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, struck the Arc a heavy blow, as did the flopperoo pulled by seven-length Epsom Derby winner Workforce in the same race.

Without a deserving, clear-cut favorite such as Sea the Star or Zarkava, the winners of the last two Arcs, this year’s race is rather wide open. This is a blessed relief, as favorites have dominated the Arc in recent years, winning 12 of the last 16 runnings. But as a result, this year’s race may not add to the reputation of the Arc as the best race in the world.

That title might belong to the Irish Champion Stakes, a 1 1/4-mile Group 1 run at Leopardstown on the first Saturday in September. As such it serves perfectly as an Arc trial, and has been used successfully for same by Sea the Stars in 2009 and Dylan Thomas in 2007. Although you have to go back to 1991 to find the previous Irish Champion/Arc winner in Suave Dancer, the 15 Irish Champion winners in between include Pilsudski, Swain, Daylami, Giant’s Causeway, Fantastic Light, High Chaparral, Azamour, and New Approach.

It can be argued that group has contributed at least as much to racing on the breeding end than the best Arc winners during the same period. Lammtarra and Helissio have not been successful sires, while Peintre Celebre and Dalakhani have been modest successes with Montjeu topping the bill along with the superb mare Urban Sea, the dam of Sea the Stars.

Behkabad, Ladbrokes’s 7-2 Arc favorite who is 3-1 with William Hill, has never raced against anything but French 3-year-olds, as has the 25-1 Planteur, who was second to him in both the Grand Prix de Paris and the Prix Niel. The 4-1 Fame and Glory has not run since beating up on his inferiors in the Group 2 Royal Whip Stakes on Aug. 8. Workforce worked well on Tuesday morning but Michael Stoute will not make a decision about running him in the Arc until later this week. The 8-1 Sarafina must show more than she did when finishing third to Midday in the Prix Vermeille, but Plumania, who finished second in the Vermeille, a half-length in front of Sarafina, looks like value at 25-1.

Japanese shippers Nakayama Festa and Victoire Pisa will take their chance after capable efforts on Arc Trial Day, Sept. 12, but neither is in the same league as 2006 Arc third-place finisher Deep Impact or 1999 runner-up El Condor Pasa. So that leaves us with Cape Blanco.

The Aidan O’Brien-trained Cape Blanco won the Irish Champion Stakes by a rather remarkable 5 1/2 lengths on Sept. 4, beating two of the world’s best 10-furlong horses, Rip Van Winkle and Twice Over. With a victory at the Arc distance in the Irish Derby, he is probably the one I will be backing next Sunday, especially if William Hill’s price of 8-1 is still available on the day.

Freddy Head has decided to supplement his Grand Prix de Deauville winner Marinous to the Arc. His performance should give us further insight as to where American turfers stand vis-à-vis their European rivals, as he beat subsequent Northern Dancer Turf winner Redwood by a half-length at Deauville. With United Nations winner Chinchon having finished last behind Duncan and Nakayama Festa in the Prix Foy, American form at or about 1 1/2 miles is looking weaker than usual this season.

Trainer Eric Libaud is contemplating the Arc for his three-time Group 1 winner Vision d’Etat. He returned form a 4 1/2-month vacation to win the 1 1/4-mile, Group 3 Prix Gontaut-Biron at Deauville on Aug. 14, but was only 10th in last year’s Arc. His preferred option remains the 1 1/4-mile Champion Stakes at Newmarket on Oct. 16.

Youmzain, runner-up in the last three Arcs, will be back at Longchamp to try yet again. Now 7, Youmzain, a son of 2000 Arc winner Sinndar, worked well for trainer Michael Channon at Newbury last Sunday, but he was 3 1/4 lengths behind runner-up Cape Blanco in his most recent outing in the King George.

In other Arc Day updates, Richard Hannon is thinking of sending his speedy 2-year-old Zebedee against older horses in the five-furlong Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp. Already 6 for 7, including victories in the Group 3 Molecomb Stakes and the Group 2 Flying Childers Stakes, both at the Abbaye distance, Zebedee would be the first 2-year-old Abbaye winner since the Criquette Head-trained Sigy in 1978.

One sprinter Zebedee won’t have to worry about at Longchamp is Overdose. The “Budapest Bullet” was beaten for the first in 15 starts in the Goldene Peitsche at Baden-Baden on Aug. 29 and has not bounced back as quickly as hoped. Overdose will be aimed, instead, at the six-furlong, Group 3 Premio Omenoni at San Siro in Milan on Oct. 17.