What she has already done is pretty special in anybody’s book, but an enduring place in the equine pantheon is on the line for mighty mare Enable on Sunday as she bids for a slice of history in the storied Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
The remarkable 5-year-old – a superstar racehorse with a superstar jockey in the world’s number one, Frankie Dettori, and trained by the world’s top-ranked conditioner in John Gosden – is a heavy favourite to achieve the extraordinary with an unprecedented hat-trick in Europe’s richest race at the famously elegant venue now officially branded as ParisLongchamp.
The €5 million contest provides the centrepiece of a stellar weekend’s action in the Bois de Boulogne with eight G1 contests altogether. Five races on Sunday’s card also feature in the Breeders’ Cup Challenge, the Qatar-sponsored Arc weekend representing the conclusion of the European schedule in this year’s ‘Win and You’re In’ series and offering guaranteed expenses-paid berths to designated races at Santa Anita on November 1-2.
Click here to read Nicholas Godfrey’s preview of the other four BC qualifiers in Paris
The Arc itself is linked to the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf – won last year by Enable in a thrilling battle with regular punchbag Magical as Khalid Abdullah’s celebrated daughter of Nathaniel finally ended the notorious hoodoo that had seen previous Arc winners endure a notable sequence of defeat after defeat at the Breeders’ Cup.
Enable is already qualified for the Turf, having won the King George at Ascot in July, and also has a place guaranteed in the Maker’s Mark Filly & Mare Turf thanks to her victory in the Yorkshire Oaks in August.
Eight Arc winners had run at the Breeders’ Cup before Enable; all eight had been beaten, seven in the Turf, starting with the brilliant Dancing Brave in 1986, plus Sakhee in the Classic.
The Arc’s roll of honour is like no other, featuring a litany of European racing greats, from Ribot and Sea-Bird via Mill Reef and Dancing Brave to Montjeu, Zarkava and Sea The Stars.
Enable added her name to that exalted list with her first success as a 3-year-old in 2017 at Chantilly, the Arc’s temporary home amid the €140m redevelopment that has transformed Longchamp. With an unsettled forecast this weekend, it is worth noting the ground was officially described as soft that day.
Back at the Arc’s traditional venue 12 months ago, Enable overcame a troubled preparation to hold off Sea Of Class by a desperate short neck to join a select list of dual winners alongside the likes of Ribot, Alleged and Treve.
Now the world’s number one racehorse bids to succeed where Treve failed four years ago by going down in the annals of the Turf as the first horse ever to win the Arc three times. She arrives seemingly in peak form, having extended her winning streak to 12 with three more G1 successes in 2019 in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes, the King George and the Yorkshire Oaks. She is also set to face the smallest Arc field since 2007, when Dylan Thomas beat 11 opponents; hot favourite that day was Derby winner Authorized, who could finish only a dismal tenth of 12 under Dettori.
As such, nobody connected with Enable will be taking anything for granted in a race not won by a 5-year-old since Marienbard in 2002. “She’s managed to win two Arcs, maybe it’s greedy to think of a third,” mused Gosden.
“I respect the opposition as I always do and they’ll respect her likewise,” the trainer continued in an interview with Sky Sports Racing.
“She’s got a great stride on her and a great head and a wonderful outlook,” he went on. “She’s filled her frame and there’s no doubt in my mind that a flat Thoroughbred horse is probably at their absolute peak at five. She’s fully grown now and fully developed.
“We’ll see how we go – there’s some mighty opposition coming at us, there’s no doubt about that.”
A dangerous figure among that opposition is Godolphin 4-year-old Ghaiyyath (Charlie Appleby/William Buick), who advertised his credentials with an utterly dominant wide-margin victory in the Grosser Preis von Baden. Danedream also won Germany’s top race in 2011 before following up in the Arc.
Ballydoyle maestro Aidan O’Brien is set to restrict himself to just two runners as he seeks his third Arc triumph, with Japan (Ryan Moore) and Magical (Donnacha O’Brien), who won her third career G1 in the Irish Champion Stakes. Her CV would be even more luminous were it not for the existence of Enable, who has finished in front of her on each of the four occasions they have met, including twice this season.
Year-younger stablemate Japan has progressed over the summer to sit towards the top of the Classic generation, completing a hat-trick when beating his elders in the Juddmonte International, where he re-rallied in game fashion to thwart the courageous Crystal Ocean. He had won the ‘Ascot Derby’, the King Edward VII Stakes, and the Grand Prix de Paris over course and distance on his previous two outings. The York form has taken a few knocks, however.
The French haven’t kept their greatest prize at home since Treve in 2014. Prix du Jockey Club winner Sottsass (Jean-Claude-Rouget/Cristian Demuro) leads the domestic team this time around, joined by the progressive French King (Henri-Alex Pantall/Olivier Peslier) and Waldgeist (Andre Fabre/Pierre-Charles Boudot), bidding to improve on last year’s fourth as he tries to become an eighth winner for his record-breaking trainer, the most successful in Arc history.
Sottsass overcame a troubled passage to win the Prix Niel on the Arc trials card three weeks ago. “I am going into the Arc with confidence, but with a horse who has never encountered Enable, who has never encountered Japan, who has never really met anyone,” suggested Rouget, speaking to attheraces.com.
The home team is completed by Sottsass’s stable companion, Soft Light, likely to be the longest shot on the board, despite being supplemented at a cost of €120,000 and gaining the services of Japanese icon Yutaka Take.
The Arc was a truly international race before such events became common, and the 2019 edition is no different. Surprise Royal Ascot runner-up Nagano Gold (Vaclav Luka jnr/Mickael Barzalona) represents the Czech Republic, while the Japanese obsession with winning the race the nation knows as the Gaisenmon-sho after a string of heart-breaking near-misses finds its annual outlet with three runners. However, while they are G1 winners at home, Fierement, Blast Onepiece and Kiseki can be regarded only as outsiders in such testing company. Last year’s Arima Kinen hero Blast Onepiece, long since targeted for the Arc, may prove best of them.
Sunday’s five Breeders’ Cup Challenge events are the final races in the ‘Win and You’re In’ international series of 86 stakes races whose winners receive automatic fees-paid entries to designated races at the two-day event at Santa Anita on November 1-2.
It may be worth noting that, although Arc winners had never won the Breeders’ Cup Turf in the same year before Enable, several horses beaten in France have gone on to triumph in North America.
Since the turn of the century, they include High Chaparral (twice, in 2002 and 2003, after coming third both times in the Arc), Shirocco (fourth, 2005), Conduit (fourth, 2009), St Nicholas Abbey (fifth, 2011), Found (ninth, 2015) and Highland Reel (second, 2016).