He’s an Epsom Derby winner, he’s trained at the most successful racing stable in the world, he represents the most powerful new force in ownership for the last 30 years, and his jockey is one of the most accomplished riders of Longchamp of modern times. Yet until Ruler Of The World won one of the big trials just two weeks ago, he wasn’t on anybody’s radar for Sunday’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and even now he’s considered a relative outsider and is available to back at 16-to-1 with British bookmakers. Donn McClean examines the 4-year-old’s up-and-down journey to Paris.
It may be that 2013 should have been Ruler Of The World’s year. The Epsom Derby winner was beaten just a short head in the Prix Niel (a key G2 Arc trial at Longchamp three weeks before the great race), and everybody knows that 3-year-olds win the Arc and that the Prix Niel is one of the best pointers to the race. It was not to be. It’s possible that 2014 will be his year instead.
Ruler Of The World was not the only unbeaten colt going into last year’s Epsom Derby, but he was the only one who had won over the Derby distance. Unraced as a juvenile, a maiden win at the Curragh in April was enough to convince his trainer Aidan O’Brien that he could be a Derby horse. He duly ran in one of the recognised Derby trials, the G3 Chester Vase, run, like the Derby, over a mile and a half, and he won by six lengths.
Interestingly, while that performance was good enough to send him to Epsom as a leading Derby fancy, it was not good enough to lure stable jockey Joseph O’Brien. The youngster and the market preferred the G3 Ballysax Stakes and G2 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial winner Battle Of Marengo, who finished a creditable fourth as Ryan Moore drove Ruler Of The World to a one-and-a-half-length victory.
Defeat in the Irish Derby subsequently was unexpected. Sent off the 4-to-5 favourite, the Galileo colt was bidding to provide Aidan O’Brien with his eighth win in a row in the classic. Alas, he got warm beforehand and didn’t run his race, ultimately finishing just fifth behind Trading Leather in a performance that was simply too bad to be true.
Freshened up after that, he was next marked down as an unlucky loser in the Niel, meeting trouble in-running and going down by a short head to the Japanese Derby winner Kizuna.
The record book says Ruler Of The World finished seventh in last year’s Arc, but that does not tell the full story. Watch the race again. They dawdled through the first mile – eventual winner Treve did not drop the bridle until they had gone six furlongs – with the result that no more than about eight lengths covered the 17-strong field as they raced down the false straight three furlongs from home.
Ruler Of The World had a good position at that point, on the outside in sixth place, clear daylight ahead of him. Then Treve moved up on the outside and hemmed him in. Then Orfevre and Kizuna moved up behind Treve on his outside and kept him there, helpless. Suddenly, they had turned for home and Ruler Of The World had been shuffled back to fourth from last, grappling to make ground into a quickening pace. Impossible.
Short of room again at the furlong pole, he did quite well to run on as strongly as he did to finish seventh. Of course, it is highly unlikely he would have got close to Treve, such was the magnitude of her superiority over everything else on a special day for her, but he would have been a lot closer to the filly had he enjoyed a better run through the race.
It would have been understandable if that had been it for the season, but it wasn’t. He returned at Ascot two weeks later and ran out of his skin to finish a close-up third behind the top-class pair Farhh and Cirrus Des Aigles in the G1 Qipco Champion Stakes, the three of them clear of the rest. It was his first run over 10 furlongs since he had won his maiden at the Curragh six months previously, and, on the easy ground that suits him well, it was probably the best run of his life.
The next time we saw him was in the Dubai World Cup at Meydan in March. Sporting the shiny new silver Al Shaqab silks – Sheikh Joaan had bought a half-share during the winter – he didn’t appear to handle the Tapeta surface, and finished down the field. It was still a worthwhile experiment. You never know about these things until you try them.
Ruler Of The World skipped the summer and appeared next in the G2 Prix Foy (another of the big Arc trials at Longchamp – on the same day as the Prix Niel) two weeks ago over the Arc course and distance, and he duly won. It was his first win since the 2013 Epsom Derby, but more remarkably, it was the first victory recorded by any of the first seven home in the 2013 Epsom Derby. The septet had run 31 times collectively between last year’s Derby and this year’s Prix Foy, and none of them had won.
One could argue that Ruler Of The World may have enjoyed the run of the race in the Foy. Frankie Dettori dictated a nice, sedate even pace to suit himself and his horse, and he kicked early in the home straight. That said, he beat the talented Flintshire by an easy length and a half, he looked impressive and he clocked a good time – more than a full second faster than the G1 Prix Vermeille and almost as fast as the Niel, both Arc trials run over the same course and distance on the same day – despite the sedate early pace. It is difficult to argue that he wasn’t solidly the best horse in the race on the day.
The 3-year-old stat is strong in the Arc, obviously influenced by the 8 pounds that they receive from the older horses. Sixteen of the last 20 Arc winners were members of the classic generation. Indeed, no Epsom Derby winner has ever won the Arc other than as a 3-year-old. Those are tough stats to overcome, but it’s not impossible.
If the ball had hopped a little differently, Orfevre could have won the last two renewals of the Arc for the older horses. Also, Aidan O’Brien’s only Arc winner to date is Dylan Thomas, who led home a 1-2-4 for the 4-year-olds in 2007.
Interestingly, Dylan Thomas did not run in the Arc as a 3-year-old. Instead, after getting the better of a two-furlong-long duel with Ouija Board to land the 2006 Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown, he went to America on Arc weekend to contest the G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on dirt, dropping back to finish last of four behind Bernardini in an uncharacteristically dull effort. He went back to Leopardstown in 2007 to claim his second Irish Champion Stakes, and used that as a springboard to victory in the Arc.
You can argue that this year’s renewal of the Arc is not as good as last year’s. Treve was brilliant in 2013, but she hasn’t yet sparkled like that this year. Criquette Head-Maarek’s filly has run three times this season, and she has been beaten all three times. Second, third, and fourth. She could bounce back, but it is a big ask, and her odds for this year’s Arc are twice as high as they were for last year’s.
There is no Orfevre (second last year) this time, no Intello (third last year), no Kizuna (fourth). Treve is the only one of the first four in last year’s Arc who will line up on Sunday. There are lots of new kids, of course, plenty of high-class 3-year-olds, Taghrooda and Ectot and Avenir Certain for starters. The Japanese triumvirate of Just A Way, Harp Star (also a 3-year-old), and Gold Ship look strong. Even so, there is no horse from whom Ruler Of The World should be running scared.
Frankie Dettori, retained by Sheikh Joaan’s Al Shaqab Racing, will renew his partnership with the colt on Sunday. Al Shaqab’s colours will be carried by Ectot and Treve as well as by Ruler Of The World. But Gregory Benoist has chosen to ride Ectot instead of stablemate Avenir Certain, which was allowable under the agreement with Benoist’s boss, Gerard Augustin-Normand. Criquette Head-Maarek has requested that Thierry Jarnet ride Treve, as he did last year. Joseph O’Brien, who reportedly had first option on Ruler Of The World under the agreement of his part-sale to Sheikh Joaan, will instead ride Aidan O’Brien’s other intended runner, last year’s Irish Oaks winner Chicquita.
Dettori has won the Arc three times, and Al Shaqab racing manager Harry Herbert told the media this week: “He rides Longchamp very well and knows the track like the back of his hand. His experience in races like the Arc is all important."
So Ruler Of The World has plenty going for him on Sunday, and, especially if it happens to rain just a little in Paris between now and then, he goes to the Arc with a real chance of providing Aidan O’Brien with his second win in the race. It’s more than possible.