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Angus McNae

Angus McNae - Thursday 19th September 2013

Kizuna’s Arc Trial Performance Should be Marked Up

The Prix De l'Arc De Triomphe picture is complete. The trials at Longchamp on Sunday concluded the build-up to the big race and now debate will rage about which horse is most likely to win. Let’s have a look at the evidence from Sunday and then consider some other likely candidates. 

Firstly the Prix Niel, won narrowly by Kizuna from Ruler of the World. As with all the trials last Sunday it was steadily run. We know this because Racing TV in France provides sectional times. The race turned into something of a three-furlong dash, with those last three furlongs being completed in 37.19 s.

Kizuna won the race with a burst of speed between the two and the one pole, completing that furlong in 11.76s.

He then had to dig deep in the final 100 yards to hang on from the fast-finishing Ruler Of The World, who briefly suffered some trouble in-running.

This was a solid performance from Kizuna, who I believe will confirm the form with Ruler Of The World on Arc day, provided he gets a better ride and trip on the big day. In the Niel he was forced wide and saw a lot of daylight, with more cover and a patient ride he would have won with greater ease.

Ruler of the World
© Caroline Norris

Ruler of the World
Some will fancy Ruler of the World, given his finishing surge, but do not be deceived. He did his running when Kizuna had already won the race between the two and the one pole.

The final quarter mile in the Niel was run in 23.78 s, which should be judged in the context of how the race was run as a whole. The final quarter mile pace, allied to the pace in the first three furlongs, provides us with vital information and in the case of the Niel this finishing split was run on the back of a faster opening seven furlongs than in either the Vemeille or the Foy. This trial should not be underestimated, it was a good one and the winner should be marked up.

The Vermeile was won by the unbeaten Treve. The race was a steadily-run affair, also, and turned into a sprint. Treve briefly stuck in a pocket when the pace quickened and was coolly handled by Frankie Dettori and she simply had too much pace for her rivals in the final three furlongs.

She clocked 23.67s for the final two furlongs and it was her turn of foot between the three and the two that won her the race. She actually recorded a slower final furlong than Kizuna - 12.06 compared to 12.02, but she was in cruise control in the last 100 yards and was eased slightly.

This was her first attempt at 12 furlongs and she clearly got the trip, but for all her ability we have no evidence that she will be able to utilise her brilliant turn of foot in a race run at a strong early gallop. We do not know whether a stronger gallop will empty the tank and blunt her final finishing burst.

Treve may win the Arc, but for all of the visual impression she created she will face a different scenario next month and we should not be running to the windows just because she looked impressive.

Orfevre was visually impressive too in the Foy. This race, however, was run at an even slower pace than either the Niel or the Vermeille. Orfevre won as he liked, clocking a decent 11.39s split between the two and the one pole to put the race to bed. In effect he only raced for two furlongs completing them in 23.4s, which was a quicker finishing split than was achieved in either the Niel of the Vermeille. We should not read too much into this, though, because of the sedate early gallop. In terms of this being a trial for the Arc we could quite rightly express doubts such as those applicable to Treve. The race as a whole was a farce and we did not find out what Orfevre could do off a strong mile and a half gallop, but there is one important difference.

Unlike Treve we know what Orfevre can do in a top-class, strongly run mile and a half race. He should have won the Arc last year and would have done with a better draw. If we cannot glean much from this trial we can glean something from just watching the horse go about his business. He was relaxed, did not need to wear a hood, he did not hang under pressure and Soumillon was full of praise for him afterwards.

I was lucky enough to interview Soumillon for Planet Turf and he told me this horse is one of the best he has ever sat on. That is some accolade given the horses Soumillon has ridden. Such statements are cheap though and Orfevre achieved little on Sunday that is tangible, but he is clearly in fine shape and did not have to run so hard that he will recoil from this in the Arc.

These trials were run with the Arc in mind. In other words trainers and jockeys alike wanted to fine tune their horses without getting to the bottom of them and that objective was achieved in the case of all three winners, and also those who ran well in behind.

It is my opinion that of these three Orfevre will come out on top in the Arc itself, but he needs the draw gods to be kind to him this time around.

What of the other contenders? Well Al Kazeem will be popular with many. He has not put in a bad performance all year, and finally achieved something on the clock in the Juddmonte International. The step up to 12 furlongs will be no problem, nor will likely soft ground, but could this be one race too many for him?

He has been to war six times already this year in top-class company and has had some hard fights along the way. His hard race at York seemed to take its toll in the Irish Champion where he carried his head awkwardly under pressure. This could be a step too far and I could not back him. A place lay on the exchanges would be one way to play him.

Leading Light is a strong stayer as we saw at Royal Ascot and in the St Leger. He also has more speed than many have given him credit for - after all he has won at 10 furlongs before. All of this points to him being a candidate for top-class staying events next year - after all good stayers need pace - that is what sets them apart. As far as the Arc is concerned he has not shown that he is good enough to get involved and he is not for me.

Novellist has done nothing wrong and is clearly top-class. His win in the King George was hugely impressive and he achieved a fast time and he comes from a strong Group of older German horses. His place as favourite for the Arc has been usurped by what we saw on Sunday, but it would be very wrong to underestimate this fellow.

One slight niggle I have about him is that he may not want really soft ground. A lot of his wins have come on decent ground and it was firm at Ascot after all. He is becoming the forgotten horse of the race, but it would pay to keep him very much in mind. 


Angus's ante-post Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe tips:

Orfevre at 7-2 with bet365, Bet Victor and Coral

Novellist at 6-1 with Paddy Power




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