As punters pore over the charts for the 95th running of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in anticipation of Europe’s most prestigious horse race, they are faced with the unsavory task of trying to come up with reasons why the overwhelming favorite in a deep and talented field won’t win. That horse is Postponed and it requires a long memory to summon up the last time the five-year old star did not make it to the winner’s circle.
Postponed is on a six-race winning streak – four in Group One battles – and his performance each time out in 2016 has been more impressive than the last. It is no wonder that the Irish-bred, British-trained colt is the highest rated horse in Europe. Postponed will be reunited with several past defeated foes in the 2500-metre test for three-year olds and up. Despite an illness that cost Postponed a chance to defend his title at the King George earlier in summer, trainer Roger Varian has thrown no shade on his stable star and issued nothing but glowing reports on the workouts leading up to this race. Bookmaker bet365 has installed Postponed as a 13/8 favorite for the Arc.
If bettors have that long memory to Postponed’s last defeat 15 months ago, they can then take solace in 2015’s running of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe when two-time defending champion Treve was sent to the post as a prohibitive 4-5 favorite and struggled home a well-battled fourth. There is also a change of venue to take into consideration as traditional host Longchamp undergoes a massive facelift and the Arc takes up temporary residence a dozen leagues to the north at Chantilly Racecourse where the turf is expected to be firm and fast.
If Postponed is to suffer an upset it could likely come from a spirited crop of three-year olds. Three-year olds have won 15 of the last 20 Arcs. Postponed will be racing with a punishing 3.5 kilogram (7.7 pounds) weight handicap against his younger rivals. Even French racing officials, in advance of a less drastic weight allowance system change next year, have declared that the five-year old champion will be at a disadvantage.
Primed to seize that advantage is Japanese star Makahiki. Japanese connections have long sought success in the Arc and there is every hope that this colt out of former Japanese Horse of the Year Deep Impact will be the one to do it. There have been big scores this season for Makahiki in the Grade 1 Japan Derby and the Grade 2 Prix Niel – but by a combined total of less than one length. Makahiki has been piloted by veteran Christophe Lemaire in Japan and the French-born jockey is well acquainted with the course at Chantilly. All of those positives must be weighed against the still-green horse who has only had four races and enters the Arc with odds of 5/1.
Another three-year old contender will be the Irish-bred Harzand who has puzzled his share of punters this season. He entered 2016 with only one race as a two-year old which produced an uninspiring fifth place finish. He broke his maiden, however, with a win by 16 lengths. Then Harzand was a winner in the Epsom Derby as a tepid third favorite. After a victory in the Irish Derby, Harzand went off a strong 3-1 choice in the Irish Champion States – and finished eighth. And came up lame following a rough trip. Trainer Dermot Weld has Harzand back in time for the Arc but bettors have to be worried about any lingering effects of the injury. Also the shine of his earlier wins has dulled a bit with the poor subsequent performances of the horses he vanquished in those big summer races. Harzand does break from the favorable number six stall and if all goes well will return 7/1 to backers.
Top trainer Aidan O’Brien leads the pack of aged horse challengers with Found and Highland Reel. Found leaped to notoriety by winning the Breeders Cup Turf in 2015 and has been a consistently high performer in 2016. That is the good news. The bad news is she is breaking the hearts of win bettors with nine runner-up finishes including the last five in a row. If she can battle all the way to the front at the finish line, she will reward believers at 6/1.
Highland Reel has hit the board steadily as both a three-year old last year and a four-year old campaigner this season. There have been three Grade I wins mixed in, including a major score at the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes in July. Yes, there is a lot to like when looking at Highland Reel – until you look at his dismal record against Postponed. It will take a punter of stout disposition to risk real money on that past history reversing itself in the Arc. That no doubt contributes to Highland Reel’s longish odds at 16-1.
Last year New Bay went to the post in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe as the second or third favorite, depending on what book you used. And he performed as expected with a solid third place run. This year New Bay, a former French Derby champion, is back with France’s champion jump rider Vincent Cheminaud in the irons. New Bay is trained by legendary horseman André Fabre and those sterling connections are enough to warrant 11-1 odds. There is still a nagging suspicion as to whether New Bay can get this distance but if he does it will be a record eighth time to the Arc winner’s circle for Fabre.
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