Monday 22 September 2014

Another Treve flop blows Arc betting wide open

Treve was truly brilliant when running away with last year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe race at Longchamp, but things just haven’t gone her way this season and she once again let supporters down when finishing fourth in the Group 1 Prix Vermeille at the Paris track in her big-race warm-up on September 14. The filly’s below-par effort has blown the ante-post market for this season’s renewal of Europe’s premier middle-distance contest wide open.

Treve is now priced at around 8/1 on BetFair to retain her crown on October 5 at Longchamp, despite having failed to get her head in front during the current campaign. The horse was widely expected to win the Prix Vermeille under her new jockey - Thierry Jarnet - who had been sensationally brought in to replace Frankie Dettori after trainer Criquette Head-Maarek had decided the Italian-born superstar rider was not the right man for the job.

Head-Maarek’s controversial decision came on the back of much deliberation following Treve’s bitterly disappointing run in the Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot in June when she was sent off a hot odds-on favourite but could only finish third behind the John Gosden-trained The Fugue. On faster ground than is ideal for her, Treve moved poorly to the post and Dettori reported afterwards that the filly never felt right - before, during, or after the race. She never travelled during the contest with her usual fluency and made laboured progress under strong pressure around the home turn before struggling on to fill third place, far below expectations.

Some seasoned observers wondered if Dettori had simply been the fall guy for the trainer having made an error in running her star horse on the wrong ground, so the Italian would be entitled to feel a shade vindicated with Jarnet proving no more effective on Treve’s comeback run. Put plainly, the daughter of Derby winner Motivator showed little of her old dash when finished behind shock winner Baltic Baroness in the Prix Vermeille – winner of a modest listed contest on her previous outing - form that leaves her with a mountain to climb to improve enough in the space of three weeks to retain her crown in Paris on the first Sunday of October.

Bookmaker reaction to Treve’s eclipse was predictably swift with the filly being pushed out to as far as 10/1 in places, as the Oaks and King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes heroine Taghrooda advanced to become the new ante-post favourite at odds of 5/1. A genuinely high-class filly who might well have been in season when narrowly beaten in the Yorkshire Oaks by Tapestry last time out, Taghrooda - trained by John Gosden - was terrific when winning at Ascot and would be a danger to all if back to that sort of form.

In what proved a dramatic weekend in the betting market for the big race, another of the leading contenders, German champion Sea The Moon, was taken out of the betting lists on the news that he is unlikely to race again after suffering a training setback in the wake of his shock defeat at Baden Baden, which ultimately proved more serious than first thought and forced him into retirement.

The Markus Flug-trained son of racing legend Sea The Stars (also the sire of Taghrooda), had looked a world-beater when wiping the floor with smart opposition in the German Derby at Hamburg in the summer, storming to a barely believable 11-length success that marked him down as a potentially exceptional middle-distance performer.

On the same day that Treve put the cat amongst the pigeons with her defeat at Longchamp, another horse came very much back into the reckoning for the outstanding race. Ruler of the World, winner of the 2013 Investec Derby at Epsom had his first run since finishing well down the field in the Dubai World Cup. The horse – who ended last term finishing a very close third to the high-class Farhh in the Champion Stakes at Ascot in October - showed he retains his ability in running out an impressive length-and-a-half winner of the Group 2 Prix Foy, under a well judged front-running ride from none other than Frankie Dettori.

Ruler of the World won the Derby in the colours of John Magnier and his Ballydoyle partners, but ran in the Prix Foy in the silks of Al Shaqaab Racing - the Qatari-based owners who have invested a massive amount of money in European racing and who bought a significant share of the son of Galileo prior to his Dubai World Cup flop. There was plenty to like about the way the four-year-old went about his business on his first start of the term, leading all the way - a tactic that would ensure he stays out of trouble in the big race itself. He found plenty for pressure when the favourite Flintshire stayed on well inside the final furlong and was always doing enough to land the spoils. Ruler of the World was cut from 33/1 to 16/1 by most firms to follow up over course and distance in the ‘Arc’ itself.

While Ruler of the World stated his case for the Arc, another Aidan O’Brien-trained star Australia, was doubtless back in his stable unaware that his narrow defeat the previous day at the hands of The Grey Gatsby - in a tremendous duel for the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes at the Curragh - had also left punters scratching their heads and wondering whether he would make it to the starting stalls at Longchamp.

Joseph O’Brien – who was riding Australia - had appeared to have everything under control as he cruised into the lead a furlong-and-a-half from home and went clear of his rivals, only for the brilliant Ryan Moore to produce a stunning finish on Kevin Ryan’s The Grey Gatsby, who subsequently wore down the dual Derby and Juddmonte International Stakes winner in the shadow of the post to win by a head – evening the score with the horse who beat him two lengths at York.

Australia had looked one of the best bets of the season and was sent off as the 3/10 market leader, but he ended up having a hard race in defeat and understandably was pushed out in the ante-post market for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe to as big as 25/1, having been around a 9/1 chance prior to his defeat. The horse has since been removed from availability for selection in places, amid rumours that the O’Brien horse has been pulled from the race.

One Arc candidate that has yet to taste any sort of defeat is the exciting French three-year-old Avenir Certain, who has risen up the ante-post market while many around her have faltered in the build-up to the big race. The horse is subsequently now a 6/1 second-favourite. The winner of all six of her career starts, the Jean-Claude Rouget-trained daughter of Le Havre won the Group 1 Prix de Diane LonginesLongines (French Oaks) at Chantilly in June, then followed up with another impressive win at Deauville in August. Avenir Certain handles soft ground well and with Longchamp in October invariably riding on the soft side of good, she appears to have leading claims and is a serious contender.

Connections of the Group 1 Ladbrokes St Leger Stakes winner Kingston Hill have yet to commit themselves to a run in Paris, but the scenario they have been craving all season for their fine colt is a race run on easy ground, so the temptation to go for the big one must be there if last season’s Racing Post Trophy winner recovers sufficiently quickly. On the back of his sweeping late success on Town Moor, the Epsom Derby runner-up - trained by Roger Varian - was shortened from 18/1 to 10/1 on Betfair and would be a very interesting runner.

Possibly the most exciting candidate of all might be Dermot Weld’s Free Eagle - a leading two-year-old of last season who was absent until reappearing on the Irish Champion Stakes card at Leopardstown in mid-September, after an absence of 53 weeks. Free Eagle cruised to victory over Elleval by a nonchalant seven lengths in the Group 3 KPMG Enterprise Stakes over 10 furlongs. While the opposition was nowhere near Arc class, the manner of the High Chaparral colt’s victory was extremely taking and despite only ever having had three runs in his life – with his only defeat coming against Australia when odds-on last year – he looks to have the talent, if not the experience to warrant a place in the big race.

The likelihood that connections will favour a bid for the Champion Stakes at Ascot instead has meant that punters are keen to lay Free Eagle for the Arc and he can still be matched at up to 38/1 on the exchange, which are no doubt tempting odds for a horse who could yet prove a world-beater, judged on his Leopardstown victory at least.