By Andy Stephens
Frankie Dettori shrugged and smiled at the prospect of having to manoeuvre among 17 rivals when he attempts to create history aboard Enable in the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Chantilly on Sunday.
“I’d prefer it if there were only two runners but it’s the Arc, isn’t it?” he joked at a sun-kissed Newmarket on Thursday. The Italian maestro’s task was made slightly easier much later in the night when the odds-on favourite was drawn favourably low, in stall two, after an elaborate ceremony on the outskirts of Paris which concluded just before 10pm local time.
Dettori failed to figure in his two rides at Headquarters - his first since the weekend - but will be centre stage on Sunday when he will attempt to achieve a fifth win in the European showpiece and in the process become the most successful jockey in the race’s near 100-year history.
Few would dispute he is on the best horse but Arc winners have to be earned and Dettori will need all his nerve and the rub of the green to master a crowded field on a track that invites misfortune.
Serial French champion trainer Andre Fabre has suffered his share of frustration there over the years and once suggested he would like the track blown up.
“I haven’t had any bad luck stories in the Arc,” Dettori said, without being inclined to touch any available wood. There have been disappointments through his journey, though, with the heavy defeats of Derby winners Authorized (sent off at 11-10) and Camelot (2-1) leaving scars on his overall enviable record.
“Authorized was never at the races and Camelot was over the top,” he reflected, without wanting to dwell on the potential either fate for Enable. She has won the Oaks, Irish Oaks, King George and Yorkshire Oaks by an aggregate of 20 lengths this year and is a general 10-11 to confirm her standing as the best middle-distance horse in training. "I don't doubt her ability, but you also need a bit of luck in the Arc," he said.
Dettori first rode in the Arc in 1988, when on a pacemaker, and, remarkably, took part in it 25 years in succession before his sequence was broken in 2013 - the broken ankle he suffered in a tumble at Nottingham days before depriving him of what would have been an armchair ride aboard Treve, who eased to an emphatic victory under replacement jockey Thierry Jarnet.
Since then, the 46-year-old has ridden in it on three further occasions with his victory aboard Golden Horn in 2015 remaining his sweetest memory.
“Lammtarra was my first Arc winner and that is something you never forget that; Sakhee [who won by six lengths] was my easiest,” he said. “I told my parents to come over that day because I knew he would win.
“I suppose Marienbard [the following year] was the surprise one. Golden Horn? He capped the best year for me and John, and for the horse himself - it was a great emotion that day.
“Of the four, Golden Horn was the best ride; at least that’s what everyone tells me.”
There had been speculation that Sunday’s renewal, worth almost £2.5 million to the winner, would be thin on quality and quantity but the final field looks anything but average with a dozen Group One winners clashing head-on.
With the exception of Cracksman and Highland Reel, it is difficult to think what other cast members might have shown up.
Aidan O’Brien saddled the first three home last year and, theoretically, could do even better this time as he will run Winter, the choice of Ryan Moore, plus Order Of St George, Capri, Seventh Heaven and Idaho. All bar the last-named have won at least once at the highest level.
Winter will break from stall eight, with Idaho (seven) and Order Of St George (ninth) either side of him. The first-named, brilliant at up to ten furlongs this term but unproven over any farther, is perhaps the most intriguing runner in the line-up and no bigger than 9-1 with Betfair and Paddy Power.
“The opposition is bloody good,” John Gosden, the trainer of Enable said after his Face The Facts had scored at Newmarket. “There are five or six really nice horses in there and it’s a proper Arc.
“It was always going to be a big field, which is slightly the reason we didn’t want to run Cracksman. I just hope we don’t get too much rain on the day. I’d love to see it on better ground, when you see the good horses quicken.”
Enable has been on the go since the spring, running six times and, not one to do the minimum, putting in a full shift on each occasion. Some have ventured that her campaign might catch up with her but Gosden is encouraged by what he has been watching at his Clarehaven Stables.
“She weighs more now than at the beginning of the year. That’s a good sign,” he said. When asked if he was able to enjoy the build-up and sense of anticipation, the two-time champion replied: “You are watching the horse all the time - enjoyment would not be the term I’d use. There’s a lot of responsibility.”
He said he would watch the live draw with a “sense of resignation” but need not have worried. Unlike Taghrooda and Golden Horn, who were drawn very wide, Enable will jump from a favourably low berth, as will Ulysses who is next to her in stall one. Provided the pair jump with alacrity, they should be able to get a decent early position.
“The thing you must remember about Chantilly is that it’s not an easy track and not always the best horse [there] wins,” Gosden warned. It seems his biggest fear. If Dettori’s luck holds, he might not need to be anxious.
Frankie Dettori's record in the Arc:
1988 - Roushayd finished 20th of 24
1989 - Legal Case 8th (19)
1990 - Legal Case 6th (21)
1991 - Shamshir 10th (14)
1992 - Polytain 18th (18)
1993 - Misic 7th (23)
1994 - Only Royale 7th (20)
1995 - LAMMTARRA WON (16)
1996 - Classic Cliche 15th (16)
1997 - Swain 7th (18)
1998 - Sea Wave 9th (14)
1999 - Daylami - 9th (14)
2000 - Hesiode 9th (10)
2001 - SAKHEE WON (17)
2002 - MARIENBARD WON (16)
2003 - Doyen 4th (13)
2004 - Mamool 15th (19)
2005 - Cherry Mix 12th (15)
2006 - Sixties Icon 6th (8)
2007 - Authorized 10th (12)
2008 - Schiaparelli 13th (16)
2009 - Cavalryman 3rd (19)
2010 - Cavalryman 8th (18)
2011: Snow Fairy 3rd (16)
2012 Camelot 7th (18)
2013 INJURED - missed the ride on WINNER Treve
2014 - Ruler Of The World 9th (20)
2015 - GOLDEN HORN WON (17)
2016 - Order Of St George 3rd (16)
2017 - Enable ?