Focus on Frankie but the Heavens may open


RACING: PRIX DE L’ARC DE TRIOMPHE:THEY MIGHTN’T win tomorrow’s Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe but there’s no doubt Frankie Dettori and Camelot will be the central focus right up to the “off” at Longchamp in a story rooted in the sort of emotions everyone can understand.

That may sound odd in a €4 million race renowned as the most prestigious and exclusive in Europe and fought over by billionaires and princes from around the world in an eye-watering game of high-stakes bloodstock poker.

However, as befits his reputation as racing’s most extravagant showman Dettori has changed the usual plot with a flourish.

The superstar Italian has held his tongue throughout 2012 as the French youngster Mikel Barzalona impinged further and further into his long-time role as number one rider to Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin empire. And yet his actions in accepting the ride on Camelot speak volumes.

This after all will be his first ride for racing’s other superpower, Coolmore, since the 2005 St Leger on Scorpion, after which Dettori felt compelled to issue a public apology to the Sheikh for riding the Irish horse at all.

Since even then, diplomatic relations between Dubai and Tipperary were stormy, and even more so subsequently with the sheikh’s decision to avoid purchasing stock by Coolmore stallions, there was a resonance to John Magnier’s joke at the time: “Frankie, we still love you, and we forgive you, because you know not what you do!”

For the notoriously publicity shy Coolmore supremo to come out with such a line indicates how much of an admirer he is of the 41-year-old charismatic Italian and how much he must relish the idea of putting one over his old rival by hiring – temporarily at least – his jockey.

Quite what the sheikh thinks of it all remains unclear. Reportedly Dettori communicated by text he was taking the Camelot ride, a huge move considering the history between the two men and that the Dubai ruler has Masterstroke in the race. Sheikh Mohammed’s memory, and ability to hold a grudge, has been proven down the years so it is hard not to view Dettori’s jump across world bloodstock’s no-man’s-land as a big gamble and also a bold statement regarding his continuing abilities as a big-race rider.

Behind the flash, an in-form Frankie remains the outstanding natural talent of his generation, the one former legends like Piggott and Eddery admire watching the most. Three previous Arc wins testify to his mastery of Longchamp and this will be his 25th consecutive ride in the race. And his enduring popularity all but ensures Camelot will start favourite tomorrow.

So Aidan O’Brien’s colt, who only lost his unbeaten record with that failed Triple Crown attempt in the Leger last month, not only has millions of Coolmore eggs in his basket, but quite a few of his jockeys too.

The Irish star got a real boost yesterday with a stall five draw, and in a race where no double-figure drawn horse has won since Dalakhani in 2003, his main market rival, the Japanese Triple Crown winner Orfervre looked to get a glorified coffin box in the widest of all 18 gate.

Even Japanese racing’s determination to win the race they covet most in the world can hardly be expected to overcome that sort of ill-fortune, although it is noticeable how other main contenders like Masterstroke, Sea Moon, Meandre and Shareta are also drawn high.

Aidan O’Brien’s other hope, St Nicholas Abbey, is in 10 and it would be ironic if Joseph O’Brien’s inability to do 8st 11lb on Camelot bounced back in his favour on the Ballydoyle number two. And on a fast surface there would be temptation at double-figure odds to reckon St Nicholas Abbey might be up to a big run at his best. After all he was only just off Nathaniel and Snow Fairy in the Irish Champion and will relish a return to a mile and a half. But ground conditions at Longchamp are forecast to be soft, hardly idea for Camelot either, as both horses attempt to become just the seventh Irish trained Arc winner.

The 2012 renewal has been spectacularly hit by defections though, notably last year’s winner Danedream and both Snow Fairy and Nathaniel who would have relished the going but misses out due to illness.

Significantly though Nathaniel’s full-sister Great Heavens has been supplemented at a cost of €100,000 and while John Gosden has described her as “no Nathaniel” the fact remains that fee was a lot for any owners to pony up just to have something to look at in Paris. Like her brother Great Heavens thrives on the soft and a look back to her Irish Oaks win reveals a real talent considering the trouble she found before accelerating past her rivals.

So while Frankie and Camelot may be the story beforehand, it may be worth betting at a decent price that everyone will be looking to Great Heavens afterwards.

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