Just like the old gag about Ireland being a great country if only it was roofed, so it appears with Europe’s greatest prize — the €5 million Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, on Sunday.
Once again, the Arc takes place on very testing ground at Longchamp, injecting the multimillion euro peak of the European racing season with more of a lottery element than might otherwise be anticipated.
How such conditions can upset calculations was underlined by Torquator Tasso’s shock victory at 72-1 a year ago. The German star thrived in the mud while other more high-profile runners couldn’t replicate the form displayed during the summer.
A first Sunday in October date inevitably means the going is a fluctuating factor for Europe’s most valuable race so perhaps the Baaeed camp is the happiest to see rain in Paris this weekend.
An otherwise timid-looking decision to skip the Arc with the continent’s top-rated star now appears judicious given Baaeed has never run at a mile-and-a-half, never mind in a bog.
So, while this Arc may lack a superstar it looks as open as it does international.
Torquator Tasso defends the title with Frankie Dettori on his back this time but is drawn wide and poorly in stall18 of the 20 runners.
A quartet of Japanese runners is led by Titleholder while a handful of British-based horses are headed by Alpinista.
Ante-post favourite though is Aidan O’Brien’s Luxembourg with Ireland’s champion trainer hoping to land the Arc for the third time.
Dylan Thomas opened O’Brien’s account in 2007 while Found led home an unprecedented 1-2-3 in 2016.
Both were four-year-olds and Luxembourg must overcome a grim statistical trend when it comes to the Irish man’s Arc record. Of 52 Arc runners in all, 31 have run as three-year-olds and the best outcome was High Chaparral’s third in 2002.
What’s different with Luxembourg is the route he has taken to Paris.
Having missed out on the summer through injury, he faced a race against time to be ready for the Irish Champion Stakes three weeks ago.
That he proved half a length too good for Onesto, with Vadeni and Mishriff trailing, was as much a tribute to his resilience as his class. Now that grit will be tested again as Luxembourg tries a mile-and-a-half for the first time, and hardly on ideal going either, although he is proven on soft ground.
O’Brien’s Ballydoyle team also has Broome in the mix and the older horse brigade has been dominant for the last four years in the Arc.
Alpinista ticks that box as well as many others, including versatility in terms of surface and being a proven stayer.
In comparison, there are question marks aplenty about many of her rivals which from a betting point of view makes it trappy.
It’s a decade since Olivier Peslier won the last of his four Arcs on the 33-1 Solemia on heavy ground. The veteran French jockey is on another outsider here on Bubble Gift but last year’s eighth could represent some value at a big price.
Later on Sunday’s Longchamp card, A Case Of You will try to become the fifth horse to win the Prix de l’Abbaye back to back. It’s almost 30 years since Lochsong managed the feat in France’s sole Group One sprint although Ado McGuinness’s stable star is set to get the surface he scored on so memorably a year ago.
A Case Of You is joined by a handful of Irish-trained hopefuls including the Ken Condon pair Moss Tucker and Teresa Mendoza who has been supplemented.
McGuinness is confident a recent run in the Flying Five will leave A Case Of You primed for the Abbaye.
“To go to a Group One race with a sprinter you need a run and especially him. He’s a colt and he’s heavy. He was three months off and needed a run to just really make him sharp,” said McGuinness.
The other end of the distance spectrum will be centre stage on Saturday as Kyprios tries to stretch his unbeaten seasonal record to six in the Prix du Cadran.
France’s Gold Cup, run over 2½ miles, also contains its 2020 winner Princess Zoe as well as Lismore from Henry De Bromhead’s yard.
The Cadran is a rare Group One absence on O’Brien’s CV, but Kyprios’s credentials for changing that look flawless. He won the Ascot Gold Cup and followed up at Goodwood before dropping back in trip again to land the Irish Leger. That suggested Kyprios wouldn’t be disgraced in a soft-ground Arc, the sort of quality that should make him hard to beat.
Saturday’s other Group One at Longchamp, the Prix de Royallieu, has O’Brien represented by Emily Dickinson and Perotan.