The scale of the task facing Ireland’s hope Continuous in Sunday’s €5 million Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe can be gauged by how many legendary names of the past failed to pull it off.
No horse has ever won the English St Leger and the Arc in the same year. Ballymoss won both but his Doncaster classic was in 1957 and Europe’s greatest all-aged prize a year later. Nijinsky completed the Triple Crown in 1970, but the Arc was famously a bridge too far.
Proof the Leger is no automatic impediment to success in Paris came when Alleged bounced back from the sole defeat of his career at Doncaster to secure the first of back-to-back Arcs in 1977.
Nevertheless pulling off the double just a few weeks apart is a monumental challenge that also proved beyond other outstanding horses such as Reference Point and Sun Princess, both of which had longer than the 15 days Continuous has had to get over their Leger exertions.
Still, neither time or history prevented the Coolmore team paying out €120,000 to put their son of Hearts Cry into Europe’s richest and most coveted race this week. It means he will start alongside 14 others in an international line up when the gates open on the famous race in Longchamp at 3.05pm Irish time which is live on ITV4.
Should Continuous secure a groundbreaking victory he will have truly earned a place amongst an elite group of Irish-trained Arc winners. Just half a dozen others followed in Ballymoss’ hoofprints, ranging from a shock 52-1 victory for the mudlark Levmoss in 1969 to coronation for the peerless Seas The Stars 13 years ago.
If some still wonder at how Aidan O’Brien’s first Arc winner Dylan Thomas kept the race in the steward’s room in 2007, the Irishman’s 2016 dominance was unprecedented, Found leading home a remarkable Ballydoyle one-two-three.
His Leger performance was a first Group One for Continuous whose career momentum to date has lived up to his name. But it will require a turbo-boost again to get the better of the different level of opposition he faces in Paris.
Sceptics might also ponder how much of a mammoth task it is for the Irish colt given the double was too much for some truly wonderful horses in the past.
O’Brien and jockey Ryan Moore have enjoyed such a successful season already, however, that Continuous is set to fight it out for second favouritism on the countdown to Sunday’s highlight of a bumper Longchamp programme.
The favourite’s tag looks all but certain to hang around the unbeaten home star Ace Impact. The Jean Claude Rouget-trained colt displayed rare brilliance when beating a strong French Derby field in June and has been primed for this weekend ever since. A single subsequent start at Deauville last month saw the son of Cracksman win albeit without the flamboyance he exhibited at Chantilly. For the Rouget camp, though, it appeared to serve its purpose in getting Ace Impact to Longchamp for the first Sunday in October in peak condition.
Unlike the older English stars Hukum and Westover, drawn on opposite sides of the field, Ace Impact is unproven at a mile and half, although his breeding as well as unusually decent going for the time of year are reassuring in terms of stamina.
Having won with Sottsass in 2020, and with Vadeni foiled only by bog-like ground a year ago, the Rouget team know what’s required to win the Arc and there’s palpable confidence around Ace Impact’s chance.
“The jockey will ride him as usual and try to relax him until the second half of the race. The track is going to be fast enough so everyone will be able to find a position and I’m not really worried that there isn’t going to be any pace,” Rouget said on Friday.
Ace Impact holds Feed The Flame on French Derby form and the latter could do well just to reverse Prix Niel placings with the German Derby winner Fantastic Moon.
The unknown quantity is the Japanese runner Through Seven Seas. On the 19th occasion when Japan tries to win the international prize it covets most, this mare’s ranking as a contender is based on running the Equinox to a neck in her home country in June. That was a significant step up on her previous form but in strict mathematical terms it puts her right in the mix. Equinox is rated the best in the world and if Through Seven Seas was flattered by her proximity it still showed an older horse still progressing.
The other five-year-old mare is Free Wind who will be Frankie Dettori’s final shot at a record-extending seventh Arc before retirement. Even by the Italian’s limelight-hogging standards it would be a spectacular story to overshadow even the Continuous angle.
Ultimately though, if there is to be an outstanding winner to join European racing’s most evocative roll-of-honour it looks like the favourite.