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Solemia - Longchamp - 7/10/2012

Solemia: the lowest-rated winner of the Arc in over 20 years

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (  

Arc under pressure from Champion Stakes

WORLD CLASS: an analysis of the international scene according to Racing Post Ratings

THE Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe is under mounting pressure from the Champion Stakes as the premier end-of-season championship and this month could see momentum swing towards the Ascot feature.

Measuring elements of prestigiousness is near impossible but quantifying on-track performance is fairly straightforward and the new and improved Champion Stakes is winning the ratings war.

Last year Danedream (128) beat Shareta (120) in the Arc, while Cirrus Des Aigles (130) beat So You Think (128) in the Champion Stakes, with Snow Fairy finishing third in both races.

That was the first running of the Champion Stakes at Ascot and it produced a very strong result which put it ahead of both the 2011 Arc and Breeders' Cup Classic - traditionally the strongest races in the calendar.

This year that gap could be set to widen. The Breeders' Cup Classic again lacks a superstar and the Arc was won by Solemia with an RPR of just 123, while the Champion Stakes is set to be contested by world champion Frankel (142). This year the difference in the Arc and Champion Stakes winning ratings could be 20lb.

There are, of course, extenuating circumstances this year. Next year the standards should normalise, with better ground and a shorter list of defections likely to see a rise in the Arc ratings and without Frankel running in the Champion Stakes their figures should fall.

But there are factors which suggest the Ascot feature might be able to maintain its position ahead of the Longchamp spectacular and the Breeders' Cup Classic on a long-term basis.

There is little in racing that compares with a rich history. The oldest races at the fanciest racecourses are still considered the best - so long as they still put up a decent prize pool.

The Arc has long held the position of highest esteem in the European calendar. It has been the first port of call for Japanese raiders looking to prove themselves on the world stage and it has been revered by French, British and Irish trainers alike as the most important end-of-season championship.

But that was before it had competition. Before Ascot's Champions Day came along there was nothing to rival Longchamp's two-dayer. There were Group 1 races, but nothing approaching a European Breeders' Cup-style carnival.

Indeed, before Ascot filled the gap, there used to be a nice break between Longchamp and the Breeders' Cup which allowed the top horses to take in both meetings.

But now that gap has been filled. The Arc is no longer omnipotent. There is a realistic alternative, which, for a number of reasons, may be more attractive to connections of the most valuable bloodstock.

The first reason is that there is less luck involved in the Champion Stakes. The Arc has developed a reputation as something of an in-running lottery.

There is a noted draw bias, it can be a rough race and it's often hard to get a run. Hard luck stories are common and many horses fail to reproduce their best form.

While there was no alternative these problems were accepted as part of the Arc challenge and, in the most part, the best horses still won the race. But now there is another option these risks may be more closely scrutinised.

The other benefit of the Champion Stakes is the distance. Everyone in Flat racing has one eye on the breeding sheds and the favoured distance in Europe is 1m2f.

Even winning an Epsom Derby highlights a worrying amount of stamina nowadays, so Derby winners are asked to drop back to intermediate trips as soon as possible for fear of being condemned as National Hunt sires.

If this trend continues it makes sense to assume that a 1m2f event could supercede a 1m4f race as the European championship.

Champions Day has plenty going for it, but the main imponderable is whether they can keep the sponsorship and prize-money in place beyond the initial agreement, which ends in 2017. If they can't secure the funding, the Arc can probably rest easy.

It often takes a while for the conservative world of racing to adapt to something new, but in the Breeders' Cup and the Dubai World Cup we have seen fairly recent examples of prestige being created from scratch.

The Breeders' Cup only started in 1984 and the Dubai World Cup in 1996. These events were accepted almost immediately thanks in part to the large prizes on offer.

Although is has jumped into a more competitive arena, Champions Day has the potential to succeed in much the same way - it has certainly started well, with world champion Frankel in attendance at its first two runnings. Only time will tell if it can overhaul Longchamp as the race and the meeting of choice.

On Sunday, Solemia became the lowest-rated winner of the Arc for over 20 years - the lowest since we started ratings back in 1988. There were a number of factors behind this weak renewal.

The first was the list of high-profile defections, including Snow Fairy, Nathaniel and Danedream - any of whom could have won this with a repeat of their best form.

The second was the heavy ground, which most horses failed to handle, and the third was the exceptional quirkiness which saw Orferve storm to the front with a powerful, race-winning move before charging towards the rail and getting himself beaten.

This was not the first time he has showed both impressive talent and given his jockey a hard time. The Hashin Daishoten earlier this year, in which he finished second, was one of the most outrageous runs/rides in the history of racing.

He's very talented, but can't always show it. Indeed, this year he's lost more than he's won - despite being the most talented horse in the field on each occasion. With Christophe Soumillon failing to get him home in front it indicates his earlier defeats were not all the fault of regular rider Kenichi Ikezoe.

Orfevre overcame the worst draw in the field (18) and he managed to trawl through the mud which almost no other horse handled. He cruised through to lead and went two-lengths up on Solemia before hanging right across the track.

He then continued further to the right, idled in front, stopped powering forward and eventually bounced off the rail, allowing Solemia (123) to snatch the win.

On a going day he might have run straight to the line and maintained some of that two-length advantage, giving Japan their first Arc win. He has a peak RPR of 129+ in Japan but that may not be his limit.

Solemia may have trouble repeating this RPR of 123 on a sounder surface. She looked exposed going into the race and simply handled the ground better than anything else.

There were over 20 Group/Grade 1s around the globe this week but the best rating came in the Group 2 Prix Dollar at Longchamp on Saturday, when Cirrus Des Aigles blitzed the field to win by nine-lengths.

He is superb in heavy ground and if the Arc accepted geldings he might have won by a street. Instead, this year, he will add further depth to the Champion Stakes.

He earned an RPR of 131 on Saturday, which rates a marginal career best and ranks him as clear second best in the world this year, 1lb ahead of Black Caviar.

He will provide Frankel will the biggest test of his career at Ascot next time. The best and second best horses in the world. Now that's a championship.

TOP OF THE CLASS: Cirrus Des Aigles 131+ Corine Barande-Barbe (Fr) (Prix Dollar, Longchamp, 1m1f165y, October 6)


Name (country trained) Race Rating
1  Frankel (GB)
Queen Anne/International 142T
 Cirrus Des Aigles (Fr)
Prix Dollar
3  Black Caviar (Aus)
Lightning Stakes
 Hay List (Aus)
Newmarket Handicap 129T


 Orfevre (Jap)
Takarazuka Kinen
 Camelot (Ire)
Derby 128T
   Wise Dan (US)
Ben Ali/Stephen Foster  128A/D
8  Excelebration (Ire)
Lockinge Stakes 127T

 I'll Have Another (US)
Preakness Stakes 127D
   So You Think (Ire)
Tattersalls Gold Cup 127T
   St Nicholas Abbey (Ire)
Coronation Cup 127T
   Nathaniel (GB)
Eclipse/King George 127T
   Moonlight Cloud (Fr)
Prix Maurice de Gheest 127T
   Dullahan (US)
Pacific Classic 127A


Name (country trained) Race Rating
1  Frankel (GB)
Queen Anne/International 142
 Cirrus Des Aigles (Fr)
Prix Dollar
 Black Caviar (Aus)
Lightning Stakes
 Hay List (Aus)
Newmarket Handicap 129

 Orfevre (Jap)
Takarazuka Kinen
 Camelot (Ire)
Derby 128
 7  Excelebration (Ire)
Lockinge Stakes 127
   So You Think (Ire)
Tattersalls Gold Cup 127
   St Nicholas Abbey (Ire)
Coronation Cup 127
   Moonlight Cloud (Fr)
Prix Maurice de Gheest 127
   Nathaniel (GB)
Eclipse/King George 127
   Wise Dan (US)
Fourstardave Handicap 127


Name (country trained) Race Rating
1  Wise Dan (US)
Stephen Foster Hcap 128
2  I'll Have Another (US)
Preakness Stakes 127
3  Bodemeister (US)
Arkansas/Preakness 126
   Caleb's Posse (US)
Met Mile 126
5  Amazombie (US)
Churchill Downs 125
   Fort Larned (US)
Whitney Handicap 125

Game On Dude (US) Awesome Again 125
8  Ron The Greek (US)
Stephen Foster Hcap 124
   Shackleford (US)
Met Mile 124
   Successful Dan (US)
Alysheba Stakes


Name (country trained) Race Rating
1  Wise Dan (US)
Ben Ali 
2  Dullahan (US) Pacific Classic 127
 Monterosso (UAE)
Dubai World Cup 126
4  Amazombie (US)
Bing Crosby Handicap 125
   Game On Dude (US)
Hollywood Gold Cup 125
6  Camp Victory (US)
Triple Bend Hcap 124
7  Krypton Factor (BHR)
Golden Shaheen
8  Musir (SAF)
Maktoum Challenge R1
   Colour Vision (GB)
Sagaro Stakes 122
   The Factor (US)
Triple Bend Hcap 122
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