'Cloth Of Stars and Ulysses were pageboys, Enable stole the show'
Steve Dennis reflects on the top Flat and jumps race of the year
Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (average of the first three 126.3)
It's what the great autumn summit is all about, what decades of history have led us to acclaim, but the background figures also back up the notion that the Arc was the race of the year.
A pre-race roll of the eye down the cast-list reinforced that statement – dual Classic winners by the handful in Enable, Brametot, Winter and Order Of St George, Classic winners Seventh Heaven and Capri, multiple Group 1 winner Ulysses and Dschingis Khan, Zarak, Silverwave, Iquitos, Cloth Of Stars and Satono Diamond, who all had a Group 1 to their name. Comparisons were made with the star-strewn Arcs won by Sea-Bird and Dancing Brave, for this measured up in depth if not for the all-time-great nature of the winner.
The only horse missing who might have enhanced the Chantilly showpiece further was Cracksman, who would turn in the best performance of the year when scattering his rivals in the Champion Stakes at Ascot. Never mind; his stablemate Enable stole the show with a bravura performance.
Intelligently ridden by Frankie Dettori, the filly was always in the right place and was sent to win her race fully a quarter of a mile home, her proven and pitiless stamina her great weapon. She never looked like being caught for all the final-furlong flourishes of Cloth Of Stars and Ulysses, mere pageboys holding the bridal train at a respectful distance. The first seven home were all Group 1 winners.
Only the Breeders' Cup Classic was on a par all year; the Arc doesn't have the tag 'Classic' but this race was thoroughly deserving of the name.
Punchestown Gold Cup (average of the first three 172.7)
If it was arguably the most exciting jump race of the year, it was inarguably the best jump race of the year. It takes one to know one, takes two to tango, but takes three to get both the crowd and the handicapper off their chairs with a wild gleam in their eyes.
It is a rare day that two Cheltenham Gold Cup winners take each other on but here they were, Sizing John fresh from his finest hour in the Cotswolds and Coneygree fresh from his sickbed, his Blue Riband glory a fading memory but his innate ability taken willingly on trust. Standing between the two titans was Gold Cup nearly horse Djakadam, runner-up twice and fourth behind Sizing John a month earlier, with the reopposing Champagne West and Lexus Chase winner Outlander a remote ninth and tenth at the festival.
In essence, it was a rerun of the Gold Cup with Coneygree tossed into the mix, and Sizing John was expected to confirm his superiority. It wasn't quite as straightforward as that.
Turning for home there were three in line abreast, all the golden boys being driven along as push came to shove, two to jump and the race to win. Coneygree hit that fence and ceded the advantage to Djakadam, who hit the last in turn but kept his advantage while Sizing John was winding up a challenge that eventually proved irresistible. The two passed the post in a blur of brown heads, Sizing John's a fraction in front.
On such slight margins are great horses crowned, great races forged. The Punchestown Gold Cup gave us both.
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