“It’s not quite what we’d hoped, but how can we complain?” Teddy Grimthorpe said after the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe here on Sunday, succinctly summing up the mood after Enable came up short in her attempt to win Europe’s most prestigious Flat race for a record third time.

Thousands of travelling fans cheered as Enable and Frankie Dettori trotted out onto the track and did so again as she returned 20 minutes later, but only as she was led into the runner-up’s position after finishing nearly two lengths behind André Fabre’s Waldgeist.

This was just the second defeat of Enable’s exceptional 15-race career, and her first since the start of her three-year-old season in April 2017. In between, she ran up a 12-race winning streak that included Classics, two Arcs and two wins in the King George at Ascot.

As Grimthorpe, the racing manager for Enable’s owner, Prince Khalid Abdullah, said: no complaints.

But there was a brief moment, about a quarter of a mile from home, when a historic third Arc for Enable felt real and immediate.

Dettori had settled the 4-6 favourite several lengths off the lead as Ghaiyyath, who had worked his way to the front after three furlongs, set a solid pace on ground that had turned soft after steady rain on Saturday and into Sunday morning.

Enable made some progress towards the leaders in the “false” straight before the turn from home, and Ghaiyyath then went rapidly in the opposite direction, a sign, perhaps, that the ground was more testing than expected.

She was in front two out and 40,000 spectators started to shout her home, but she did not move away and suddenly the red colours of Waldgeist and Pierre-Charles Boudot were finishing with purpose down the middle of the track.

It was clear a furlong out that Boudot had enough track left to work with and Waldgeist took control 50 yards from the line before crossing it a length-and-three-quarters to the good. Sottsass, the French Derby winner, was third with Aidan O’Brien’s two runners, Japan and Magical, fourth and fifth.

Waldgeist was the same distance behind Enable when he finished fourth in last year’s Arc, two lengths away in third behind John Gosden’s mare in the King George in July and no less than 13 lengths adrift of her in the Breeders’ Cup Turf last November.

But Fabre’s five-year-old, who extended the trainer’s record haul in the race to eight wins, was a worthy winner on the day, simply outstaying the favourite on testing ground after the unpredictable Parisian climate decided to take a hand in the proceedings.

“The ground was very sticky and I struggled in the first bit of the race,” Dettori said. “I let her find her feet and she came good to me in the false straight. I waited for the 300 metres [pole] but didn’t find as much as I thought. She just folded a bit and the winner was too good for me today, but my filly was already tired. I passed the 200 and I was a spent force then. I think ground had a lot to do with it.”

Enable’s retirement from racing has yet to be confirmed but she had a hard race here and is most unlikely to see a track again. Waldgeist too seems likely to go out at the top, though he will be given a few of days to see how he comes out of this race.

“I always hope for the very best when I run my horses in the Arc,” Fabre said. “With Waldgeist, he carried my highest expectation.

“I knew the ground would be very testing, but I looked back to his days as a two-year-old, when he won in the heavy, and that made me more confident that he would finish his race off well.

“I’m very proud that Waldgeist managed to beat such a fantastic mare, it’s well deserved in some ways. What can I say? I’m delighted.”

A wet morning had given way to a warm, dry evening as the fans made their way out into the Bois de Boulogne, but as far as many of them were concerned, the damage had been done on Saturday night. The drying conditions arrived much too late for Enable and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, which marks its centenary next year, is still a race without a three-time winner.

It was Grimthorpe, again, who best summed up the mood as one of the great racing careers ended with the anticipation of a glorious finale confounded.

“The expectation is so enormous with these things,” he said, “and the wave of goodwill and good wishes that we all had was unbelievable, really. She’s been an unbelievable filly and we love her to death, and we don’t love her any less now.”