Sunday: Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Longchamp


Sir Mark Prescott has spent more than half a century honing a reputation for keeping a little bit up his sleeve and the 101st Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe may prove his piece de resistance as Alpinista sluiced through the sodden Longchamp turf to record an emphatic victory under Luke Morris.

It remains to be seen if this fabulous mare's decisive half-length triumph in European Flat racing's €5 million Holy Grail amounts to the best being saved for last as there are major international targets still to consider.

Nonetheless, in defying grueling conditions with scarcely credible ease as her illustrious rivals floundered, the classy grey posted a signature performance to justify sustained market support that saw her return a strong 7-2 market leader.

Having run up a sequence of five Group 1s thanks to some choice race-planning by Prescott, the fear was that Kirsten Rausing's homebred might have already reached the ceiling of her ability. Not a bit of it.

Under a measured steer by Morris, who found a berth on the rail behind the leaders before letting his mount slide into the lead between the fading Titleholder and Broome two furlongs out, Alpinista showed herself to be serenely superior. She put the race to bed in a matter of strides with an irresistible surge and, while Vadeni and last year's hero Torquator Tasso kept going gallantly to be second and third, they could not lay a glove on the winner.

Prescott has a well-documented penchant for executing long-range plots, but even the Heath House maestro outdid himself here. This career-defining moment was a lifetime in the making and you suspect his only regret might be not being able to put one over on the handicapper in the process.

"I've trained for Ms Rausing for 35 years and I trained Alpinista's grandmother and the mother, and Luke has been with me 11 years," mused racing's most revered storyteller. "It is hard to imagine a better day training."

Alpinista came to France having added the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and Yorkshire Oaks to last year's German Group 1 hat-trick.

As to the concern of whether she had improved again to crown the campaign, Prescott added: "There was no reason to think she hadn't, but human nature being what it is, I wondered whether she would. I think she has improved every single run in the last two years, and she has had to improve each time.

"It has been just a marvellous journey – I'm lucky to get a good one at this stage of my career."

Given Prescott's status as racing's archetypal raconteur, this was a victory that was warmly received at Longchamp. The travelling hordes from Britain and Ireland expressed a loud and sustained approval of the verdict when Alpinista returned to the winner's enclosure under Morris.

It constituted a first British-trained Arc winner since Enable in 2018, and was just the second for a five-year-old mare following that of Corrida in 1937.

However, Alpinista was the sixth mare to win the Arc since 2010, with multiple triumphs for Treve and Enable meaning they have now secured eight of the last 12 runnings.

The success also prompted the 74-year-old trainer to suggest it might extend his illustrious tenure a while longer. Charmingly, his first thought on that matter was for his long-standing assistant trainer William Butler.

"Poor William, he will greet this win with mixed emotions I think because it will probably keep me tottering on a bit longer," he joked.

Rausing suggested the Breeders' Cup and Japan Cup would be considered for one last hurrah before Alpinista retires to the breeding shed. Prescott might have had to be persuaded by her to travel to Longchamp for a first time in 21 years, but that could be flipped around if a Japanese foray is to happen.

"I'm sure Ms Rausing's eagle eye will have observed that she gets a $3 million bonus if she is lucky enough to win the Japan Cup, on top of the prize-money," he noted, quipping that the prospect of such a windfall made his heart flutter.

"I think that the last time we tried with Alborada, I always say that Ms Rausing's hat and coat were on the bed beside her when we rang her to say Alborada had gone lame. That was greeted with the immortal phrase, 'This is suboptimal news!' – which it was – and she didn't come. Perhaps, like me, she could be persuaded on this occasion. I don't know. It's not for me to say."

That is for another day. Rather than concern herself with the future, Rausing was keen to savour the glorious fruition of nearly 40 years of labours at her Lanwades Stud enterprise after Alpinista extended her winning sequence to eight.

"She is my sixth generation homebred and this wouldn't have been possible but for my marvellous home team at Lanwades and St Simon and Staffordstown Studs," she said.

"I am obviously delighted, thrilled and extremely grateful to Sir Mark for producing this marvellous mare, and to Luke Morris, who has ridden her to all of her Group wins. He produced a fantastic riding performance today."

Morris is a deeply unassuming individual whose breakthrough Group 1 came in the Prix de l'Abbaye aboard Gilt Edge Girl in 2010. He has had some good days in the interim, but is hardly one of Flat racing's marquee riders, and this epic win was just his ninth at the highest level.

"It is very much the pinnacle of my career and I can't emphasise enough how grateful I am for Ms Rausing and Sir Mark for giving me this opportunity," he said afterwards. "It is just extra special to deliver it on the day. There are not many times I get teary-eyed but I had to hold them back today."

True to form, heavy rain dumped on Longchamp for ten minutes before the off. It made for a quintessential Arc slog, and the likes of Luxembourg, Westover and Mishriff were among many who failed to raise any sort of a challenge. Despite the dark autumn gloom, Morris could be seen poised and still aboard Alpinista as they swung into the unending straight.

"She has towed me into the race and I was able to sit on her until nearly the furlong pole," he said. "The last week or so I must have watched 25 Arcs and I've not seen one sit to the furlong pole, so she is extremely special. Every time I ride her she surprises me. Every run she has had she has been better each time."

The case for that theory was spectacularly proved here. Job done – in some style.


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