Indian summer may scupper Workforce
THE margins by which Ryan Moore and Workforce threaded their way to success in Paris last year seem finer still this time around -- even before they have left home soil.
For the jockey, two mounts at Ascot today represent the hastiest of preparations after an absence since July. For the horse, meanwhile, conditions for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe are becoming less congenial by the hour.
Workforce was flown all the way home from Louisville last autumn, with the Breeders' Cup Turf at his mercy, when connections deemed the going hazardously firm. As yet, there is little suggestion they may end up doing the same on Sunday, but his trainer was candid in his anxiety yesterday.
"He's a big, heavy horse and we do like good ground for him," stressed Michael Stoute. "We're a long way from it at the moment and someone's going to have a look at the track and give us an update. I am concerned."
On soft ground at Longchamp last year, Moore managed to weave a clear passage through a very rough race. Workforce does have some top-class form on fast ground, not least in running away with his Derby, but his honourable defeat by So You Think over 10 furlongs in the Eclipse reiterated that his forte will never be sudden acceleration.
It will also concern some that he was last seen hanging uncomfortably across the track in the King George at Ascot in July, but he did sustain a cut on the home turn that day.
"He has had a nice break since and I've been very happy with his preparation," added Stoute. "We took him to Sandown last week, where he had a satisfactory workout. It would have brought him on a bit more, but it's disappointing we're having this Indian summer. A mile and a half is his best distance but it does look a particularly strong renewal this year."
Workforce drifted to as big as 8/1, having been as low as 5/1, following Stoute's comments. As for Moore, he has plainly worked very hard to meet his comeback target, having more or less had the rest of the year written off when fracturing a thumb and elbow in a fall at Goodwood. But even he can hardly bring the razor-sharp fitness and reactions of his peak form so cold into such a cauldron.
Having said that, there were similar concerns about Ruby Walsh when he arrived at the Cheltenham Festival in March with one winner in four months and he proceeded to ride a treble on the first day.
As it happens, two of Workforce's biggest rivals on Sunday might have been partnered by Moore in different circumstances. So You Think will presumably be ridden by Seamus Heffernan, as in both the Eclipse and the Irish Champion Stakes, while Snow Fairy, runner-up in the latter, will again be partnered by Frankie Dettori.
Ed Dunlop, indebted to Moore for honing Snow Fairy in a gallop last weekend, formally committed the filly to the race after consulting her owners yesterday morning.
St Leger winner Masked Marvel is one of three supplementary entries at €100,000 each, along with Danedream, the German filly, and Meandre, representing a trainer seeking his eighth Arc in Andre Fabre.
Twice a Group One winner in her native Germany, Danedream is a general 20/1 shot to follow in the footsteps of Zarkava, a glorious victor for the fairer sex at Longchamp three years ago. The best prices available about Meandre -- a length-and-a-half winner from Seville in the Grand Prix de Paris in July -- and Masked Marvel are 12/1 and 14/1 respectively.
With Seville and Nathaniel having dropped out, 16 remain in what is shaping up to be a cracking renewal of the highlight of the European season.
So You Think (9/2) and the Alain de Royer-Dupre-trained Sarafina (4/1) look certain to fight out favouritism, though the prospect of fast ground at the Parisian venue is causing some uncertainty in the market.
Although de Royer-Dupre confirmed that he was happy with Sarafina, third in the race last year, he also expressed some concern about conditions for Reliable Man, his French Derby winner that toppled Meandre in the Prix Niel three weeks ago.
"The Arc was the target from the beginning of the season -- she is ready and fresh," de Royer-Dupre said of Sarafina, before adding of Reliable Man, a 16/1 shot: "Good to firm is not best for him, I am afraid of that. If we don't have rain, he won't run."
Meanwhile, Sizing Europe, the reigning Queen Mother Champion Chaser, is expected to make his seasonal bow in the Pricewaterhouse Coopers Chase at Gowran Park tomorrow.
Despite the going at the Kilkenny track being on the quick side, trainer Henry de Bromhead said yesterday that "the ground should be perfect for him".
Elsewhere, Jack Mitchell's statement of contrition on the eve of his hearing was insufficient to earn any clemency yesterday from the British Horseracing Authority. The young jockey, who tested positive to a metabolite of cocaine at Newmarket in the spring, begins a six-month ban next Friday, but has vowed to return with renewed ardour in April.
It was also an embarrassing day for a far more experienced colleague, Franny Norton, who was given a 40-day suspension for exceeding the alcohol limit in a sample taken at Chester in May.