MONTJEU crowned a glittering three-year-old season yesterday, with a memorable triumph in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp on the heaviest ground in three decades.MONTJEU crowned a glittering three-year-old season yesterday, with a memorable triumph in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp on the heaviest ground in three decades.
Jockey Masayoshi Ebina set out to exploit El Condor Pasa's apparently limitless stamina in ground measured at 5.1 on the penetrometer the softest since records began 27 years ago. Yet the Japanese colt bowled along at such an ambitious pace in the ground that, for just a few strides, memories of Crisp and Red Rum in the 1973 Grand National came flooding back.
Two furlongs out, Montjeu was dramatically switched out of a pocket by Mick Kinane and had five lengths to make up on El Condor Pasa. The John Hammond-trained colt needed to be a racehorse of extraordinary class to get clear and make up the ground he lost as Richard Quinn, on last year's runner-up Leggera, held him in a pocket at the most crucial stage of the race.
But make up the ground he did, getting up to beat El Condor Pasa by half-a-length, with six lengths back to Croco Rouge and a further five lengths to Leggera. The time, 2 min 38.50s, was respectable, given the going.
``We gave away two lengths' more start to the Japanese horse than we should have,'' Kinane said. ``But the response I got from Montjeu was incredible. He is the best mile-and-a-half horse I have ever sat on,'' he added. Glowing tribute indeed from a jockey who has won major mile-and-a-half contests all over the world.
Despite the conditions, this should be remembered as a very good Arc. The fact that the fourth horse (Leggera) finished eleven and a half lengths behind the winner is pertinent comment on the performance.
Michael Tabor, who heads the partnership which owns Montjeu, has long felt that the Sadler's Wells colt is one of the best to carry his colours. After this he is in no doubt, and was already thinking of next year.
``Obviously, it would be very feasible to come back for next year's Arc, but we will also be looking at some of the important mile-and-a-quarter races. He is a very, very good horse,'' said Tabor.
Hammond deserves great credit for skilfully plotting a preparation that has enabled Montjeu to mature. The trainer has specifically avoided sending the three-year-old on missions that could have proved too taxing too early.
Asked whether he was confident his man would make up the leeway in the straight, Hammond said: ``I didn't think he would. I thought once the Japanese horse went clear in this ground that we would run on and be a good second. I thought it was a fantastic performance to get there. He has got a great big engine - the Japanese horse is a fantastic horse and everybody has been underrating him. I thought he was the big danger today.''
El Condor Pasa was gallant in defeat and the Japanese racing fans who flocked to Longchamp must surely have been proud of their hero. The Japanese have registered four Group One victories in France in the past 14 months and if not for the brilliance of Montjeu, this would have been number five. They will be back, that is for sure.
Sheikh Mohammed only confirmed Daylami a runner after inspecting the course before the second race. His decision to run was a sporting gesture and the five-year-old's performance should be considered in that light. Daylami is a horse who needs spaces between his races and this effort came only 22 days after his nine-length demolition job in the Irish Champion Stakes.
He was never travelling well and Frankie Dettori said: ``He didn't handle the ground at all. It's a great shame because this was billed as a great Arc. I didn't hurt the horse once I knew he was beaten.'' Those in the 32,000-strong Longchamp crowd can count themselves fortunate to have witnessed a wonderful victory from a fine colt in Montjeu, and an international challenger of great courage in El Condor Pasa.
Daily Telegraph, London.