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Here’s hoping Cracksman gets a crack at the Arc

Author: Nicholas Godfrey

25/09/2017
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News last weekend that Ulysses is likely to run in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe before his ultimate target, the Breeders’ Cup Turf, added a bit of life to a race seemingly totally dominated by one horse in the shape of superstar filly Enable. However, it says much for Enable’s towering status in the context of the putative field that one of her chief rivals is a horse who, though admirably progressive in the typical Sir Michael Stoute mould, she has already beaten by four and a half lengths over the Arc trip in the King George.

There is another horse whose presence at Chantilly would add a huge slice of intrigue to Europe’s greatest race, and there are no prizes for guessing his identity: Cracksman, of course. One of the perils of writing such a column is that deadlines mean subsequent developments can render one’s wise words out of date before they even hit the shelves, but at the time of writing, it is still looking distinctly possible that the son of Frankel will not take his chance against his John Gosden-trained stablemate. Since the colt won the Prix Niel in a straightforward course and distance victory, a weak renewal of this traditional Arc trial, it must be said, owner Anthony Oppenheimer sounded lukewarm about the prospect of coming back three weeks later.

Connections, it seems, are worried about the prospect of not having the services of Frankie Dettori, who won’t desert Enable in a hurry, while Cracksman himself has taken time to mature. He will be better served, goes the argument, by waiting a year until he is four for a crack at the top older horses. All of which, really, is not entirely convincing, and after Saturday’s St Leger, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Cracksman team are in danger of chucking away the chance of winning not one, but two prestigious top level contests. The Great Voltigeur was something of a breakout performance, clearly the best by a 3yo male over the mile and a half trip this year. After a stuttering campaign featuring defeats in two Derbys that may be regarded as a trifle unlucky, Cracksman really seemed to get his act together at York, where he pulverised Leger ‘also ran’ Venice Beach by six lengths.

The Voltigeur is the principal trial for the Doncaster Classic, yet the Leger was ruled out straight away. Cracksman would have been a strong favourite; in the event, an exciting edition was won by tenacious, battle hardened Capri, who had finished a neck in front of Cracksman at The Curragh. Many observers felt Cracksman was really unfortunate that day, when he was asked to close from well back against a rival who gained first run. OK, Cracksman’s stamina would have been a question mark as far as the Leger was concerned, but he is a powerful galloper. We’ll never know for sure, because he wasn’t asked to stretch out.

Yet while top class 3yos often bypass the Leger, it is usually with the Arc in mind. Not this time, evidently. Oppenheimer went on record as saying the two Group Twos, the Great Voltigeur and the Niel, were Cracksman’s targets for the autumn. So it might be case of job done and let’s dream about the 4yo campaign. Which, frankly, could be regarded only as a shame for the rest of us. The world and his wife has been telling Gosden and Oppenheimer they should take the bold route, and it is easy to see why: of the last ten runnings, six have been won by 3yos; among them the Gosden-trained Golden Horn in the Oppenheimer silks in 2015.

Looking back a couple more decades and the trend is clear: two out of three Arcs are won by the Classic generation. Admittedly, it is almost a truism to say 3yo fillies, in receipt of all the allowances, have an estimable record, with Zarkava, Danedream and Treve all adding their name to the roll of honour in the last ten renewals. A peak form Enable, then, will clearly hold a favourite’s chance, but surely that in itself should not be enough to prevent the season’s top 3yo middle distance male from taking her on? Don’t they say you should never be frightened of one horse? According to Racing Post Ratings (RPR), Cracksman is 5lb adrift of Enable by virtue of his York triumph. ‘That would be good enough to finish in the top three in a typical Arc and he’s entitled to be thereabouts,’ says Sam Walker, the paper’s international ratings expert.

What is more, while Cracksman is a headstrong individual, he is clearly maturing mentally with each run, and while the suggestion that he has had a long season cannot be denied, he actually started off five days later than Enable back in April. Both horses have run six times in 2017, though it is fair to suggest Cracksman has been through the mill a little more with tougher races at Epsom and The Curragh. The arguments against running are well rehearsed, and it is entirely plausible that such a ‘hurly burly’ race might be detrimental to Cracksman’s future. Then again, it is unlikely to be any rougher than the Derby, and while the absence of Dettori would be regrettable, Pat Smullen knows the horse after the Irish Derby.

If the Irishman isn’t available, plenty of others will be. Still, the fact is that it is unlikely there would have been any debate if Enable wasn’t running, or maybe even if she had been in the care of another trainer. Perhaps Gosden reckons she is indeed unbeatable. But we don’t need to look back too far for a cautionary tale. Almanzor was Europe’s Champion Racehorse last year when he won the Prix du Jockey Club, Irish Champion Stakes and Champion Stakes. Connections opted to miss the Arc with the intention of running him as a 4yo. Unforeseen circumstances kept him off the track for ten months; he suffered a shock defeat on his reappearance, coming fifth of six in Group Three company at Deauville in August. He was retired soon afterwards. He will never run in the Arc.

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