A chilly wind is whipping across Paris at the start of what could be one of the most memorable racing afternoons for many years, but there is little sign – as yet – of any further rain to add to the regular downpours that turned the Longchamp going to heavy in the run-up to the race.
That, of course, will be of little consolation to Aidan O’Brien and the team at his Ballydoyle yard, after he – and his sons Joseph and Donnacha – felt obliged to withdraw all their runners at the track today late on Saturday night when tests at a local lab proved positive for a contaminant in their feed. Serpentine, the Derby winner, was only added to the race four days ago at a cost of €72,000 but the loss of his chance to complete a rare double will be felt more keenly by connections than the wasted entry fees.
All four of O’Brien’s entries for the Arc were Group One winners already, including Mogul, who got off the mark at the highest level in the Grand Prix de Paris three weeks ago. He was also due to saddle runners in four more Group Ones on the card, while Joseph had Pretty Gorgeous, a likely favourite, entered in the Prix Marcel Boussac and Donnacha’s Prix de Diane (French Oaks) winner, Fancy Blue, was due to run in the Prix de l’Opera.
It’s worth pointing out that since the withdrawal time for zilpaterol, the banned substance which has contaminated feed made by the company Gain, is about 72 hours, it’s entirely possible that it would have cleared the systems of all the O’Brien runners by this afternoon. The consequences had any of them won, however, would have been unthinkable, including a wait of several days or weeks to either confirm or disqualify the horses concerned, and the O’Brien family have decided that the sport’s integrity and image must come first.
In terms of Enable’s prospects of winning an unprecedented third Arc, however, the sudden loss of four opponents overnight has had little impact on her chance, according to the betting at least. John Gosden’s mare is still odds-against, at a current top price of 5-4, but the odds against the runners that punters may be looking to as each-way alternatives to the favourite have shortened across the board.
Stradivarius is 9-2 (from 13-2), Sottsass is now 13-2 (from 8-1 yesterday) and In Swoop, the German Derby winner, is generally 8-1 (from 11-1). The chance that racing history will be made in the 99th Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is, for practical purposes, 50-50, and there are five more Group Ones to look forward to as well on Europe’s most valuable card. You can follow all the action here as the day unfolds, with Enable’s tilt at immortality due off at 15.05 BST.