By Richard Griffiths
There is a widespread view that the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe is losing a little luster as it struggles to compete with the increasingly sumptuous alternative targets around the globe.
It seems hard to knock this year's race, though, providing as it does the first clash of the two main Derby winners in Europe this season.
High Chaparral has not run since completing the Epsom/Irish Derby double at The Curragh in July, but his meeting with Sulamani, winner of the Prix du Jockey Club (Fr-I, French Derby) allows the Arc to serve as a legitimate end-of-season championship showdown.
In all, 16 horses have been declared for the 1 1/2-mile race, including Japanese challenger Manhattan Café. The son of Sunday Silence has been pleasing connections with his work.
But a significant challenger to miss the race is the Juddmonte International winner Nayef, who may not go for the Breeders' Cup Turf – or even the Classic.
A virus affecting trainer Aidan O'Brien's stable, means that High Chaparral's Arc preparation has been unusually unheralded. However, Ballydoyle sources suggest that High Chaparral has been pleasing his trainer, who regards him as much as a 10-furlong horse as a 12-furlong one.
O'Brien's belief that High Chaparral has more speed than he has suggested in his races so far is significant. It may mean that he has a surprising finishing kick.
O'Brien certainly sounded happy with his colt's condition. He said: "He's a clear-winded horse and his work has been exceptional this year. We are just happy to go there and are hoping he runs a nice race.
"High Chaparral is as ready as we could have him without a prep run, which we would obviously have preferred."
O'Brien also saddles Galileo's half-brother Black Sam Bellamy, who, he insisted, is running on his own merits and not as a pacemaker.
High Chaparral has a favourable draw in stall five, while Sulamani's trainer Pascal Bary is not disheartened with his outside draw of 13.
Sulamani, said to have been immature when winning the French Derby, is reported to have improved quite a bit since then. His Arc prep, the Prix Niel, however, was a farce as he faced only two rivals and no one wanted to make the running.
Yet the Niel has proved the most significant of all Arc trials in recent years and the winner should always be respected.
The draw has been less favorable to one of the race's 'creeper's', Asian Heights. The 4-year-old has been frequently sidelined by niggling injuries, but made a pleasing comeback at Kempton recently. The Geoff Wragg-trained colt would have to be seriously respected but for an unfavorable draw in stall 16.
"No-one wants to be drawn 16 of 16 in the Arc but at least I'm on a hold-up horse - it would be much harder if I had to be up with the pace," his jockey Darryll Holland said.
"I'll just drop in behind from my berth and see what we can do as we've got a mile and a half to sort things out."
The Group 1 winning filly Islington would perhaps be the most emotional winner. Her owner/breeder Lord Weinstock, who died earlier this year, longed to win the Arc after a succession of near misses.
Word from Newmarket is that Islington's trainer Sir Michael Stoute is quietly confident that Islington can make belated amends.