Golden Horn, Frankie Dettori, John Gosden and Sir Anthony Oppenheimer not only won the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. They also sank a disconcertingly disproportionate wave of Treve triumphalism that swept across the English Channel to Longchamp.
In the build-up to the great race, sentiment replaced judgement within a racing media that gave the impression it was a one-horse Arc. And that horse was already past the post.
Chief cheerleader was the ‘Racing Post’, whose neutral, impartial antennae appeared to go haywire. ‘Allez Treve’ screamed their front page on raceday, accompanying an over-the-top editorial headed ‘Why We Are All Ready To Roar For Treve’ and supporting similarly gushing pieces that had appeared.
As the baton was picked up elsewhere, Arsene Wenger’s complaint that some journalists jump on the bandwagon of one particular view and lazily ride it all week seemed to be coming true before our very eyes.
We were force-fed a Treve special supplement, a Treve poem, even a Treve pop song. It reminded me of the blurb that prefaced the 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup, which was sold as the great duel between Kauto Star and Denman and ended up being won by neither.
Underpinning the misplaced Treve hysteria was the patronising theme that we all wanted the mare to win. Mimicking the worst of political spin , THEY had assumed and decided what WE were thinking.
In reality, I can guarantee that 90% of punters wanted the Arc to be won by the horse they had backed. And if they had been allowed a second preference, without financial interest, I would guess that as many, if not more, would have plumped for Golden Horn as the French mare. After all, John Gosden’s colt was the flagbearer of the British Flat season, the winner of our showpiece race, the Investec Derby.
Maybe the reluctance to big up one of our own was a reflection of the insecurity fostered by England’s pathetic performances at the Rugby World Cup.
Maybe, and much more likely, it was symptomatic of the irritating modern-day desire for the ‘right’ horse to win, rather than ‘the best’.
Treve was right because she fitted the parameters of the required story, namely the first horse to land three Arcs. But this conveniently ignored the fact that, on most recognised figures and ratings, embracing form and speed, Golden Horn was the best horse going into the Longchamp contest.
Not even owner Oppenheimer’s assertion that “on fast ground, we’d win easily” could sway the overriding mood. Golden Horn was a mere sideshow at Treve’s party.
How immensely satisfying then to see the three-year-old confirm he was indeed the best, causing the ludicrous triumphalism to fall flat on its face.
The performance cannot be under-estimated either. As a colt who had been on the go since the Feilden Stakes at Newmarket’s Craven Meeting on April 15, he hardly boasted the typical profile of an Arc winner. What’s more, he was saddled with a debilitating gate, which Gosden jokingly referred to as “the rosbif draw” often afforded English raiders.
Much credit for the victory has deservedly gone to Frankie Dettori, who capped his remarkable renaissance and underlined his imperious reputation as an international jockey without compare.
After a week of such unimaginative, one-dimensional analysis, it was so refreshing to see Dettori employ tactics not another soul in the game had considered. He ignored convention that says, from so wide, you must drop your mount out the back, thus inevitably forfeiting ground and risking traffic trouble. Instead he stayed straight, laying up with the pace and although Golden Horn was a shade keen, it might have been worse had he been surrounded and buffeted by rivals towards the rail. By the time Dettori had carefully tracked across to the main body of horses, the son of Cape Cross was perfectly placed to strike in the home run.
The powerful manner in which he picked up and stayed on emphasised the impression given at Epsom that this 12f is unquestionably his best trip. Whatever happens at the Breeders’ Cup at the end of the month, he enters the pantheon of greats.
He would also be an unbeaten great but for that annoying blip in the Juddmonte International at York. Indeed Gosden must be wondering how two unbeaten records have somehow slipped away over the last couple of seasons, with the freakish race at York mirroring the single setback suffered by the brilliant miler Kingman last season.
How ironic, though, that the reason Gosden pinpointed for the York aberration, namely jockey error, was so superbly rectified at Longchamp. How poignant too that Dettori’s masterclass came at the expense of a favourite who had been his ride until injury and the personal preferences of trainer Criquette Head-Maarek had intervened.
Treve’s replacement pilot, Thierry Jarnet, has copped a lot of criticism for his ride on Sunday. But those who crab him for failing to settle her and plotting a wide route conveniently forget that such a combination did not prevent her unleashing one of the most spectacular displays in the history of the sport when winning the 2013 Arc.
In my view, Treve is at her best when she is fresh and zestful. I agree with Jarnet when he suggests she was below par this time round and possibly left too much behind in her Prix Vermeille prep. She is also, whatever patriarch Alec Head might think, immeasurably better with give in the ground. Even at the best of times, as TV pundit Jim McGrath so perfectly puts it, she moves “like a clockwork mouse”. On the kind of ground that surprisingly prevailed on Sunday, she wouldn’t let herself down and was hanging most of the way up the straight.
Seeking excuses for Treve’s eclipse might seem unnecessary about a mare who has given racing so much. But the post-race inquest has been so much more illuminating than the nauseating pre-race fawning, don’t you reckon?
Whatever you might think about the 2015 Arc, the outcome showed once again that you cannot take competitive sport for granted. Sometimes Jose Mourinho will fail. Sometimes Novak Djokovic will lose a match. Sometimes Mo Farah will lose a race. Equally, the world’s greatest Flat race will not bow to the whim-led agenda of deluded hacks who want to write the story before the story has been written.