3 October 2004

Expect a Grey day for followers of the Kieren Fallon-ridden favourite in today’s showpiece race at Longchamp

They will go a fierce gallop. The Japanese champion Tap Dance City will lead right through to the turn, the German Shirocco and our Derby winner North Light will head the queue for the attack but in the final sprint it will be the speed of the Irish hero Grey Swallow that proves decisive.

So that’s this year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe done and dusted and even quicker than the 2½ minutes it will take to run Longchamp’s 2,400-metre (1½ miles) main track. In truth, the openness of the competition, the size of the field (a race maximum of 20 runners) and, above all, the contours of the racetrack, are likely to make this as complicated as any Arc since Comrade landed the first running of the great race back in 1920.

TV viewers will notice the difference straightaway. For French rules insist that the runners keep straight for a full furlong, twice as far as in Britain, giving a cavalry charge look to the opening gallop and presenting jockeys with a tactical problem as they look across the wide expanse to see where their rivals are. Tap Dance City is drawn out wide, 18 of 20 runners (the French always number away from the inside rail), North Light and Grey Swallow are in the middle at 12 and 11, while Shirocco is in stall seven alongside his Baden-Baden conqueror Warrsan in eight.

Tap Dance City’s best form, his nine-length demolition of last year’s Japan Cup field, has been when making the running and there would seem no point in Mr Sato opting to change tactics today. That means he has to set off with real intention to be prominent to tack across and get to the head of the field on the right hand rails. And he has to do this on the climb.

This opening assault is intensified because jockeys know that once they reach the top of the hill the long sweeping downward turns mean that it is hard if not foolhardy to try to change your position until the final swing into the straight. A horse like North Light, who is much more of a galloper than his Irish Derby conqueror Grey Swallow, cannot afford to get himself shuffled back in the pack. Expect Kieren Fallon to be up in the van.

But beware of expecting fireworks too early. Every year millions of TV watchers are confused by what is quite rightly termed “the false straight” at Longchamp. The leader swings into it and for a moment you panic that your fancy is still trapped behind horses. But there is another 300 metres to run before the rails swing right again and then the real race is for the 500-metre run to the line. It’s not far and can get very crowded.

If Tap Dance City had got in at the beginning of the week as originally scheduled, there would have been a live chance of the extraordinary Japanese seven-year-old lasting all the way home and adding another £1 million to his already £4.2 million total. But typhoon and technical hitches delayed his arrival until 4.30 on Friday and received veterinary opinion is that his chance is now compromised.

Which leaves North Light taking Shirocco, who would prefer an overnight downpour, and cutting for the line. Fallon knows North Light’s power but he also knows the acceleration with which he won the Oaks on Ouija Board and with which Grey Swallow took him out on The Curragh. One can picture him getting into that unique, muscular, rolling drive, and seeing off one challenger after another. Frankie Dettori, on the classy Godolphin substitute Mamool, will have a crack at him, so too the big French `improver’ Valixir, and maybe most strongly the evergreen and never better Warrsan ridden by the Australian Kerrin McEvoy, who is quickly becoming much more than a Dettori understudy.

The Arc’s final 200 metres have seen so many hopes dashed in the past, not a few of them trained by Sir Michael Stoute and many believe that this time North Light will get home to give the great trainer the one triumph that has so long eluded him. His colt’s supporters claim that it was the firm Curragh turf that cost him the Irish Derby but my impression remains that Grey Swallow, who ran close in both the English and Irish Guineas, is the faster of the two horses.

Grey Swallow should be razor sharp after finishing only a length behind Azamour in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown three weeks ago, whereas North Light has not run since their clash in July. The margins are narrow, but enough to give the Dermot Weld-trained grey the edge and the Arc.

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