“THE plan and the dream was we had three races mapped out if we could get him back. If we could get him to the Curragh then he could come here, and if he came here then we could go for the Arc,” said Aidan O’Brien after Luxembourg had fought off all comers to land the Irish Champion Stakes last month.
Two out of three ain’t bad, but the full set would be great. Indeed, you could even say it would be one of O’Brien’s greatest training performances. That is a big call. Remember, he sent out a one-two-three in this race in 2016, but also remember, three weeks before his intended comeback in the Royal Whip, Luxembourg wasn’t going anywhere. If there was no Royal Whip, there was no Irish Champion Stakes and perhaps then no Arc.
After an injury that had forced him to miss the entire summer season it would have been highly feasible for Luxembourg to have put away for the year altogether.
What goes on behind the doors of a yard to get a horse ready after an injury is way too complex and nuanced for this writer to understand but I’d make an educated guess that is a complicated process, driven by a mixture of gut feeling, top-class horsemanship, communication and willingness to make big calls. O’Brien will be the first to say it is a huge team effort with any horse, and Ballydoyle have a world-class team, but ultimately the book stops with the boss.
Luxembourg looked laboured landing prohibitive odds in the Royal Whip. You knew he was going to improve for the outing but the question was how much in the context of winning a top class Irish Champion Stakes. It seems O’Brien had little doubt and, when it mattered most, Luxembourg answered every call for Ryan Moore.
Again, the immediate feeling after the race was that there could well be more to come. Luxembourg has run just six times in his life, three times as a three-year-old. You could also say that the jump in class from Irish Champion Stakes to Arc is arguably smaller than the jump he took from Royal Whip to Irish Champion Stakes.
And of course, a mile and a half has always been the distance O’Brien has favoured for Luxembourg. That makes him the one to beat in Paris tomorrow and it’s testament to his trainer that that’s the case.
Who is best placed to put it up to him? The Arc has always been a trendy race.
Older horses have good recent record but in general the classic generation hold sway - they’ve accounted for 20 wins since 1990. After Luxembourg there are five other three-year-olds, all colts, lining up and bar Do Deuce, they all have a realistic chance.
Alpinista is second favourite but she is a five-year-old and since 1920 only nine winners have been aged five or over. That’s also a negative for Torquator Tasso, for whom the clouds have aligned to allow for a similar conditions to his win last year. That makes him a live contender again though he has been drawn in stall 18 and it’s been 45 years since the winner has come from there.
Titleholder bids to give Japan a treasured first win and he looks a credible contender, but one of the race’s strongest trends is having a recent run - 19 of the previous 21 winners had previously run within a month - and a good recent example of this would be Adayar, who travelled strongly into the straight last year but gave way at the business end. He was having his first run in 71 days; it has been 98 for Titleholder.
In short, I think the winner will come from the sextet of three-year-old colts. Luxembourg has the potential to soar further clear of both Onesto and Vadeni, but the former is a course-and-distance winner, and only has a half-length to find. Watch out for him at a big price.