Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Group 1)

THE 2022 Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, run at ParisLongchamp last Sunday, was surely one of the best renewals of the race in living memory.

Not, perhaps, in terms of pure quality, though its denouement was both gripping and form-full, the top older mare, top classic colt and reigning champion battling it out prior to coming up with a British winner so popular that many of the vanquished trainers, from both sides of the Channel, were left with huge smiles on their faces.

If one were to sum it up in a single image, it would be the tears of joy rolling down the cheeks of Jean-Claude Rouget, trainer of the runner-up, in a remarkable display of fraternity, friendship and generosity of spirit towards the winning handler, Sir Mark Prescott.

Their heartfelt embrace in the unsaddling enclosure, inhibitions shed despite being the target of literally hundreds of cameras lenses, painted racing in the best possible light.

Such scenes seemed so unlikely during the week-long build-up, which lurched from one public relations own-goal to another.

First there was the scandalous exclusion of the champion Aussie mare, Verry Elleegant, then the running over of horses on the way to the start at Compiegne by a van driven by a member of the ground staff, followed by the nadir of multiple French champion jockey Christophe Soumillon using a Mixed Martial Arts move on his colleague Rossa Ryan during a race at Saint-Cloud.

To cap it all, the heavens opened during the half-hour period before Europe’s biggest race, prompting fears that, far from crowning a champion thoroughbred, the race would be won by the most proficient mudwrestler.

Ray of sunshine

Things were looking pretty grim until the welcome grey ray of sunshine that is Alpinista burst through the stormclouds to light up ParisLongchamp and hasten waterworks of a much happier kind.

Prescott, Newmarket’s longest-serving trainer and one of its wittiest and most engaging characters, may still be without the British classic success he cherishes above all, but this result clearly meant the world to him.

Asked how he felt mere seconds after the highlight of his 53-year training career had been achieved, an unusually tongue-tied Prescott came up with the one-word response: “lucky”.

That adjective must also have been uppermost in the thoughts of the winning jockey, Luke Morris, given the way that by far the most important ride in his near 19,000-race career had panned out.

The 33-year-old must have visualised the race so many times beforehand yet reality turned out to be just about as perfect as any fantasy could have concocted.

The Japanese raider Titleholder was rushed to the early lead and set a strong but far from kamikaze pace. Making use of her handy draw in stall six, Morris niggled his mount along for a few strides too but did not have to be particularly vigorous to find his way into fifth place.

Within little more than a couple of furlongs, and after a long check over his right shoulder, Morris was able to switch across and gain a plum position on the rail.

And that’s exactly where he stayed for the next mile, travelling conspicuously strongly early in the home straight but with Morris at pains to follow the advice of the various wise heads he had sought out beforehand and not kick too soon.

Time to go

A furlong and a half to run and it was time to go. When Alpinista came under an all-out drive at the furlong pole, she was able to eke out a big enough margin between herself and closest pursuer, Vadeni, so that, when Rouget’s charge dug deep into unexpected reserves of stamina in the last 50 yards, his rally still came up half a length short.

The 2021 champion, Torquator Tasso, had the imposition of a very wide draw to overcome and covered himself in glory by finishing third, just another neck adrift.

For the second year running, he gave the outside to no one, and having been one of the first off the bridle, responded so well to Frankie Dettori’s urgings that a carbon-copy victorious late surge looked on the cards until his run petered out in the last 10 strides.

Rouget’s second string, Al Hakeem, was never far off the pace and kept going gallantly to take fourth while Grand Glory returned to form to take the last of the prize money in fifth.

Westover ran creditably enough in sixth while the seemingly below-par effort of Luxembourg in seventh was swiftly explained by trainer Aidan O’Brien.

“He got stuck in the ground and pulled a muscle off his nearside hip,” he said, and subsequent unconfirmed reports suggest that the injury could be serious enough to jeopardise the plans to allow him to race on at four.


Joy and goodwill flooded from all quarters as Morris and Prescott made their different ways back to the winner’s enclosure, and not just from the thousands of British fans who had backed Alpinista into favouritism as part of their annual Parisian pilgrimage.

Soumillon, the weekend’s eminence grise, swallowed his own disappointment at finishing runner-up for the second straight year to give the triumphant pilot an ostentatious mounted handshake.

And the words ‘Sir Mark!’ were exclaimed exultantly from all directions, including from the mouths of many of his former assistant trainers now in possession of their own licences, the French trio of Pascal Bary, François Rohaut and Christophe Ferland among them.

While Prescott took most of the plaudits, the accolades ought to be shared with owner-breeder Rausing, a devoted horse-lover who has been besotted with breeding and bloodlines since she was a schoolgirl back in the 1960s.

Initially acquired from the father of Vadeni’s owner-breeder, the Aga Khan, she has been involved with Alpinista’s family for five generations and recently trumped the Master of Heath House Stables by breeding her first British classic winner thanks to Eldar Eldarov’s St Leger score.

Last hurrah

Alpinista’s long term future centres arround a broodmare career and plenty of grass from the paddocks of Rausing’s Lanwades Stud in Newmarket.

But the Frankel five-year-old is reported to have come out of the race exceptionally well and, presuming her wellbeing remains undimmed, is set to have one last hurrah (and bid for a seventh straight Group 1 win) in the Japan Cup on November 27th.

Thanks to a Japan Racing Association incentive scheme designed to entice the best foreign horses to Tokyo, victory there would be worth well over €6 million – to add to the €2.857 million that she won last Sunday.

Welcome news came 48 hours after the event that Vadeni stays in training – he will be mighty hard to beat in 12 months’ time – as do Westover and Al Hakeem.

But Torquator Tasso has run his last race and been retired to his owners’ stud, Gestut Auenquelle.

I owe his German connections a sincere entschuldigung to apologise for ever having doubted his quality, and am in awe of his breeder, Paul Vanderberg, who lives in a non-racing nation (Holland) and owns just one mare yet has already produced a champion with another, the runaway German St Leger winner, Tunnes (Torquator Tasso’s half-brother), waiting in the wings.