Alan Crowhurst - Getty Images
The heavy ground at Longchamp made for a very different race in the 2012 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
The ground at Lonchamp for the 2012 Arc was rated as "Heavy" on Sunday, a turf condition extremely foreign to most of us in North America. Around here, we don't see too many courses rated anything beyond "Yielding", although an occasional "Soft" will pop up now and then. Essentially, if a course in North America receives enough rain to deserve a rating of "Heavy" it's highly likely the races will be switched to the main track from the turf course. The exceptions would include the Breeders' Cup (think 2007 at Monmouth Park) or something like Arlington Million day.
The last three years at Longchamp have witnessed a variety of ground conditions - ranging from the "Very Soft" ground for the victory by Workforce (GB) in 2010, the "Good" ground that provided the record setting run by Danedream (GER), and then this year's "Heavy" which produced Solemia's (IRE) victory in the slowest final time since
Urban Sea won in 2:37.90 in 1993 Montjeu won in 2:38.50 in 1999.
In recent years, French courses have installed sectional timing mechanisms which provide a glimpse into the pace of the race that we were forced to guess at in the years before. I've put together a couple of table summarizing the fractions from the last three Arcs, as well as the internal splits. The 2010 data does not include timing from the final furlong so the finishing split is for a quarter mile instead of one eighth.
Right away we see that 2012 and 2010 were much different race shapes than the 2011 Arc. The first seven furlongs went in 1:32.20 in 2010 and 1:31.90 this year. I was a bit surprised to see the first seven-eighths of a mile for this year's race to come in faster than 2010 given the condition of the ground, but those differences were soon swept away.
The 2012 pace slowed considerably from the seven furlong mark to the nine furlong mark, and then to the ten furlong marker. However, things picked up from there as the final quarter went in 25.73, which is over a second faster than the final quarter in 2010.
Several factors cloud comparisons of times and splits between different Arc years. First, without more detailed data, we don't know the condition of the course at various points in the trip. In other words, were there parts of the course that were drier or softer than others? Possibly. Second, we know Solemia ran the final quarter faster than 25.73 since she made up a length or two on Orfevre and didn't take the lead until just before the winning post. It's doubtful she came anywhere near the 23.76 put up by Danedream in the final quarter last year but, given the heavy going, a sub :26 and close to 25 flat final quarter is not bad at all.
I wish we had timing for each individual horse because I'd love to know the split for the portion of the race where Orfevre went from the back of the pack to a couple of lengths in the lead. His move was so strong and definitive that I can only imagine it was an excellent number. I don't know what the plans are for Orfevre in the future, but I hope this colt gets a chance to run on a few more times because he's an absolute joy to watch.
As for the winner, as suggested by her 40/1 odds, Solemia was overlooked by most handicappers (including yours truly) heading into the Arc. Her last win came three races earlier in the G2 Prix Corrida by a nose over Arc rival Shareta (IRE) at Saint-Cloud. Prior to that win, she won a couple of listed stakes and a maiden race but didn't have another group victory to her credit.
Further back in the field:
- My pick, Great Heavens (IRE), looked ready to pounce in the final quarter mile but had no more left in the tank and faded to sixth.
- Masterstroke, the only American-bred horse in the Arc (bred by Darley USA), ran on well to finish third but was seven lengths back of the top two.
- Camelot (GB) had all kinds of issues, including losing shoes during the race, and finished an nonthreatening seventh.
- Sea Moon (GB) never made much of an impact and finished eighth. He is being considered for the Breeders' Cup Turf.
- Secretariat Stakes winner Bayrir (FR) finished 10th at odds of 35/1.
- 2011 Breeders' Cup Turf winner St Nicholas Abbey (IRE) finished 11th and will ship to Santa Anita to defend his title at this year's Breeders' Cup.
I'll have a look at the splits for all the other races during the 2012 Arc Festival a bit later on in the week.