Newspaper article International New York Times

Longchamp's Fountain of Youth ; in l'Arc De Triomphe, Winning Trend Leans toward 3-Year-Old Fillies

Newspaper article International New York Times

Longchamp's Fountain of Youth ; in l'Arc De Triomphe, Winning Trend Leans toward 3-Year-Old Fillies

Article excerpt

The trend in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe is toward 3-year-old filly winners.

The winner's roll for the last two decades of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe reads like a Derby or an Oaks. In that time, the best 3- year-olds in Europe have monopolized this Continental prize, winning 16 of the last 20, and Sunday's edition at Longchamp looks set to continue that trend.

Four of the five major contenders are 3-year-olds -- England's Taghrooda, Japan's Harp Star, and France's Avenir Certain and Ectot - - and of those four all but Ectot are fillies. Three of the last six Arcs have been won by 3-year-old fillies: Zarkava, Danedream and Treve, who returns to defend her crown on Sunday after a problematic season in which she has lost three races since last year's Arc.

Turf observers chalk up the dominance of 3-year-olds to several factors, foremost among them being that 3-year-olds receive a weight allowance since the Arc is classified as a weight-for-age race. Older horses carry 59.5 kilograms, or 130 pounds, which is 3.5 more kilos than 3-year-old colts or geldings. Three-year-old fillies carry 54.5 kilos.

The weight-for-age designation, common among end-of-season championship races, is based on the idea that the best older horse and the best 3-year-old should be treated evenly, talent-wise, on that scale of weight. Differences in weight carry more significance over a distance of ground, and the Arc is run at a classic mile and a half.

But the recent trend in European racing, not to mention in the United States, has seen the best 3-year-olds prematurely retired to breeding careers. Recent examples include Sea the Stars, the 2009 Arc winner, and the Aga Khan's Zarkava, the unbeaten 2008 winner. These retirements have led to a shift toward 3-year-old supremacy.

"The best 4-year-olds, for the most part, which were the best 3- year-olds from the year before, have been retired," said Sid Fernando, an international pedigree advisor. "It's almost a second level of 4-year-olds that are now competing. On a mathematical basis, you have less than the top-class 4-year-olds racing against the top-class 3-year-olds."

Defeating males and older horses would be nothing new for Harp Star and Taghrooda. On July 26, Taghrooda, trained by John Gosden for Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum, became only the third 3-year-old filly to win Ascot's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in the race's 63-year history. That afternoon, the Epsom Oaks winner received an almost seven-kilogram weight break because of her age and sex. Taghrooda's only loss came in her last start, a close second to Tapestry in the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks in August.

Harp Star's trainer, Hiroyoshi Matsuda, said the weight allowance in the Arc was an attractive option. In her last race, the Sapporo Kinen, Harp Star defeated her fellow Arc starter Gold Ship, a 5- year-old with 20 races under his saddle, and a dozen other older horses over 10 furlongs, while carrying about six kilograms fewer than her main rivals. …

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