Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe
Greg Wood at Longchamp
Monday October 6, 2003
Aga Khan's colt finds different gears to set seal on glittering career
Dalakhani looked a horse apart as he glided across the soft ground on the way to post for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe here yesterday, and he was better
still on the way back. Christophe Soumillon, his jockey, condensed his performance in Europe's finest race into just five words: "Il est un champion veritable." The only dispute is Soumillon's use of the present tense. Dalakhani has almost certainly run his last race, but at least the memory of his curtain call will endure until his first crop of two-year-olds reaches the track in 2007.
Before the race, there was a theory that Dalakhani's outside draw would be too great a handicap, and if that did not get him, the soft going would. Yet from his first step out of the stalls he moved like a winner, and Soumillon's major task was to keep him out of trouble.
He did so supremely well. There was no rush towards the pace in search of a position, just the confidence that flows from having a horse on a long, tight rein as you ghost across the ground. Soumillon was third-last after half a mile, and still towards the back as they turned into Longchamp's "false" straight, but it was here that he allowed Dalakhani to surge into contention.
He made up six lengths in a furlong, and though Mubtaker and Richard Hills kicked on as they finally turned in, two and a half furlongs from the line, Soumillon had him covered. Dalakhani drew alongside with 300 yards left, and then pressed on to win by three-quarters of a length. The pair were five lengths clear of High Chaparral, last year's Derby winner, with Doyen and Vinnie Roe next past the post.
"I knew that I'd beat the other three-year-olds, and I knew that the ground had gone against Ange Gabriel," Soumillon said. "I knew that I'd win from a long way out."
Unless the Aga Khan, Dalakhani's owner, decides to change the habit of a lifetime, the grey will now devote himself to improving the breed. He will retire with a record of eight wins from nine starts, and four of those at Group One level.
"He's outstanding on the basis of what we've seen as a two-year-old, three-year-old, over all distances and on all going," the Aga said. "It's very difficult to make comparisons, but this horse has a concentration of unusual talents, and that's what gives him the ability to accelerate when he needs to accelerate, to follow a pace when he needs to follow a pace, and to handle all goings."
Dalakhani's racing career may now be history, but Soumillon's has only just begun. The Aga has daubed the 2003 season green and red, with Alamshar winning the King George and inflicting Dalakhani's sole, narrow defeat in the Irish Derby, and Soumillon has played an important part.
"I rate him very highly," said the Aga. "He positions his horse very well in a big field, and he's sufficiently reserved and calm not to get upset by a race that goes against what we expect."
Marcus Tregoning was pleased with Mubtaker's performance in his first Group One. "He went clear, but I could see the winner coming, and he's a very good horse," he said.
High Chaparral looked poised to run Dalakhani close as he passed the final turn in fourth place, but dropped away quickly before running on late.
"He looks as if he's better going the other way around," Aidan O'Brien, his trainer, said. The Breeders' Cup Turf, a race he won last year, remains his next target.
It is hard to see a racing future for Kris Kin, though. He helped to launch the summer season when he won the Derby at Epsom less than a week after Dalakhani's brilliant victory in the French equivalent. Yesterday, he beat only two of the pacemakers home. Both horses promised much, but it was Dalakhani who endured to lead this Classic generation.
Big race result
1, Dalakhani, C Soumillon (9-4).
2, Mubtaker, R Hills (25-1).
3, High Chaparral, (13-8 Fav).
Trained: A de Royer-Dupre. 12 Ran.
Dist: l, 5l.
PMU Dividends: Win: €2.40; places €1.30, €4.10, €1.90; Dual F: €£38.10.