The Aga Khan's brilliant filly Shawanda won an army of new admirers when easily winning yesterday's Prix Vermeille at Longchamp, albeit in the slowest time of the three Arc trials.
Bookmakers reacted by slashing her price for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe to 7-2 from 6-1, especially with news that Azamour pulled muscles when slipping on the bend in Saturday's Irish Champion Stakes. Last night, the King George winner was receiving physio treatment in Ireland.
The Aga Khan said: "Whether he is fit enough to run in the Arc is open to doubt, and anyway, he would not run if it were a quagmire."
Azamour was taken out of the Arc betting by many bookmakers, although the colt's owner added: "If he was right and the ground was suitable, he and Shawanda could both possibly run."
Shawanda, a runaway winner of the Irish Oaks in July, has improved, if anything. She beat Royal Highness by only three-quarters of a length, but jockey Christophe Soumillon could have ridden side-saddle and still won with such contemptuous ease.
"She really has improved since the summer," the Aga Khan said of his Vermeille winner.
The Andre Fabre-trained Hurricane Run remains favourite for the Arc, unchanged at 5-2, following a three-length victory in the Prix Niel that impressed both his trainer and jockey Kieren Fallon.
Whereas Shawanda ran the mile and a half in 2min 32.0sec, Hurricane Run recorded a time 1.3sec faster when comfortably beating stablemate Runaway by three lengths.
Fallon said Hurricane Run had given him a better feel yesterday than when beating Scorpion in the Irish Derby in June. "He has the spring back in his step again," said Fallon. "He felt flat at The Curragh but he felt great today. Christophe Soumillon said Hurricane Run likes to have horses around him, but it was a small field (five runners) this time and he will probably be better on Arc day."
Hurricane Run is owned in partnership by Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Sue Magnier. For Smith, the Arc will be one of several highlights to look forward to as he also shares ownership in the promising juveniles George Washington and City of Troy.
The fastest of the three trials was that won by Pride, who took full benefit of an inside run to land the Prix Foy, defeating Alkaased and Shirocco in 2min 29.20sec, but it would not be advisable to read too much into the fractions, particularly with the Arc in mind. The big race itself always attracts a good-sized field, and with pacemakers usually present, it bears little resemblance to yesterday's heats.
Trainer Alain de Royer Dupre advised that Pride is by no means a certain Arc runner, although she is quoted 20-1 from 40-1 by Ladbrokes. The five-year-old also has the Prix de l'Opera as an alternative target.
Alkaased was comfortably beaten this time although trainer Luca Cumani believed he would improve greatly next time out. "It was a proper pace and he was found out in the last furlong. It won't happen again," Cumani said.
With Hurricane Run and Shawanda both consolidating their positions at the top of the Arc betting, Motivator, who was beaten in the Irish Champion Stakes, has eased to 7-2 from 5-2.
Bago, last year's Arc winner, is fourth-favourite at 7-1 despite not appearing at Longchamp yesterday. Trainer Jonathan Pease is sticking to his plan of keeping Bago fresh for the big day.
Scorpion is a 10-1 chance, although the same connections own Hurricane Run.