Steve Moran

Ace Impact: The three-year-old most likely for Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe

Every now and then a race screams believe what you see – especially when the visual is backed up by the data.

I suspect that last Saturday’s Q22, won by Without A Fight, is such a race. I’m certain that the previous weekend’s Prix du Jockey Club, won by Ace Impact, is an archetypal example. 

Interestingly, the merit of Ace Impact’s stunning French Derby success may have been somewhat lost amidst the understandable acclaim for Auguste Rodin’s Classic win, at Epsom, on the same weekend. Just as Think About It’s Stradbroke win arguably overshadowed Without A Fight. 

Aidan O’Brien’s feat in turning around the abject failure of Auguste Rodin’s 22 lengths defeat in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket confirms yet again there’s more required than simply pointing and shooting the vast Ballydoyle artillery at his disposal and was worthy of the column inches devoted to it. 

Nonetheless I would argue that the performance of Ace Impact was clearly superior in an outstanding edition of the Prix du Jockey Club and again a triumph for his remarkable trainer Jean-Claude Rouget who, outside France, probably doesn’t enjoy the high profile of O’Brien or many of his international counterparts. 

Rouget won the Derby for the sixth time to match Pascal Bary and Alain de Royer Dupre. It was his fifth success in the past eight years. 

He’s trained 84 winners this season at a phenomenal strike rate of 26.4 per cent. Last season he struck at 25 per cent for the season and finished 44 wins ahead of Andre Fabre in the trainer’s premiership – to end Fabre’s run of 31 titles in 35 years.

His 158 winners last season was achieved with 186 horses who ran 625 times. We know this as France Galop publishes the numbers of horses with each trainer. 

I’d imagine that’s fewer than Chris Waller and Ciaron Maher-David Eustace have in work at any given time. Waller’s horses ran 2,313 times last season. 

It’s high time the principal racing authorities here – and elsewhere – listed the number of horses trained by each entity simply as a matter of public interest. I have previously asked Racing Victoria and been told ‘that’s confidential’ which is hardly a good enough response. 

Last weekend we saw Bjorn Baker record an incredible five winners from seven runners at Randwick. Maher and Eustace had a superb eight winners, including a Group 1, from 20 runners across Australia. But don’t you wonder from how big a string? Just a curiosity and not one which is meant to demean the larger operations. 

I digress, however, from the intriguing Rouget, who turns 70 in August, and has achieved extraordinary success somewhat unconventionally from a primary base at Pau, about 800 kilometres from Paris, albeit with a satellite stable at Deauville.

Initially scorned, it seems, as a provincial trainer, he now boasts 19 French Classic wins.

His essence, so wonderfully French at the risk of being stereotypical, was perhaps best captured by French journalist Emmanuel Roussel who wrote of Rouget’s reaction to winning an early race at Deauville. 

“What seems to bother you?” Rouget was asked. “It’s noon,” he replied briskly. “Racing so early is ridiculous, and I am fed up with such nonsense. I had to leave the training grounds at 11am and did not have a chance to have lunch. It always puts me in a bad mood. So no, I am not happy and I have called the CEO of the PMU to tell him about it. He said he’d work out something, but for now we’re stuck here racing at lunchtime.”

Fortunately, the French Derby was run midafternoon and the winner Ace Impact is surely destined to add to Rouget’s resume and perhaps provide him with a second Prix de l’Arc de Triumph win following Sottsass in 2020. His Derbywinning three-year-old Vadeni was a half length second to Alpinista last year. 

Sottsass, like Ace Impact, had won the Prix de Suresnes  en-route to the Derby and did so in an exceptionally quick 2:20.90 seconds  – a time only once bettered in the race since its change to 2100 metres in 2005, and that was this year Ace Impact running 2:20.60 seconds.

Sottsass went on to win the Group 2 Prix Niel and finished third in the Arc on very soft ground before claiming the French holy grail at four. 

This year’s French Derby was notable for the relentless gallop provided by the in-form Big Rock who ran the first 1100 metres in 1:30.40 seconds and continued on with three 11.7-second splits in the next four sectionals. 

Such an energy sapping gallop usually dulls the finishing speed of the closers but not that of Ace Impact who sizzled home in 11.1 and 11.3 to win by three and a half lengths. 

Big Rock slowed, of course, but not to a walk. Ace Impact was simply too good. Big Rock had won four races on end culminating with a five-length demolition of France’s best three-year-old gelding Horizon Dore in the Prix de Guiche. Horizon Dore then, last Sunday, won the Listed Prix Ridgway by five and a half lengths.

The Derby third Marhaba Ya Sanafi, who also ran with distinction, had won the French 2,000 Guineas beating Isaac Shelby, who will contest the St. James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot next week.

At this stage, the form simply stacks up better than the Derby at Epsom which was run at a trot and canter to the 800 metres – from which point Auguste Rodin was able to outsprint King Of Steel who was having just his third start and had missed a lead-up run in the Dante. 

These days, of course, they are two very different races given the undulations and 2400 metres at Epsom compared to the relatively flat 2100 metres at Chantilly and only time will truly tell which race proves superior. 

The French Classic does, over the previous ten years, boast the better honour roll via The Grey Gatsby, Almanzor, Sottsass, Mishriff, St Mark’s Basilica and Vadeni. 

In the same time, I’d argue the (Epsom) Derby has yielded just the one genuinely outstanding winner in Golden Horn, notwithstanding that Adayar and Desert Crown still have the opportunity to do enough to earn such a tag. 

It’s been rather oddly argued that the Arc de Triomphe is no longer the preserve of the three-year-old as no horse of that age has won since Enable in 2017.

There’s only been five editions since then and Enable, of course, did win the following 2018 edition narrowly from the three-year-old filly Sea Of Class. Sottsass was third in 2019; the German Derby winner In Swoop a close second in 2020; Hurricane Lane was third in 2021 and Vadeni narrowly denied last year. 

Three-year-olds had won 17 of 23 runnings of the Prix de l’arc de Triomphe before Enable and I fancy Ace Impact can add to the list this year. 

“I don’t think we’ve seen how good he can be yet and he has the right profile to mix it with the best horses around. I don’t think that would be a problem, even if we were to go up in trip,” winning jockey Cristian Demuro told Scott Burton in the Racing Post. 

As to Without A Fight, his turn of foot off a fast pace was similarly impressive. He ran 33.9 from the 800 metres to the 200 metres to put the race to bed and was eased down in the closing stages. 

His major Cups prospects may well be determined by international arrivals and the handicapper and it’s hard to imagine any leniency given that he had 55.5 kilograms in last year’s Melbourne Cup. The Cox Plate is perhaps more his race.

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