Naran Huleg, seen winning the Takanatsumoniya Stakes early in 2022, returns in Sunday's Grade 1 Sprinters Stakes. Photo courtesy of Japan Racing Association
Sept. 30 (UPI) -- The Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe is the race of the year in Europe -- a 1 1/2-mile test that normally draws the best of what the locals call middle-distance runners. A couple of good ones are missing from Sunday's running, but there's plenty of intrigue left.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg on a busy autumn weekend around the globe.
Including the Arc, Longchamp's weekend cards have eight Group 1 events and four Group 2's. Five are Breeders' Cup qualifiers. Grade 1 racing returns to Japan with the Sprinters Stakes at Nakayama Racecourse. Australia adds four Group 1 events to the mix.
We'll get to all that in a moment, but first a nod to the new monarch of the United Kingdom. King Charles III's first royal runner, Educator, reported second in a 1 1/4-mile handicap Thursday at Salisbury, trailing the Juddmonte-owned Okeechobee by 4 1/4 lengths.
Educator, a 3-year-old colt, is one of many well-bred horses the new king inherited from his late mother, Queen Elizabeth II. It remains to be seen how involved King Charles will be in racing, although no one expects his interest to rival the passion for the sport shown by Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mother.
On to the weekend.
After some intrigue and with a sharp eye on the condition of the turf, the connections of 20 horses left their runners in for Sunday's Group 1 Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in Paris.
Late in the going, last year's Cazoo Derby winner, Adayar, was withdrawn from consideration because of expected soft turf and redirected to face another absentee, Baaeed, in the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot on Oct. 14.
Australian champ Verry Elleegant failed to make the field when her new French trainer, Francis-Henri Graffard, gave her two local prep races that resulted in official rating of 113 -- well below the cutoff point.
Had he given the mare just one start in France, she would have retained her 120 rating from Australia and been comfortably in the field.
Last year's Arc winner, Germany's Torquator Tasso, was dealt a harsh blow in Thursday's barrier draw, assigned the No. 15 gate. If history is a guide, outside is not good in the Arc.
Faring better with inside to middle positions were the antepost favorites, Coolmore's Irish Champion winner Luxembourg, multiple Group 1 winner Alpinista and Titleholder, the latest Japanese hope to finally end that country's Arc jinx.
There will be many runners with decent chances and long odds in the Arc. Mishriff, for example, a Group 1 winner in four countries, was available with some bookmakers as high as 28-1 after the draw.
The Arc itself is a "Win and You're In" race for the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf. Four other races also offer free entry and travel support for the Breeders' Cup World Championships on Nov. 4-5 at Keeneland.
The Prix Jean Luc Lagardere for 2-year-olds is a "Win and You're In" for the Juvenile Turf, the Prix Marcel Bousaac, for 2-year-old fillies for the Juvenile Fillies Turf.
The Prix Abbaye de Longchamp is a portal to the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint and the Longines Prix Opera, for the Maker's Mark Filly & Mare Turf. The Prix Foret at 1,400 meters is the only one of the six Group 1 races on the card not granted a Breeders' Cup nod.
Saturday's program at Longchamp is no slouch, either.
Verry Elleegant was redirected to the Group 1 Prix Royallieu for fillies and mares at 2,800 meters.
The Group 1 Prix Cadran is 4,000 meters or about 2 1/2 miles with Kyprios, now the leader among European stayers with the retirement of Stradivarius, as the favorite.
The Group 2 Prix Dollar is run at half that distance and the Group 2 Prix Chaudenay for 3-year-olds at 3,000 meters.
Sunday's Grade 1 Sprinters Stakes at Nakayama Racecourse is one of only two Grade 1 sprints on the Japanese racing calendar and, thus, has outsized importance in determining year-end honors.
That's possibly more true than ever this year as the other top-level sprint, the Takamatsunomiya Kinen, was won in dramatic fashion in March at Chukyo Racecourse by long shot Naran Huleg. That was the 6-year-old's first start in a Grade 1 race, and he followed with a ninth-place finish in the Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen.
The opposition includes Meikei Yell, recent winner of the Grade 2 Centaur Stakes, a key prep for the Sprinters Stakes; Schnell Meister, a German-bred colt who finished second in his last two Grade 1 starts in Japan; and 3-year-old filly Namura Claire, who gets in light because of her age and sex.
Saturday's Group 1 Royal Bahrain Sun Chariot Stakes for fillies and mares at Newmarket features Saffron Beach, winner of the Group 2 Duke of Cambridge Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Group 1 Prix Rothschild at Deauville, and then second in the Group 1 Matron Stakes in Ireland in her last; and Homeless Songs, a Frankel filly who won the Group 1 Irish 1,000 Guineas and reported fourth in the Matron.
While the season winds down in the Northern Hemisphere, it's heating up fast Down Under with four Group 1 events on the weekend card. Royal Randwick hosts three of them, the TAB Epsom Stakes and the Darley Flight Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, both at 1,600 meters, and the Furphy Metropolitan Stakes at 2,400 meters.
Twelve are set for the Epsom with Icebath, Top Ranked and Hinged the antepost wagering choices. Trainer Chris Waller sends out Zougatcha and Madame Pommery in the Darley Flight Stakes.
That pair was 1-2 in the Tea Rose Stakes but will have to contend with Fireburn, the hot favorite after an impressive fifth in the Golden Rose.
The Metropolitan drew 15 with no clear favorite.
Saturday's TAB Turnbull Stakes at 2,000 meters on the Flemington greensward has a full and competitive field.
Jockey Joao Moreira announced Tuesday he will be out of action for an extended period while recovering from left hip pain. The perennial contender for Hong Kong riding honors said the condition is "labral tear, from injury and stress. ... I hope to return to riding in a three months' time."
That time frame seemingly would take Moreira out of the picture for Hong Kong's biggest single race day, the Longines Hong Kong International Races, scheduled for Dec. 10.
Meanwhile, his absence opens up a lot of quality mounts for the other riders in the closed and tightly controlled jockey colony.