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Brilliant Zarkava overcomes adversity to join the all time Arc legends - 2008-10-05

Sunday, 2008, October 5
J A McGrath

For one dramatic moment at the start of the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, the fabulous French filly Zarkava looked in danger of ducking out of the biggest challenge in her short career. But jockey Christophe Soumillon's quick reflexes and brilliant horsemanship saved the day.

Through no fault of her own, Zarkava, who started from stall one on the inside, found herself veering right in the first strides of the race and Soumillon did well to keep her on the course. "There is no rail, just a tape, and she jinked. But I was never worried," declared the ever-confident Frenchman, who steered her purposefully from the opening.

What then followed was conclusive evidence that this exceptional filly is the best seen in decades. Putting behind her the mishap, Zarkava then faced a near-impossible task, attempting to come from a very umpromising position, trapped on the inside, five furlongs from home. "It was an ugly race from behind, jockeys were not respecting each other," Soumillon reported.

"A few times, I was in a bad position, it was not easy," he added. Soumillon likened the experience to a dodgem car ride, but was fortunate to have such a willing partner, capable of taking the narrow gaps that came their way in a protracted battle up the home straight.

Once she finally broke through the middle of the pack, Zarkava accelerated yet again to dash clear, with Youmzain in hot pursuit, while the German runner It's Gino and Soldier Of Fortune kept on one-paced. While her rivals battled gallantly in her wake, they were simply outclassed by a superior racehorse.

Zarkava became only the second filly in 25 years to win the Arc, and the first three-year-old filly since the Aga Khan's Akiyda in 1982. For the owner-breeder, it was the celebration of 90 years and five generations of development of a prized bloodline with which he and members of his family have been associated. It was a proud occasion for the Aga Khan.

Soumillon was ecstatic after the win. He punched the air, threw his riding helmet (complete with green silk cap and goggles) into the crowd, and kept pointing to Zarkava, pleading with punters to applaud a show-stopping performance from a champion.

"She gave me the same extraordinary sensation that I had with Dalakhani (his winner in 2003), who is the only one that would have been able to challenge her today. They are the two horses in my life. They will be engraved in everyone's memory forever, and especially in mine. She is a real jewel, a filly with such class that we are unlikely to see the same quality for 25 or 30 years," he said.

The jockey's suggestion that Zarkava should visit Dalakhani in the breeding shed was greeted as an amusing aside, but you can bet the Aga Khan and his team, who are responsible for the matings, will have looked at all the angles. A half-sibling to the filly, by Azamour, is already attracting attention.

For trainer Alain de Royer Dupre, this Arc victory was tribute to his horsemanship and that of his team at Chantilly. The filly was noticeably calmer in the paddock than she had been prior to the Prix Vermeille, and she is an impatient type, who wants to get on with her racing once she is saddled. She is unlikely to run again this year and it will be decided in the next few days whether she stays in training.

Channon, watching the race on television at West Ilsley, said of runner-up Youmzain: "He's run a cracker and we'll be back for another attempt next year. I think the winner is exceptional. It's just a shame we couldn't have a proper cut at her."

Soldier Of Fortune did best of the Ballydoyle contingent, dead-heating for third with It's Gino, but once Zarkava saw daylight, he never had a prayer in repelling her final flourish. Stablemate Duke Of Marmalade finished seventh, finding little and running 'flat' after having enjoyed a good position.

This Arc field contained six individual Derby winners from Europe and the Far East, and featured a fabulous collection of top class racehorses. It is a mark of Zarkava's great class that she made most of them look like second-raters. Now, her name can rightly be mentioned alongside that of Allez France. She is a great, who can be hailed as such.

Qatar Prix De L’Arc de Triomphe

1 Zarkava
A De Royer Dupre (C Soumillon)13-8F

2 Youmzain
M Channon (R Hills) 12-1

Soldier Of Fortune
A P O’Brien (J A Heffernan) 9-2

It’s Gino
P Vovcenko (T Thuilliez) 150-1

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