Qatar Prix Niel (Group 2) | 1m4f | 3yo | ATR/RUK
The first of three trial races over the full Arc distance features the horse bookmakers generally agree at this stage of proceedings is the biggest potential threat to Enable – her own stablemate Cracksman.
The problem for pundits and punters alike is that John Gosden and owner-breeder Anthony Oppenheimer are already taking in one more race for the season than had originally seemed likely before Cracksman routed his rivals in the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York last month.
Instead of putting him away with a four-year-old campaign in mind, connections have decided to keep going but with no guarantee that even a win in the Niel will ensure his place in the line-up for the Arc.
"We had this race in mind for him after he came out of York so well and he's still a relatively fresh horse as we gave him a break after the Irish Derby," said Gosden.
Matters could be complicated by further ease in the going, given that Gosden took Cracksman out of the Dante in May rather than risk a hard race close to the Derby on very soft ground.
A personal tour of the track midweek satisfied Gosden before his departure for the yearling sales in Kentucky, while a field of five in a race which is rarely run at a flat out gallop may ensure Frankie Dettori doesn't have to get too serious with Cracksman.
"He should enjoy the track and ground and we'll see how he goes here before deciding future plans," said Gosden.
"It's a small field and it may be a bit like one of those velodrome cycle races where the riders are all looking at each other in the early stages before kicking on, but I'll leave it up to Frankie."
Andre Fabre has two chances to add to his record 11 wins in the Niel – six of those colts went on to win in Arc – with lightly raced Finche and Avilius both looking to enhance their reputations.
A Frankel half-brother to Fabre's Prince of Wales's Stakes winner Byword, Finche looked to be learning his job fast when edging out subsequent Secretariat Stakes third Afandem in the Group 2 Prix Eugene Adam on only his third start.
Avilius was third that day at Maisons-Laffitte and appeared ready for the step up in trip when filling the same position behind Eminent at Deauville last month.
"They'll both enjoy the step up in trip and although soft ground is a question mark I think they should be okay," said Fabre. "I just fear it could turn into a messy race."
Ice Breeze has a course and distance win at Group 2 level to his name but must bounce back from a slightly disappointing effort when fourth in the Grand Prix, having got notably worked up beforehand.
Pierre-Charles Boudot takes over on Ice Breeze, while Vincent Cheminaud remains loyal to Khalid Abdullah's other runner Finche.
One notable withdrawal at Friday's final declaration stage was Grand Prix de Paris winner Shakeel – a 25-1 shot for the Arc – who is reported by trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre to have suffered a tendon injury.
"He ran twice on very fast ground and put in an impressive sprint to win at Saint-Cloud," Royer-Dupre told Radio Balances.
"Often problems surface only when you apply the pressure again and, while he was fine the day after he worked this week, he wasn't right Thursday evening.
"He has a tendon problem and, while we'll have to see, it could be the end of his career."