Talking Horses: shock winner makes waves but Arc misses travelling fans

The sound of silence is never an entirely satisfying postscript to a big race, not least on a grand occasion like the 100th running of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and there can be little doubt that Torquator Tasso, the 69-1 winner (80-1 with British bookmakers) at Longchamp on Sunday, was fortunate to find the race unfolding as it did, with little pace for much of the way, and on desperate, holding ground which was an ideal match for his German pedigree.

But you could see him coming from some way out, and unlike several rivals – Hurricane Lane, perhaps, in particular – Rene Piechulek was able to set off on one long, uninterrupted run on the winner after turning for home in an ideal spot, not too far from the lead. And he was, after all, a dual winner at the highest level already, albeit in German Group Ones which most of us dismissed – rashly, as it turns out – as no match for an English Classic.

From a British perspective, there was not even the consolation that an outrageous result for the bookies – one described it as “the best Arc result in bookmaking history” – would see a slice of the (very) gross profit boosting the Levy, as any hopes of extending the sport’s funding system to races overseas were kicked back into the very long grass earlier this year.

But there does seem to be a realistic chance that both Adayar, the Derby and King George winner, and the Leger winner, Hurricane Lane, will race on as four-year-olds next season, presumably with another tilt at the Arc as the ultimate aim. That, in turn, would be very good news for France Galop after an afternoon which highlighted how difficult it will be to rebuild the Arc’s popularity, with overseas racegoers in particular, in the post-Covid era.

Longchamp was a very pleasant place to be on Sunday afternoon – nowhere better, in fact, for a fan of top-class racing, once the early-morning rain had subsided and the sun was at least trying to come out.

But that, at least in part, is because there were so few racegoers there. Walking through the Jardin de l’Arc, the cheaper of the two main enclosures, about an hour before the big race, there were no queues for the food outlets, bars or betting windows, and plenty of empty tables for scattered around the lawns.

Longchamp was rightly criticised for its offering to racegoers when its magnificent new grandstand opened in 2018, when the organisers seriously underestimated the amount that the travelling racegoers in particular like to drink and eat. There were long queues for everything, and little or no choice for those if or when spectators finally reached the front.

Sunday, though, was the other extreme, and in its own way, just as much of an issue for France Galop, as it tries to turn Arc weekend into a money-spinner after Longchamp’s €140m [£123m] redevelopment.

Attendance in 2019, the last pre-Covid year, was actually up on 2018, from 35,000 to 42,000, but the race was behind closed doors last year, pulled in 15,000 on Sunday and needs to more than double next year just to get back to its 2018 level. It must feel more like 60 years than six, meanwhile, since 55,000 watched Golden Horn win the final Arc at the old Longchamp.

British and Irish spectators accounted for at least 50% of the Arc’s attendance just a few years ago but three years is more than enough time for many Longchamp regulars to simply lose the habit of making their annual trip to Paris on the first weekend in October. The 101st running will say much about the chance that the Arc will ever rebuild its old army of travelling fans.

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