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Worries about deja vu as Enable takes one last tilt at history in Paris

Sportsbeat
·5-min read
Frankie Dettori riding Enable wins the 97th Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Paris Longchamp in 2018 - their second win in Europe's richest race
Frankie Dettori riding Enable wins the 97th Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Paris Longchamp in 2018 - their second win in Europe's richest race

By James Toney

Back in France and hoping it's not all a case of déjà vu, Enable and her smitten jockey Frankie Dettori will always have Paris, regardless of what drama unfolds there this Sunday.

Twelve months ago the superstar mare and her dashing but greying jockey lined up at Longchamp in a bid to win an unprecedented third straight Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe, Europe's greatest racing prize.

It was set to be the final race of a storied career but in a stamina test on energy-sapping soft ground, Enable finished a narrow second to prove that fairytales only happen in the movies.

Days later, connections confirmed she'd race on as a six-year old, an age most mares are contemplating motherhood rather than tilting at history.

Immediately October 4th was circled in the diary - a hopefully glorious encore to last year's soggy ending under a leaden and drizzly Parisian sky.

And while so much is different from back then - 1,000 will get the chance to witness history rather than 45,000 - so much is the same. The weather is equally grim and Dettori is equally nervous.

Also in the autumn of his career, he turns 50 in December, this could be one last ride of a lifetime.

"I want her to be remembered as one of the greats and I just get emotional talking about her, a lump comes in my throat and the tears start to well," said Dettori.

"I've ridden a lot of horses but she's the one for me, I cannot explain how much she means, you just can't put it into words.

"Now we’ve got another chance and it would be the greatest feeling to take it. I don't know how long I've got in my career but I know I'll never find another like her. When I can't ride her again it'll be such a blow to me emotionally, she's like nothing else I've ever sat on.

"She's the cleverest horse in the world, she's one way out on the gallops at home and another on the race track - she just knows when it matters. I think it hurts her as much to lose as it hurts me and all her fans.

"Everything this season has been about this day. She's a different horse to three years ago but in many ways she's stronger. Time will tell, so let's roll the dice again.

"She has stayed in training for one reason and one reason only, let's just see what happens and try to enjoy the moment."

Jockeys aren't known for being sentimental types but Dettori looked crestfallen and flatter than a Crepe Suzette last year. He was still greeted like a winner in the parade ring but there was no flying dismount and no broad grin.

And, in a surely predictable twist, this time his closest rival could be another horse he dotes on, the chestnut colt Stradivarius, also trained by John Gosden, who Dettori rode to three Gold Cups at Royal Ascot.

"I can't believe I'm riding this horse four times in this special race, just to get her back here again is an achievement," he added.

"The two hours after last year’s Arc were the longest two hours of my riding career. You could feel all the expectation because she's loved by everyone and we came so close.

“I actually don’t feel as nervous because now she has been beaten, it does take a bit of pressure off.

"There's a lot of rain forecast and that will put a premium on stamina, so Strad is a big danger because he's a stayer and he'll certainly handle the soft ground."

Master trainer Gosden said after last year's race that he knew his stable star was beaten the moment he walked the track in the morning.

This time around, his predictions are similarly downbeat - indeed his pre-race quotes are a racing equivalent of a Gallic shrug. C'est la vie.

"She's a classy filly and it's hard to show your brilliance on a surface that is likely to turn it into a slog. It's the same for everyone but we know she wants the easy side of good ground - and we aren't getting that," he said.

"I can assure you that defeat is a strong likelihood on this ground."

Whether Gosden is managing expectations or being brutally honest remains to be seen, though Enable's place in the pantheon of legends is already secure, regardless of what unfolds over 150 heart thumping seconds at the Bois de Boulogne.

The head tells you to be realistic but screw statistics and common sense and embrace pure and undiluted sentiment.

The heart wins this - and hopefully Enable and Dettori will follow.