For just the third time in 100 runnings of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, a horse trained in Germany was first across the line on Sunday, to the great surprise of almost every racegoer at Longchamp, and punters across Europe and beyond.
Torquator Tasso and Rene Piechulek were 69-1 shots on the French Tote and 80-1 with British bookmakers to win one of the strongest Arcs for many years, but chased down the better-fancied Tarnawa and Hurricane Lane well inside the final furlong to win by three-quarters of a length.
This was an Arc that confounded expectations from start to finish. Adayar, the Derby winner, and Japan’s big hope, Chrono Genesis were drawn wide in 11 and 14 respectively, but somehow found their way to the front with a mile still to run, in Chrono Genesis’s case after racing alone in the middle of the track for the first three furlongs under Oisin Murphy.
They were still first and second on the final turn, and William Buick soon kicked Adayar into a useful lead, challenging the field to pick up and catch him on heavy, holding ground. He was just in front with a furlong to run but Hurricane Lane, the St Leger winner, and Dermot Weld’s mare Tarnawa were closing and finally got to him half a furlong from the post.
All the while, though, the yellow colours of Torquator Tasso had been staying on steadily on their outside, and just as it seemed two of the favourites would fight out the finish, Piechulek swamped the pair of them with an irresistible final drive for the line.
The result was met with stunned silence in the grandstand, and Piechulek and Marcel Weiss – Torquator Tasso’s trainer, who is only in his second year with a licence – were struggling to absorb their achievement in the moments after the race.
“I still can’t put it into words,” Weiss said, a few minutes after securing only the third Arc success for Germany after Star Appeal in 1975 and Danedream in 2011. “I can’t really digest it, I’m stumbling for words. We started to plan for the Arc last winter. Before the Arc, he had produced some very good performances, he was a Group One winner, and even though I thought this was the strongest Arc of the last few years, I thought he deserved to start. We would have been very happy if he had finished third, fourth, fifth or sixth, that would have been a success. The ground came in our favour, and then the race went as we wanted.”
Piechulek was riding in the Arc for the first time and could not have wished for a smoother debut. “I’m very honoured that I was able to ride in such a race,” he said. “I think it’s going to be tomorrow before I realise what it really means. There was not a lot of pace in the race and I tried to get a position towards the leading horses so that when we got to the final straight I could really launch my horse. He’s a horse that gets better and faster the longer the straight, so I wanted to make use of it.”
This was the third Group One success of Torquator Tasso’s career but his first outside Germany, which gave punters very little to go on beforehand in terms of form to tie him in with horses such as Adayar, Hurricane Lane and Tarnawa. After more than 20mm of rain in less than 24 hours at Longchamp, though, a handful of backers at least may have taken a chance on his stout German pedigree, as the stallion Adlerflug – also the sire of last year’s German-trained Arc runner‑up, In Swoop – is as strong an influence for stamina as you could find.
This was still one of the biggest surprises in Arc history, however, and Charlie Appleby, the trainer of both Hurricane Lane and Adayar, was among those trying to make sense of it all afterwards. “William said unfortunately his horse has jumped and he had to go on the front end because he was never going to get any cover,” Appleby said.
“He didn’t like that ground but it was another brave performance by the horse, and he showed his class there travelling into the straight when he was trying to pick up.
“At one stage it looked like [Hurricane Lane] was going to produce a run that was potentially going to win an Arc but full credit to the winner, we knew it was going to be a gruelling race at the finish, and that’s what it was.”