Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe

Al Kazeem. Climbing.


The first I heard of Al Kazeem was when he upturned the Camelot apple cart. That was the end of May this year, when only four horses took to post for the Tattersall’s Gold Cup at the Curragh. It should have been a soft win for Camelot, but he was put on his backside inside two furlongs. Al Kazeem was all sprint that day in a victory that surprised almost everyone. It’s the middle of July now, and the Welsh horse is four for four, undefeated this fair season.

After the Coral-Eclipse last weekend, I pulled up his record. The horse is a five-year-old now, a plain bay by Dubawi out of a Darshaan mare. But his record is pretty exceptional. After an unplaced first start in 2010, Al Kazeem has never, yes never, been out of the first two placings. He has raced 12 times all up, eight times in group status, for seven wins. His last five starts (all wins) read like this: Gr2, Gr3, Gr1, Gr1, Gr1. He has bounced through Camelot (twice), Mukhadram (twice), The Fugue, Mars and Declaration Of War, Thomas Chippendale (god rest him) and Sea Moon. And while these names might not wither superlatives like a Frankel or Shergar or Nijinsky, the name ‘Al Kazeem’ may yet. He is blazing down a path strangely familiar to race fans, one cut and trod by Sea The Stars.

Now hold up a second...

Not for a moment has Al Kazeem proved his measure like Sea The Stars. That horse was only three when he steered Mick Kinane through a fantastical 2009 season, a campaign that would have levelled any older horse – the 2000 Guineas, English Derby, Coral-Eclipse, Juddmonte, Irish Champion Stakes and, ah, the Arc. Will we ever see it again? It was an agenda that was as ridiculous as it was ambitious, yet it was no match for Sea The Stars. That year, I was waiting for terrible defeat and, delightfully, it didn’t come. But what has this to do with Al Kazeem?

Well, the Dubawi bay might surge on undefeated this season. We know his team are eyeing the Arc as a finale, as did Sea The Stars, and the route they take to reach it could be soft and safe, or it could be cold and courageous. With the King George probably out, that leaves a possible start for Al Kazeem in the Juddmonte in late August or the Irish Champion in early September. If he wins either, it will be trumpets all the way to Intello in early October. And should he win the Arc, and personally I think he is brilliant enough, he’ll be six for six this season, as was Sea The Stars in 2009. Like Sea The Stars, it might be six victories in six months in three countries, even if it won’t be six Gr1s (you can’t have everything).

Of course, that’s assuming Al Kazeem can win the Arc. Since the Eclipse, much cyber-column has been devoted to this very question. There are the sceptics that feel the horse is a grinding, one-paced sort of fellow without the stamina to stick a mile-and-a-half. There are others that kneel at the church of Intello. What do I think?

Well, I see a little of Sea The Stars in Al Kazeem. He wins economically, usually by little more than a length, sometimes two. When things get dirty inside the final two, he puts his head down, his ears back, and digs into reserves that only really good horses own. And there’s nothing tardy about him. His time in last weekend’s Coral-Eclipse was 2:04:35, just under a second off the race’s record held by, you guessed it, Sea The Stars. And Al Kazeem, if he wins next out, will head to Paris with a record far more upstanding than many of the Arc’s previous winners. He’s already streets ahead of many of them in the ratings, and he has tactile ability on soft (a la the Jockey Club Stakes) and the quick (Coral-Eclipse). In a normal year, with or without Intello, I’d say Al Kazeem was a good thing for Longchamps.

But that’s racing for you, a game full of predictions and retrospect. And sometimes all we are left with is a truly lovely horse, which is what Al Kazeem is. He is not flashy or colourful, much as Sea The Stars wasn’t. Nor is he dazzling dominance like Frankel. He is a plain bay entire with predictably good breeding, a high-set tail in running and a record that makes you wonder where the hell he came from. But who cares? It’s dazzling just to have him around.