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Behkabad eases to Niel triumph after late surge

One of the most persuasive trends in a sport that thrives, indeed depends, on interpretation of facts and figures is the recent influence of the afternoon of dress rehearsals staged at Longchamp three weeks before the curtain goes up on the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

In the past 20 years the Prix Niel, Foy and Vermeille have produced 12 winners of Europe's most valuable race, plus seven runners-up and six thirds. In fact, on only one occasion during that timespan, Lammtarra's triumph of 1995, did a horse who appeared on trials day fail to make the first four in the real thing.

It is a statistic, though, that should be no real surprise. Most Arcs are won by the home side, and the classic French preparation is a summer break followed by one cobweb-blower before the big day. Another thread to follow is the record of the Aga Khan in the Parisian showpiece; he has won three of the past 10 runnings and after yesterday is in the happy position of owning the new clear favourite for next month's renewal, Behkabad.

Like two of the Arc heroes in the green colours, Sinndar and Dalakhani, Behkabad won the Prix Niel, the contest for three-year-old colts over the big-race course and distance, though not as easily as either. It was only by a short-head that the son of Cape Cross, who had previously beaten Planteur in the Grand Prix de Paris in July, accounted for the same rival, catching him in the final couple of strides.

But if such a narrow success can be assured, this one was. As Planteur took the initiative at the head of the straight, Behkabad was caught slightly flat-footed. But Christophe Lemaire quickly had him balanced with all gears engaged and his sweeping run to victory was irresistible, for all Planteur's dogged resistance. The pair finished well clear.

Meanwhile, when a sportsman's eye is in, it's in, and young William Buick and his boss John Gosden, triumphant in the St Leger at Doncaster on Saturday with Arctic Cosmos, rounded off a dream weekend by taking the older horse prep with Duncan.

On Arctic Cosmos, Buick had ridden a finely-judged race from off a demanding pace to notch his first Classic; yesterday he controlled the game for most of the way. Setting a modest gallop on the Dalakhani five-year-old once he reached the front, he risked being swallowed up in a typical French bunch sprint finish and, indeed, Timos and Nakayama Festa headed him as the run to the line began. But Buick knew exactly what he had left and his mount rallied determinedly to regain the lead and repel the Japanese raider by three-quarters of a length.

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