To race on or not? Ace Impact still has something to prove

The Arc winner’s owners have an opportunity to establish their colt’s greatness as a four-year-old, but the lure of the stallion shed might be greater still.

Ace Impact dazzled in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. (Photo by Dimitar Dilkoff)

David Morgan

Chief Journalist


Will they, or won’t they, race on? When it comes to racing’s brightest young talents, that is the gnawing question. It’s likely they won’t, because they often don’t: market forces, you see. These owners are also breeders, after all; but they’re sportsmen, too, so perhaps they will. This question comes up every time a three-year-old colt with that streak of uncommon brilliance wins the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

If Ace Impact was owned by the Aga Khan, forget it, that would be that; off to stud. And that resurrects the nagging thought: what might Sinndar or Dalakhani have achieved as mature four-year-olds? Just look at what Sakhee did in Sinndar’s absence; really, go to Youtube and watch it if you’ve forgotten or weren’t around then, and Montjeu, too.

The Tsui family didn’t keep Sea The Stars in training after he won the Arc, and perhaps they wished they had: he went off to the Aga Khan’s Gilltown Stud with connections saying he’d proven all he needed to. Well, what about proving superior to the next generation; proving greatness beyond the debate of all but the most contrarian; carrying that extra weight in races and establishing an unquestionable legacy as a purists’ champion? 

But everyone has their own perspective on things, and the bloodstock game is a big business that holds an enormous influence over the sport. It is the tail that wags the dog.


Ace Impact’s high-velocity charge down the Longchamp finishing straight means that he is now Europe’s hottest property: an unbeaten Classic winner that capped it off with an Arc win; a colt from a potent sire line, a grandson of the great Frankel, a great-grandson of the phenomenal Galileo, and we can go on through more great sires, Sadler’s Wells and Northern Dancer. The attraction of a 2024 covering season at his part-owner’s Haras de Beaumont is obvious.

A look back through the list of past Arc winners tells us that ten of the 18 three-year-old colts to have won the Arc since Dancing Brave in 1986 were retired to stud at the end of that season. Six did not race again; four stepped out once more before the year ended, all in the Breeders’ Cup Turf to round off their careers, and all were beaten.

That makes it easy to see why Ace Impact’s trainer Jean-Claude Rouget suggested in  post-Arc comments to the press that a trip to the US is not his idea of a good move.  

Of the eight that stayed in training at four, only Montjeu was able to enhance their reputation to any great degree. He won his first four races in his final season, including a brilliant ‘King George’ triumph at Ascot, defeating Fantastic Light ‘on the bridle.’ His three late season defeats can be forgiven, but at the same time they emphasise how difficult it is to maintain these champion colts through a string of end-to-end wins across their two, three and four-year-old seasons as Sir Henry Cecil did with Frankel. 

Montjeu takes out the King George at Ascot for Mick Kinane. (Photo by Julian Herbert)

Helissio, such a star at three, proved he was also a top class four-year-old, as did Hurricane Run, and even Workforce, but each also showed just how difficult it is for a horse to be the dominant force at four that they had been at three: none but Montjeu could win more races than they lost in their four-year-old endeavours.    

That’s why a true great, such a rare thing, is with few exceptions a horse that maintains its dominance beyond the three-year-old campaign.

It’s a point that has been made many times by commentators throughout the sport’s history, but it is true that for the sport to be healthy and strong – as competitive and therefore as interesting as it can be – it is necessary that the best of each successive generation cross swords. How else can we gauge how a ‘champion’ of one generation really measures up? When the best three-year-olds retire at the end of their Classic year, that opportunity for adequate, tangible comparison is lost.

There is often talk of ‘the narrative’ and the importance of ‘connection’; well, in other sports the connection with the sport’s stars lasts for years, not just one summer. The retirement of such an exciting three-year-old as Ace Impact doesn’t make the sport an easier sell to the masses.

The probability is that Ace Impact won’t race again this season. There is a chance, perhaps, that he might go the Montjeu and Helissio route and take the Japan Cup challenge before the year is out. How likely that is, only his connections know, but that huge pot of money on the table in Tokyo must offer some hope, even if it is just a speck.

Whether the colt races again at all will be decided soon enough, but when the Chehboub family bought in as 50 percent partners with Serge Stempniak in June, the talk was heavily slanted towards how great it was for French breeding that Europe’s top three-year-old would stand in Normandy.

Ace Impact roars past Westover in the G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. (Photo by Dimitar Dilkoff)

But what about French racing? If next spring the best racehorse in Europe is covering mares at Haras de Beaumont rather than showing off his prowess at his athletic peak, it will be a huge loss and an opportunity missed.

Racing needs its stars to keep on racing. And better that Ace Impact sidesteps Equinox in Tokyo if it means he will be prepared for a 2024 campaign.  

That would be the normal way if he was trained in Japan. The stars of the JRA might only race a handful of times each year, but the fact that they race for at least three years is part of why the interest in the sport and its participants is so strong.

And, for all that Equinox has raced only eight times in his three seasons, compared to Ace Impact’s six races in two, the Japanese kingpin has four Group 1 wins including one stunning overseas triumph.

Had Equinox retired at the end of his three-year-old season, he too, like Ace Impact, would have had two Group 1 wins from six career starts. Impressive though that is, it is not the profile of a bona fide champion.

Equinox’s Dubai win, his Takarazuka Kinen victory, and all the form tied in and around those races this year, have confirmed his ability, enhanced his legacy, and spread his fame far and wide. When Equinox retires, Ace Impact could and should be the horse to take on that mantle, but it will happen only if his owners see it that way.




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