PARIS -- The Workforce that showed up Sunday at Longchamp was not the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes flop, but it was the record-setting winner of the Epsom Derby. In a remarkable feat of training, Michael Stoute nurtured a superb performance out of the enigmatic Workforce to win the $5.33 million Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, setting off scenes of joy by his numerous British backers who had banged him down to 6.60-1 shortly before post time.
But the 3-year-old son of King's Best had to work hard for the glory. Trapped along the rail back in 12th place in a 19-runner field shortened by the withdrawal of the longshot Tullamore, Workforce had to be angled out at the three-eighths pole by Ryan Moore in search of room. In so doing, he bumped Sarafina, an incident that would eventually lead to a lengthy stewards' inquiry.
In the meantime, Nakayama Festa was raising the hopes of the thousands of Japanese racegoers who had traveled to Longchamp in search of a first Arc triumph. Just as the Stay Gold 4-year-old was about to strike the front at the three-sixteenths pole, Workforce grabbed a narrow lead. But neither Nakayama Festa nor his rider Masayoshi Ebina were about to throw in the towel.
The 22-1 Japanese colt was never worse than a neck behind through the final furlong and actually got within a head at the line, but as game as he was this day, Workforce was always holding him safe. Sarafina and her jockey Gerald Mosse recovered to finish a closing third, 2 1/2 lengths behind the runner-up, with Behkabad, owned like Sarafina by the Aga Khan but trained by Jean-Claude Rouget, fourth. Fame and Glory was a one-paced fifth, beaten five lengths, while his Aidan O'Brien-trained stablemate Cape Blanco finished 13th, 16 3/4 lengths behind Workforce. The O'Brien pair, along with their rabbit, Midas Touch, had been sent off as the 1.90-1 favored entry, but none of them were involved in the finish.
As for three-time Arc runner-up Youmzain, he finally met his Waterloo, fading to a 10th-place finish.
Workforce's time for the 1 1/2 miles on a course labeled very soft but which had been drying out through the afternoon was 2:35.30, but the story behind his performance is one that will linger in the memory.
After setting a new course record for 12 furlongs in winning the Epsom Derby by seven lengths, Workforce was hailed as the logical successor to last year's Derby and Arc winner Sea the Stars. Those imaginings appeared to go up in smoke when he trudged home fifth in the King George, 16 3/4 lengths behind the now-retired Harbinger.
Large questions had to be answered by the Juddmonte Farm colorbearer this day, but Workforce answered them all.
Then came the inquiry. It lasted 25 minutes, with the judges finally deciding that what had occurred in the "false straight" 3 1/2 furlongs from home had not affected the outcome. Workforce's place in history was secure.
"His race in the King George was inexplicable," Stoute said. "Today, the brilliant horse showed up, and I am very relieved he did."
In fact, Stoute was being modest as he is a man known for getting the best out of horses after long layoffs or bad races.
"As everyone knows, Michael Stoute is a great trainer," Moore reminded. "He was very patient with him."
Workforce is Stoute's first Arc winner and fills the one gap that had been left on his impressive resume.
But this Arc added further heartbreak for Japan, which had narrowly missed victory in 1999 when El Condor Pasa was second to Montjeu, and again in 2006 when Deep Impact finished third, only to be dsiqualified after a drug positive. Only second to Duncan in the Prix Foy at Longchamp three weeks ago, Nakayama Festa ran the race of his life Sunday, and it took a very good horse to beat him.
Plans for Workforce at this time are fluid. It is unlikely that we will see him in the Breeders' Cup Turf. As usual with Arc winners owned by big breeding operations like Juddmonte, matters must be discussed between trainer Stoute, owner Khalid Abdullah, and Juddmonte's racing manager, Teddy Grimthorpe, who expressed hope that we would see Workforce next year.
There should be more to come from a horse who was running for just the fifth time in his life, but with the pressure to send great racehorses to the breeding shed, we cannot count on seeing it.