Marcel Weiss’s German raider Torquator Tasso caused a huge shock in 2021 and is back for more Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe glory, live on Sky Sports Racing on Sunday.
The five-year-old was virtually unknown last year when he created a major upset in the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe where he beat the leading fancies Tarnawa and Hurricane Lane at odds of 80/1.
This year, the son of Adlerflug and Tijuana returns to ParisLongchamp to defend his title, and his odds have dwindled as the Arc and the accompanying rain are approaching, although a draw in stall 18 on Thursday tempers enthusiasm.
It is no secret he loves soft ground and that he, more than any other horse, with maybe the exception of fellow German contender Mendocino, who is also a son of Adlerflug, will be able to handle heavy ground.
“Yes, soft ground is what he wants,” says his trainer Marcel Weiss, who admits to being a lot more nervous than in 2021.
“Last year, we went into the Arc completely relaxed. We always thought he was a good horse and would have been happy with a place, but that he goes on to win took us a little by surprise. The problem this year is that if he isn’t in the first three, we would be disappointed.”
This season, things have also not gone quite as smoothly as he wanted because during the summer it became clear Tasso’s usual jockey, Rene Piechulek, would not be available.
Piechulek is in fact contracted to ride Mendocino, who had the same targets as Tasso, as he is affectionately known by everyone in the yard, starting with the Grosser Preis von Baden and then the Arc.
Not that he had to worry much about finding a replacement, as every jockey in Europe was keen on partnering the Arc winner, especially after another impressive performance in the Qipco King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, where on ground that was far too quick for him, he finished second to Pyledriver.
As the winning-most in the history of the Arc seemed to be available, the choice fell quickly on Frankie Dettori, who made his acquaintance with Tasso in the Grosser Preis von Baden.
There, unfortunately everything conspired against him and in the end, as he was beaten by a head by no other than Menocino.
“That was obviously very disappointing,” said Weiss, who currently has about 50 horses in his yard in Mühlheim, where he took over Stall Diana at the end of the 2019 season.
“However, the race went completely against him. There was absolutely no pace, and the horse couldn’t get any cover as there were only four runners. Frankie tried his best and forced the pace early, as Tasso needs a bit of time to get rolling, but it just didn’t happen.”
The symbiosis between horse and jockey seemed off that day and Weiss continues: “I have always said that Tasso is a different horse on a right-handed track. Yes, he won at Baden before, but really, he is different when he goes right-handed and that is what I told Frankie.
“Hence, it was really important for me that Frankie sat on him again before the Arc. It was a deal breaker for me.
“I wanted him to know that the horse is a different animal and when Frankie came on Tuesday to ride him in his final work before the Arc, it was a completely different story.
“The horse worked really well and there was real harmony between jockey and horse and when Frankie got off him, he agreed with me, saying that he was a different horse to Baden-Baden.
“In fact, he then also said that if he had the choice of any horse in the Arc, his choice would still be Tasso.”
Marcel Weiss, who says that life hasn’t really changed since last year, even though he can no longer go unrecognised to the races, looked a lot happier now Dettori and Torquator Tasso seemed to have found their mojo.
And he is also very happy with the continuing rain.
“I looked at the forecast and just like last year, it shows rain and rain,” he smiles.
“That’s obviously great, as we all know what he can do in that type of ground. Obviously, it is a big field this year and I have immense respect for the opposition. We all know that we need a bit of luck as well. In fact, sometimes I think we should have stopped when we were on a high, but then again, you want to win it again, don’t you?”
At the moment, he doesn’t think too much about the pressures that come with saddling the title defender, as he has many other things to do and to organise between now and Sunday, but he admits: “Racing is very fleeting.
“You win today, but then if you don’t win again, you are quickly forgotten. And you could win ten small races and no-one talks about it, but you win one big one and everything changes.
“I know I will never have a horse like Tasso again. He is quite a character. In fact, you have to work him a lot, otherwise he gets on top of you. Obviously, I would love him to win again, who wouldn’t? So while I’m calm now, I know that I will be nervous on Sunday.”
Weiss, who loves to cook and would have worked as a chef if he hadn’t discovered his love for thoroughbreds at the age of 12, when a friend took him to Hoppegarten, is going to follow his usual ritual when he travels to Paris.
He says: “I’m a little superstitious. I always wear the same aftershave and the same shoes. In Baden-Baden I wore brown shoes, while usually I wear black shoes when Tasso runs. I must not make that mistake again. “
“I’m definitely going back to that Bistro in St Cloud that my wife and I discovered last year on the night before the Arc. I had the best meal of my life there, so I’m definitely going back this year, for their steak, but also because I’m a little superstitious.”
Watch every race from Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe weekend at ParisLongchamp on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) on Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd October.