Hundred-Year History Of ‘The Arc’

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Arc-winning trainers, owners and breeders Alec and Criquette Head | Scoop Dyga

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Nothing sacred just appears out of the wilderness; it is always the outcome of an evolutionary process with many layers of development. In racing, France and arguably Europe’s self-proclaimed ‘monument’, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, emerged from a lengthy spell of planning and forethought into how the country could showcase its own talent in direct competition with its neighbours. With the hippodrome at Longchamp superseding the worn-out Champ de Mars circuit in 1857, the Societe d’Encouragement pour l’Amelioration des Races de Chevaux en France looked to provide some prizes to fit the new order. First up was the 1863 launch of the Grand Prix de Paris, serving as the Bois de Boulogne’s testing ground for the vainqueurs of the English Derby and the Prix du Jockey Club. Then, 30 years on, followed the Prix du Conseil Municipal which pitched the 3-year-olds against their elders.

It was from that mile-and-a-half contest that the ‘Arc’ as we know it now came to be. In 1920, with the people of Europe turning back to the great irrelevances that the devastation of the First World War had temporarily shelved, the Societe initiated the perfect weight-for-age examination. The first Sunday in October was picked as the date and the title decided after a debate to honour the allied forces’ 1919 march beneath the capital’s Arc de Triomphe. With 150,000 French francs to the winner, the inaugural running saw Comrade, a British-bred colt trained by the Brit Peter Gilpin at Newmarket’s Clarehaven Stables, take the spoils in the colours of Haras de Saint Pair du Mont lynchpin Count Evremond de Saint-Alary. Gilpin, who was the handler of the immortal Pretty Polly, also held a share in the 3-year-old with Count Evremond, who had reached prominence as the owner of the famed Omnium II.

Unfortunately, the formative years of the race were framed by the unresolved crisis beyond the Treaty of Versailles and lasted less than two decades in peacetime. The 1939 version had been due to be run a month after the outbreak of an even deadlier confrontation which would ravage the globe. In those 19 years that the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe took root, there were three dual winners in Ksar (Fr), Motrico (Fr) and Corrida (Fr), and only five others have subsequently matched that feat. Ksar, who emerged victorious in 1921 and 1922, was bred by Count Evremond, but raced for the widow of the recently-deceased Edmond Blanc, the founder of Saint-Cloud racecourse. Motrico had been retired after his first success in 1930, but after failing at stud was able to revisit the hallowed winner’s enclosure two years later under one of the Arc’s genuine icons Charles Semblat. He was the race’s leading jockey with three wins from 1927-1932 before launching his training career.

In 1925, there was the first of three disqualifications in the race’s history as Cadum (Fr) was rightly demoted from first to second and the race awarded to Priori (Fr) who had been stopped in his tracks by the cynical manoeuvre of the former’s rider. In 1926 Biribi (Fr) was one of the race’s most impressive early winners before siring the luminary Le Pacha (Fr) who emulated his achievement in the 1941 edition. In between, the 1934 edition was and still remains one of the finest vintage. Edouard de Rothschild’s esteemed racing operation enjoyed its first taste of glory in the contest via Brantome (Fr), a real star of his era as an unbeaten juvenile and 3-year-old whose achievements included the French Triple Crown of Poule d’Essai des Poulains, Prix Lupin and Prix Royal-Oak. So revered in his home nation, he was the subject of a short film, entitled “Brantome: Invincible Horse” which was viewed by cinema-goers in the mid-30s, and upon his demise newspaper headlines announced that “Brantome de Rothschild is dead.”

Funded for the first time by a state lottery in 1936, another legendary French racing figure came to the fore a year later as Marcel Boussac enjoyed glory with the sensational mare Corrida (Fr), who followed up in 1937. In so doing, she went one better than the high-class Semblat-ridden 1931 heroine Pearl Cap (Fr), who at the time was the first of her sex to win the race. There was no Arc between 1939 and 1941, but from 1942 to 1949 the renowned textile manufacturer Boussac collected another four renewals to become the winningmost owner in its history prior to the emergence of Khalid Abdullah. His six included the highly successful sire Djebel (Fr)—one of four winners trained by Semblat—and his daughter Coronation (Fr) who took the 1949 edition, which had been boosted to 25 million francs as the most valuable race of its kind. In any other timeframe, success of this nature would have induced only celebration for the owner-breeder. But as it spanned the cataclysm of World War II, a dark side was inevitable and in 1944 his beloved Corrida was taken from his stud during the battle of the Falaise Gap.

In 1948, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III, enjoyed the first of his family’s many triumphs in the race with Migoli (Ire), who provided Charlie Smirke with his only winner on the first horse to dip under 2:32.00. Between 1950 and 1951 the race’s fourth dual winner appeared in the shape of Francois Dupre’s Tantieme (Fr) from the Francois Mathet stable. These were turbulent times, with his first win set against the backdrop of a kidnapping of a head lad during a stable lads’ strike, but the Haras d’Ouilly-bred rose above it all to carve his own niche in the folklore of the contest. A year later, the colt Nuccio (Ity), who had followed him home in 1951, brilliantly captured a second Arc for Aga Khan III.

In 1955 Mario Incisa Rocchetta’s revered Ribot (GB) entered stage right and became one of the greatest to have graced the Arc in the process. Another to record two victories, his last was his finest as he provided Frankel (GB) with the original template. Winning by a long-looking official margin of six lengths from a field that included the following year’s winner Oroso (Fr), the 16-race unbeaten Italian sensation created by Federico Tesio sealed his claim to immortality by siring the 1962 and 1964 Arc winners Molvedo (Ity) and Prince Royal (GB).

While British, French and Italian interests had shone in the Arc, it took until 1958 for Ireland to emerge on the honour roll, and how fitting that the late great Dr Vincent O’Brien commanded the breakthrough feat. His stable star Ballymoss (GB), who had been in the shadow of the wonderful Crepello (GB) during the early part of his Classic campaign, came to prominence thereafter and, at four, defied testing ground to provide American owner John McShain and jockey Scobie Breasley with the ultimate racing high. A year later, there was a dead-heat between Midnight Sun (Fr) and Saint Crespin (GB), with the former disqualified by the stewards due to interference.

During the 1960s, the race witnessed the emergence of the Head family with 19-year-old Freddy riding the 1966 winner Bon Mot (Fr) for his grandfather William and leading home his father Alec’s Sigebert (Fr) in the process. The decade also served up some of the contest’s finest equine performers in Guy de Rothschild’s Exbury (Fr) and Wilma Franklyn’s Vaguely Noble (Ire), with the latter, who was already accustomed to headline-making throughout his lifetime, being a brilliant winner of a stellar line-up including Sir Ivor. Trained by Etienne Pollet, he would have laid claim to being that handler’s best had it not been for the earlier emergence in the middle of the decade of the horse that many, including Lester Piggott, consider to be the greatest.

Sea-Bird (Fr), who was owned and bred by Jean Ternynck, took 1965 by storm and sauntered to glory in the Derby from the high-class Meadow Court (Ire). That peer was back in opposition at Longchamp, along with the Preakness hero Tom Rolfe and the Prix du Jockey Club winner Reliance (Fr), but the chestnut glided by them with Pat Glennon’s only concern being to keep him on as true a line as possible en route to a six-length destruction. He became the first Derby winner to claim this prize, no mean feat considering that five years later the magnificent Triple Crown hero Nijinsky dramatically failed to emulate his achievement.

Twelve months on from the eclipse of Charles Engelhard’s Ballydoyle legend, Kingsclere’s prolifically brilliant Mill Reef successfully flew the Epsom standard as he put the high-class Pistol Packer and co to the sword in track-record time. Amazingly, it was not until 1995 that the Derby-Arc double was completed once again by Lammtarra, who took his career record to four from four under first-time winner Frankie Dettori. In 1974, the Wildenstein silks emerged with the outstanding filly Allez France, whose rider Yves Saint-Martin was on novacaine having broken a bone near his hip 10 days previously. A year later, Star Appeal (Ire) gave Germany a first winner followed by Jacques Wertheimer’s Ivanjica—another success for the Heads—while in 1977 and ’78 Vincent O’Brien delivered Robert Sangster’s Alleged to glory. In the latter, it was against the odds with the colt having to be brought back to full health from a debilitating virus.

Fillies reigned supreme for a five-year spell thereafter, with the 1979 heroine Three Troikas (Fr) subduing Troy (GB) to become the first to be owned, trained and ridden by members of the Head family. Whereas she was under the care of Criquette, who remains the sole female trainer to win the Arc, the 1981 winner Gold River (Fr) was another to hail from her father Alec’s stable. She was rejected by Freddy and ridden by Gary Moore, who became the first to emulate his father in riding an Arc winner, with George Moore having steered the aforementioned Alec Head-trained Saint Crespin for Prince Aly Khan in 1959. In 1982, the current Aga Khan was celebrating his first Arc winner as the filly Akiyda (GB) got to the post just ahead of the great stayer Ardross (Ire) in the last renewal linked to a national lottery sweepstake. That was the closest that Ardross’s trainer Sir Henry Cecil got to winning the elusive prize.

In the mid-80s, the Arc witnessed a seachange which came in colours green, pink and white. Khalid Abdullah, who had been introduced to racing on a visit to Longchamp in 1956, was able to celebrate the first of his record-equalling six winners 29 years later. It had to arrive via a stewards’ verdict, however, as Rainbow Quest was handed the race after a tussle with the previous year’s hero Sagace (Fr). There was controversy in this decision, which was unsuccessfully appealed against by Sagace’s owner Daniel Wildenstein, but 12 months on Abdullah’s now world-famous silks were first past the post with no hint of ambiguity.

On that overcast afternoon in 1986, one of the race’s cherished ones thrust out of the autumn gloom like a ray of brilliant light. Already rightly heralded as one of the all-time greats having collected the 2000 Guineas, Eclipse and King George with rarely-seen panache, Dancing Brave (GB) was electric in Paris as he ran by Bering (GB) and a field stacked with talent. Stunning on the finest of his big days, he created one of the race’s everlasting spectacles as Pat Eddery delivered him to hijack the race with that late swoop. A year later, the much-missed Eddery made history by becoming the first of his profession to win three on the bounce as he produced the impressive Trempolino to get French racing legend Andre Fabre off the mark in emphatic fashion.

In the early and late part of the 1990s, a pair of John Hammond giants came through in Suave Dancer and Montjeu (Ire), the former exacting revenge on his disappointing Irish Derby conqueror Generous (Ire) in 1991, and Montjeu adding to his success in that Curragh Classic eight years later. Sporting the Michael Tabor silks, which at the time were becoming increasingly familiar on the European racing scene, Montjeu cut down the high-class Japanese runner El Condor Pasa with a tremendous home-straight effort. One of the best Arc winners, he provided Mick Kinane with the middle part of a treble of winners each 10 years apart culminating in that of the magnificent Sea the Stars (Ire). From 1996 to ’98, the stylish ‘Papillon’ Olivier Peslier emulated Eddery by winning three straight Arcs and the first two sit high in the race’s echelons. While Helissio (Fr) pummelled his rivals into submission from the front, the Wildenstein runner Peintre Celebre scythed down his opponents in dramatic fashion to set a new track record.

As Godolphin turned up the heat on the competition from the mid-90s, so their time for celebration here became more of a foregone conclusion with each passing year. It was not long before the royal blue team was in command and the first of its consecutive successes in 2001 and ’02 came via the brilliant Sakhee. His six-length victory equalled the records of Ribot and Sea-Bird and was all the more impressive as he gave all the allowances to the G1 Prix de Diane and G1 Prix Vermeille heroine Aquarelliste (Fr). From 2003 to ’05 the list was made up of a triumvirate of 3-year-old colts trained in France and there is little between the outstanding Dalakhani (Ire), Bago (Fr) and Hurricane Run (Ire). In 2006, the main talking point was the unexpected defeat of the deservedly-vaunted Deep Impact (Jpn) as Japan’s hurt continued with Fabre again holding sway with Rail Link (GB).

Aidan O’Brien first tasted glory in 2007 with the doughty Dylan Thomas (Ire) as the troubled genius Kieren Fallon prevailed prior to a spell of personal turmoil. That came nine years before the O’Brien-trained Found (Ire) was to lead home a remarkable one-two-three for her stable in the race rerouted to Chantilly as Longchamp underwent its renovation. Highly unlikely ever to be repeated, this feat of training was capped by the winner clocking the Arc’s official fastest time, albeit at that different venue. Found was the eighth of her sex to win since the scintillating Aga Khan homebred Zarkava (Ire) dominated the colts in 2008, in turn ending a 15-year wait since the future blue hen broodmare Urban Sea scored in 1993. In 2011 the Peter Schiergen-trained 3-year-old filly Danedream (Ger) scored by five lengths in the fastest Arc run at Longchamp, while soon after Criquette Head-Maarek turned up another family jewel in Treve (Fr). She was as impressive as any recent winner on the second of her two triumphs in 2014 and duly occupies exalted territory as a result.

Frankie Dettori was denied the ride on Treve with Head-Maarek favouring Thierry Jarnet, but that bitter disappointment proved merely the rainburst before the sun for the legendary Italian rider. He had to wait just 12 months for his fourth Arc victory with his mount Golden Horn (GB) becoming the second after Workforce (GB) to complete the Derby-Arc double in a five-year period. In 2017, Khalid Abdullah’s Enable (GB) (Nathaniel {GB}) emerged from the 1920 hero Comrade’s base in Newmarket to bring up the first of two further wins for Dettori and for her owner-breeder. Fittingly, she strives for history both for herself and connections on the centenary of the triumph of that bygone performer, having lost out on her bid for an unprecedented third Arc in 2019. There will be a perfect symmetry if she bookends the 100-year period for Clarehaven with a glorious swansong on Sunday, in the nonpareil of racing titles, the autumn’s truth.

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