The Arc: 101 years of history
Gary McKenzie looks back at 100+ years of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the great winners, the extraordinary stories and the controversies
This Sunday we will see the latest renewal of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. It will be run 101 years since the first edition of what I think is Europe’s premier middle distance race.
For you trivia buffs it was won by Comrade who had won the Grand Prix de Paris that season. The prize was 150,000 francs which was about $6,000 according to one historian. This year the winning owner will pocket nearly one and a half million pounds sterling.
Ksar, Motrico, and the filly Corrida were all dual winners in the early days. Motrico is still the oldest winner of the race as he was seven when he recorded his second win.
Djebel won both the English and French versions of the 2000 Guineas in 1940 (which were months apart due to the French having some unwelcome visitors around that time) and would have been favourite for the Derby had he been able to travel.
He had to wait for two years for his Arc win (he had been third in 1941 and the 1940 version had been cancelled).
Federico Tesio was one of the most famous breeders in history. He was responsible for the unbeaten Nearco who was the grandsire of Northern Dancer. Signor Tesio also bred Ribot, who was also unbeaten in his career.
He won the Arc in 1955 and 1956 but unfortunately Tesio died in 1954 just weeks before Ribot made his racecourse debut.
The 1959 renewal was extraordinary. The result was a dead heat between Midnight Sun and Saint Crespin. There was also a dead heat for sixth!
George Moore was the rider of Saint Crespin and he lodged an objection as he felt his mount had been bumped in the straight. Meanwhile Francois Mathet, the trainer of Midnight Sun, also objected to the result.
After a twenty minute meeting, the stewards decided to demote Midnight Sun to second and award the race to Saint Crespin.
Perhaps the strangest thing about the race was that connections had tried get the winner withdrawn from the race due to an injury but were denied permission. The rules were obviously different in those days.
My first proper viewing of the race was in 1985. And it too was controversial. Defending champion Sagace was first past the post but was placed second after connections of Rainbow Quest objected.
Pat Eddery bore the brunt of the home crowds anger after the result was changed.
The 1986 race is one of the best races I have ever seen. The field was unbelievably strong. The three year olds in the line up (Dancing Brave, Sharastani, Darara and Bering) had won Europe’s three main Derbys, the 2000 Guineas, the King George, the Eclipse and the Prix Vermeille.
The older horses included that brilliant mare Triptych, Shardari, who had won the Juddmonte, Coronation Cup winner St Estephe, and crack German horse Acatenango who had won the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud.
It was really top class. And the race was run in a record time.
The image of Dancing Brave flying down the outside will never leave me. He was a length and a half clear of Bering at the line. The next four were separated by less than a length.
It was Pat Eddery’s third win in the race and the next year he made it four on relative outsider Trempolino. And the record time for the race went again.
Another outsider was victorious in 1993 when the filly Urban Sea won the race. It was a slowly run race on heavy ground and she would not be high on the list of great Arc winners. But her story did not end there.
Urban Sea is the dam of Galileo who himself is the sire of two Arc winners in Found and Waldgeist.
But in 2006 Urban Sea gave birth to bay colt who, after suffering a defeat on his debut, would become an unbeaten machine at the highest level. That foal was named Sea The Stars and his win at Longchamp was remarkable.
He was boxed in on the rail but when he got out he flew. And that was his sixth Group One win of the year. A real champion.
And he has been close to siring the winner of the race himself. So close.
His daughter Sea Of Class was a short neck behind Enable in a dramatic finish to the 2018 version. And his son, Cloth Of Stars, was third that day. That horse had been runner up the season before.
Urban Sea has some legacy doesn’t she.
Confession time. Bago is the only horse to have won the race carrying my hard earned cash. But I have had some fairly near misses. Croco Rouge was a long way back in third behind the brilliant Montjeu and Leggera was second by a neck in 1998.
Taghrooda (another daughter of Sea The Stars), New Bay, and Sottsass last year all hit the frame for me.
But in 2005 I thought I had it won. Westerner had won the Gold Cup but I know these classy stayers do not plod. I had backed him each way at 16/1 on the day and when he was in front with just a furlong to go I was on my feet screaming at the telly.
And then that Kieran Fallon displayed his talent, again, and got Hurricane Run to run away from my boy.
Girls on top
Eight of the last twelve runnings have been won by a filly or mare. And two of those are already legends of the race. Treve, trained by Criquette Head-Maarek (pictured), and Enable are both dual winners and the latter is again looking for a record breaking third win.
When winning in 2016 Found ran the fastest time ever in the race (the race was run at Chantilly that year) while Danedream holds the record for Arcs run at Longchamp.
Zarkava was a remarkable filly who went unbeaten through her short career. She could have been a multiple winner I think.
Solemia was the bookies friend when she won a heavy ground running in 2012 at 33/1. That was a career best for her and was nearly a stone better than any of her other races. And she broke hearts in a land far away. Which brings us to…
The Japanese obsession
I spoke of Croco Rouge and his third place finish in 1999. But there was plenty of drama ahead of him. Japanese raider (as I am contractually obliged to name him) El Condor Pasa set sail for home and was three clear with two furlongs to go.
It would have been around 11pm in Tokyo and I can only imagine the atmosphere in the bars of Tokyo as the son of Kingmambo forged clear. But Montjeu had only been beaten once before and he just kept coming. He got up by a neck.
The ground was heavy that day so could have been a factor but it was an amazing battle that only intensified the Japanese love of Longchamp.
They had sent horses before but this was the first time they had made an impression.
In 2006 Deep Impact arrived with a record of ten wins and a second from eleven runs ranging from ten furlongs to two miles. He was a superstar.
So many of his fans flew over from Japan (some say nearly 10,000) and backed him on the tote that the horse was 1/10 on the pari mutuel. He was around 9/4 with the British layers.
In nearly all of his races Deep Impact had been held up but on this day he was among the leaders. He led at the two pole but was picked up a furlong out by Rail Link and Pride also went past him in the final hundred yards.
The horse finished third but after a substance was found in a post race test he was disqualified and the day was one to forget for his fans.
Nakayama Festa was just a head second behind Workforce once again getting passed late on. If some in Japan think they will never win the Arc they can use the 2012 version as proof that destiny is not on their side.
Orfevre came flying down the outside past horses who looked like they were running on the spot. But he idled and Solemia found a second wind to snatch it on the line.
There is a video on Youtube of a group of friends watching the race and it sums up the highs and lows of this game in the space of a furlong. It is almost heartbreaking. But I am sure they will keep trying.
Simply the best
Sea The Stars was a brilliant racehorse. Probably the best middle distance horse this century so far. Mill Reef was an exceptional Arc winner. Nijinsky is probably the best horse to not to win the race and Dancing Brave winning, in that fashion, against that field, sets him apart.
But there is one horse I put above all of those. In 1965 the Arc field contained the winners of the Irish, French, and even Russian Derbys. There was also the Preakness winner from the USA as well as the French Oaks winner.
There was also a horse who had won the Epsom Derby by just two lengths. But Sea Bird had won the classic in no more than second gear. And his Arc win was even more impressive.
Six lengths was the winning margin but it could have been more. The horse drifted across the track and Pat Glennon even had time to pat the horse down the neck in the final hundred yards. You simply do not win top races in this fashion unless you are a cut above.
I am biased as he is, in my opinion, the greatest racehorse of the 20th century.
Bon chance mes amis
♦ The Arc🇫🇷we have it covered
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