The Centenary Running of The Arc de Triomphe and Its Rich History
Last weekend saw the centenary running of one of the world’s most famous horse races, “The Prix De l’Arc de Triomphe” at the opulent Paris racecourse – Longchamp. It was probably one of the most bazaar renewals of the race in its rich history since its first running in 1920. In 2019 it was hotly forecast that the race would be won for a third time by the same horse, something never before achieved, a real milestone in the race’s history, as only a very few had even managed to win the race twice. It was not to be. Enable, the mare in question failed, although she did come second. It was expected that she would be sent to the stud paddocks. However, only a few days following Enable’s defeat, did the connections announce that the mare would stay in training for another year with her target being that elusive third victory in The Arc. The racing world went nuts, and although very nearly a year away, pundits around the world were salivating at the thought of what might happen.
Longchamp, being in the cultural and fashionable city of Paris has always been a magnate for the rich and famous. Throughout its history, it has been “The” place to be seen. In fact, for the movers and shakers of France, it was really matter of necessity to be seen at Longchamp rather than not. It became the stage to vault one’s personal social standing in society.
The Arc de Triomphe metamorphosed from two races, first run in 1863, The Grand Prix de Paris for three year olds only. This idea was not the brainchild of a single person, but in true French post revolution times, by committee of the Societe d’Encouragment, the ruling body of French racing at the time. The French had always been very protective of their horse racing and this race was the first ever to allow non-French trained runners. Thirty years later, a new race was sanctioned, The Grand Prix du Conseil Municipal was run in October and had the same rules as the Grand Prix de Paris, except was open to all ages over three, and horses would be allocated weight to carry dependant on their age. It was to be run over 2,400 meters, (1 ½ miles), but colts had to be entire.
When the world was entering the decadent 1920s era, the Grand Prix de Paris and the Grand Prix du Conseil were amalgamated to have the best race in the world, with mind boggling prize money. In celebration of the end of The First War, the race was named The Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe. Ever since, the race has always been run on the first Sunday of October. The Grand Prix de Paris is still a race in its own right and is run in July at Longchamp, but only for three year olds as was originally decreed and the Grand Prix de Conseil Municipal also still exists today, but is run at Vichy.
There have been many great racehorses to grace and win on the hallowed Paris turf. The race was first run on 3rd October 1920 and the winner, Comrade earned 150,000 francs, a massive amount of money in those days. Until 1982, the Arc was funded by French government money, but since then the race has been sponsored and is today the richest race run on the turf in the world. Since 1982, the race has had four main sponsors including Trust House Forte, Lucian Barrier Hotel Group, CIGA hotel group and in the last few years, Qatar Racing who have continually increased the prize fund. This year was worth over £5 million.
Five of only eight horses to win the race twice were colts and the other three fillies. Only fillies have achieved the feat this century, Treve, trained by Criquette Head and Enable trained by John Gosden. The first to win two Arcs came very early in the race’s history, Ksar in 1921/22. In the 1930s, both Montrico and Corrida won twice and again in the 1950s Tantieme and the famous Ribot had a brace of wins. It was over 20 years till another double came, this time Alleged and he was the last to be a double victor in the last century.
It was not till 2013/14 did Treve repeat the efforts of Alleged and his cohorts, and finally of course, Enable won in 2017/18. There have been some wonderful horses to win once. Among them were Sea Bird, Vaguely Noble, Mill Reef, Rainbow Quest, Dancing Brave, all colts and the filly Urban Sea who after going to stud became the dam of top stallions Galileo and Sea The Stars, both Epsom Derby winners. Sea The Stars also won the Arc in 2009. They have both been prolific stallions in their own rights, and of course Galileo holds so many records for the number of Group winners he has sired, it’s almost rude!!!! Not so many fillies have been victorious, but those who have other than Urban Sea, have also been very successful on the racecourse and at stud afterwards. Akiyda was one of the early filly triumphs for the Aga Khan in 1982. He has had three further winners since, the colts Sinndar and Dalakhani and finally his last win in 2008, the pulsating filly Zarkava. The filly Found was another recent success in 2016, and who holds the record for the fastest ever running of the race at 2 minutes 23.61 seconds.
There are far too many to list, and anyway it would become very boring. It would be remiss not to mention the most successful jockey in the race; Frankie Dettori who first won the race riding Lammtarra for Sheik Mohammed in 1995 and has won it three times in the last five years with Golden Horn and Enable, both for trainer John Gosden. The most successful trainer is Andre Fabre who has sent out eight winners, including Waldgeist in 2019 and who stole Enable’s attempted record breaking thunder. Ribot claims the record for winning by the largest margin of six lengths in 1956.
The Arc is very often a very rough race as the course design tends to see the runners bunching up in what is known as the “false” straight which is just before the straight proper which is only two furlongs in length. Horses can easily be ‘boxed in’ and have to fight their way out. There was the famous occasion when Lester Piggott found himself in this position riding Alleged, he even took the whip from fellow jockey Yes St Martin. How he didn’t loose the race in the steward’s room, we will never know? This year’s renewal was no different – not that there was any whip removals. It was a rough race on dreadfully soft/heavy going conditions and in fact was the slowest running of the race since 1966, and was one of the slowest runs ever in the hundred years of the iconic contest.
Images Courtesy Biblotheque de France, wikipedia, pininterest, Sky Racing