Alter egos 3 – Debussy

Debussy wins the Arlington

Debussy has had three incarnations as a horse. The earliest, foaled in 2002, raced exclusively in America, mainly in claiming races. He had eight different trainers, which rather suggests he may have been claimed several times and moved on to a new trainer each time.

The second Debussy achieved less on the racecourse. Foaled in Germany in 2007, he ran only three times, finishing third in a claimer at Strasbourg, and earning the unplaced tag in two hurdle races at Cagnes-sur-mer in France.

It’s the third Debussy that we remember. He’s a horse owned first by Princess Haya of Jordan and trained by John Gosden for his first three seasons. It was during those years that he was most successful on the racetrack. Lightly raced as a two year old, he went on to Group success in both the following years, with black type victories first in the Prix Eugene Adam Stakes in France when a three year old, and in the Huxley Stakes at Chester the following season. His greatest moment came in August 2010, when he took the Arlington Million.

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A move to Mahmoodd Al Zarooni’s yard ahead of the 2011 season didn’t prove beneficial, and aside from a Listed race win at Chester in September, his best moment was a fourth place finish behind Nathaniel in Ascot’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

The Godolphin team have now decided he’s had enough racing, and it’s time to do work of another time. Debussy is on his way to the Llety Stud in Camarthenshire. He’ll be doing duty for the first time this autumn.


Breeders will hope that Debussy is more successful as a father than his altar ego, the French composer Claude Debussy (1862-1918). It’s not for want of trying, for the musician led a rather frenzied life on that front, but fathered only one child. Debussy was 56 when he died, but during his adult life he packed in three lengthy affairs, two of them on the go at the same time, a marriage that led to the attempted suicide of his wife after their divorce, and a daughter with another woman whom he eventually married.

A lively household, and not at all what you might expect if you simply listened to his music, which for the most part is gentle and lyrical. Debussy, along with compatriots Ravel and Fauré were part of the Impressionist movement, the musical counterparts of artists Monet, Manet and Renoir. Their works placed great emphasis on the depiction of light and its changing qualities, and much of the music has a quality of translucence and light about it.

Debussy himself renounced the label, saying: “I am trying to do ‘something different’ – in a way realities – what the imbeciles call ‘impressionism’ is a term which is as poorly used as possible, particularly by art critics.” Nevertheless, it stuck.

Fortunately, Debussy’s music isn’t suitable for call centre waiting time, or we would certainly hear more of it. It does, though, crop up in television programmes from time to time. In 2009, an episode of the tortuous teen drama Skins several of his short pieces, including Claire de Lune, a top Debussy piano lollipop feature to mirror the emotional thoughts and tensions of one of the characters.

The light in Camarthenshire is astonishing at times, but will it help Debussy hit the right note with the fillies?

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