Quelle une (T)reve… un Arc en Ciel d’Or (loosely translated: “what a dream… a golden rainbow”).
In recent years, if not always – the mind always plays tricks of recency on us – we have been utterly spoiled at the top table of equine athletes.
First, Sea The Stars sauntered unbeaten through his Classic year, taking on and besting all-comers from a mile (2000 Guineas), through ten furlongs (Eclipse, Juddmonte International, Irish Champion), up to a mile and a half (Derby, Arc de Triomphe).
Racing fans the world over were still rubbing their eyes in disbelief when another, even more monstrous, superstar of the turf introduced himself to us. Frankel was a race horse without peer: simply the best miler we are ever likely to see.
As Great British Racing’s marketing men and women deal with the very real challenge of promoting a post-Frankel Champions Day, at a pivotal time for that autumnal meeting shoehorned into an already cluttered late season calendar, the traditional position of prominence earned by Arc weekend over half a century was emboldened in striking fashion by not just one, but two, scarcely believable performances in the space of ninety life-affirming minutes.
The showpiece race of this showcase meeting has always been the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and this year’s renewal looked a bobby dazzler. The home team was strong: French Derby winner, Intello; the ‘other’ French Derby (Grand Prix de Paris) winner, Flintshire; and, the unbeaten middle distance beauty, Treve.
Britain and Ireland galvanized themselves with the best team they could have possibly brought: Derby winner, Ruler Of The World; St Leger winner, Leading Light; and crack older horse, Al Kazeem.
Real international intrigue was added by the latest attempt from the Japanese raiders to plunder their first cruelly elusive Arc, this time double-handed with last year’s Arc runner-up Orfevre, and this year’s Japan Derby hero, Kizuna.
Yes, for once, this was the end of season dance at which they all came to show off their moves (excepting Novellist, a late absentee with a sick note). The draw on Friday had seemed to deal a brutal blow to Al Kazeem, given the car park slot of eighteen of eighteen. Worse was to follow, with Treve, clear second choice in the pre-draw market, getting a shocker in trap fifteen. The Japanese number one, Orfevre, drew a pleasing eight; with Ruler Of The World in the charmed six stall, responsible for four winners in recent years. Could it bring the Epsom Derby a sliver of redemption to its increasingly tarnished reputation as Classic generation kingmaker?
As the thoroughbred throng scuttled from the gates to a cosmopolitan roar from 60,000 global racing fans in this otherwise quiet corner of Paris, it looked bleak for Treve backers. She’d sweated up quite visibly in the preliminaries, a sign of expended energy, and something an Arc winner could scarcely afford to waste. But worse was that, from her wide draw, the unbeaten Prix de Diane and Prix Vermaille winner was taken four or five horses wide throughout.
As if it couldn’t get any worse, the daylight through which her replacement pilot, Thierry Jarnet, had to travel inclined his hungry, willing mount to pull for her head in those early stages. How could this horse possibly win?
Jarnet, incidentally, was extremely unlucky to lose the ride on Treve after the filly was bought by the sponsor’s Sheikh Joaan al Thani, and he subsequently signed Frankie Dettori to a retainer. That meant Jarnet rode Treve in the Diane, but not in the Vermeille… and would not have legged up in the Arc but for the (divine?) intervention of a no name nag (actually, he does have a name, Eland Ally), which conspired to fracture Frankie’s ankle.
At 42, Dettori had been written off as too old before – and by some, after – getting the al Thani gig. Strange happenstance, then, that the 46-year-old Thierry Jarnet should enjoy this latest hurrah in a career full of hiphips, hoorays, and even the odd hosanna.
But we’re ahead of ourselves, for Treve was still in self-destruct mode, determined to run her race before the the turn into the faux straight. Or was she? With Orfevre apparently ideally positioned to pounce and do what so many gallant Japanese equine samurais had tried and failed to do in recent times, it was to again be heartache for Nippon.
Treve, steering the widest course of all, just ambled up to those in front of her and, when Jarnet said, “Allez, my lovely” or words that effect, she was gone. A field crammed to the gunwales with the very best middle distance beasts on the planet were choking on her exhaust fumes as she glided by as though joining in at the quarter pole.
It’s worth repeating. This was a strong Arc. A very strong Arc. Treve sweated up. She ran wide, wide, wide from her dreadful draw. She pulled hard early. And she bashed the living daylights out of her rivals. Wow. Wowowowowow.
The five length margin of victory could have been six or seven, had Jarnet not eased her off, and had Orfevre not had to scrap and find to see off Intello for his second silver in a row. I’ll leave the science of the numbers to those better qualified, but from a visual impression perspective, and a collateral form perspective, this was the most exhilarating Arc performance for many a long year. For me, it was neck and neck with Frankel’s surreal 2000 Guineas win for pure viewing pleasure: unbridled talent, almost literally.
Here’s the video of the race. If you’ve yet to see it, brace yourself because you’re in for a treat.
It was a sumptuous procession and, for trainer Criquette Head, who had been contemplating retirement, it was the rejuvenation she sought, as she gleefully stated afterwards that she’d be continuing in the game. Great news.
This was an Arc for the ages: a true convergence of the very, very best European formlines in one celebrity deathmatch of a finale. And, in the finish, it was a one horse race, Treve bamboozling her rivals despite her inexperience shining through at every step of the contest.
Treve is to remain in training as a four-year-old. It’s not easy to retain the Arc – we have to go back to Alleged in 1977/8 to find the last repeater – but when this lass learns to settle, and if she gets a kinder draw, she surely has every chance to double up.
One thing is for certain: if you are lucky enough to get the chance to see this filly strut her stuff, do not miss it. Her kind – Sea The Stars and Frankel notwithstanding – do not come around very often.
As if that rainbow colouring the racing weekend’s sky wasn’t enough, there were two clouds with shimmering silver linings in support.
The first was on Saturday. Having already achieved A Fistful of Dollars, Cirrus Des Aigles (loosely translated, ‘eagle cloud’) was bidding For A Few Dollars More in the, erm, Prix Dollar. Seven now, and having won this in 2010 and 2012 (Byword robbing him by the shortest margin in between), many had written off CdA as regressive and unable to add to his impressive palmarès.
Principle among them was the (presumably now sacked) Coral odds compiler that went a borderline offensive 7/2 about Cirrus’ chance in this weak-looking renewal. That, unsurprisingly, didn’t last but the only slightly less stupid 3/1 was offered to all who wanted it, and Coral duly got filled in by punters – yes, me included – supporting the old boy.
True enough, he’d had a disappointing season until recently. Always a slow starter – in six racing seasons, he’s never won first time out – it had normally taken less than this term’s five runs to get off the mark.
But Corinne Barande-Barbe is nobody’s fool. The apple of her eye is an autumn horse. Sent off an industry SP of 7/4, and a French tote 7/5 shot, Cirrus Des Aigles was almost as impressive as Treve in the way he cantered past his toiling rivals – off what looked solid enough fractions – down the outside, before running away by an official one-and-three-quarter lengths, with four more back to the third.
His next skirmish will likely be the Champion Stakes at Ascot and, if those boys and girls at Great British Racing were looking for a story horse, they got it here. Never mind the faintly daft ‘rematch’ between Toronado and Dawn Approach (which is a little yawnsome for my tastes), in Cirrus Des Aigles they have a horse that is Mister Ascot Champion Stakes. Or Monsieur, maybe.
He won the inaugural Ascot Champion Stakes. Last year, he was a game second to Frankel in the same race, coming closer to that freak in a Group 1 than all bar Zoffany; and now he offers the sort of continuity and ‘spectre of Frankel’ undertones that marketers dribble and drool over. Yes, Cirrus Des Aigles will be the star of Champions Day. I love this horse, unashamedly, and the fact that he’s still treading the Group 1 boards at the age of seven is testament to an enduring appeal that few in flat racing are allowed to earn.
It is, of course, also testament to the fact that he has long since waved adieu to his under-carriage, and thus has no commercial value beyond the race track. If that decision looks poor (understatement) in hindsight, it is to racing’s – and especially Champions Day’s – benefit. Geldings cannot run in the Arc. If they could, Cirrus Des Aigles would have gone there for the last three years. And if he’d been a colt still, he’d have been lost to us years ago in favour of a new career in the breeding barns of Europe.
As if that wasn’t enough, racing fans were treated to a rainbow book-ended by clouds. After Cirrus Des Aigles, and then Treve’s Arc en ciel, the curtain was brought down – along with the house – by the majestic Moonlight Cloud.
At 46 years young, Thierry Jarnet was destined to have a day of days. Treve would have been the highlight of a decade in the saddle for most – perhaps almost all – high class jockeys. For Jarnet, he got two such thrills in the time it takes for a football match to start and finish.
Sat out the back under the sort of exaggerated waiting tactics that get a lot of riders bad names, the premature public were spitting and cursing the old man (even those who had instantly forgotten the dream ride just ninety minutes earlier which had lined their pockets). But Jarnet is not just an old fox, he’s a wily old fox.
He knew they’d gone fast. He knew they’d come back to him, and her. But what he couldn’t have known was that she – Moonlight Cloud – would repeat the electric change of pace that Treve had done just those few moments earlier.
Moonlight Cloud was, to some judges, even more impressive than Treve. Not to me, but to some. She was dominant. The manner in which she rolled alongside Gordon Lord Byron, himself a serious horse and winner of this race last year, was reminiscent of that Harry Enfield sketch of the 1990’s, where the toff jockeys have a chinwag, one of them lobbing on the steel, the rest pushing and shoving, huffing and puffing.
Here, take a look for yourself.
At the risk of repeating myself, WOW!
It may have been the first time since 1975 that British-trained horses failed to win a race on Arc day; and there may have been a solitary Irish-trained winner (good old Maarek), but who cares?! It was a day of pure, unadulterated horse racing brilliance: an unforgettable day for Thierry Jarnet and his trainers, the siblings Freddy and Criquette Head(-Maarek). And a day to say, “I was there” in a decade or three’s time, when blustering about the good old days and the stars of yesteryear.
A golden rainbow amidst two silver-lined clouds, sans question.