Ben Linfoot dusts off the history books and scours YouTube footage to count down the 30 greatest renewals of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, from its inception in 1920 to the present day.
What were the chances that the 30th best Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe of all time was the very first one? I know, right. But I’m utilising artistic licence on this one as Comrade won the inaugural Arc and he was trained at Clarehaven Stables – yes, Enable’s Clarehaven Stables – next to the Bury Road in Newmarket where John Gosden has built his empire. Back in 1920 Peter Purcell Gilpin was the man in charge and he named his swanky new yard after the horse that had landed him a mighty gamble in the 1900 Cesarewitch. Clarehaven, the horse, was owned by Mr Ludwig Neumann, who, 18 years later, sent four yearlings to the Newmarket sales. One of them was described as unattractive and was almost unsold, before a sympathetic 25 guineas bid from Gilpin. That horse was Comrade who blossomed into a winning machine, winning five on the bounce before he became the first winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe by an easy length from King’s Cross.
In 1937 Corrida became the third horse and the first filly to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe for a second time. The betting says she was expected to – she was sent off the evens favourite – but as things transpired she did well to get up on the line by a neck. A slow early pace meant a wall of horses were in front of the reigning champion on the turn for home and even her owner-breeder, Marcel Boussac, feared she wouldn’t be able to win from her position in the home straight. However, jockey Charlie Elliott had other ideas and he pulled his mount to the wide outside before making up an immense amount of ground, getting there just in the nick of time. Unfortunately Corrida’s life came to an end in 1944, when she went missing from Boussac’s stud during the battle of the Falaise Gap in World War II.
It’s commonplace for a filly to win the Arc these days, but in 1931 none had yet to triumph in 11 renewals. Then along came Pearl Cap, owned by Diana Esmond, her horse a gift from her father, Edward. A double Classic winner after winning the Poule d’Essai des Poulains and Prix de Diane, she had proven herself to be a remarkable racehorse in the latter race, winning by a length despite appearing to tail off at one point after which it transpired her jockey, Charlie Elliott, was temporarily blinded by his mud-splattered eyes. By October she had a new jockey, Charles Semblat, and the ground was better, as well, allowing her to display a startling turn of foot that sealed the race in a flash. Dam of the 1947 Derby winner Pearl Diver once she had retired to stud, Pearl Cap was considered at the time as the best French filly to have graced the turf.
No horse has ever won the Arc three times, but eight have won it twice and the first double was achieved within three years of the race’s inception. The 1921 and 1922 renewals were won by Ksar, a horse born, bred and trained in France, with his first win arguably his best since it was at the expense of five overseas raiders, including four from England. He soared to prominence when winning the Prix du Jockey Club, but confidence of a home victory in the Arc took a hit when he could manage only sixth in the Grand Prix de Paris. He bounced back when landing his prep race, the Prix Royal Oak, and showed his Grand Prix de Paris run to be all wrong when coasting to victory from old rival Flechois in the Arc itself, with the same straight-forecast coming in a year later, as well.
When Helissio pulled his chance away in the Prix du Jockey Club doubts grew that he’d have the stamina for a mile-and-a-half. They were extinguished in no uncertain terms when he beat the Coronation Cup winner, Swain, in the Grand Prix du Saint-Cloud, and 11 weeks later he prepped perfectly for the Arc with a smooth front-running success in the Prix Niel, winning by a length from Darazari. The big question mark ahead of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was whether he could win from the front against such hot opposition, but he soon assumed his front-running role and settled well under Olivier Peslier. He quickened well at the top of the straight, leaving Pilsudski, who had tracked him throughout, in his wake. Eased down late on, Helissio won by five lengths from Pilsudski, who franked the form by winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf three weeks’ later.
When war broke out in Europe all racing in France stopped with immediate effect. On August 30, 1939, the final meeting was held at Clairefontaine until further notice, which turned out to be almost two years later when the Societe d’Encouragement, the governing body of French racing at the time, announced that three racecourses (including Longchamp) would produce a normal programme. So the Arc returned in 1941 when Le Pacha beat just six rivals, but his attempt to retain his crown a year later gave the 1942 renewal a more solid look. It was won by a horse that had contested the 1941 Arc, however, as the third-placed Djebel improved significantly as a five-year-old under the care of former jockey Charles Semblat, who won the race as a rider three times. Djebel won all seven of his races in 1942, including the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and though the ravages of war had a major impact on the horse population and racing itself, Djebel’s legacy was cemented by his subsequent record as a stallion (see immediately below, for one).
1942 Arc winner Djebel sired many Classic winners and many future stallions, but only one of his progeny ever won the Arc; Coronation. It was 1949, a crucial year in the history of the Arc, the year they upped the prizemoney to 25 million francs, making it the richest weight for age race in Europe and laying the foundations for the prestigious contest we enjoy today. Coronation was a good three-year-old in the early part of 1949, winning the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches after dead-heating with stablemate Galgala, before finishing second, by a neck, to Musidora in the Oaks. Her Irish Oaks flop was a blessing in disguise, though, as an enforced break ensured she went into the Arc a fresh filly. In a 28-runner field she powered clear by four lengths, cementing her status as a top-class racehorse.
The fourth dual winner of the Arc was Francois Mathet’s Tantieme who won the race in 1950 and 1951. In 1950 he won against the backdrop of a stable lads strike, where the kidnapping of a head lad at Maisons-Lafitte in Arc week threatened to derail the race. There were no such dramas on the track, though, as Tantieme cruised to victory where he further underlined his status as the best horse of his generation amongst a crop of highly thought of three-year-olds that included Alizier, L’Amiral and Scratch, who chased him home in the Arc. That was a good Arc, but he arguably surpassed the achievement a year later, giving weight and a beating to a new batch of three-year-olds, including Nuccio, who won the Arc a year later in 1952 once Tantieme had retired.
“I knew after I had gone a furlong that, barring accidents, I would win,” said Lester Piggott in the aftermath of Rheingold’s 1973 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe success. It was a first Arc victory for Piggott, on his 15th go, while a young Barry Hills was winning the race in just his fifth season with a licence. Around the home turn Authi led Direct Flight, but Piggott was motionless on Rheingold in third and the pair moved up to challenge on the outside. Approaching the two-furlong pole was the moment Piggott unleashed his mount, who quickly shot a couple of lengths clear from the weakening leaders. He looked home and hosed, but star French filly Allez France shot through a gap on the rail to challenge, only to hang a little under pressure in the last 100 yards. Piggott rode out Rheingold under hands and heels to win by two-and-a-half lengths from the daughter of Sea Bird, who was in turn four lengths clear of the third. Rheingold never raced again, but Allez France did wonders for his legacy 12 months later….
Allez France had a new trainer in 1974 following the retirement of Albert Klimscha. Now with Angel Penna, she ran a perfect campaign for her new handler, winning the Prix Ganay, Prix d’Ispahan and Prix Foy in the build-up to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Her Prix d’Ispahan success was most remarkable, as she was still 15 lengths adrift of the leaders turning into the home straight, but she made up the ground brilliantly to win by a length. Yves Saint-Martin had probably given her a harder race than she needed, but it was the jockey who had to fight through the pain barrier in the 1974 Arc. 10 days prior to the big race Saint-Martin was thrown from a horse in the paddock at Maisons-Laffitte and broke a small bone near his hip. He looked a major doubt for Longchamp and, indeed, Piggott was booked for the ride on Allez France. However, two days before the Arc his doctor passed him fit to ride and, thanks to an injection of novacaine on raceday, Saint-Martin was in the saddle. Drawn wide in 15, Allez France was held up in the early stages but made a sweeping move to take things up in the straight. She hadn’t put the race to bed by the time Comtesse de Loir and Margouilat renewed their challenges late on and, Saint-Martin, feeling the effects of his broken bone, couldn’t ride with his full vigour. She clung on by a head, was probably value for more and no-one will have been as relieved that she held on as much as her jockey. “The straight was beginning to feel very long,” he said, afterwards.
The best Prix de l’Arc de Triomphes are the ones where the vanquished rivals had an excellent record themselves and there’s little doubt Exbury proved himself an above average winner in 1963 with the likes of Relko back in sixth. The three-year-old Relko was the odds-on favourite for the 1963 Arc on the back of victories in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains, the Derby and the Prix Royal Oak, his victory at Epsom coming by six lengths. The year older Exbury had amassed an impressive haul of victories himself that year, though, a perfect four from four record, his most striking being a six-length romp in the Coronation Cup, so he was second best in the market at 36/10. In the Arc itself, Relko failed to settle in the early stages despite Exbury’s pacemaker, Tang, setting a scorching gallop. While Relko couldn’t respond to pressure in the final two furlongs, Exbury found another gear under Jean Deforge and displayed an explosive turn of foot to win by a couple of lengths.
It’s difficult to think of a horse with a more lightly-raced and perfect career than that of Lammtarra. Four races, four wins, three of them coming in the Derby, the King George and the Arc. The son of Nijinsky never did things the easy way and his biggest winning margin was by a length, at Epsom where he came from the rear of mid-division to fly through the final furlong on the outside under Walter Swinburn. A young Frankie Dettori took over for the final two races of his career, the pair landing the King George by a neck after a battle with Pentire, so he was three from three heading into the 1995 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Things went as smoothly as he ever had it in Paris, Dettori taking a look over his shoulder rounding the home turn as he comfortably tracked the strong gallop set by his pacemaker Luso. He never really looked like getting caught once hitting the front, even if he did benefit from a strong Dettori ride and won by only three-quarters-of-a-length from Freedom Cry.
Unlucky not to have beaten Shamardal in the Prix du Jockey Club, Hurricane Run made amends in the Irish Derby and finalised his Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe preparations with an easy win in the Prix Niel at odds of 2/11. The son of Montjeu garnered a reputation for not being the most straightforward, much like his sire, throughout his career, the greenness he displayed at Chantilly part of the argument, but he was given a beautiful ride by Kieren Fallon on his big day. The quirks were still partially visible – he was rousted along at an early stage and ran in snatches in the first part of the race – but Fallon’s decisive move to seize a gap on the rail near the home turn proved vital. He filled his lungs up, weaved through the field on the inside and ran away with the Arc in the style of a monster.
Most Arcs are about the winners but the 1970 renewal was as much about the runner-up, if not more so; Nijinsky. Still the last horse to win the Triple Crown of the 2000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger, the great son of Northern Dancer slotted in a victory in the King George in between all that, too, and the unbeaten horse was regarded as a great champion with a scintillating turn of foot. A bout of ringworm had interrupted his campaign between Ascot and Doncaster, his victory on Town Moor against inferior rivals showing he’d recovered from his affliction but nothing more. Still, he was expected to take all before him in Paris and was sent off the 2/5 favourite to prevail. When he got to Sassafras’ quarters and then headed him it looked as though he’d sealed the deal, but he hung left under pressure and opened the door for the Prix du Jockey Club winner, who got up by a head, landing one of the Arc de Triomphe’s greatest shocks.
The Aga Khan has won the Arc four times and all of his quartet of champions deserve a mention; from Akiyda in 1982, to Sinndar in 2000, to Dalakhani in 2003 and then Zarkava in 2008. But it’s the latter who deserves her place more than the other three in this list for she was unbeaten, brilliant and we never really got to find out how good she could be. She travelled supremely, had push-button acceleration and won by two lengths or more every single time she ran. In the Poules d'Essai des Pouliches she beat Goldikova, by two lengths, a mare that went onto win 14 Group Ones. She beat the same rival in the Prix de Diane by even further and then was just as good, if not better, when stepped up in trip to 1m4f. She proved her stamina when winning the Prix Vermaille and then did what she always did in the Arc; travelled well, switched out, asked for effort, led, ridden out, won by two lengths. Pure class.
Ballymoss became the first Irish-trained horse to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 1958. A winner of the Irish Derby in 1957, he landed his second Classic in the St Leger at Doncaster and continued his winning spree in the big races as a four-year-old, winning the Coronation Cup at Epsom, Eclipse Stakes at Sandown and then the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot after that. Soft ground was thought to be a big negative for Vincent O’Brien’s horse, though, and torrential downpours at Longchamp on Arc day had turned conditions just that. At an early point in the race, Australian jockey Scobie Breasley was hard at work on Ballymoss in a bid to maintain his position, but he was soon travelling within himself on the inside. When his stamina came to the fore in the straight, Ballymoss kicked clear to win by two lengths, his effort all the more meritorious on ground he was thought to dislike. The form worked out well, too, with the eighth home, Bella Paola, going on to win the Champion Stakes.
Caracalla was so good his pacemaker, Ardan, had won the Arc (at Le Tremblay) in 1944. Unraced as a two-year-old, he shot to prominence as a three-year-old in 1945, winning the Grand Prix de Paris, but he missed the Arc that year as the aforementioned Ardan, his stablemate at Charles Semblat’s (and also owned by Marcel Boussac), was reigning champion – ultimately, he went down by three-quarters-of-a-length to Nikellora. Caracalla went to the Prix Royal Oak and won, ensuring he went into his four-year-old season unbeaten. By the time he lined up for the 1946 Arc he was seven from seven and had scared off some potential opposition, while the inaugural King George VI Stakes at Ascot, run on October 12 back then and over two miles, explained the absence of some high-quality English-trained three-year-olds. A long-striding and striking colt, he only just got there in the Arc to beat Prince Chevalier a head, but he retired unbeaten, eight from eight, and his performance was marked up at the time due to his preparation (he hadn’t run since the Ascot Gold Cup due to injury).
Perhaps Enable will be higher in this list if she manages to win a historic third Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on Sunday, but she will have to go some to beat her 2017 win at Chantilly for pure explosiveness. She was awesome that day and it’s probably still her career-best run. Enthusiastic as ever from the moment the gates opened, Frankie Dettori still had a double handful deep into the race and when he let her go the response was immediate, as she just took off to put three lengths between herself and the field in an instant. Nothing could live with her that day and so it was no wonder she was sent off the evens favourite a year later with the Arc back at Longchamp. Not quite at her best on the back of just one run following a lay-off, she still got the job done from Sea Of Class and is four from four since, with the bookies making her an outstanding favourite to become the first horse ever to win three Prix de l’Arc de Triomphes in Paris this Sunday.
Frankie Dettori must’ve thought his chance to win an Arc or two, or three, on a wonder filly must’ve passed when he lost the ride on Treve. Luckily for him Enable came along and the similarities between the two fillies’ first Arc wins are pretty striking. Like Enable, Treve tanked through her first Arc, Thierry Jarnet barely being able to hold onto her before she made her challenge down the outside. When he did ask for her effort she took off like a rocket, quickening stylishly to beat Orfevre by five lengths. Also superb when winning her second Arc at 14/1 a year later after a previously troublesome four-year-old campaign, she was beaten at odds-on when going for her third Arc on her swansong, finishing only fourth behind Golden Horn… who was ridden by that man Dettori.
Peintre Celebre had proven himself a top-class colt in the summer of 1997, winning the Prix du Jockey Club and the Grand Prix de Paris by two lengths on each occasion. Sent off the 1/10 favourite for his Arc prep in the Prix Niel on the back of those wins, he got no run whatsoever inside the final quarter mile and had to settle for second place behind Rajpoute. Still, he was sent off the 11/5 favourite for the Arc, with the previous year’s winner, Helissio, in the field and he bolted up by five lengths from multiple Group One winner Pilsudski, smashing the track record that only Danedream (2011) has beaten in the race* since – and she was carrying 3lb less. Unfortunately his Arc win was his seventh and final appearance after his career was cut short due to injury.
*When run at Longchamp; Found ran quicker when the race was staged at Chantilly.
Horse of the century. We’ve heard that phrase quite a few times over the years and in the Longchamp winners’ enclosure, back on October 8 1934, you might well have heard the same words, or ‘cheval du siècle’, uttered about the great winner Brantome. First home in 12 of his 14 races, and unbeaten in his first two seasons, Brantome landed the Prix Robert Papin, Grand Criterium and Prix Morny at two, before he won the 1934 Poule d’Essai des Poulains on the bridle by three lengths. His yard suffered a bout of coughing in the summer, meaning that he missed the Prix du Jockey Club and Grand Prix de Paris, but he got away with his lack of fitness to win the Prix Royal Oak and he went into the Arc carrying the hopes of the French. The Aga Khan’s Felicitation, though, was brought across the Channel on a wave of confidence from Frank Butters’ stable in England. Among his feats that year were winning the Ascot Gold Cup a day after he’d won the Churchill Stakes, and he was backed into 5/2 second-favouritism for the Arc, allowing Brantome to go off at 11/10. Brantome charged down the outside, however, beating Assuerus and Felicitation easily by two-and-a-half lengths, thus cementing his position in French racing folklore.
John Hammond and Cash Asmussen had teamed up to win the 1991 Arc with Suave Dancer and in the first half of 1999 it was clear they had unearthed another major contender; Montjeu. He won the Prix du Jockey Club and the Irish Derby by a combined margin of nine lengths before Mick Kinane took over riding duties for the remainder of the season. A traditional Arc prep from Hammond followed the Irish Derby; mid-season break and then a prep race, this time in the Prix Niel, which Montjeu won by a head at odds of 1/10. If that run was a little underwhelming, his Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe victory was the exact opposite. On heavy ground and with just over a furlong to go he had four lengths to make up on long-time leader El Condor Pasa, but make them up he did, in style, to win by a cosy half length with the pair clear by six. Even accounting for his urine-extracting victory in the following year’s King George, this was probably his career-best performance. Montjeu developed into an outstanding sire with Hurricane Run, Motivator, Authorized, Hurricane Fly, St Nicholas Abbey, Pour Moi and Camelot amongst his progeny.
Sakhee was sent off the 11/5 favourite for the 2001 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on the back of an outstanding seven-length win in the Juddmonte International at York- and he didn’t disappoint. Ridden prominently by Frankie Dettori, Sakhee powered away from the field in Paris to win by six lengths – the equal biggest winning margin in the history of the race, along with exalted company; Ribot and Sea Bird. The filly that ran on into second, Aquarelliste, was previously unbeaten and had won the Prix de Diane and Prix Vermaille, but Sakhee had put her to the sword. A famous nose defeat to Tiznow in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on the Belmont Park dirt followed – and he was never quite the same again. But on October 7 2001, he was a brilliant winner of the Arc.
Of all Vincent O’Brien’s incredible achievements his training of Alleged to win back-to-back Prix de l’Arc de Triomphes in the late 1970s was right up there with the best of them. In 1977 Alleged had graduated from a Great Voltigeur Stakes success via a narrow defeat in the St Leger, where he failed to justify odds-on favouritism against the Queen’s filly, Dunfermline. Gregarious was in the Leger as a pacemaker to Dunfermline and that proved crucial with Lester Piggott unable to wait out in front on Alleged and utilise his superior turn of foot. In the Arc the tables were turned emphatically, a Piggott masterclass from the front end as he dictated off a slow gallop before Alleged put the race to bed with a deadly burst of speed approaching the final furlong. It was a year later, though, as an older horse against a new batch of three-year-olds, that was probably his finest hour. After missing the Eclipse and the King George due to being stricken with a virus, Alleged made only his second appearance of the season in the Prix du Prince d’Orange at Longchamp on September 17. He looked as good as ever and was sent off 14/10 for the Arc, but he wasn’t allowed to dominate this time on the softest ground he had faced. Still, the result was the same, Piggott waiting until a furlong-and-a-half to go until making a decisive winning challenge, the pair winning by two lengths. He retired to stud as the fifth horse in history to go back-to-back in the Arc, something that looked highly unlikely in the midsummer as he was being nursed back to health by his master trainer.
Vaguely Noble defeated a stellar field in the 1968 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, earning a Timeform rating of 140 and a place amongst the pantheon of Longchamp greats. Trained in Britain as a two-year-old, he was sold at auction for 136,000 guineas in the December of his juvenile year, a record price for a racehorse at the time. Sent to France to be trained by Etienne Pollet, who had overseen the career of the great Sea-Bird, he landed the Prix de Guiche, Prix du Lys and Prix de Chantilly in emphatic style during the 1968 season. It was an indication of the strength of the field that he was sent off as 5/2 favourite for the Arc, with seven individual winners of 11 Classics in the field, including Vincent O’Brien’s Sir Ivor, who had won the 2,000 Guineas and Derby at Epsom en route to Longchamp. Vaguely Noble registered another emphatic success, though, easily beating Sir Ivor by three lengths and there were four lengths back to the third. Aussie jockey Bill Williamson expressed the ease with which his mount had won afterwards, saying: “I had won the race after half a mile.”
Certainly in the age of colour television, it’s difficult to think of a more iconic Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner than Dancing Brave in 1986. Despite the strength of the field, which included German Horse of the Year Acatenango and Prix du Jockey Club winner Bering, Dancing Brave was sent off the 11/10 favourite on the back of his redemption victories in the Eclipse and King George following dramatic defeat in the Derby. Pat Eddery, on board in place of Greville Starkey since the King George, held him up in the early stages but he had settled beautifully on the outside of the pack. Still nearer last than first when pulled to the outside with just over a furlong to go, Dancing Brave’s trademark acceleration kicked into gear and he won going away, by a-length-and-a-half, to the delight of the raucous English crowd that had crossed the Channel to see their hero. It was the first time Khalid Abdullah’s famous pink, green and white silks had passed the post first in the Arc, even if he had won the previous year’s renewal in the stewards’ room with Rainbow Quest.
Mill Reef won 12 of his 14 races and was second in his other two, one of which was in an exceptional 2,000 Guineas behind the great Brigadier Gerard. The highlight of his career, though, was the 1971 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in which he thrashed French winning machine Pistol Packer. Ian Balding’s son of Never Bend had won the Derby, Eclipse and King George in the summer of 1971, by a combined margin of 12 lengths, proving himself an outstanding horse and ensuring he was sent off 7/10 for the Arc. Pistol Packer had won her last five races going into Longchamp herself, however, including the Prix de Diane and Prix Vermaille, so confidence in Alec Head’s filly was strong and she was sent off next best in the market at 17/4. She couldn’t handle Mill Reef’s class and speed in the race, though, and he set a new course record at the time, winning by three lengths as he liked. Injury prevented him going for a second Arc, but his legacy lived on among his progeny that included Shirley Heights and Reference Point.
In 2009 John Oxx orchestrated the perfect three-year-old season for his Cape Cross colt Sea The Stars, the culmination of which was a stunning triumph in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. A winner of the 2,000 Guineas, Derby, Coral-Eclipse, Juddmonte International and Irish Champion Stakes in the style of a well-oiled machine, Oxx had barked back at suggestions Sea The Stars hadn’t truly proved he’d stayed a mile-and-a-half in a steadily run Derby at Epsom, dismissing the talk as ‘Coolmore spin’ and saying ‘the result is there and he stays the trip well enough.’ Still, with nothing else to crab him heading into the Arc, talk of his stamina being a potential chink in his armour reared its head once again. There was never a moment’s doubt in the race, however, Mick Kinane sticking to the inside before manoeuvring his mount just off the rail with a furlong to go, at which point he put the race to bed in a flash. Commentator Jim McGrath summed it up best as he crossed the line, saying: “Perfection in equine form – a horse of a lifetime.”
The Italian stallion Ribot is regarded as one of the greatest racehorses of all time and two Prix de l’Arc de Triomphes feature among his unbeaten record of 16 races. His first success, by three lengths in 1955, was pretty good, but his victory a year later is the stuff of legend. That’s where he achieved his Timeform rating of 142, with only four horses in history usurping that figure, while his officially-six-lengths-and-probably-a-bit-more victory that sealed his legacy came against strong opposition; the Irish Derby winner, Talgo, was second, top French colt Tanerko (winner of the Prix Juigne, Prix Noailles, Prix Lupin and Prix du Prince d’Orange), was third, while the second favourite, Apollonia, a dual Classic winner in the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches and Prix de Diane, couldn’t keep tabs on them and finished second last. Bred by the legendary Federico Tesio, his impact at stud was instant and he sired multiple top-level winners in Europe and America, including the 1962 and 1964 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winners Molvedo and Prince Royal, respectively.
Until Frankel came along, it was Sea-Bird that was bestowed with the ‘greatest ever’ mantle. Rated 145 by Timeform following his Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe victory in 1965, he sat at the top of the pile for 47 years until Frankel’s 2012 Queen Anne romp earned him a rating of 147. But why was that 1965 performance considered so good? Well, it was a combination of the ease in which he won and the opposition he beat. Having already won the Derby at Epsom without coming off the bridle, he was sent off the 6/5 favourite to follow up in the Arc and the reason he was odds-against was the sheer quality of the field. In opposition was Reliance, who had won the Prix du Jockey Club, Blabla, the Prix de Diane winner, Meadow Court, the Irish Derby winner, Anilin, the Soviet Derby champion and Tom Rolfe, the American champion who had won the Preakness and American Derby. Against such a quality line-up Sea-Bird cantered through the race, sailed effortlessly into the lead and treated his nearest rival, Reliance, with contempt to win by six lengths despite veering off the rail late on with jockey Pat Glennon already patting him down the neck. The greatest ever? In the Arc, yes.
Disagree with Ben's list? Are there any shocking omissions?
Feel free to email email@example.com with your own favourite memories of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
Colin Jones - Dear Mr Linfoot, Thank you for a fantastic piece. I think Dancing Brave's Arc had such an impact because there were five great horses: Dancing Brave, Shardari, Triptych, Acatenango and Bering: they represented colts and mares; three, four and five year-olds: Britain France and Germany: all five had had a great season: and, crucial to the impact, they all ran their race and finished about where one would have had them finish. There were no excuses and Dancing Brave beat them fair and square with a sustained burst of finishing speed. It was the perfect race. I think Lear Fan's 2,000 Guineas is a similar event; as is Brigadier Gerard's 2,000 Guineas. I thought at the time that I would never see another performance like it, and then along came Peintre Bleu. I was not as intimate with the form of that race, and the horse was French (!), and so my admiration was grudging. But every time I see it, I am astonished by the "double-acceleration" that gets him off the rails and then the burst to the front. Whatever the relative class of the field that day, it was a breathtaking performance. But having read your piece, I am now likewise amazed by the performance of Hurricane Run and Sea The Stars. Thanks again.
Nigel Beardsley - Magnificently researched, thanks Ben. Enjoyed reading it so much. Including the stuff before my time that I was unaware of. But.. but.. but.. as always because that's what makes us human. I will take some convincing, for a whole host of reasons, that Dancing Brave doesn't belong at number one. Thanks again.
Jen from BSE - Dear Ben, While the article was generally good and “rating” the winners is a subjective isuue, I think you may have been assessing the horses by career and not performance in the race. Sea the Stars was an exceptional racehorse but his Arc performance simply does not compare to his form over 10 furlongs. I have no qualms about Sea Bird II as that performance is still the best middle distance performance ever.
To have Enable’s 2017 victory above Zarkava really makes no sense. I would argue that her King George wins are superior to either of her Arc wins. Quite simply she is a remarkably durable mare but is fortunate not to have encountered a horse capable of producing a form figure in excess of 130 in three seasons. The boost in value of the Champion Stakes and the importance of 10 furlong races for breeders has meant a decline in the quality of the race over the last decade. Indeed Enable’s performance last year would have won very few Arcs in the last 50 years.
Treve’s victory in 2013 was the last “Wow” performance and the overall trend of declining quality is perhaps a reflection on the state of the sport in France. Having first got interested in racing in 1987 I can recall the devastating finish of Trempolino in a then record time that year. Ten years later, Peintre Celebre destroyed a top class field in a few strides putting 5 lengths between himself and the rest of the field led by Pilsudski. It is still the performance that I watched live that I measure the quality of Arc winners by and I would readily put him at the top of the tree since 1987.
Danielle Alleyne - Dancing Brave the 1986 winner was unequivocally the greatest Arc hero of all time. The field he defeated was arguably the the best ever assembled.
James Fairweather - I’d like to thank Ben Linfoot for his wonderful, panoramic piece on the 30 greatest Arcs of all time. So many memories to chew over at this, the most significant time in the annual European flat racing calendar.
I have very few quibbles with Ben’s rankings, either, which combine the modern, the living memory and the sepia-tinted to great effect...
There’s always a but, though! One omission, quite a serious one to me, does suggest itself. This is Molvedo, the winner of the Arc in 1961, who despatched a top-drawer field , including the formidable Right Royal and Match, as the culmination (one further easy win aside) and exclamation mark to a first-class career. So good was this performance that I’m moved to suggest that it might warrant top 10 status and I feel that it certainly ought to figure in the top half of a 30-Arc overview.
It’s a minor quibble, though….I thoroughly enjoy the work of all of you and Ben has done great justice to a marvellous race with a marvellous history.
All the best
Warren Olsen - Would maybe have put Alleged's 1977 Arc in before his '78 win ; mainly as it featured our only Kiwi runner to get close, Balmerino ! Really hoping Enable can enhance her legend and make it a three-peat. Warren. NZ (All Black territory !)
Stephen Gardner - Hi Ben, we will never all agree on these things. Why did you rate Sea the Stars so much higher than Zarkava? Both were unbeaten that season, both were in an unpromising position half a mile out, both weaved through and shot clear, both beat a fast-finishing Youmzain by two lengths. What about Danedream? Won by a street from five subsequent group One winners in a very fast time. Best regards
*For anything pre-1982 the three volumes of Arthur Fitzgerald's excellent 'Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe' were used for reference.