Remembering Allez France

I cannot in good conscience write about Dahlia without also writing about her arch rival Allez France, who, physically and mentally, was everything Dahlia was not. As much as I loved Dahlia, I loved Allez France a little more during their racing days. The reason why will become evident in the paragraphs that follow. As mentioned in the previous column, I really fell in love with Dahlia after her racing days were over because of her connection with my daughter.

First off, Allez France was a daughter of the great Sea-Bird, who I had become enamored with when studying up on European racing and who I visited numerous times at Darby Dan Farm. Considered by many the greatest European horse of the modern era, right up there with Ribot, Sea-Bird was a handsome, elegant liver chestnut who exuded class, and his sheer brilliance was unmatched.

Allez France’s dam, Priceless Gem, had the distinction of defeating the great Buckpasser in the 1965 Futurity Stakes.

It was in 1974 that I left the shores of America for the first time, traveling to France on a charter tour, run by noted DRF cartoonist Pierre Bellocq, known as Peb. Unfortunately for Peb, only four people signed up for the trip, the others being my good friend and DRF colleague Joe Rosen and a couple from Florida, who believed Calder was the most beautiful racetrack in America and who made absolutely zero effort to communicate with the French people.

Having spent my life pretty much confined to trips to Saratoga and Kentucky, I now found myself in the South of France, having sole meuniere for lunch in Marseilles and being driven along the Cote d’Azur, or as we know it the French Riviera, which included the opulent town of Saint-Tropez. We also took in racing at several small provincial tracks.

We then flew to Paris, culminating with our visit to Longchamp for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. I had an emotional stake in the Arc, with the heavy favorite being Sea-Bird’s 4-year-old daughter Allez France, owned by noted art dealer Daniel Wildenstein and trained by Angel Penna, who had left America to train for Countess Batthyany in France, eventually becoming private trainer for Wildenstein, taking over the training of Allez France after her 3-year-old season.  Penna would train other top-class Wildenstein fillies Waya, Flying Water, Madelia, and Pawneese. Wildenstein also would own 1983 Arc de Triomphe winner and America’s Horse of the Year All Along, trained by Patrick Biancone.

Allez France had established herself as the best filly in France, and few would dispute her being the best horse in France, male or female. Going into the Arc, she had won nine of her first 13 starts, capturing the prestigious Criterium des Pouliches at 2 and the French One Thousand Guineas, French Oaks, and Prix Vermeille at 3 under the care of trainer Albert Klimscha, while finishing second to the top-class English colt Rheingold in the Arc de Triomphe.

In all four of those races, she defeated fellow French filly Dahlia. While Dahlia reigned supreme in England, Ireland and North America, Allez France was unquestionably the Queen of France. When Allez France soundly beat Dahlia again in the Prix d’Harcourt and Prix Ganay at 4, it was time for the latter to hit the road, where she became one of the greatest international stars of all time. She did try Allez France one more time in the 1975 Prix Ganay, but once again she was soundly defeated by her nemesis.

At 4, Allez France was unstoppable, rattling off victories in the Prix d’Harcourt, Prix Ganay, Prix d’Ispahan and Prix Foy, establishing herself as the favorite for the Arc. Trainer Maurice Zilber was not about to subject Dahlia to another futile attempt to crack the impenetrable wall that was Allez France, so he sent her back to North America, where she would make history by winning the Man o’War Stakes and Canadian International, and finishing a troubled, fast-closing third in the Washington D.C. International, a race she had won the year before.

So, here I was desperately rooting for Allez France, who by now was a national hero in France, especially being a daughter of their beloved Sea-Bird.

Unlike the gentle, feminine Dahlia, Allez France was a brute of a filly who could hammer any male into submission. Elinor Penna, wife of the late Angel Penna, recalled, “She was the most masculine female horse ever; powerful and very proud of it.”

Allez France was such a prima donna, she wouldn’t go anywhere without her pet sheep, ironically named Steve. Even though she would bully poor Steve, when Allez France eventually was sent to the U.S. to compete in the inaugural and short-lived National Championship Handicap at Santa Anita, Steve couldn’t get the proper papers to accompany her, and it was Steve who threw a major tantrum when Allez France left.

Each day, I closely followed the progress of Allez France, eagerly awaiting the race and seeing my favorite filly. Then came the news. About a week before the race, Yves Saint-Martin, the legendary rider who had ridden Allez France in all of her starts, suffered a severe injury in a spill. There seemed no way he could ride, especially in a grueling, competitive race like the Arc. Penna and Wildenstein signed up another all-time great, Lester Piggott, to replace Saint-Martin, even though the French jockey would not give up hope. Piggott remained on call with the understanding that whether he rode the filly or not he would receive the same amount of money as Saint-Martin.

Right up until the morning of the race, no one knew whether Saint-Martin would be able to ride. He was still in pain and had to go 1 1/2 miles against the cream of Europe, and in a 20-horse field.

Among those challenging him and Allez France were stablemate Paulista, an impressive four-length winner of the Prix Vermeille; The Queen’s Highclere, winner of the English Oaks and French One Thousand Guineas; Sagaro, winner of the Grand Prix de Paris and eventual three-time winner of the Ascot Gold Cup; Busiris, winner of the French St. Leger; Margouillat, winner of the Prix Dollar and second to Allez France in the Prix d’Ispahan; On My Way, runner-up to Dahlia in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud; Mississippian, fourth in the Irish and French Derbys; and hard-knocking stakes horses Tennyson and Recupere.

Saint-Martin insisted they shoot him up with pain killers some 20 minutes before the race. He announced he would ride Allez France and would be effective as long as he didn’t have to get down and ride her hard. The one thing he needed to avoid was a head-to-head stretch battle. He was confident enough that his filly could win comfortably, and that he could get away with not having any strength in his leg.

Saint-Martin was able to give Allez France a good ground-saving trip with cover. Just before the turn for home, Allez France was eased toward the outside and exploded, making a swift, powerful move, passing horses in a flash and quickly opening a clear advantage. Saint-Martin admitted later he was in so much pain he was unable to hold her and had to let her open up, even though there was still more than two furlongs to go. Saint-Martin, hand-riding his filly, kept pushing hard on her, maintaining the lead over a stubborn Margouillat.

Just when it looked as if he had the race under control and was on his way to a clear victory, from out of the pack came the classy filly Comtesse de Loir, who was under a series of furious right-handed whips.

Comtesse de Loir was gaining with every stride and collared Allez France inside the furlong marker. They came charging right past me, with Saint-Martin still vigorously hand-riding Allez France, and when I saw how far away the finish line still was I felt for sure that Allez France was beaten, as Comtesse de Loir had all the momentum. This was exactly what Saint-Martin was hoping to avoid.

But Allez France, even with a struggling Saint-Martin aboard, pinned her ears and dug in tenaciously and refused to let Comtesse de Loir pass her. They matched strides the rest of the way, with Comtesse de Loir, still under extreme whipping, unable to get her head in front of Allez France, who held her head advantage all the way to the wire in one of the gutsiest performances I have ever seen.

The appreciative crowd, well aware of Saint-Martin’s troubles, gave him and Allez France a rousing ovation. The filly they had come to worship over the past two years had prevailed and they saluted her upon her return. I was so moved by the courage she displayed, and was thrilled to have come all this way to witness such an epic event. And I was going to go home happy having seen a truly great filly put on a memorable show.

Allez France surprisingly returned as 5-year-old, winning the Prix Ganay and Prix Dollar. After a third in the Prix d’Ispahan, she again captured the Prix Foy in her prep for a third consecutive Arc attempt. But she had a disastrous trip in the Arc, getting roughed up in a 24-horse cavalry charge and could only manage a fifth-place finish.

As she did as a 3-year-old, she traveled to Newmarket for the Champion Stakes, but once again finished second, closing fast at the end.

It was then decided to send her to Santa Anita to make her first start ever on dirt in the National Championship Handicap against many of the America’s best horses. She was in contention early, but by now was a mere shell of herself, and combined with the long trip to California, she tired badly to finish last of 11.

Allez France did produce one stakes winner – Action Francaise, winner of the group III Prix Sandringham, but had only four foals who won a total of three races. One of her colts, Air de France, sired 10 stakes winners, including a pair of group I winners in Australia.

Allez France died in 1989 at age 19. She was born the same year as Secretariat and died the same year as Secretariat. She is buried in the Champions’ Cemetery at the Kentucky Horse Park.

European racing was not as global back in 1974 as it has been in the past 20 years, so most Americans were not familiar with Allez France’s heroics, nor are they today.  But it was her victory in the Arc, along with San San’s (also trained by Penna) two years earlier that paved the way for the French filly onslaught that saw femme fatales win six of the next eight runnings of the Arc de Triomphe and four of the last six, including the last three.

Allez France in English means “Go, France!” To the French, there was never a more aptly named filly.

32 Comments

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happyd

A horse I knew nothing about an hour ago and now I need to research her races on the net!   Thanks Steve.  

06 Jul 2014 11:10 PM
BelmontBarb

Merci, Merci! Monsieur Haskin! An extraordinary writing and wonderful lesson in French! I knew well of Allez France and she has always been on my favorites list - she was an extraordinary and no-fear filly who pounded her contenders with powerful aggression. This also enlightens the reality of racing - tough and hard - an irreplaceable time that set its own pace and sets it alone. Allez France ran extensively and by the time of her return she had declined in her spirit and defeat weakened her more so - she faded from the charts and quietly resumed her well deserved repose followed by her new duties. It is so appreciative that you wrote this story of fearlessness and "courage" with such vitality and emotion.  An exciting article of history that opens the book of forgotten facts and figures of the racing world.  That she rest at the Champions' Cemetery is an appropriate ending as this is who she was and needless to say holds the mark and "ovation" as such.  Vive Allez France a Vive Monsieur Haskin!  

06 Jul 2014 11:19 PM
Davids

Steve, I was there as well when Allez France won the Arc. My uncle, who was a bookmaker, was taking me to see my favorite filly, Allez France, run in, to quote my uncle: "THE greatest horse race in the world." As you wrote, I have never experienced more national pride before, or after!! It was a different time, and I was a very young. Reading you your piece, brought everything rushing back, I was sure Allez France was going to loose but the crowd made her win. Too emotional.

Air de France was by Seattle Slew.

06 Jul 2014 11:49 PM
Kelso1966

Thanks Steve, for this history lesson. I knew of her racing skills but not much more. I visited her grave many times when in Kentucky.  Now when I visit, I will now know just how great she was.

07 Jul 2014 7:20 AM
Linda in Texas

Steve, in 1974 you left the shores of America to travel to France. Forty years ago Steve, you were but a toddler in a business that is about one of the toughest to break into and receive accolades for and your efforts are endlessly appreciated by all lucky enough to know you. Thanks to your dad comes to mind as i type those words.  

In 1974 there were no cell phones, were there? No fancy cameras that could research history to go along with a picture. As i read each paragraph i marveled at your ability to remember so many names, so many races, so many wins and toward the end of a beautiful career thoughts of a filly who truly left part of herself on each track she stepped hoof upon, Allez France.

In 1974 we were just beginning to realize a beautiful American Filly, Ruffian. I wonder reading your remembrances of Allez France, what a race between the two of them would have been like.

But 40 years to remember your thoughts and what you saw is remarkable. No dementia in your unclouded repertoire of memories. For sure.

As a freshman at boarding school, i was reluctant to take French. I already knew how to speak Spanish fluently, neighbors were spanish and i had to learn to speak it if i wanted to eat with them. I aced all the foods and later did well in Spanish. So in 1954, i was 14, i signed up for French taught by Isabelle Redfield a french lady herself whose chapeaux of choice was a Black Beret. I took to French easily and the words that come to mind when i think about your remembrances and aduration for Allez France are simply, Travail bien fait bel esprit, Allez France, repose en paix et merci Steve, je ne l'ai jamais su, et maintenant je fais.  Translation: Job well done beautiful spirit, Allex France, rest in peace and thank you Steve, i never knew her, and  now i do. Linda

07 Jul 2014 11:01 AM
Glorious Goodwood

She was truly a remarkable mare. Thank you for this well written piece.

07 Jul 2014 11:11 AM
Deltalady

Beautiful, Steve. A wonderful tribute. What a fantastic experience, among so many that you have had and have shared.

07 Jul 2014 11:51 AM
sara futh

Great story, but no pictures????

07 Jul 2014 12:10 PM
slee

Thanks Steve, for this wonderful memory.  I didn't know Allez France was buried at the Kentucky Horse Park until my first visit there.  I was looking at the different stones and realized I was almost stepping on hers.  I hopped back immediately, partly out of respect and partly because I'd heard of her temperament and figured she'd probably snap at anybody who got too close!

07 Jul 2014 12:17 PM
steve from st louis

Americans are so provincial in thinking that the greatest thoroughbred meetings in the world are held at Keeneland, Saratoga and Del Mar. We follow little of Royal Ascot and Sha Tin in the summer and Longchamps in the fall and Meydan in the winter. If those aren't the greatest meetings in the world, at least they're tied for first. It was Penna who first coined the phrase applied to great throughbreds in "Don't squeeze the lemon dry."

I've been to all the top tracks in this country along with Woodbine and I would be curious Steve since you've been everywhere in the world, how you would rank the top five tracks in the world?

07 Jul 2014 12:22 PM
English Pete

Great choice for an article, Steve, and nicely written. I hadn't long become interested in racing in 1974. I was 13 years old and it was the heroes and heroines that initially got me hooked.  Allez France was one of them - I watched her come second to Rheingold in the previous year's Arc and followed her closely throughout 1974 then I had my maximum £2 GBP bet (paper rounds didn't pay very well in those days!) on her to win that Arc. As Belmont Barb says above, Allez France was tough but the best thing about her was her Va-va-voom turn of speed. As you imply, if Saint-Martin had been able to hold on to her for longer she would have won comfortably, but they were such a great partnership it would have been a shame had he needed to give up the ride and thankfully all ended well.  To anyone thinking of watching her past races on youtube, I'll be amazed if you don't fall in love with the mare. Beautiful stride, low daisy-cutting action and the ability to take lengths out of her rivals in the blink of an eye. Great memories, so thanks again Steve.

07 Jul 2014 12:51 PM
Donna M

Great story Steve, I have never heard of this great Filly until now and I plan on researching her races.  Thanks for sharing her wonderful story,  I was getting all pumped reading about the race with Saint-Martin not feeling his best so you as always have such a great way of telling a story and describing an exciting race!  Merci!    

07 Jul 2014 1:00 PM
Yukon

And I'm still laughing about the couple from Florida!!!  So subtly put!

07 Jul 2014 1:35 PM
mz

Thanks, Steve for telling those who never had a chance to see/read about/ follow these wonderful horses.  I guess they are doing the same thing I did when I was starting to follow TBs in the 60's: reading about Hyperion and Nasrullah and Native Dancer and, not knowing anything about them, learning about greatness.  Please keep up the history lessons so the newbies can understand about is old codgers!

07 Jul 2014 2:00 PM
Steve Haskin

Sara, unfortunately, my photos from Longchamp are buried somewhere in my garage and my photos of her at Hagyard Farm right after her retirement are on slides and it was just too much to make prints of them. It's too bad because I got some really terrific shots of her.

07 Jul 2014 2:12 PM
Steve Haskin

Thanks all. I'm happy there are people who are enjoying reading about these two great European fillies. Returning to America and great fillies, Ruffian will be next.

07 Jul 2014 2:14 PM
sceptre

The years had dulled some of my memories of her racing days, so thanks, Steve, for this fine article. The impeccably bred Priceless Gem was a great racing talent and deserved having such a daughter as Allez France. Quite a surprise that is was Lady Winborne, rather than Allez France, who carried on the Priceless Gem line. Years ago I saw the Seattle Slew-Allez France colt in Penna's barn at Belmont. Such a disappointment, as he was a markedly bad-looking individual.  

07 Jul 2014 2:25 PM
MamaZ

Thank you for the great article on Allez France!  That is truly a name from my past.  I was able to work with the great mare when she was retired to the broodmare ranks.  She was definitely a "brute of a mare" as you described her. I don't remember her as being particularly mean or a biter, she was just very powerful, and extremely head strong. The fact that she would foal standing up was typical of her attitude.  It was if she thought lying down to foal was too sissy for her.  

Probably the most harrowing experience I ever had in a horse van was taking Allez France to the breeding shed.  They sent a couple of grooms with her just in case there was trouble.  She was in no mood to be separated from her foal that day and she managed to break chains and almost climb over the restraining bar.  Anybody traveling on New Circle Rd. that afternoon would have seen a box van pulled on the side of the road that was rocking back and forth.  Nothing like being in a small confined space with a rampaging Allez France!  When we did finally get to the breeding shed I remember seeing office staff and all kinds of personnel from the stud farm in attendance as everyone wanted to see the great Allez France.  There were jokes about her being more imposing looking than the stallion.  

I didn't know that she was buried at the KY Horse Park.  I will have to go there and visit her grave.  Thanks for writing about Allez France and introducing her to a new generation.

07 Jul 2014 2:54 PM
Steve Haskin

Great stories, MamaZ, thank you so much for sharing. I wish I had all that stuff in the story :).

07 Jul 2014 3:14 PM
dance with fate

So much vibrancy in this tale -  I can feel Allez France's strength and determination coming through. Each thoroughbred is priceless in his/herself, independent of progeny. Am so grateful for your historical pieces Mr. Haskin (Allez France's little companion was aptly named) - these stories are why racing is immortal.  

07 Jul 2014 4:11 PM
Carlos in Cali

I thought Air de France placed in the Belmont Stakes?..

Mr. Wildenstein also campaigned Steinlen, a brilliant turf Champion trained by D. Wayne Lukas.

07 Jul 2014 4:23 PM
affirmed

I found this link to Allez France's Arc, a brief video that provides a look at the stretch run.

www.youtube.com/watch

07 Jul 2014 4:25 PM
Paula Higgins

This was an article that sent me right to Youtube.com to find some of her races and sure enough, there are a couple. What an amazing horse. Talk about power. They also had one that talked about the Allez France and Dahlia rivalry. As good as Dahlia was, she was clearly no match for this incredibly strong horse. Another great article Steve that continues to educate those of us who came to the party a little bit later. Loved some of the postings by people who knew her and took care of her.

07 Jul 2014 10:17 PM
JON R

I loved that her son, Air de France, was sired by Seattle Slew, and followed him on that basis.  After a maiden win in his first start, I was a bit dumbfounded as to why they shipped him off to Dubai for a stakes race.  Anyway, didn't win and his career was over.  Allez France...loved the name, but was only slightly aware of her at the time she raced. Horses seemed much sturdier then than now; all that racing and all that traveling. She fit the bill.  

08 Jul 2014 8:16 AM
Waya

Dear Mr. Haskin. Yes, as you describe so well Allez France, I knew her very well. I was working at the D. Wildeinstein stable in Chantily and I had a chance to ride Allez France, just for a week, every one was riding her because she did not have her own rider at that time when she was just a baby and she was a difficult one, but I never forget that week. I was the groom and exercise rider of Pawneese the year later and Pawneese was a special filly also. But I never forget Allez France working in the Aigle on the turf. Angel Penna trained her to perfection. He have to make a relay of 3 horses for Allez France because no horses could stay with her in her work, so impressive.  When she came back after her work, passing every one easily, she stood in the middle of the paddock and look at every horses telling them "Did you see how good I am". She was amazing mare with a powerful personality and intelligence. As Pawneese was also, and Waya, Flying Water, etc.. these mare I ride also. And Yves St Martin, what can I say, he was the best of the best, no matter what. Even today, there is no jockey as good as Yves was. I feel so lucky to have known these amazing horses, they are in my heart for the rest of my life. Thank you Mr. Haskin for bringing these precious memories back.  Celou.

08 Jul 2014 11:04 AM
larthemisarthemis

Steve, when you wrote about Dahlia, you said she was unable to handle Allez France over the softer courses in France.  Was it also the case Allez France had trouble with the firmer courses outside of France?

08 Jul 2014 1:25 PM
peggy8

Am always trying to breed to a stallion w/Priceless Gem on his bottom side. Missed Belong to Me but did get to Commemorate. Had a gorgeous colt but he never made it to the races as he developed disposition problems when I sent him to a trainer to be sold after riding him all over our farm when he was broken.  He came home and made a great dressage horse due to his superb movement.

09 Jul 2014 9:18 AM
Abigail Anderson

Steve: What a surprise to learn that there you were, as your "toddler" you (as someone said above) buzzing around France with Peb! And to learn so much from the inside about this great mare was special for me, since I, too, am an Allez France + Dahlia + Sea-Bird groupie. Now, the fact that her buddy was also a Steve must have really made you laugh. So funny how small the world can seem sometimes. Merci, cher Steve. C'etait fantastique! (Pardon abs. of proper accents but this is an English computer...) MamaZ -- great anecdote!

09 Jul 2014 9:41 AM
billpyers

It won't be a pivotal moment in your life, but I owe you an apology. I've really enjoyed the two superb articles on Dahlia and Allez France.A fantastic era of European racing (and Americas!)

09 Jul 2014 12:09 PM
A Horsey Canuck

Steve, thank you so much for such a wonderful history lesson on Allez France. I had to wait till today to read it and I'm so glad that I did. The comments from many others who not only remembered this great mare, some even had a personal history with her. Between your pieces and Abigail's "Vault", I am getting the most wonderful education, albeit later in life. I didn't realize that my hero, Secretariat, and Allez France were the same age when they both died in 1989. Thank you Steve, MamaZ, Waya, Abigail and Affirmed (for the Youtube clip). You and everyone else who commented on this wonderful piece, have made my weekend. I can't wait for your history lesson on Ruffian, Steve. My (your) binder is bulging at the seams.

12 Jul 2014 5:59 AM
Eric Rickard

Thank you for the history. I always enjoy your your story telling. While reading the article; my wife loved my re-telling. Hope to see you at THE SPA.

What are your thoughts on California Chromes winter plans?

12 Jul 2014 3:42 PM
Numbered Account

I remember Allez France very well. She was one of my favorites and I saw her race on several times.  I well remember her dam, Priceless Gem, when she defeated Buckpasser in the Futurity. He would turn the tables on her in the Champagne. I remember seeing Dahlia win the Man O War and the guy next to me turned and said to me, since I had seen Allez France, she must be an incredible horse if Dahlia couldn't defeat her. I told him: Allez France was simply the best.

12 Jul 2014 10:20 PM

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