It was the fall of 1980. My wife and I were in Paris on our honeymoon, which we scheduled to coincide with the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. One of the horses I was excited to see was the Head family’s magnificent homebred filly Three Troikas, who had captured the previous year’s Arc in impressive fashion, racing in the name of Alec Head’s wife, Ghislaine.
Three Troikas was trained by Alec and Ghislaine’s 32-year-old daughter Christianne, better known as Criquette, who had only taken out her trainer’s license the year before winning the Arc, becoming the first female to train the winner of Europe’s most prestigious race. Riding Three Troikas to victory at Longchamp was Criquette’s brother Freddy, making it a family sweep.
Trying to become the first filly to win back-to-back Arcs since Corrida in 1936-37, Three Troikas ran a terrific race in 1980, battling to the wire with the top-class Argument and Ela-Mana-Mou only to be passed late by another filly, Detroit, who was bred and raised by the Heads’ Societe Aland before being sold as a foal to Robert Sangster. Three Troikas fought hard, finishing fourth, beaten three-quarters of a length, while just missing second by a nose and a neck. The time of 2:28 established a new Arc record.
Following the Arc and a week in Paris (including Versailles, Malmaison, and Fontainebleau), we took a train down to Toulouse, where we rented a car and drove over 1,000 miles through the St. Emilion wine country, the historic city of Poitiers, Tours and the Loire Valley chateaus, and finishing up at the D-Day sites of Normandy before heading back to Paris and Orly Airport.
In 1997, my wife and I returned to Paris for a second honeymoon, this time taking our then 13-year-old daughter Mandy, and staying in the same small boutique hotel we stayed at 17 years earlier on our honeymoon. I actually was on assignment covering the Arc for the Daily Racing Form. With my daily featured stories written in advance, my actual time working each day was approximately 10 minutes, the time it took to check with the International Racing Bureau after a day of sightseeing to see if there was anything newsworthy and then sending my story.
One of our day trips was a visit to Chantilly, where we were hosted by Criquette Head, with whom we spent the morning on the training gallops before visiting her yard, where she posed for photos with Mandy and some of her top horses and couldn’t have been a more gracious host.
So, here we are 18 years later, and Criquette Head-Maarek will be saddling her super mare Treve on Sunday in an attempt to become the first horse (male or female) ever to win three runnings of the Arc de Triomphe. Treve not only has won the last two Arcs, she has dominated her opponents each time. With nine victories in 12 career starts, including the French Oaks, Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, and two editions of the Prix Vermeille, Treve has amassed earnings of over $9.1 million, while averaging nearly 3 1/2 lengths a victory; a huge average margin in Europe.
Treve was bred by the Head family’s Haras du Quesnay, which had been purchased at the turn of the 20th century by American investor William Kissam Vanderbilt. From 1906 to 1919, Vanderbilt won the French Derby four times. When he died in 1920, the farm was taken over by another American, Arthur Kingsley Macomber, who captured the Arc de Triomphe with Parth in 1923. Abandoned during World War II, the farm was acquired in 1958 by William Head and his sons Alec and Peter. In 1961, the first group I winner, named Le Fabuleux, was born on the farm. Many more would follow.
There was nothing special about their filly by Motivator – Trevise, by Anabaa who was born in 2010 and sold at public auction as a weanling. There was such little response for the filly, she was bought back for a mere $30,540 and eventually turned over to Criquette Head, racing in the name of Haras du Quesnay.
“She didn’t make her reserve, because she was by Motivator, and he was not a very fancied horse at the time,” Head said. “He was standing in England, but they didn’t like him very much. Physically, she was a nice filly, but she just didn’t interest anyone at the sale. They thought she was too light, so we kept her. My dad bred her, and at the time of the sale we didn’t know if she was going to be a good horse, but there were a lot of nice things about her. She had a nice frame and very good shoulder, so we decided not to sell her at that price. There was an underbidder; someone did bid on her, so the opportunity was there to buy her.”
When Head began training Treve at 2, she knew immediately she had something special.
“She showed very quickly she had a lot of ability,” she said. “When we started working her as a 2-year-old, she was the best I had in my yard by far. I had no horses who could go with that turn of foot that she showed. I took my time to run her, because she wasn’t a very strong filly as a 2-year-old. Even though I took my time with her, she always showed a lot of class.”
What made it easier was Treve’s great disposition. She did everything she was asked and did it in a professional manner.
“She’s always been very very easy to train,” Head said. “She’s never given me any problems. She has a wonderful temperament. She’s a real racehorse. She likes to run, she likes a lot of speed, and she has that tremendous turn of foot.”
I remember Three Troikas as being a big strong filly who could dominate her opponents, as she demonstrated winning the group I Arc de Triomphe, French 1,000 Guineas, Prix Vermeille, Prix Saint-Alary, group II Prix d’Harcourt, and group III Prix Vanteaux, while finishing second in the French Oaks, Prix Ganay, and Prix du Prince d’Orange, and third in the Prix Dollar. And of course her excellent fourth in the Arc.
As good as Three Troikas was and as overpowering as she was in the Arc, defeating 4-5 favorite Troy, the seven-length English Derby winner and winner of the Irish Derby, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and Benson and Hedges Gold Cup, Criquette Head believes she is not in the class of Treve.
“Three Troikas was a magnificent filly, but Treve is something else,” she said.
Treve easily won her first three career starts, racing for Haras du Quesnay, romping by four lengths in the French Oaks. Following that race, Treve was sold privately to Sheikh Joann al Thani, who races under the name of Al Shaqab Racing.
In her first start for her new owner, Treve drew off to a 1 3/4-length score in the Prix Vermeille under new jockey Frankie Dettori, who had replaced Head’s main rider Thierry Jarnet. Sent off at odds of 9-2 in the Arc de Triomphe, Treve put on an amazing display of acceleration, demolishing her 16 opponents by five lengths with Jarnet back aboard following an injury to Dettori. Finishing second was former Japanese Horse of the Year Orfevre, who had finished second by a neck in the previous year’s Arc and had prepped for the 2013 Arc by romping in the Prix Foy. Also in the beaten field was English Derby winner Ruler of the World from the powerful Ballydoyle stable.
Treve’s margin of victory was the largest since 2001, and the only three horses who won by a bigger margin were Ribot, Sea-Bird, and Sakhee, who all won by six lengths.
Following her Arc victory, Treve was sidelined by nearly seven months, and when she returned there was a question whether she was the same filly who had dazzled everyone at Longchamp.
In her first start back, with Dettori up, she was beaten a neck in the Prix Ganay by the top-class Cirrus des Aigles, which was certainly no disgrace. But when she could do no better than third at 3-5 in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, there was talk that the filly had lost her form.
“She had a foot problem and that’s why she couldn’t perform at her best during that time,” Head said. “It took me quite a while to bring her back, because the foot had to grow back. I kept telling Sheikh Joann not to rule out the Arc, because she was coming back to her best. Sometimes you have problems with a horse, but the quality is still there. You deal with the problem and the horse comes back to their best.
“I’ve had some good fillies over the years, and when they go from 3 to 4, there’s no problem; they’re usually just as good as they were at 3. This was the case with her, except for the foot problem. She was always a great fighter and she never lost that fighting spirit. You put a horse in front of her and she goes for it.
“Dettori had an accident the week before the Arc and broke his foot, so he was not able to ride her in the Arc. I asked Sheikh Joann to put back my regular jockey, Thierry Jarnet, because he rode her as a 2-year-old and won the French Oaks with her. I told Sheikh Joann he fits her very well. When Dettori rode her again, she was beaten in the Prix Ganay by Cirrus des Aigles, who is a very good horse. And then we went to England for the Prince of Wales’s Stakes and she was very stiff, and Dettori didn’t like the way she ran. He was a bit critical of her and I got a little upset by that. I thought Thierry Jarnet actually got along better with her, because she can pull very hard sometimes, and I felt Thierry knew her so well and I asked Sheikh Joann to put Thierry back on her. He agreed with me and said yes.”
With Jarnet back aboard, Treve finished a close fourth in the Prix Vermeille at odds of 2-5, and many felt she had little shot of rebounding in the Arc. But Head was confident the real Treve would emerge again in the Arc.
Following the Vermeille, Head told the Racing Post, “I think she ran a good race and we don't have to rule her out for the moment. I need to speak to Sheikh Joaan. She needed the race. She was shorter in her action; she didn't kick like she did in the Arc last year. But knowing she has had feet problems, don’t rule her out of the Arc.”
Several days later, Head said, “"She is fine and she hasn't lost any weight. This morning she went out and she was rolling in the paddock and eating grass, she looks great. We’ll see tomorrow and the day after when she goes out on the track, but first impressions are that she looks well. I spoke to Sheikh Joaan and for the moment there is no change in the plan.”
It was Treve’s final work for the Arc that convinced Head she was back in top form.
“I really have the impression she has come on a lot for her last run,” she said. “Today she showed she has rediscovered a big part of her powers. It’s good to see as we approach the big day. She worked really well and I told Thierry to let her roll. She was moving brilliantly when she came past us. Obviously it’s satisfying that Thierry finds her to be in such good shape. A lot of work has gone into it and the objective has always been to make her a double Arc winner.”
As Head said recently, “We had finally gotten her over her foot problem and her back problem and everything was back to normal. The quality was still there and she showed it by winning the Arc again very impressively.”
In the Arc, Treve, totally ignored in the betting at 14-1, once again demonstrated her amazing turn of foot by accelerating away from her field to win by two lengths over Grand Prix de Paris winner Flintshire, who would go on to finish second in a photo in the Breeders’ Cup Turf and win the Hong Kong Vase, Dubai Sheema Classic, and Sword Dancer Stakes at Saratoga. Finishing third in the Arc was Taghrooda, easy winner of the English Oaks and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Also in the field was Al Kazeem, winner of the group I Coral Eclipse Stakes, Prince of Wales’s Stakes, and Tattersalls Gold Cup.
Treve’s final time of 2:26 flat was the fifth fastest Arc ever run in the race’s 95-year history.
Following the Arc, it was announced, as expected, that Treve would be retired, and it therefore came as a bit of a shock when those plans were changed to let Treve have a crack at an unprecedented third Arc victory.
Harry Herbert, racing adviser to Sheikh Joann, told the Racing Post, “It is very exciting and a decision very much taken by Sheikh Joaan with Criquette. She will now attempt to bring off the treble. Seeing how well she was after the race, the sheikh went back to talk to his family and with Criquette. She knows this filly like the back of her hand and if there was a chance for Treve to prove she was one of the greatest mares of all time by winning three Arcs then why not let her do so.
"She will miss a year of breeding, whatever happens. If there is any hint of it not going well or if she is any way not right, she will stop immediately. She loves her racing and training, is in very good shape, and carries a massive fan base. I think it is a phenomenal thing, an unusual situation, and very sporting.”
Treve, now 5, returned with a vengeance, winning the group II Prix Corrida by four lengths, the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud by 1 1/4 lengths over Flintshire, and romping in the Prix Vermeille by six lengths.
“She hasn’t done anything wrong this year, with three wins in three races,” Head said. “She beat Flintshire again in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and her last win in the Prix Vermeille was very impressive.
“She’s been working very well since her last race, and will have a stronger work on Tuesday morning (Sept. 29) with a lead horse just as a little pipe opener. She looks beautiful physically, and for me, she’s physically stronger than ever. We’ll put a pacemaker in the Arc.”
Head indicated the horse to beat could be the Andre Fabre-trained, Juddmonte Farms-owned 3-year-old New Bay, winner of the French Derby and a recent winner of the Prix Niel by 2 1/2 lengths.
“New Bay is a very good horse,” Head said. “It would be incredible if she could pull off a triple.”
Whether she does or not, Treve has a free ticket, having virtually come out of retirement in an attempt to make history. She has already established herself as one of the greatest fillies of all time, and her explosive victories against Europe’s best males and females will be remembered for many years to come.