Danedream win Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe
Danedream win Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe

Danedream - Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe

(Photo : Racing Post)


Longchamp, Turf, 2400m

2 October 2011

There is a strong belief among horsemen that a good colt will generally beat a good filly, and that is probably a statistically fair pronouncement. The one race that gives the lie to it though, is the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, where fillies (or mares) have had a disproportionate influence over the outcome. There have been periods in the great race’s history (and particularly in the last forty years) where fillies have been the dominant force, and there have been some outstanding performers among them. In a space of eleven years (1972 -1983) eight fillies reigned, and it’s worth repeating their names here: San San (1972); Alez France (1974); Ivaniica (1976); Three Troikas (1979); Detroit (1980); Gold River (1981); Akiyda (1982); All Along (1983).

In Paris on Sunday, the dominance of the fillies over some formidable colts (all with current strong form) was complete, with fillies filling the first three places, Danedream, Shareta and Snow Fairy, leaving the likes of So You Think, Workforce, St Nicholas Abbey and Treasure Beach trailing behind. The winner silenced a massive crowd with a five length romp in the fastest time in history (2m 24,49s). Given that they’ve always made up a slender minority of the field, the results beg more questions than answers.

What is it that has brought this about, and why should it apply particularly to a race which has been run on the first Sunday in October since 1920, and which for most of its earliest renewals, was almost exclusively the domain of the colts. Some will attribute the underperformance of the colts to the rigours of a long season, to their having gone “over the top”, and they will quickly point to the demise of the great Nijinsky as evidence of this (though he was beaten by a colt, Sassafras). A lone excuse though, is like the single swallow that doesn’t make a summer, so there must be something altogether more logical to explain it.

Surely the achievements of the victorious fillies of the recent past should not be demeaned by a statement of “overwork” on the part of the colt, as telling as that may be in some cases? Perhaps it is the time of year when the fillies blossom and the colts time clocks are beginning to think of winter: perhaps it’s the fact that the weight-for-sex scale, which grants the fillies some 3,5 lbs (subject to wfa) in the form of an allowance against the colts, is “narrower” at this time of year (in much the same way as the weight-for-age allowance closes between the older and younger horses towards the end of the season, according to the calculations of an eccentric Englishman, Admiral Rous, who formulated the scale as long ago as 1860). Now that’s a measure that has stood the test of time.

The latter explanation is just simply a mirror image of the first, and that is that the fillies are in a relatively better place at this time of year in Europe, than they are at other times. It may be a matter of preparation, and the fact that the fillies, and in particular the French fillies, have not been asked as many questions during the season as their male counterparts, and have been spared and prepared especially for the Arc. That will take some examining, and is a story for another day. It’s noteworthy though, that of the eight winners in the golden era between 1972 and 1983, seven were trained in France.

Meanwhile, Emperors Palace Ready To Run Cup “watchers” lamented the two kilogram weight spread between the colts and the fillies for our R2 million race on the first Saturday in November, and the calls, though muted these days, were for the two to be split. The record tells us otherwise, with the spoils evenly divided in the first four runnings, two to the colts, two to the fillies, which suggests the handicappers might have got that one right.