Every sport has its showpiece event: cycling has the Tour de France, and rugby and football have their respective World Cups. The jewel in the crown of the racing world is the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the climactic point of every racing season.
Since Comrade galloped to victory in the very first running of the race in 1920, this Parisian championship, which is held every year on the first Sunday in October, unveils the world’s best thoroughbred over a mile-and-a-half. Arguably the best thoroughbred of the year, the winner of this race might even be considered the best horse of its generation, the decade, or even the century, depending on the panache of the win and its honours list. A victory in the Arc earns the winner a place in the history books for all eternity. Half a century after the triumphs of Ribot (who won the race twice, in 1955 and 1956) and Sea Bird (winner in 1965), racing enthusiasts still compare the merits of these two champions, often described as the best horses of the last century, and ponder whether the Italian horse would have beaten the powerful French steed if they had ever raced against each other.
There is a lot more at stake in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe than the vastly-inflated purse awarded to the winner (the winner of the 2013 edition will pocket 2,742,720 Euros for its team). The victor will often be highly sought-after as a stallion (or brood mare, if female), and for good reason. In racing, yesterday’s heroes often produce the stars of tomorrow, and the winners list of this thoroughbred world championship features many illustrious relations. The 1999 winner of the Arc, Montjeu, sired Hurricane Run, who won the event 6 years later. Having taken the laurels in 1993, Urban Sea then gave birth to Sea The Stars, who won the legendary Group I race in 2009.
Though genetics is not an exact science, it nevertheless goes some way to stamping out coincidence. It helps to have luck on your side when running the Great Race, but nobody has ever won the Arc by chance. Purposefully selective, the course at Longchamp not only crowns the kings or queens of the turf on the first Sunday in October, but also the most knowledgeable racing professionals. Considered to be France’s best trainer, André Fabre has saddled 7 winners in the Parisian event. A shining example for owners in the 20th century, Marcel Boussac saw his colours triumph 6 times between 1936 and 1949.
This major event is, more often than not, won by horses trained in France, though a handful of foreign runners have managed to buck the trend in recent years (7 victories by English, Irish or German horses for 6 French wins since 2000). The list of recent victors serves to highlight the increasingly international character of the race. The Arc has been a favourite amongst the Japanese since El Condor Pasa finished second in 1999, proving that nowadays the racing elite do not hesitate to travel across the globe in order to take part in this thoroughbred world cup. After all, you cannot put a price on a place in racing legend.