With all the discussion of Curlin possibly attempting a run in the Arc, I sought out a little history of this most prestigious of races, and uncovered some fascinating information. First run in 1920, the 2,400-meter (~12 furlong) Prix de l’Arc d’Triomphe (FR-G1) was designed as a weight-for-age international turf race run to celebrate the end of World War I. With no race held in 1939-40 due to World War II, this year’s Arc will be the 87th running, and, while American-trained horses have run previously, none have won.
What really struck me is the breakdown by sex of runners—out of a total of 1446 runners, 1132 (~78%) have been colts or horses, while 314 (~22%) were fillies or mares. Note: these numbers do not distinguish between unique and repeat runners. Interesting, the Arc has been won 16 times by the fairer sex, or ~19%. Quite impressive, especially considering how many years no female runners were entered! However, between 1979 and 1983, there were five filly winners in a row, and in 1983, the top four finishers were all fillies and mares!
Looking more closely at these female Arc winners, you will find strong anecdotal evidence that supports the conjecture that successful racemares produce successful racehorses. Of course, these high-echelon mares were often bred to the best stallions, but as we’ve seen before, that formula alone doesn’t guarantee top performers. Still, the female Arc winners are a fascinating bunch.
Through his sire Smart Strike’s dam, Classy ‘n Smart, Curlin is descended from the very first female winner of the Arc, Pearl Cap (1931). She was a daughter of the Prix du Jockey Club winner Le Capucin, out of Pearl Maiden (daughter of English Jockey Club Stakes winner Phaleron). Among Pearl Cap's offspring: 1947 English Derby winner Pearl Diver; Pearl Clip, winner of the Prix de Fontainebleau; and Seed Pearl, dam of Prix de Diane winner Fine Pearl.
Four times in the 1930s female horses won the Arc, including (in addition to Pearl Cap in 1931) Samos (1935) and the 1935 runner-up Corrida who won in both 1936 and 1937. By 1942 Arc winner Djebel, Samos was the dam of Marveil, winner of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes; her daughter Sakountala produced 1955 Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Hugh Lupus. Due to the war (and a mysterious disappearance worthy of a feature film), Corrida produced only one offspring, 1945 Prix du Jockey Club winner Coaraze who also twice won the Prix d’Isphan, as well as the Prix Morny, Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, and Prix Jacques le Marois.
Good bloodlines begat winners. Coronation (1949) was the daughter of 1942 Arc winner Djebel, while 1965 Arc winner Sea Bird was the sire of filly winner Allez France (1974) who was also runner-up in the 1973 edition. Bred to Seattle Slew, Allez France birthed Air de France, a successful sire in Australia; among his progeny are 2001 G1 Australia Stakes winner Bomber Bill and 1993 G1 Queensland Derby winner Air Seattle.
San San (1972) was the daughter of champion handicap horse Bald Eagle, twice winner of the Washington DC International, as well the Suburban, Gallant Fox, Saratoga, Gulfstream Park, Widener and Metropolitan handicaps. After her Arc triumph, she was sent to Japan as a broodmare, where she produced three graded stakes-placed winners—Windsor Knot (Partholon), Storm Boy (Hard to Beat) and Sprite Passer (Meiwa Passer).
Daughter of Grand Criterium winner (and Arc runnerup) Sir Ivor, Ivanjica won the 1976 Arc, while G1 Poule d’Essai des Poulains winner Riverman sired 1981 winner Gold River, whose dam Glaueuse won the G1 Italian Derby. Through her G3 winning dam Licata, 1982 Arc winner Akiyda was a full-sister to G1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud winner Akarad, and a half-sister to G1 Prix du Jockey Club and Prix Lupin winner Acamas (Mill Reef).
These girls were also bred to the best stallions, with phenomenal results. The best example is 1980 Arc winner Detroit who, bred to Arc runner-up Sadler’s Wells, produced 1994 Arc winner (and superior stallion) Carnegie. Sadler’s Wells was also bred to 1993 Arc winner Urban Sea, producing G1 Epsom and Irish Derby winner Galileo, a name that should be, alone with Carnegie, very familar to anyone following turf racing today. Urban Sea was also the dam of G1 Diana winner My Typhoon (Giant’s Causeway), G1 Irish Oaks runner-up Melikah (Lammtarra), and G1 Gran Premio del Jockey Club E Coppa d'Oro victor Black Sam Bellamy (Sadler’s Wells).
The tradition of breeding female Arc winners to top stallions goes way back. By unbeaten (14 for 14) multiple-grade 1 (Italian Derby, Grand Prix de Paris, et al) winner Nearco, Nikellora (1945 Arc winner) birthed 1957 Prix d’Ispahan winner Chief.
Other important progeny of female Arc winners to mention: son of Three Troikas (1979), Oregon is the dam sire of G1 Brisbane Cup victress Portland Singa. Gold River (1981) is the dam of G1 Prix Saint-Alary winner Riviere D’Or and G1 Poule d’Essai des Poulains runner-up Goldneyev. All Along (1983) produced, by 1971 Arc winner Mill Reef, G1 Prix Greffulhe winner Along All.
As I mentioned, looking at this bunch, one can certainly make an argument that a well-raced mare doesn't necessarily leave her mojo on the track. And, once again, female horses can campaign quite successfully against males, even on the biggest stage of all.
Female winners of the Prix de l’Arc d’Triomphe:
1931 Pearl Cap
1953 La Sorellina
1972 San San
1074 Allez France
1979 Three Troikas
1981 Gold River
1983 All Along
1993 Urban Sea