Solemia - Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe
Solemia - Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe

Solemia wins the 2012 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe from Orfevre

(Photo : Irish Times)


Longchamp, Turf, 2400m

7 October 2012

All sorts of statements have followed in the wake of Sunday’s shock outcome to Europe’s most famous horserace, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Gr.1). Some of them have to do with breeding, others with talents, and others with the preservation of value, but they all point to the intricacies that keep us bewitched with the sport.

Firstly, the race was an acknowledgement of the value of old fashioned private breeding programmes, and it is something of a lament that so many of these great entities have rather quickly disappeared as features of the international breeding scene. For centuries past, the sport of racing was a contest between men and women whose primary interest lay in victory, not in the commercial spoils of their enterprises. Within the last century, we recall the names of Lord Derby and the “first” Aga Khan, the Frenchman Boussac, the Italian Tesio, the Americans Phipps, Hancock and Calumet Farm, and South Africa’s Oppenheimers and the Ellises of our own Hartford. Latterly though, the cost of maintaining these establishments has made fossils of the bulk of them, and there are now just a handful around the world who still have the luxury of maintaining their operations. In France there are just two major private breeding operations left, one belonging to the art magnates, the Wildensteins, and the other the Wertheimers, who’ve made their dough with Chanel.

Sunday’s Arc winner, Solemia is a salute to the Wertheimer’s perseverance, coming as she does from a family they’ve kept the faith with since the 50s, and whose real eminence came initially in the form of the French 2000 Guineas hero, Green Dancer, a successful sire first in France and then inevitably for those days, at Gainesway Farm in the United States. This family bowed not once on Sunday, but twice, as the same female line produced the heroine of the Two-Year-Old fillies Group One, the Prix Marcel Boussac in the form of Silasol. Solemia is one of six Stakes winners of her “Blue Hen” mother, the Shirley Heights mare, Brooklyn’s Dance, who in turn is the grandmother of the juvenile ace. It is also the family that gave us the excellent English Derby winner, Authorized, who has a very attractive filly in next month’s Emperors Palace Ready to Run Sale.

As for the Arc itself, the big disappointment was obviously Camelot, who had appeared earlier in the year to be the only horse with any pretence at rivalling the great Frankel, if only their aptitudes would slot into the same kilometre. He was unbeaten until his failed attempt at becoming Britain’s first Triple Crown winner in 42 years, and now he’s flopped in the Arc, inexplicably for a horse whose forte’ was his “juice” in the closing stages of a race. He was beautifully poised just off the pace as they turned for home, but when Frankie Dettori pressed the button, he simply came up empty. That hasn’t deterred his trainer, Aidan O’Brien, who insists he remains ‘the best horse he’s ever trained’, and that’s saying something when they include Galileo, Giant’s Causeway, Henrythenavigator, Dylan Thomas, Duke Of Marmalade and Rip Van Winkel. Let’s not forget though: it even happened to Nijinsky, who after winning the Triple Crown, collapsed in the Arc and again in the Champion Stakes.

But there was another horse in the race whose performance suggested he was something special, and that was the Japanese-bred and owned Orfevre, like our own Admire Main, a descendant of Sunday Silence. There was no lack of gas when he put his head down in the straight, obliterating the best Europe could offer in a matter of strides. In the event, he was caught in the last 50 metres, but that didn’t discourage his champion rider, Christophe Soumillion, from proclaiming him “the best horse I’ve ever ridden. Once I had the lead, no-one could’ve imagined we’d be beaten. The horses overconfidence defeated him and 50 metres from the line, I saw I’d have difficulty getting him going again. I hope he will run against Frankel in the Champion Stakes or else in the Japan Cup”. Brave words, but you can’t take them lightly, because Soumillion has thrown his leg over a few in his time.