With a family history steeped in the magic of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Criquette Head-Maarek is better placed than most to pass judgement on this year’s renewal at ParisLongchamp.
Head-Maarek’s father, Alec, won the great race four times, as did brother Freddy in the saddle, grandfather William struck twice and she herself managed three victories – once with Three Troikas in 1979 and then back-to-back with the magnificent Treve in 2013 and 2014.
Many of the family’s successes came with fillies, and with Enable and Sea Of Class dominating the betting, the odds suggest the female division will hold sway once more this weekend.
The Classic generation have a magnificent record in the race – but Head-Maarek says there is no substitute for the experience of the older horses.
“It looks a fascinating clash between the fillies, but I would never discount Monsieur (Andre) Fabre,” Head-Maarek said.
“The fillies, especially the three-year-olds, are at an advantage because of the weight they receive, for sure, but they are also maturing by this stage of the season. At this time of year they have their minds on the job.
“It has not been easy for Enable this year with her injury, just like it wasn’t for us with Treve when she won it the second time.
“She had been beaten at Ascot and in the Vermeille, but I’d been happy with her run in the trial and knew before the race that she was coming back to her best.”
Head-Maarek added: “She’d had problems with her feet, but I knew she was over them after the Vermeille and people were asking why we were running her again.
“Even though the three-year-olds get the weight, the extra experience the four-year-olds have counts for a lot.
“Treve was just an incredible racehorse. I’ve been lucky to have trained some top-class fillies in all my years, but nothing like her – she had that turn of foot, over any distance.”
While Treve became the seventh dual winner of the Arc, no horse has ever won Europe’s showpiece event on three occasions, and despite a flawless preparation, a third win proved beyond even her.
“Going for the third Arc, she was better than ever, she’d won everything that year, but the pace was slow and Thierry (Jarnet) pulled her back. Looking back, I wish he’d ridden her closer, but Frankie Dettori did his own thing on Golden Horn,” said Head-Maarek.
“I’m not saying she would have won, but she would have been a lot closer. They just didn’t go fast enough for her. It’s hard to make so much ground up when they go slow. But that’s racing.
“History has proved how difficult it is to win the race three times, nobody has done it. The Arc is always a difficult race to win, even when people say it doesn’t look strong.”
With this year’s race in mind, Head-Maarek raises a slight concern about Enable only being able to have the one run this season, and that came on the all-weather at Kempton – although she did dispose of a top-class rival in Crystal Ocean with ease.
“For me, Enable was impressive when she won the other day, it’s unusual to see an Arc horse win her prep race on Polytrack, but there is a question mark, her second race after a long time off, you just don’t know,” she said.
“Fabre’s horse who won the Prix Foy, Waldgeist – he is a big danger, he’s a very nice horse. He’s the one, I think.
“It’s a very open race, I’m not sure there should be an even-money favourite. Sea Of Class has been impressive, but as yet I’m not sure who she’s beaten.”