The most gigantic equine combat of all time"—such was the billing given by the French press to this week's 35th renewal of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, run over a mile and a half on the Longchamp track in Paris, but the description turned out to be no more accurate than it was modest. Between the bottom of the 2,300-foot stretch and the winning post there was no combat at all. Ribot, the Italian super-horse, was all on his own, and the official margin of his victory—six lengths—was meaningless as an indication of his superiority.
The Arc de Triomphe is just about Europe's biggest race. A weight-for-age event for 3-year-olds and upward, it was this year worth about $125,000 in prize money. Its habitual international flavor was heightened by the presence of five foreign competitors: the great Italian, two Anglo-Irish colts, and two Americans. Although Ribot, who won this race last year, attracted most respect, it was C. V. (Sonny) Whitney's entry, Career Boy and Fisherman, which stirred the most interest. Not since the Kentucky Derby winner, Omaha, was beaten in the 1936 Ascot Gold Cup, has the U.S. made a serious bid to win a European classic.
The French had a double reason for welcoming Whitney's gesture. They recognized in it a sporting reflection of Europe's recently established tradition of sending good horses over to race in the International invitation event at Laurel, and they also saw in the publicity, which the Arc de Triomphe would get on both sides of the Atlantic, a means of making further inroads into the American buyers' market—for which they are in bitter competition with British and Irish bloodstock.
The American contingent—composed of Whitney himself, Racing Manager Ivor Balding, Trainer Syl Veitch and Jockeys Eddie Arcaro and Sam Boulmetis—evidently considered the trip a venture in high sporting diplomacy. Their urbanity at all times—at the receptions where they were wined and welcomed by the dukes and viscounts who manage French racing—was almost painful. Arcaro, wearing a conservative dark suit and holding a caviar sandwich in two fingers of his left hand, could have been mistaken for a First Secretary at the embassy.
The day before the big race, Eddie and Sam were both given French mounts in several races—a courteous gesture designed to familiarize them with the peculiarities of the Longchamp track. It gave the habitué of Belmont and Jamaica something of a shock to recognize the familiar and prominent features of The Master in these Parisian surroundings. The feeling of unreality was heightened on noticing the genial smiles which wreathed those features as Eddie rode around the paddock, so different from the stony dourness with which he usually accepts the mingled hoots and applause in New York.
Arcaro had no success at all. In his very first race on French soil, Eddie fell from his horse as the barrier went up, and took no further part in the contest. In fairness, it must be emphasized that Arcaro and Boulmetis had serious handicaps to overcome. Neither had ridden in Paris before. They had to race in a clockwise direction and over a course which undulated (in the European tradition of making horses run over terrain which is as close to nature as safety permits).
The day of the big race dawned cold and wet. The turf was yielding and slippery. The huge Paris crowd (estimated at 100,000) made Ribot an overwhelming 3 to 5 favorite. When the money had come in from the off-track mutuels, strategically situated in bistros all over France, the Whitney entry was on offer at 24 to 1. Second choice in the 20-horse field was Marcel Boussac's filly, Apollonia.
The start was excellent. Syl Veitch had told French reporters that each of the Whitney horses would run his own race, but Sam Boulmetis shot out of the gate with Fisherman and immediately opened up a three-length lead, setting the pace for Career Boy as. he had done in the United Nations Handicap at Atlantic City last month. Ribot was in third place, and Career Boy in the middle of the pack.
Fisherman held the lead down the steep right-hand turn into the straightaway, where he vanished into the ruck. Up to this point, Ribot's Italian jockey, Enrico Camici, had been almost motionless. Now, without touching his rein, he shook up his horse. As if some button had been pressed to set in motion a marvelous mechanism, the small, stocky Ribot seemed to double his pace. He opened up a vast amount of daylight between himself and the field. Talgo, the Irish Derby winner and a 100 to 1 shot, made a gallant effort along the rail which left him a clear second, but he never got on terms of discussion with the Italian. Behind Talgo, in a fury of whips, two French colts fought for third place, and near the winning post they were joined by Career Boy, whom Arcaro brought on with a long and impressive run on the outside. Sliding into the last turn, which he took very wide, Career Boy lost a lot of valuable ground. Otherwise, he would have been third, perhaps second. As it was, the photo showed him fourth at the wire, a short head behind Francois Dupre's Tanerko.
Arcaro got a fine hand as he returned to the scales, but, of course, the cheers were for Ribot. Thousands of Italians danced in delight, brandished salami sandwiches and charged to the bars to celebrate in champagne.
This was Ribot's 16th victory in as many starts over three years of racing. His co-owners, the Marchese Incisa Della Rochetta and Donna Lydia Tesio (widow of his breeder), took a great risk in running their horse for a second time in a race he had already won once, and so soon before his scheduled retirement. Defeat might have slashed a quarter of a million dollars off his marketable value. There is no way of guessing how much Ribot is worth, but after the race European breeders were estimating it at around $2¼ million.
It was turf history in the making which we witnessed at Longchamp this week. Ribot is surely one of the horses of the century and will be so judged in European annals. Yet Donna Tesio, whose late husband was a breeding genius, says she has a 2-year-old who might be as good as Ribot. The name, for your notes: Grigoresco.