05/06/2010 11:00PM

France lands latest blows in fracas


NEW YORK - If sport is war engaged under more civilized rules, as George Orwell has suggested, France landed a couple of broadsides against its old enemy England this past weekend, when for the first time in history French-trained horses triumphed in both the 2000 Guineas and the 1000 Guineas in the same year.

The hallowed mile classics have been run on the same weekend since the inaugural 1000 in 1814, the 2000 having been run for the first time five years earlier. On Saturday, the Mikel Delzangles-trained Makfi burst St Nicholas Abbey's bubble with a convincing 1 1/4-length victory in the 2000. Twenty-four hours later, Criquette Head-Maarek sent out Special Duty to win the 1000, although she needed the help of the stewards to put her in the winner's circle, justifiably so at the expense of Jacqueline Quest, who leaned on Special Duty through the final sixteenth in getting to the line a nose in front.

The political and military rivalry between England and France for which races like the Guineas, the Epsom Derby, and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe may be seen as sporting metaphors dates back nearly a thousand years. It began with the Norman conquest of England in 1066. Those same Normans, completely Anglicized and led by the Plantagenet family, started the Hundred Years' War in 1337 in an effort to lay claim to the French throne. English King Henry V's great victory at Agincourt was immortalized by Shakespeare, but it was a Frenchwoman, Joan of Arc, who led the decisive campaign in driving the English out of France once and for all.

From 1756 to 1763, the English and the French duked it out again in the Seven Years' War, known in America as the French and Indian War, with the English victorious this time. The French took partial revenge by helping us to overcome British rule in the American Revolution, but France wreaked havoc on Britain's psyche, if not their army and navy, under Napoleon Bonepart in the early 19th century. Until the eve of World War I, British parents would admonish their children to behave themselves, lest "Old Boney" come and gobble them up.

About a month after the 1815 Guineas, Lord Wellington introduced Napoleon to his Waterloo. The French bristled under the yoke of this humiliation until 1865, when a Thoroughbred savior appeared in the form of Gladiateur.

Bred in France by his owner, Count Frederic de Lagrange, Gladiateur became the first French horse to win either the 2000 Guineas or the Epsom Derby that year. Hailed as "The Avenger of Waterloo," he triumphantly returned to France to win the Grand Prix de Paris, then sailed back to England to complete the British Triple Crown in the St. Leger Stakes. A year later he won the Ascot Gold Cup by an imperious 40 lengths.

Admittedly, Gladiateur was trained in Newmarket by an Englishman, Tom Jennings Sr., but by then France and England had put most of their differences behind them. In fact, when the Prussians lay siege to Paris after their 1870 victory in the Franco-Prussian War, Gladiateur was whisked away from his Haras du Dangu stud to the safety of England, where he stood for the rest of his life. Buried at Dunmow Stud in Essex, east of London, his tail hangs in the Newmarket's National Horseracing Museum.

On a more serious note, the hat and sword worn by Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo hang in the German Historical Museum in Berlin, where the seeds for a closer alliance between England and France were sown, first by Kaiser Wilhelm in 1914 and later by Adolf Hitler.

Gladiateur's victory in the Epsom Derby is probably the single most game-changing event in the history of racing. as it marked the beginning of the sport's international era. No longer could the English command from on high the game they had invented with the breed they had founded. But when all is said and done, the English still dominate international racing, at least in European terms.

Since 2000, British-trained horses have won 66 Group 1 races in France, while French-trained horses have won just 24 Group 1 races in England, including Makfi and Special Duty, both of whom were bred, ironically, in Great Britain. During the same time, Ireland, which learned its racing lessons well during its long, unhappy marriage to Britain, has won 79 British Group 1's and 33 French Group 1's.

After a 1902 visit to England, Kaiser Wilhelm told his uncle King Edward VII, "As long as you have horse racing, England will never have a revolution." And he was right, in both hindsight and foresight. There hasn't been a revolution or a civil war in England since 1649. Eleven years later the rules of racing as we now know them began to be encoded at Newmarket under the Restoration King Charles II. England has been an isle of relative tranquility ever since, except when the likes of Makfi and Special Duty cross the Channel.