08/02/2010 5:11PM

Jacques Le Marois has grand history


NEW YORK – The most refreshing race meeting in the world began on France’s Normandy coast Friday, when Deauville opened its doors for the first of 19 days of racing, the highlight of which will be Goldikova’s defense of her Prix Jacques Le Marois title Aug. 15.
With the sandy beaches and cool waters of the English Channel less than a mile away and a second racecourse a mile up the road at Clairefontaine, which has nine days of August racing, Deauville is a racegoer’s paradise. The Prix Jacques Le Marois, which will be worth $780,000 this year, is arguably the best one-mile race in the world and the most informative Breeders’ Cup trial run anywhere outside of the United States, maybe anywhere.
Named for the man who was president of the Societe des Courses de Deauville for 10 years until his death in 1920, the Prix Jacques Le Marois had its inaugural running a year later. The 1972 renewal ushered the race into the international big time; it was won by Lyphard, a Pennsylvania-bred son of Northern Dancer who would sire Arc winners Dancing Brave and Three Troikas as well as champion American turf horse Manila.
The 1978 winner, Kenmare, was one of the first outstanding shuttle stallions. Sold by Baron Guy de Rothschild to Arrowfield for $6 million in 1987, he was Australia’s leading sire of 2-year-olds three times. He was also champion French sire twice and the sire of Highest Honor, who was a champion French sire twice.
A year later, the race was won by Irish River, the son of Riverman. Subsequently bought by John Gaines to stand at Gainesway Farm, Irish River sired the likes of Hatoof, a two-time champion in France and the 1994 Eclipse Award winner as best turf female in America. Irish River was also the sire of American turf champion Paradise Creek, but he has been even more successful as a broodmare sire, counting Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Arcangues among his grandchildren.
The Head family has had a long and lucrative relationship with the Jacques Le Marois. Lyphard was ridden by Freddie and trained by his father, Alec. The first of Freddie’s record six winners as a jockey came in 1967 with Carabella, who was trained by his grandfather William. Father Alec had won the first of his three Marois winners in 1956 with the Aly Khan’s Buisson Ardent.
But no trainer has won the race more often than Francois Boutin, the great French conditioner. Boutin was successful seven times, from 1974 with Nonoalco to 1994 with East of the Moon. In 1987 and 1988, he gave Freddie Head a leg up on the victorious Miesque, who, incidentally, was the dam of East of the Moon. Those two runnings began the Jacques Le Marois’s remarkable connection with the Breeders’ Cup; Miesque would go on to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile in each of those years. In 1992, Hector Protector won the Jacques Le Marois with Freddie Head aboard again, but he was mysteriously balloted out of the Mile by Cup handicappers, prompting an irate Boutin to proclaim, “They don’t know what they’re doing.”
Spinning World followed his second Jacques Le Marois triumph with a victory in the 1997 Mile at Hollywood, a year after he finished second to Da Hoss in the Mile at Woodbine. Taiki Shuttle added an Eastern flavor to the Jacques Le Marois in 1998 by winning it for Japan.
Perhaps the most notable Jacques Le Marois winner in the last 30 years is Dubai Millennium. Rated by some as the best Thoroughbred in recent memory, he won the race in 1999 and was preparing for a 2000 defense of his title when he suffered a career-ending injury.
The Jacques Le Marois isn’t just a pointer to the Breeders’ Cup Mile, as Banks Hill proved in 2002, when she used it as a stepping-stone to victory in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Fillies have won three of the last eight runnings, making it one of many European races that have proved fillies and mares can compete on an equal footing with males. Six Perfections did just that in 2003, when she followed her Jacques Le Marois victory with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Mile 10 weeks later. All told, six Jacques Le Marois winners have gone on to win Breeders’ Cup races.
Goldikova has carried on the Head family tradition in the Marois − her trainer is Freddie Head. The two-time winner of the Breeders’ Cup Mile, Goldikova will use Sunday’s Prix Rothschild as a prep for a defense of her Jacques Le Marois title. If all goes well at Deauville this month, she will prep for an unprecedented third triumph in the Mile in the seven-furlong, Group 1 Prix de la Foret at Longchamp on Arc Day, Oct. 3. Every member of the Head family and most of the tightly knit French racing community at Deauville will be firmly in her corner throughout her latest Westward Ho! odyssey.