10/04/2013 3:16PM

Jay Hovdey: Arc winners are like fallen souffle in BC Turf

Laurel photo
All Along, shown winning the 1983 D.C. International, won that year's Arc and then came back the following year to finish a close second in the inaugural Breeders' Cup Turf.

There are any number of ways to irritate a Parisian you might encounter sipping an espresso and smoking a Gauloise in a boulevard café. Use the wrong fork. Order in English. Say anything in English. Misquote Sartre. Mock Jerry Lewis.

But if you really want to watch their Gallic blood boil (in Celsius, no less), try suggesting that the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, first run in 1920, is just another prep race for the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

There was a time a case could be made. These days, however, the Arc de Triomphe has become a prize so great that all European roads seem to lead in the direction of Longchamp on the first Sunday in October. This Sunday will be no different, with the field led by Japan’s superstar Orfevre, King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner Novellist, Prince of Wales winner Al Kazeem, Epsom Derby winner Ruler of The World, St. Leger winner Leading Light, and the unbeaten French filly Treve.

Every school child knows that the richest Thoroughbred race in all creation is the $10 million Dubai World Cup at a mile and a quarter on Meydan’s synthetic main track. But can they name the second richest? It’s the Arc de Triomphe.

In terms of history, the 1 1/2-mile Arc is tough to top, especially with winners like Mill Reef, Sea-Bird, Allez France, and Ribot, who won it twice.

Since 2008 the Arc has been sponsored by the Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club. The purse is 4 million euros, which this week converts to 6.5 million U.S. dollars. The 2013 Japan Cup is offering a purse of $5.7 million. The Melbourne Cup is worth $5.6 million, then comes the Dubai Sheema Classic, Dubai Duty Free, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, each with purses of $5 million.

At $3 million, the Breeders’ Cup Turf just barely competes, and suffers further by being surrounded on the calendar. In addition to the Arc, the Japan Cup, and the Hong Kong Cup, the Turf, to be run this year on Nov. 2, is crowded by the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot, worth $2 million. The Champion runs on Oct. 19.

Since 2008 the only Arc winner to ship for the Breeders’ Cup Turf was Workforce, in 2010, and he was scratched because of the condition of the Churchill Downs course. This is a far cry from the early history of the Turf.

All Along, winner of the 1983 Arc on her way to North American Horse of the Year, finished third in the French race in 1984, then made the trip to California for the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Turf at Hollywood Park. She was beaten a neck by her French compatriot, Lashkari. It should be noted that between the two starts All Along stopped by Woodbine to run fourth in the Rothmans.

Patrick Biancone trained All Along to be North American Horse of the Year in 1983, when her record included victories in the Rothmans, Turf Classic, and D.C. International, as well as the Arc.

“We kept her in training because the Breeders’ Cup was beginning the following year, with the hope of winning the Turf,” Biancone noted. “She wasn’t as good at five as she was at four, but she was still very good.”

He pointed out that success in the Turf does not naturally follow success in the Arc.

“They are two very tough races in a row, sometimes only three weeks apart,” Biancone said. “In tennis, just because you win at Roland Garros does not mean you can win the U.S. Open as well.”

In 1986 the BC Turf attracted Dancing Brave, hailed at the time as the best horse European racing had produced since, like, forever. The 3-year-old colt had just dusted a legendary Arc field and was odds-on to handle the best the U.S. could muster at Santa Anita. He finished fourth behind Manila, Theatrical, and Estrapade.

One year later, Arc winner Trempolino descended upon Hollywood Park for the Breeders’ Cup Turf. A field of 14 ran, and he beat them all except for the New York-based Theatrical.

After watching All Along, Trempolino, and Dancing Brave fail in the first four years of the Breeders’ Cup, Europeans began referring to the BC Turf as “an afterthought” for hard-used Arc runners, tempted only by the filthy lucre offered in America. But who could blame them? At the time, the BC Turf was worth $2 million, while the Arc de Triomphe was worth about half that amount well into the 1990s.

In 1990, Arc winner Saumarez was at Belmont Park for the Breeders’ Cup, but he was upstaged in the Turf by Arc fourth-place finisher In the Wings. In 1992, Subotica won a tough battle in the Arc against User Friendly, then shipped across the pond to finish fifth in the Turf four weeks later at Gulfstream Park.

A harsh message had become clear: The winner of Europe’s greatest race was nowhere near a lock in the upstart American event. Then they stopped coming.

Between 1993 and 2007 only one reigning winner of the Arc de Triomphe appeared at the Breeders’ Cup. That was 2001 Arc champion Sakhee, who finished a nose back of Tiznow in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on the Belmont Park dirt. During that stretch, four Arc winners showed up a year later for the Breeders’ Cup, but their luck was no better. Carnegie was third, Montjeu seventh, Bago fourth, and Hurricane Run was sixth. It would not be until 2007 before another Arc winner jumped from Paris to grace the Breeders’ Cup Turf, when the redoubtable Dylan Thomas sunk to fifth in the Monmouth Park mire.

Whether or not any runners, let alone the winner, will come out of Sunday’s Arc to compete at Santa Anita one month later remains to be seen. Last year there were only three Europeans in the Breeders’ Cup Turf field of 12 and two of them – defending champ St Nicholas Abbey and Shareta – came out of poor efforts in the Arc. St Nicholas Abbey was a close third to Little Mike and Point of Entry that day, so perhaps the Arc wasn’t such a bad prep after all.