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Sparkman: Acceleration rules the Arc meeting
Near the end of the backstretch in the 1964 Kentucky Derby, jockey Bill Hartack extricated Northern Dancer from a trap set by Bill Shoemaker on favored Hill Rise and asked his colt to accelerate. The response was instantaneous, and Northern Dancer poached a four-length advantage on Hill Rise, even though Shoemaker desperately had asked the bigger colt for more run to keep Northern Dancer in a pocket.
That instantaneous acceleration won the race for Northern Dancer. Hill Rise eventually got his long legs organized and closed to within a neck at the wire, but Northern Dancer’s ability to go from cruising to full-out sprint in a stride or two was the difference between first and second. More importantly in the long run, perhaps no stallion in history – certainly no stallion in the second half of the 20th century – passed on the ability to accelerate on demand to his offspring and their descendants more reliably than Northern Dancer.
That ability was on full display last weekend at Longchamp’s two-day Arc meeting, particularly in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and in the roughly seven-furlong Prix de la Foret. In the Arc last year, Treve, a fourth-generation male-line descendant of Northern Dancer as shown in the accompanying chart, was drawn wide and never could navigate over to the rail, traveling farther than any other horse, but she used her fantastic acceleration to sprint past the field in the final two furlongs for a five-length win.
With a better draw this year, jockey Thierry Jarnet was able to secure a ground-saving position on the rail and simply waited for the field to spread out across the wide Longchamp home straight, as it always does, in order to use Treve’s superior speed. Although she eventually won by two lengths, Treve probably needed that inside trip this year, since her season has been plagued by muscle and foot problems, and she clearly was not quite as good in 2014 as she was last year.
In fact, the first five home in the Arc – Treve, Flintshire, Taghrooda, Kingston Hill, and Dolniya – were all male-line descendants of Northern Dancer, and the first three all were by Northern Dancer-line sires out of mares by Northern Dancer-line sires. Treve, by Motivator, is out of Trevise, by Anabaa, by Danzig, from the great family founded by the Tulyar mare Margarethen, dam of Treve’s champion fourth dam, Trillion, by Hail to Reason, and tail-female ancestress of additional champions, highweights, and/or classic winners Moonlight Cloud, Triptych, Generous, Tamarisk, Bullish Luck, and Landseer.
Treve is a half-sister to the stakes winner Trois Rois, by Hernando, and her winning dam, Trevise, by Anabaa, is a full sister to Tsigane, winner of the Wicker Handicap at Del Mar and third in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile. Her second dam, Trevillari, by Riverman, was a full sister to the Group 1 winner Treble and closely related to Trillion’s champion daughter, Triptych.
Treve’s sire, Motivator, was the first of four Epsom Derby winners sired by the late, great Montjeu, the best racing son Sadler’s Wells, who led England and/or Ireland’s sire list 14 times. Winner of the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy at 2, Motivator captured the Group 2 Dante Stakes in his first start at 3 before his triumph at Epsom. In his only subsequent starts, he finished second to Oratorio in the Group 1 Eclipse and Group 1 Irish Champion and an honorable fifth, beaten 4 1/4 lengths by Hurricane Run, in the Arc.
He has been only moderately successful as a stallion, with Treve the best of 23 stakes winners from 354 foals age 3 and up (6.5 percent). He also has sired the Group 1 winner Ridasiyna (out of Ridafa, by Darshaan) and now stands at the Head family’s Haras du Quesnay, the birthplace of Treve.
In the Prix de la Foret, about an hour after Treve’s emotional comeback win in the Arc, Olympic Glory dashed through some of the world’s best sprinter-milers like a Ferrari brushing aside a swarm of go-karts. A long way last through the first half of the Foret, jockey Frankie Dettori found himself trapped behind a wall of horses, still about 10 lengths behind the leader Noozhoh Canarias with less than three furlongs remaining, needing the seas to part to find a way through. Part they did, and Olympic Glory swept past the field to draw clear in the final 100 yards and win by a widening two lengths.
Olympic Glory is from the other main European branch of the Northern Dancer line, descending from Danzig through Danehill, Danehill Dancer, and Choisir, the horse who put Danehill Dancer on the map internationally. Bred in Australia out of Great Selection, by Lunchtime, Choisir earned champion 2-year-old male honors and captured the Group 1 Lightning Stakes at 3 before stunning European racegoers with dominant, front-running victories in the five-furlong Group 2 King’s Stand Stakes and six-furlong Group 1 Golden Jubilee Stakes at the Royal Ascot meeting in 2003.
Choisir finished second to the brilliant Oasis Dream in the Group 1 July Cup in his only other English start and has been a successful sire in both Europe and Australia since his retirement. In a busy career as a stallion, he has sired 66 stakes winners from 1,581 foals age 3 and up, headed by another Australian champion and Royal Ascot winner, Starspangledbanner (Gold Anthem, by Made of Gold), Olympic Glory, a Group 1 winner at 2, 3, and 4, and Group 1/Grade 1 winners Sacred Choice, Obviously, Historian, Kushadasi, and Choice Bro.
Olympic Glory also descends from a famous female family, although recent generations have been far less productive than Treve’s first two dams. Olympic Glory is the only stakes winner from nine foals out of his dam, Acidanthera, by Alzao, and there is no black type under his second dam, Amaranthus, by Shirley Heights. His third dam, Amaranda, by Bold Lad, was a very fast filly, winner of the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes at 2, and a member of the great family descending from Olympic Glory’s seventh dam, Horama, by Panorama, ancestress of champions, highweights, and/or classic winners Sovereign, Lacquer, Teenoso, Favoletta, Rule of Law, Sir Percy, Give Thanks, Harayir, and Ela Romara.
High Chaparral generally is considered the third-best son of Sadler’s Wells, both on the racecourse and at stud, but he was the only stallion to sire two group winners at the Arc meeting. His daughter, Frine (Castalia, by Cardoun), won the Group 2 Prix de Royallieu, and his son, High Jinx (Leonara, by Surumu), led all the way under a marvelous ride by Ryan Moore to win the Group 1 Prix du Cadran over about 2 1/2 miles.
The only non-Northern Dancer winners were Auvray, by Le Havre, a great-grandson of Blushing Groom; Fractional, by Manduro, by the savior of the Blandford line (at least temporarily) Monsun; and Full Mast, by Mizzen Mast, a male-line descendant of Caro. Interestingly, two of those winners, Fractional and Full Mast, won by disqualification after the winners on merit, Cirrus des Aigles and Gleneagles, respectively, ran afoul of the French stewards’ habitually strict interpretation of the rules of racing. Cirrus des Aigles appeared to be particularly hard done by, since his interference was all but invisible and bothered only a horse who clearly was beaten within 50 yards of the winning post.
Gleneagles’ disqualification for a similar but more obvious foul in the Group 1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere deprived the world’s best sire, Galileo, and his grandsire, Northern Dancer, of a sweep of the Group 1 races for juveniles, since his daughter Found was an impressive victor in the fillies’ equivalent, the Group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac.
For the second year in a row, American-breds were very thin on the ground at Longchamp. Only eight of the 131 runners in the 11 Group 1 and 2 races over the two days carried the U.S.A. suffix, and the only winner was Full Mast, by Mizzen Mast, who was bred at Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms in Lexington, Ky. Moviesta, by Darley’s Hard Spun, bred in Kentucky by John D. Gunther, finished third in the Group 1 Prix de l’Abbaye.
European racing always has been more of a showcase for horses with superior acceleration than has American racing. Particularly on dirt, the first quarter-mile of an American race at comparable distances often is run two seconds faster than a European race on turf of comparable class. Conversely, the final quarter-mile often is two seconds faster in the European race.
In that kind of environment, it is no wonder the descendants of Northern Dancer have an advantage.