The Arc and the Head family a match made in racing heaven

Paris (AFP) –


The 100th running of iconic race the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe takes place next Sunday at Longchamp with the Head family indelibly linked to its rich history.

Their name first appeared on the roll call of honour with William training the first of his two winners in 1947, his son Alec trained four and grand daughter Criquette won it three times as a trainer.

Gilding the Head family lily Criquette's brother Freddy rode three of those winners Bon Mot (1966), Ivanjica (1976) and Three Troikas (1979).

Freddy won four in all -- he rode San San to victory in 1972 for trainer Angel Penna -- in the race named in honour of the Allied Forces' triumphal march beneath Paris's famous monument the Arc de Triomphe following World War I.

The suitably named Comrade -- trained in England -- won the first running in 1920 with just a two year hiatus in 1939-40 due to World War II although it resumed in 1941 despite the Nazi regime's occupation of France.

"It is without doubt the greatest race, always has been," Freddy Head told AFP by phone from his stables in Chantilly north of Paris.

"The race was always talked about in the family as I was growing up.

"Even more so as my grandfather had trained the winner in the year I was born (Le Paillon 1947) as had my father (Alec's first winner Nuccio 1952) so for us it was very important.

"I was fed memories of the race from its inception as both my grandfather and father had seen the runnings before the war and would talk about the great horses that had won it."

- 'Surely unique' -

For Head, though, there is no debate about which of his quartet of victors stands out.

"The first win on Bon Mot is the greatest memory of my life in racing," he said.

"Winning the Arc de Triomphe aged 19 on a horse trained by my grandfather William in what was only my second ride in the race was such a thrilling experience.

"It all fell right in that he needed soft ground and it rained the whole of Saturday."

Head says there might be other prestigious races in France -- the Grand Prix de Paris, the Prix du Jockey Club (Derby) and Prix de Diane (Oaks) -- but only the Arc changes one's life.

"Winning the Arc as a jockey the next day people look at you differently they see you as a different jockey," he said.

"For you your career starts the next day afresh."

Bon Mot may be his greatest memory but in terms of the classiest of the quartet it is his last Three Troikas that shines the brightest in terms of talent.

Her win too was a truly family affair as aside from Criquette training her, Freddy wore their mother Ghislaine's colours.

"Three Troikas was a really great racehorse maybe the best I ever rode as she won from a mile (the French 1000 Guineas) to a mile and a half (the Arc)," he said.

"She won the Arc really easily that day.

"It was a great thrill jumping off to have ridden the winner, trained by one's sister, owned by one's mother and bought by our father.

Freddy Head (centre), with sister Criquette (2nd left) and father Alec (5th left) after Three Troikas' Arc win
Freddy Head (centre), with sister Criquette (2nd left) and father Alec (5th left) after Three Troikas' Arc win STF AFP

"That is surely unique."

Freddy has forged a highly successful career as a trainer since hanging up his riding boots but the Arc is the prize that has eluded the 74-year-old so far.

"As a trainer I would love to win it as it is the race to win.

"It is on my to do list of course."

Criquette's success in the race as a trainer has not sparked jealousy but pride especially when she won two in a row (2013/14) with Treve.

"Ah that was fantastic for our stud (they bred Treve) it was truly a great moment," he said.

"Treve was really special."

Freddy may be advancing in years and Criquette now retired but the Head family's association with the Arc is far from over.

Freddy's son Christopher is training with some success and his daughter Victoria has applied for a training licence.

"Two Heads are better than one after all," chuckles Freddy.