The story of the first Arc Winner

30th September 2015

As the Clarehaven Stable prepares an “Arc” challenge Tony Lake recalls the very first one from that yard...


An Arc winner for 25 Guineas

Trainer Peter Purcell Gilpin landed such a touch when Clarehaven won the 1900 Cesarewitch that he could afford to develop his recently purchased Newmarket stables. The resulting Bury Road yard, fittingly named “Clarehaven”, has housed champions ever since, including Comrade who won the inaugural Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Sunday, 3 October, 1920.

At the Newmarket sales in 1918, a black yearling colt from Ludwig Neumann's stud, sired by Bachelor's Double out of Sourabaya by Spearmint, was so unappealing that he did not attract a bid. As a last resort the auctioneer asked for 25 guineas and PP Gilpin nodded. Within months, under Gilpin's care, the racehorse now named Comrade blossomed. As a two-year-old he lived up to expectations and romped home on his début at Newmarket, by four lengths under “Skeets” Martin, before following-up with two more convincing victories, at Lingfield and Sandown. Sent back to the sales at Park Paddocks, surprisingly he failed to reach his 11,500 guineas reserve. Gilpin, however, later persuaded one of his owners, Monsieur Evremond de Saint-Alary, to purchase a half-share in him for around £10,000.

At three, Comrade won the Paradise Plate at Hurst Park (under Arthur Smith) over a mile and a quarter and the Trial Stakes at Royal Ascot (with Frank Bullock) over an extended seven furlongs before contesting the Grand Prix de Paris. Europe's premier international race was over 3000 metres (1 mile 7 furlongs) and many questioned Comrade's stamina. Better fancied were his stable companion and Derby winner in record time Spion Kop, Sourbier the impressive Prix de Jockey Club winner and mount of Joe Childs, and Charlebelle winner of the Oaks with “Snowy” Whalley. Reports suggest that the other jockeys were so intent on crowding Steve Donoghue on Spion Kop that Bullock had a clear run on Comrade. Coming with an irresistible late challenge, Bullock pipped Embry and Sourbier with “the far from unconsidered at 10/1 second string”.

In the post-race analysis, many thought Childs rode a poor race whilst others formed the opinion that second placed Embry would be able to turn the tables in the “Arc”. That view gathered momentum in September when Gustave Wattinne's three-year-old won the Prix Royal Oak and seemed to be progressing. On “Arc” day, George Bellhouse's mount was third choice with the punters at 11/4.

Coupled favourites at 2/1 were Monsieur A Eknayan's pair, Cid Campéador and Pleurs. Cid Campéador had been the leading French two-year-old in 1919 and looked impressive when winning the Prix du Prince d'Orange, his prep race for the “Arc”. He would benefit from being partnered by George Stern, Europe's leading jockey. Pleurs, well beaten in the Grand Prix but a recent winner at Deauville, was the mount of E Bouillon.

Two fillies were fancied to take advantage of the 1 ½ kilo sex-allowance, Flowershop and Meddlesome Maid. The former, owned by Baron Edouard de Rothschild, although beaten in the Grand Prix had won the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches and the Prix de Diane; the latter, owned by Mr AK Macomber, had beaten Flowershop convincingly in the Prix Vermeille.

Thirteen runners went to post for the Société d'Encouragement's autumn highlight and Comrade started at 34/10. In the race, Frank Bullock was always in control and had the race sewn up a long way out. He won as he liked by a length with unconsidered King's Cross finishing second and Pleurs third. Over the French season M de Saint-Alary won no less than 503,750 Fr in prize money. What's remarkable is that the Grand Prix de Paris and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe were the only two flat races in which his maroon and yellow silks were seen.

Cid Campéador and Meddlesome Maid suffered troubled passages but connections did not offer plausible excuses. Meddlesome Maid, however, did win the valuable Prix du Conseil Municipal a week later, which franked the form. Three days after that though Comrade, still unbeaten and going for his seventh consecutive victory, was turned over by ten-furlong specialist Orpheus in the Champion Stakes at Newmarket, although he did finish clear of Spion Kop.

Comrade was kept in training as a four-year-old with the Gold Cup as his target. Unsuited by the hard going and tenderly ridden by Joe Childs he finished well behind the Frank Bullock partnered Periostrum. He was retired to his owner’s stud soon after. The horse that was the best of his generation was somewhat of a disappointment as a stallion with Bonny Boy, winner of the Ascot Stakes and Ebor Handicap, being the best of his off-spring. Nevertheless when he died in 1928 his place in history was already secure: not only was he the first English trained winner of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe but the very first winner of the great race. He is also Clarehaven's only “Arc” winner but perhaps Mr Gosden is about to rectify that...