Zarkava's triumph brings a new high for Aga Khan - 2008-10-06
The Aga Khan spoke of history and heritage after Zarkava's outstanding victory in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe here yesterday, of the five generations of his family, in India and Europe, who had worked towards this moment of triumph. The course announcer was more direct. "Quelle pouliche!", he shouted, as the crowd streamed back towards the winner's enclosure. "Quelle pouliche! Extraordinaire!"
What a filly indeed. Zarkava tore through the field in the final two furlongs to finish two lengths clear of Youmzain, and she was worth every inch and more. She is now unbeaten after seven races, including five at Group One level, and the sole cause for regret is that she seems unlikely to race on any further.
Just as she had in the Prix Vermeille over the same course and distance three weeks earlier, Zarkava had to win from an unpromising position. There was no repeat of the dawdling start in the Vermeille that prompted concerns about her attitude, though there did seem to be a brief reluctance to follow the field as they set off around Longchamp.
Christophe Soumillon soon had her settled, though, and he kept Zarkava racing quietly and smoothly until the top of the straight. She then cruised towards the front and got a perfect split to quicken ahead, three wide, as Richard Hills, on Youmzain, found his path blocked for a moment as he tried to give chase.
Youmzain, second to Dylan Thomas in last year's Arc, eventually found room and did well to get past three opponents in the last 100 yards. He was no match for Zarkava, though, and she was easing down before the line as Soumillon started to celebrate success. Soldier Of Fortune, in a dead-heat for third with It's Gino, did best of Aidan O'Brien's team, as Duke Of Marmalade, previously unbeaten this season, faded to finish seventh.
Soumillon had thrown his helmet and his whip into the crowd by the time he returned for a flying dismount. Zarkava, supposedly a highly strung filly, seemed the calmest creature in the enclosure as dozens of photographers jostled for a shot and the flash-guns started to fire.
Unbeaten Arc winners are a rarity, as are three-year-old fillies with the talent to beat both the colts and the best from earlier generations. Put the two together and you have an irresistible package, but one that the Aga is likely to remove to the paddocks without further ado.
Zarkava will not be travelling to Santa Anita for the Breeders' Cup later this month and, while she is 3-1 with Hill's for next year's Arc, she must be at least twice that price to see a racecourse again.
"My family has been breeding racehorses for five generations," the Aga said. "Two generations in India and three in Europe, and I believe this moment is the apogee of that effort.
"This is one of the most important moments in my life. I'm not just a racehorse owner and breeder, I have many other responsibilities, but in the racing world, with all that my family has done, I really feel this is one of the most important times we have lived through.
"We were worried about the draw [in stall one, on the inside] and we didn't give any instructions to Christophe, because when you have a draw like that you have to leave it up to the jockey, and he knows the filly. No decision has been made yet concerning her future career, but she will not run in the Breeders' Cup."
The confirmed absence of Zarkava from Santa Anita has left Soldier Of Fortune as the favourite for the Turf with Hill's on 4-1, though the likely fast ground is an obvious concern. Youmzain, 5-1 from 12-1, was the main mover after yesterday's race.
Soumillon, a crowd-pleaser both in the race and afterwards, seemed to enjoy his second victory in the Arc even more than the first, on Dalakhani five years ago.
"She gave me the same extraordinary sensation that I had with Dalakhani, he's the only one that would have been able to challenge her for victory today," Soumillon said. "They are the two horses of my life. They will be engraved in everyone's memory for ever, and especially in mine.
"I always said that I thought I would win the Arc with her, but we needed a good run of the race, which is never guaranteed. We got a passage through the field at a crucial moment in the race when there was a lot of movement. She's a real jewel, a filly with such class that we are unlikely to see the same quality for 25 or 30 years."
For Alain de Royer-Dupré, too, this was a second win the Arc. "Today we have seen the confirmation that she is really out of the ordinary," the trainer said. "She has a very fluid way of moving and an ease of acceleration in just a couple of strides which is incredible. I have never seen her in difficulty."
Zarkava's racing career may well be history now, but the memory of her perfect record, and yesterday's victory in particular, will endure. Quelle pouliche.
Filly joins the greats
As the superlatives flow for Zarkava, comparisons will inevitably be made with the great fillies of the modern era.
She is the first filly since Allez France to win the French 1,000 Guineas, Oaks and Prix Vermeille in the same season, and she has trumped the Wildenstein legend by winning the Arc as a three-year-old. Allez France returned to win the race the following year, having finished second to Rheingold in the 1973 Arc.
It will be a shame if we have seen the last of Zarkava, but it seems unlikely such a prized addition to the Aga Khan's huge bloodstock operation will be risked again. Brilliant but with a hint of temperament, Zarkava has never been tested outside France.
Miesque, another great French filly, proved her class at three and four years, and was the first back-to-back winner at the Breeders' Cup, with consecutive victories in the Mile in 1987/88.
Zarkava's winning time of 2m28.80s was the slowest of the last five Arcs, but her dazzling turn of foot will ensure she is remembered as one of the best winners of the great race.