Top French trainer urged to target Cup next year

It's been seven years since a French horse won the Melbourne Cup but the doyenne of France's most famous racing family says the Chantilly-based Head stable might just have a candidate to take the prize next year.

Criquette Head-Maarek, the 70-year-old newly-retired matriarch of French racing, believes her brother Freddy – once one of France's leading riders, now one of it's best-known trainers – could target the $7.3 million Cup with one of his emerging stayers next year.

Criquette Head-Maarek.

Criquette Head-Maarek.Credit:Matt Roberts

The former trainer, who sent out Treve to win two Prix de l'Arc de Triomphes in succession in 2014 and 2015 (as well as Three Troikas in 1979), has made her first trip to Melbourne this week and has been hugely impressed not just by the Cup but by Flemington and the enthusiasm with which Australian racegoers support the event.

She believes her brother Freddy (who rode Three Troikas to Arc glory for her nearly 40 years ago) should aim his stayer Call The Wind at the Cup next year.

"I would love as a trainer to have had a runner in the Melbourne Cup. I still feel that way now I am retired. I will ask my brother if he will come next year," she said.

"Freddy has a son of Frankel, a horse named Call The Wind. He looks like he will make a very good stayer and he will be stronger next season.

"He is by Frankel and he won at Longchamp, a nice race on the weekend of the Arc and he is improving."

The race in question on Arc weekend was the French equivalent of the Ascot Gold Cup, the Prix du Cadran, over 4000 metres, some 800 metres longer than the Melbourne Cup.

Generally horses who run over such marathon trips might be considered too dour for the Cup, but Head is a master trainer who has won races all over the world with top class horses so her judgement must be respected.

French trainers won the Cup twice with Americain, saddled by Alain De Royer Dupre in 2010, and then Dunaden, from the Mikel Delzangles yard in 2011.

But since then there have been few French challengers as the Cup has been won by a German horse (Protectionist), an Irish horse (Rekindling) and an English galloper (Cross Counter this year).

The race that Call The Wind won was his third victory in succession in an autumn in which he has improved considerably. Well beaten that day at Longchamp was Max Dynamite, who has twice been placed in the Melbourne Cup (behind Prince of Penzance in 2015 and Rekindling in 2017).

The Head family are French racing aristocracy and have always been amongst the leaders on the Paris turf. Originally from England (the patriarch William moved to France in 1850), between them Criquette's grandfather, Willy, her father Alec, her brother and herself have won the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, perhaps Europe's greatest race, on 12 occasions.

It's not quite the same as Bart Cummings' 12 Melbourne Cups, but for her, brother Freddy winning one would be an excellent start.

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