Sunday, October 05, 2008

Zarkava in l'Arc: Unbeaten Filly's Domination Continues As She Captures World's Richest Race

The sacred victory and the mystique of horse racing, French style: this intro to the 2007 l'Arc personifies the confidence the French have that this is THE horse race to win. They might be right! And in true French style, they will celebrate the domination today of one of the world's greatest racehorses, the filly Zarkava.

If you needed an excuse to splurge on a bottle of French champagne, you can justify it tonight: the incredible filly Zarkava has demolished an international field of turf superstars in France's Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. The filly has won everything in Europe, or so it seems; the Arc was her fifth Group One stakes win.

Zarkava is owned by HH. The Aga Khan, who doesn't even need the $6,243,600 prize money. He both bred and races the filly and said after the victory, "No decision has been made yet concerning her future career. She will not run in the Breeders’ Cup. Today is the apogĂ©e for a breeding operation which dates back 90 years and for five generations of my family. I am really amazed by my filly."

The filly won from the #1 post position, and didn't break well. She ran an amazing come-from-behind race over the grueling 12 furlongs. Her trainer withheld the decision of whether she would run or not until the afternoon, so that the condition of the track could be assessed.

Why the concern? First of all, the inside post position meant that she would break over the most cutup section of the track, and it had also rained during the night.

Second, the filly has a racing style somewhat like Big Brown's, with an off-on switch controlling a superhero-like surge of ground-eating speed. That means that she likes firm ground, so she can skim over the surface without using her energy to pull her feet out of the ground with each stride. Remember that grass racing (and all racing in France) is done with totally flat shoes. In the USA, rain on race day often means switching a turf race to dirt; in France, they don't have that option, so the trainers watch the weather and the tracks have a system for rating the condition of the track.

What might have been: We can only wonder. Earlier this summer, American superstar Curlin was being aimed to race against the filly in The Arc, but his career on grass was short, and he went back to the dirt. Now he is being switched again, this time to Cushion Ride, the newly-installed artificial surface at California's Santa Anita racetrack. If he likes it (how do you tell without a race?), he'll take on leading three-year-old Big Brown in the Breeders Cup Classic on October 25.

A cadre of European invaders are expected at Santa Anita to take on Curlin and other top American horses. Many grass horses (almost all racing in Europe is on grass) switch well to artificial surfaces, but rarely dominate when switched to dirt.

Zarkava is not expected to make the trip to the Breeders Cup, but there's hope for next year, since she is only three years old.

You can watch videos of the race on, but the voiceovers seem to all be in Japanese, since there was a Japanese horse in the race. The effect, however, is the same in any language: Zarkava is incredible!

Note: This year, it is remarkable that two of the leading horses in the world are both fillies, both are undefeated, and both have names starting with the letter "Z". We have Zenyatta racing in the USA and headed for the Breeders Cup in 18 days, and Zarkava in Europe.

© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing. No use without permission. This post was originally published on October 4, 2008 at

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