Merci Madame Head-Maarek

News today that French training legend Criquette Head-Maarek is to retire in a few days time, aged 69.

What a stellar career. Some have called her the leading female trainer in the world, and it is hard to argue with that. Three Arcs, firstly with Three Troikas in 1979, beating among others Troy, the Derby winner, and then memorably with the super filly Treve, ridden by Thierry Jarnet, who won brilliantly in 2013 when easily beating Japanese dual runner up Orfevre, and then again in 2014 when she got that dream run on the inside to beat Flintshire and Tagroodha.

Three Arcs on any trainer’s CV would elevate them into the very highest echelons. But it wasn’t just at Longchamp in October that Madame Head won at the highest level. In Britain, she won four British classics (all in the 1,000 Guineas strangely enough), and a Champion Stakes with one of those Guineas winners Hatoof, Interestingly, watching the video, it reminds you of the days when C4 employed two commentators at Newmarket, typically Raleigh Gilbert until about the 4f mark when he handed over to Graham Goode. You don’t see anything like that these days. Head-Maarek also won four Cheveley Park Starks, a Racing Post Trophy, a Coronation Stakes and a July Cup, with Anabaa in 1996.

In France she pretty much won the lot. The brilliant Bering won the Prix du Jockey Club in 1986. He was the horse who came with that late run to win the Arc later that year, only to be beaten by an even later run from Dancing Brave in one of most remarkable Arcs of them all. Her touch with fillies was further demonstrated by three wins in the Prix De Diane and no fewer than seven in the Poule D’Essai des Pouliches (1,000 Guineas); with just the one, maybe fortuitous success, in the Poulains (2,000 Guineas) when American Post took advantage of Antonius Pius diving towards the rails and hampering another horse. Still a win’s a win, right? and it is American Post’s name in the record books.

The Head family have dominated French racing for so long, going back several generations. Criquette’s father Alec was a top trainer and remains one of the foremost breeders, owning the Haras du Quesnay (which is run by Criquette’s sister Martine). Of course, her brother Freddie was a top jockey and remains a top trainer. What is not so clear is whether there are any little Heads coming behind, though Criquette’s daughter Patricia is married to another Arc winning trainer Carlos Laffon-Parias.

So it is au revoir Criquette, et merci. What a career. She will be remembered for so many great horses, and big race wins, but probably most of all Treve, not only home bred but a truly wonderful filly.

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