'Some horses just give up when they have to fight problems – Treve doesn't'
In an interview first published on Tuesday, May 26, 2016, Scott Burton spends a day with Criquette Head-Maarek as she prepares for Treve's reappearance at five
With the sun barely an hour out of bed, Treve stands patiently in a clearing behind the famous galloping expanse of Les Aigles.
While the dual Arc heroine is briefly distracted by the attentions of a gelded hack belonging to head lad Pascal Galoche, outwardly she gives little sign she has just been put through her most searching examination before her return at Saint-Cloud on Friday.
With Thierry Jarnet back on board for the first time this year, Criquette Head-Maarek has thrown four galloping companions at Treve and asked the rider not to be sparing in his urgings.
“She’s incredible, you would never know she only worked 20 minutes ago – she’s hardly breathing at all,” says Head-Maarek.
Tuesday is traditionally the day Chantilly’s horse masters and mistresses take to the turf for some serious work, and Thursday is no different for Head-Maarek, who also gives a serious spin to Group 1 winner Full Mast and will gallop Epicuris on Les Aigles during second lot.
It is merely the start of a typically busy day for the seemingly unstoppable Head-Maarek. She will later ahve three runners at Longchamp, including belated debutant and long-time talking horse Clariden, before heading across the Bois de Boulogne for a soiree to launch next month’s Prix de Diane Longines.
But for now all eyes are on Treve, who has so recently dispatched her galloping companions in a manner that those gathered will never tire of seeing.
“I’ve got nothing who can go with her,” admits Head-Maarek. “I end up burning horses and I put different horses in front of her. When a horse goes through like that at the end of a gallop, it’s tough on them. It’s tough on them at the end of a race as well. We say it cuts their legs and in a way it’s true.”
On her first serious tour of Les Aigles seven days earlier, Treve had pulled hard as her pacemakers struggled to engage a sufficiently high gear.
Today she is much more composed, some of the fizz definitely dissipated. But after the physical trials that preceded last October’s phoenix-like revival at Longchamp – notably a long-term issue with her feet that may have contributed to an arthritic back diagnosed after her defeat to The Fugue at Royal Ascot – it is the fluidity of her movement that impresses both trainer and jockey.
She says: “Thierry said she was very well and had a lovely action, he liked her very much. I told him to be careful this morning because she is used to us and she stops. I said ‘Please pick her up and tell her to go on’. If you let her do what she wants, as soon as she goes past us, she knows the gallop is over. She is five years old and she has been here for years, she knows all the tricks.”
The very fact Treve’s owner, Sheikh Joaan Al Thani, is prepared to embark on this historic third Arc campaign is testament to the skill with which Head-Maarek has managed Treve’s physical issues.
Few who saw her brittle, scratchy gait at Ascot, or her apparently tame effort when going down to a filly she had thrashed by nearly 20 lengths previously in the Prix Vermeille last September, could have entertained thoughts that Treve was prepared to go on.
“Some horses, when they have to fight problems like that, they just give up. She doesn’t give up anything. She’s incredibly strong in her mind, but in a good way. She doesn’t care, she gets over everything,” says her trainer.
“Her action was terrible at Ascot. But still, for me, she ran a very good race when you consider what was wrong with her. If the race had been over further then she would have been very close because she was coming back at the end. They caught her for speed but then she was coming back.”
Preparing for a third Arc
If Head-Maarek spent nearly a whole season in 2014 first discovering, and then attempting to manage, Treve’s physical ailments, the temptation to put that acquired knowledge to further use proved too much.
Not that keeping going was a new thought. Head-Maarek told a rapt audience of journalists in the hour that followed Treve’s scorching four-length success in the Diane of 2013 that “if we look after her she could race on”.
After the briefest of retirements last autumn, Treve left super-stallion Dubawi at the altar, and those closest to her began plotting how best to get her back to the Arc in 2015.
First stop was the Head family’s Normandy stronghold, the Haras du Quesnay.
Head-Maarek says: “She was turned out from eight in the morning until 12 and then two till four with another friend. She was full of joy, galloping all day. It did her good and it did her back a lot of good as well. I do that a lot with my two-year-olds, I send them back. It’s a good way to do it. What would she do here through the winter? Hacking, with weight on her back? It’s better to be turned out with no weight, on the grass. She looked beautiful.”
A familiar refrain in each of the first two Arc campaigns has been her trainer’s insistence that Treve really blossomed in the three weeks between the Vermeille and the big race itself.
That being the case and with only one real objective back at Longchamp, why not keep her on the farm instead of putting more miles on the clock in Friday’s Prix Corrida and the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud?
Head-Maarek laughs at the prospect of leaving her warrior queen on the sidelines until the Vermeille.
“It’s fun to try. She is definitely better in the autumn but if she is well, why not try to run her? I mean four races a year, it’s not much. It will be her tenth race in four years, she hasn’t been overused! That’s why I thought she could do it. But I will still tell you she is better in September and October, like a lot of fillies,” she says.
“A race is a race and for her the Corrida will be the first of the year, so we won’t burn her out. She’ll do whatever she can. If she wins it’s okay and if she doesn’t it’s okay too. The target is the Arc. The Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud is a great race and that’s why I’d like to go there, where she will be running over her right trip. At 2,100 metres [1m2½f], the Corrida is a little short for her.”
The next potential star
One name that cropped up on several occasions last autumn while watching Head-Maarek’s string on Les Aigles was that of Clariden, a two-year-old from the same Juddmonte intake that also provided Full Mast and Epicuris.
As those two climbed the ladder, their trainer was frequently at pains to point out ‘the third man’.
A combination of niggling issues and the onset of sodden ground – seemingly almost as soon as Treve had passed the post in the Arc – meant no debut at two.
Mentions of Clariden became rarer during the spring, although his appearance among the entries for the Arc earlier this month hinted his trainer had kept the faith.
Six hours after Treve’s gallop, Clariden’s appearance in the Longchamp paddock ahead of the opening 1m3f maiden confirms that, on looks at least, it has been worth the wait.
After a muddling first mile Maxime Guyon finds himself behind a wall of beautifully bred middle-distance horseflesh suddenly being asked to do their best impressions of sprinters.
But from what Head-Maarek has seen in the mornings back in Chantilly, Clariden has the gears to extricate himself from trouble. He angles first right and then left before easing past his last two rivals to score by a cosy short neck.
With the Head family box directly above the press balcony, the debrief can begin in the lift going down to Longchamp’s storied winner’s enclosure.
“At two he was always part of my best three horses along with Full Mast and Epicuris but I always had small problems with him, sore shins and the like,” she tells her captive audience before expanding for the waiting television crew.
“I didn’t enjoy watching his progress up the finishing straight but I knew he had enough speed to be able to get across and out in the clear. They didn’t go fast and nearly everything that could go wrong did go wrong but the main thing is he did it anyway. I will take it slowly with him because I think he is going to make a good horse for the end of the year.”
Later she employs a phrase that is among the most useful in French racing parlance, but one that defies exact translation.
But when she says Clariden has fait un truc, she adds the English approximation for emphasis. “He is a good horse and he really did something there.”
First lady of French racing
Garnering volunteers among racing’s elite for glitzy evenings in Paris when work begins so early back in Chantilly is not an easy task for France Galop’s event organisers, even if racing that afternoon has been very much in the neighbourhood.
Last season’s winning Diane jockey Gregory Benoist has accepted the invitation from Longines, along with virtually every writer and broadcaster to cross the threshold at Longchamp.
Now clad in a third outfit of the day, Head-Maarek is wearing several hats this evening: Diane-winning trainer, president of the trainers’ association and member of the governing body’s administrative council.
At the age of 66, with a bout with cancer in the rearview mirror and with Treve keeping her in the public eye, Chantilly’s first lady appears, if anything, to be speeding up.
During the next seven days she will go on to attend the Cravache d’Or awards (where she announces Treve is to have her own website and Twitter handle: @FollowTreve), welcome members of Arqana’s newest Bering Syndicate to the yard, as well as keep up with the ever-expanding demands made by the media when appearing on Equidia’s hour-long debate programme Turf Club.
This morning she will be hosting a media visit to Treve’s last piece of work, to be followed by a press conference (by no means unheard of in Britain and Ireland, such events are as rare as dual Arc winners in France).
“I don’t mind being busy, I can fix anything,” she says. “And I’m very well supported with the trainers’ association. I’m not the only one and the trainers around me help a lot. As the president you don’t do as much!”
One task that shares equal billing with maintaining her position among Europe’s training elite is that of managing the nursery of future talent at Le Quesnay developed by her father Alec.
“I go racing most days whether I have runners or not. And I always go to Le Quesnay one day a week when there is no racing, with Freddy if I can. We have to run the show there so we had better take care of it. It’s part of my job and for me it’s not a problem.”
For all the claims of delegation, the house that Criquette built must be a good place to work, judged by the length of service among her assistants.
Charley Rossi has set up on his own this season after ten years with Head-Maarek, while Rupert Pritchard-Gordon occupied the same post for nine seasons before him (“I have to fire them in the end!” she jokes).
Christopher Head has taken over the role from Rossi, having assisted his father Freddy for seven years before jumping over the wall to gain a different perspective with his aunt.
Having worked with Goldikova, Moonlight Cloud and the like, Head jnr is able to cast a fresh eye on this year’s version of Treve.
He says: “She had a lot of problems last year but she behaves like she never had them. She is incredible like that and she is generous because most horses who have problems and get hurt, they don’t come back on the track the way she has. She doesn’t care what happens, she is just as good as she was at three.”
It might be too soon in their working relationship to push Christopher into commenting on his new boss. But you suspect the sentiments would be near identical.
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