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Thursday, 13 December, 2018

Head-Maarek was unbelievably generous with her time but had a fierce will to win

Scott Burton on the soon-to-retire trainer who charms people and horses

Criquette Head-Maarek on a work morning in Chantilly
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Some people who work in this sport are intuitively brilliant around horses but have an almost compensatory lack of skill when it comes to dealing with people.

Others can manage the 101 daily human interactions, small and large, with disarming humour or gregarious charm, but lack that real eye for the way a horse uses itself.

Criquette Head-Maarek has both traits in abundance and a morning on the gallops with her in Chantilly is to watch her excelling at each task simultaneously.

Horses from Criquette Head-Maarek's string exercise in the forest of Chantilly
This is when the serious work is done, yet there is always a group of friends and relatives as well as other sundry horse industry people – journalists, owners, agents – each one expecting that special personal moment (or three hours).

Not one of them ever leaves disappointed. Criquette loves people and has an almost missionary zeal to share her knowledge and her time.

There is frequently laughter and always lively conversation, as well as the grinding engine noise of her 'motorised hack', a golf cart-cum-tractor she bought after a skiing accident forced a double knee replacement on her. But the work is being done.

The moments on a Tuesday morning when the horses are put through their fast work are sacred, gaze cast to the horizon to relay the same lessons learned at the foot of her father more than 50 years ago. 

So too are the walk back down the sand track which borders Les Aigles, the exchanges with the riders and the warm-down.

Even at the height of Treve-mania, when the numbers swelled and the mission to explain brought her more and more into contact with non-racing folk, there were always those few minutes in the centre of the collecting ring, moving between the horses as they stood and picked at the grass, talking with her head lad Pascal Galoche.

Nobody needed to panic, everyone would get their moment or ten. The miracle is that she ever gets any time for herself.

The little details of the great days at Longchamp and elsewhere remain etched on the memory. The Head family box was just above the press balcony in the old sixties grandstand and you always knew if Treve was within hailing distance of victory; up would go the cries of "Allez Thierry" or "Titi”, her pet name for the dual Arc heroine.

When Treve waltzed away with first the Diane and then the Arc, the emotions were readily on display for all to see: Chantilly the usually articulate trainer was almost completely lost for words; after her dismissal of Orfevre and Intello by a yawning five lengths, she hugged her father Alec and then shook her fists in triumph.

Maybe she had doubted she would get another true champion. Head-Maarek is unbelievably generous with her time, but do not doubt her indomitable will to win.

That will stood her in great stead the following year when a great deal went wrong only for it to come gloriously right on the day that mattered most.

Alec Head and his daughter Criquette Head-Maarek after Treve's historic second win in the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe
Her post-race press conference was streaked with the defiance which was born, not out of any sense of wanting to prove the doubters wrong, but of her unshakable faith in the filly.

Even in the darkest days after Treve’s eclipse in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes and the Vermeille, Criquette believed in her own ability to unlock the secret, while the open invitation to come and be a part of that process remained.

The campaign for a third Arc was one of the most remarkable acts of openness seen in any sport. But it has been no different to Criquette’s attitude with any of her other horses. A stalls test for Epicuris? She told you the time and date and expected to see you there.

A random encounter on the gallops? "Come and watch my two-year-olds on Les Reservoirs."

It has been a privilege and a joy to observe it all at close quarters.

If you are interested in this, you should read:

Some horses just give up when they have to fight problems - Treve doesn't



There is frequently laughter and always lively conversation. But the work is being done
E.W. Terms
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