| Sunday, 25 January 2009
Sunday's Prix d'Amerique (Gr. I International - 1.000.000 EUR - 2.700m) was won by MEAULNES DU CORTA, a stablemate of OFFSHORE DREAM, also trained by Pierre Levesque.
The Irish-Eyes reporter, Mick Adams takes us through his view of the big day. Meaulnes du Corta and Franck Nivard see no opposition in this year's Prix d'Amérique ( Mark Kentell/ France-TROT photos).
Vincennes - The day began a little after 11 o’clock. I had arrived early in order to get the formalities out of the way: picking up the press badge, finding a place to set up the computer, logging on, etc. Although the press room was all but empty, there was a steady stream of people walking the pleasant path through the wintery forest to the course – a full three hours ahead of the first race, and nearly five before the 88th Prix d’Amérique Marionnaud, first run in 1920 as a tribute to the American soldiers’ efforts to liberate France during the First World War. It served as a reminder for me that this is truly France’s biggest racing day, surpassing the “l’Arc de Triomphe” by... well, shall we call it a couple of lengths?
By midday, the atmosphere was beginning to build up. Around me were people speaking all sorts of languages, and a glance at the flag posts in front of the grandstand confirmed the presence of Danish, Dutch, German, Italian, Swedish and even Spanish horses running today. This event is growing every year, and therefore, it is all the more sad to note the absence of an American interest.
The opening ceremony was the usual colourful affair with stilt walkers, a brass band and lots of eye-watering blue and red smoke. But it was the music that made me smile the most. After the unusual rendering of the theme tune to Pulp Fiction, we heard “Eye of the Tiger” from the Rocky films as the 18 drivers paraded before the cheer+
3,0ng public in an open-topped bus – a first for the Prix d’Amérique. Then as they passed a second time, it was to “Under Pressure” by Queen. As I write, Carl Orff's “Carmina Burana” is blasting out in a TV ad for the event showing a re-run of last year’s thrilling race. All very emotive, but the public laps it up.
And so, to the race:
At first, it looked like a repeat of last year, with a number of horses milling around and acting up three minutes before the start of the 2700-metre challenge. Most notable was QUALITA BOURBON (Jean-Pierre Dubois) who looked very uncomfortable as his entourage tried to adjust her bit. She finally settled down with seconds to go. Just as well, because, unlike last year’s fiasco with four false starts, this year the field was underway first time – even the commentator was caught out, not saying anything before the horses had covered the first 200 metres!
It was OPAL VIKING (Jorma Kontio) who led the field ahead of EXPLOIT CAF (Jean-Michel Bazire) and NOUBA DU SAPTEL (Yves Dreux). TRITON SUND (Orjan Kihlstrom) was the first of four to be disqualified. As the field turned the corner for the first time, OISEAU DE FEUX (Tony Le Beller) moved into third place, then surged strongly on the outside to take first place going down the hill to the cheers from the grandstand. MEAULNES DU CORTA (Franck Nivard) then steered a path through to lead the field. The time with 1500 metres to go was a modest 1’13”6, but as you would expect, Frank Nivard picked up the pace and a kilometre out, they were running at a pace of 1'12”5 (km rate). MEAULNES DU CORTA extended his lead, despite the efforts of QUALITA BOURBON and OLGA DU BIWETZ (Jos Verbeeck). Coming round the last bend to the roars of the ecstatic fans, MEAULNES DU CORTA cruised to victory in a winning time of 1’12”5, ahead of NOUBA DU SAPTEL and QUALITA BOURBON, who managed to pip OLGA DU BIWETZ.
If you haven’t heard a mention of the favourite, OFFSHORE DREAM (Pierre Levesque), it’s because there’s nothing to say. The dream of the triple was all but over from the start, and he never challenged, relegated to the middle of the pack for the entire race.
Pierre Levesque, the trainer of MEAULNES DU CORTA, and driver of the favourite, OFFSHORE DREAM (only in France!) said Franck Nivard had been instructed to take the lead on if possible, and indeed, the race was ideally suited for this tactic, given the ease of the start. He finished by expressing his mixed emotions in losing on OFFSHORE DREAM, but training the worthy winner. He was particularly proud, as was owner, Jean-Pierre Barjon, given how little time they had to get MEAULNES DU CORTA ready after a series of leg problems last year.
All in all, this was as exciting a race as you could wish for. The day was a success, as always, and the powers that organise this event simply go from strength to strength with each passing year.