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Sea-Bird was a world-beater; 30 GREATEST FLAT HORSES IN FRANCE AND ITALY.

APART from Britain and Ireland, the only countries in Europe whose horses appear on a list of great 20th-century champions are France and Italy. Indeed, Britain and France are the only two in which the standard of competition is high enough to enable champions there to achieve greatness. The standard in Ireland, Italy, Germany and other countries has never been good enough for horses who race exclusively there to prove themselves anything but purely parochial champions, no matter how dominant they may be.

For instance, Cavaliere d'Arpino (Italy), the filly Schwarzgold (Germany) and Windsor Slipper (Ireland) were big fish in small ponds. They may have been great champions, but it is impossible to rate them as such because of the poor quality of the opposition they met; they never proved their greatness on an international stage. By contrast Ribot, Nijinsky and other Italian and Irish champions travelled to Britain and France and were therefore able to establish their international credentials.

No other country in Europe, not even Germany, has produced a champion worthy of comparison with the horses in the following list of the 30 greatest horses of the century trained in France and Italy.

The best horse ever trained in Germany, Star Appeal, was the only horse from that country to win the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe - a feat he achieved in 1975 - but he was no more than an average Arc winner. Belgium's best horse, Prince Rose, was only third in the Arc in 1931; Eastern Europe's biggest equine celebrity, Anilin, was fifth in Sea-Bird's Arc in 1965; and Scandinavia's champion, Noble Dancer from Norway, was fourth in the Arc in 1976.

1 Sea-Bird (1962)

France.

Sea-Bird put up performances of such dazzling brilliance in the Derby and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in 1965 that he set a benchmark of excellence by which all subsequent champions have been measured.

Bred and owned by Jean Ternynck and trained at Chantilly by ...tienne Pollet, he also won the Critrium de Maisons-Laffitte, Prix Greffulhe, Prix Lupin and Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud; the only horse to beat him in eight races was stablemate Grey Dawn in the Grand Critrium. However, it was in the Derby, which he won on the bridle, and the Arc that he proved himself a world-beater.

The 1965 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe attracted the strongest international field ever assembled for one race, but in the straight Sea-Bird burst clear under Pat Glennon to win in awesome style by (over-generous) official margins of six lengths and five from Reliance - previously unbeaten - and Diatome. He became a successful sire.

Sea-Bird's Timeform rating of 145 remains the highest ever awarded to a Flat horse and Tony Morris, his greatest fan, wrote that he "may have been the finest racehorse the world has ever seen."

Ran 8, won 7, 2nd 1. Ch c by Dan Cupid-Sicalade (Sicambre). Owner-breeder: Jean Ternynck. Trainer: ...tienne Pollet. Died 1973.

2Ribot (1952)

Italy.

The pride of Italian racing, Ribot was unbeaten in 16 races, including the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe twice and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and also became an outstanding sire.

The masterpiece of breeder Federico Tesio, Ribot was named after a minor French painter. He was Italy's champion two-year-old of 1954, winning the Gran Criterium, but was not entered in the Italian Classics, so he was still an unknown quantity when contesting his first Arc, which he won by three lengths in a non-vintage field.

In 1956 Ribot achieved legendary status by sweeping unbeaten through seven more races, including the Gran Premio di Milano and Europe's top two prizes. He took the King George by five lengths and crowned his career with a stunning second victory in the Arc, galloping further and further away from a top-quality international field to win by an official margin of six lengths (photographs show it was actually eight or nine).

John Hislop wrote: "When those of my generation come to be asked by their grandchildren, 'Who was the greatest breeder, the outstanding sire, the best racehorse of your time?', the answer will probably be, 'Tesio, Nearco, Ribot.'"

Ran 16, won 16. B c by Tenerani- Romanella (El Greco). Owner: Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta. Breeder: Razza Dormello-Olgiata. Trainer: Ugo Penco. Died 1972.

3Pharis (1936)

France.

Unbeaten Pharis's career lasted only three races in five weeks in the fateful summer of 1939, yet he proved himself France's greatest champion of the first half of the century.

He made his debut in the Prix Noailles and, as in his two subsequent races, his official winning margin was 21/2 lengths. In the Prix du Jockey-Club he was already well behind when hampered on the home turn, yet he produced an irresistible finishing burst to win going away.

In the Grand Prix de Paris a fortnight later, on heavy ground, Pharis was nearly last approaching the straight, and looked beaten when boxed in and almost brought down with two furlongs to go. Yet, when an opening appeared he again found a devastating turn of foot to win by a margin which photographs showed to be about six lengths. Charles Bouillon, rider of the runner-up, said: "When I heard a horse coming up behind me, I immediately looked round, but he had already gone past."

Pharis was then sent to England to meet Blue Peter in the St Leger, but it was decided that he would not run even before the race was abandoned on the outbreak of war. He became an outstanding sire.

Ran 3, won 3. Br c by Pharos-Carissima (Clarissimus). Owner-breeder: Marcel Boussac. Trainer: Albert Swann. Died 1957.

4 Vaguely Noble (1965) France.

The greatest French champion since Sea-Bird, Vaguely Noble raced in England as a juvenile, when he won the Observer Gold Cup (now Racing Post Trophy) in the mud by seven lengths. He was then sold in order to meet death duties on his late breeder's estate, and amid great publicity he fetched 136,000gns - a world record for any thoroughbred at auction.

In view of the colt's lack of Classic engagements the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe was the only race in which he could justify that price-tag. To that end, after a brief stay with Paddy Prendergast, he was sent to Sea-Bird's trainer, ...tienne Pollet.

In 1968 Vaguely Noble won the Prix de Guiche and Prix du Lys, was given too much to do when third in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, and won the Prix de Chantilly.

In the Arc, as favourite, he was always prominent, powered his way to the front over two furlongs out, and galloped on relentlessly to beat Irish champion Sir Ivor by three lengths. The latter's owner, Raymond Guest, said: "Sir Ivor ran the best race of his life and was beaten by the best horse in the world."

Ran 9, won 6, 2nd 2, 3rd 1. B c by Vienna-Noble Lassie (Nearco). Owners: (1967) Brook Holliday; (1968) Mrs Wilma Franklyn and Nelson Bunker Hunt. Breeder: Lionel Holliday. Trainers: (1967) Walter Wharton, Newmarket; (1968) ...tienne Pollet, Chantilly. Died 1989.

5Brantme (1931)

France.

One of the giants of pre-war racing, Brantme was France's champion juvenile of 1933, winning the Prix Robert Papin, Prix Morny and Grand Critrium. As a three-year-old he won the Poule d'Essai des Poulains and Prix Lupin at his leisure, but coughing then kept him off the course until he won the Prix Royal-Oak.

In the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe he confirmed his greatness with a 21/2 -length victory, and the Bloodstock Breeders' Review said: "As success followed success, the praises in his honour became louder and louder, and he was generally pronounced a 'crack' and the horse of the century."

At that stage Brantme was superior to his contemporary Windsor Lad, and as a four-year-old he won the Prix du Cadran by 15 lengths to extend his unbeaten record to 11 races, but he was then only fifth in the Ascot Gold Cup and fourth in the Arc.

Ran 14, won 12. B c by Blandford-Vitamine (Clarissimus). Owner-breeder: Baron ...douard de Rothschild. Trainer: Lucien Robert. Died 1952.

6Peintre Clbre (1994) France

The greatest horse trained in France in the last 30 years of the century, Peintre Clbre won the Prix Greffulhe in the spring of 1997 and then scored smooth two-length victories from modest opposition in both the Prix du Jockey-Club and the Grand Prix de Paris.

After a midsummer break Peintre Clbre was an unlucky second in the Prix Niel and then put up a spectacular performance in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Making rapid progress in the straight, the favourite led approaching the final furlong and surged further and further away to win in course record time by an official (but exaggerated) margin of five lengths from English champion Pilsudski.

Timeform commented: "We cannot recall, since Sea-Bird, a three-year-old ending the season rated so far in front of the rest of the classic generation." Though kept in training, he was prevented by injury from racing again.

Ran 7, won 5, 2nd 1, 3rd 1. Ch c by Nureyev-Peinture Bleue (Alydar). Owner: Daniel Wildenstein. Breeder: Allez France Stables in USA. Trainer: Andr Fabre.

7...pinard (1920)

France

...pinard (French for spinach) was France's greatest sprinter and miler, and one of a vintage crop of colts in that country. He was the champion juvenile of 1922, winning the Critrium de Maisons-Laffitte, Grand Critrium and Prix de la Fort, but was not entered in the top three-year-old races in 1923, though he won the Prix d'Ispahan and easily defied 8st 6lb in the Stewards' Cup.

In the Cambridgeshire he set a fast pace under 9st 2lb but the high-class filly Verdict (received 18lb) caught him close home and beat him by a neck. It was an astonishing effort, and if his jockey had made less use of him or had kept him straight, he would have won.

The Bloodstock Breeders' Review commented: "The performance, by common consent, stamped ...pinard as the best three-year-old in the world up to a mile or a little over." In 1924 he raced in America but failed to win.

Ran 20, won 12, 2nd 6. Ch c by Badajoz-...pine Blanche (Rock Sand). Owner-breeder: Pierre Wertheimer. Trainer: Eugene Leigh. Died 1942.

8Exbury (1959)

France

Exbury was not a top-class three-year-old, though he came third in the Prix du Jockey-Club and sixth (beaten only two lengths) in the Arc, but he improved by 10lb as a four-year-old in 1963, when he acquired a dazzling turn of finishing speed and won all his five races.

He won the Prix Ganay by four lengths, romped away with the Coronation Cup by six lengths, and then took the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud. In the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe the European champion again found another gear to cut down his rivals in the closing stages and win as he pleased by two lengths.

Racehorses of 1963 noted: "Exbury is not a big horse, but he is neat and handsome, exquisitely proportioned, his back and quarters a mass of muscle; in action he is faultless . . . In performance he was a giant."

Ran 16, won 8, 2nd 3, 3rd 3. Ch c by Le Haar-Greensward (Mossborough). Owner-breeder: Baron Guy de Rothschild. Trainer: Geoff Watson. Died 1979.

9Nearco (1935)

Italy

Bred, owned and trained by Federico Tesio, Italian champion Nearco was unbeaten in a career of 14 races from five to 15 furlongs, and became one of the greatest sires of the century.

His seven juvenile races included the Gran Criterium, and in 1938 he added six more victories in Italy including the Premio Parioli (2000 Guineas), Gran Premio del Re (Derby, by a distance), Gran Premio dell'Impero (now Gran Premio d'Italia) and Gran Premio di Milano.

These were little more than exercise canters, but on his last appearance Nearco scored his crowning triumph in the Grand Prix de Paris as, in a majestic display of supreme class, he beat Prix du Jockey-Club runner-up Canot by a length and a half, with Derby winner Bois Roussel third.

Tesio wrote of Nearco: "Not a true stayer, though he won up to 3,000 metres. He won these longer races by his superb class and brilliant speed."

Ran 14, won 14. Br c by Pharos-Nogara (Havresac). Owner-breeders: Federico Tesio and Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta. Trainer: Federico Tesio. Died 1957.

10Sardanapale (1911) France

France's greatest champion before World War I, Sardanapale won the Prix Morny as a juvenile and easily took the 1914 Prix du Jockey-Club, with Derby winner Durbar third.

In the Grand Prix de Paris, Sardanapale challenged at the distance and got the better of a duel with La Farina (who had beaten him twice in the spring) to score by a neck, with Durbar four lengths away third. The Bloodstock Breeders' Review said: "He is now unquestionably the best horse of his generation, not only in France, but probably in the world."

The Grand Prix took place on the day that Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated at Sarajevo; the Austrian ambassador hurried from the course on hearing the news. Sardanapale won two more races - the Prix du Prsident de la Rpublique (now Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud) and Prix Eugne Adam - before racing was halted by the outbreak of war.

Ran 16, won 11, 2nd 3, 3rd 1. B c by Prestige-Gemma (Florizel). Owner-breeder: Baron Maurice de Rothschild. Trainer:

J. d'Okhuysen. Died 1934.

11 Molvedo (1958)

12 Tantime (1947)

13 Caracalla (1942)

14 Reliance (1962)

15 Helissio (1993)

16 La Farina (1911)

17 Allez France (1970)

18 Marsyas (1940)

19 Relko (1960)

20 Suave Dancer (1988)

21 Mon Talisman (1924)

22 Herbager (1956)

23 Sayani (1943)

24 Dahlia (1970)

25 Souverain (1943)

26 Match (1958)

27 Djebel (1937)

28 Coronation (1946)

29 Charlottesville (1957)

30 Youth (1973)
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Randall, John
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Sep 20, 1999
Words:2298
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