by Perry Lefko
Whether viewed as a horse race or a driver’s race, the Prix d’Amerique ranks as one of the most significant annual events in the Standardbred world.
Think of it as the Hambletonian or the Elitloppet in terms of what it means in terms of prestige, purse money and value as a stepping stone in the stallion industry for trotters following their racing careers. With a purse of $1 million euros, it is the richest race in France and one of the biggest in the world. Foreign entries have won the race nine times since 1997 but there are no American or Canadian entries this year in the 18 horse field.
The elite race, which began in 1920 and received its name as a tribute to the United States’ commitment to World War 1, is expected to draw a crowd of 40,000 and the volume of betting on this race alone could add up to $9 million. With a length of 2,700 metres or about a mile and five-eighths, the standing start with no assigned post positions becomes a test of speed, endurance, class, fitness and ability. It is considered the World Harness Racing Championship and is billed as The Clash Of The Titans.
The race, sponsored by Opodo, is , will be contested tomorrow at the Hippodrome Paris-Vincennes and will be reported the world over with 500 journalists from various parts of the world in attendance, chronicling the action. The race is also broadcast to about 35 countries on four separate continents.
Half of the starters in the field have won at least $1 million in their careers. What is intriguing about this year’s race is the presence of Bold Eagle, a five-year-old whose sire, Ready Cash, won the race in 2011 and 2012. Bold Eagle, trained by Sebastien Guarato, has won six consecutive races and seven of his last eight. He comfortably won the Prix de Belgique in his last race – the final prep for the Prix d’Amerique – after exploding in the stretch.
The defending champion is Up And Quick, an eight-year-old son of Buvetier d’Aunou. Though a non-factor two weeks ago in the Prix de Belgique, finishing in the final three, he was the 5-2 betting favorite in last year’s race based on two prep races that showed he was peaking at the right time. This will be his fourth start following a nine-month layoff. His best placing in those four races is a fourth in the Prix de Bourgogne won by Timoko. Up And Quick’s driver Jean-Michel Bazire has three wins in 18 drives in the race.
Timoko, the great Swedish representative, tops the field with more than $3.3 million earned, will be making his fifth start in the race. The indomitable nine-year-old, owned and trained by Richard Westerink, showed his grit winning the Prix de Bourgogne despite a tough trip. But the will to win has been a consistent factor in this iron horse. The Prix de Bourgogne was his second start since travelling to the U.S and placing second in the International Trot last November. Driver Bjorn Goop will be looking for his first win in his sixth time in this race.
The other horse of note is Lionel, a six-year-old son of Look de Star, named after the great Argentina soccer player Lionel Messi. The chestnut placed eighth behind Bold Eagle in the Prix de Belgique, after winning the Prix de Baune three weeks before that as the favorite. But he caused a false start in the Prix de Belgique and was relegated to eighth in the field of 12 for the re-start. He had four wins in five starts heading into the Prix de Belgique and overall has 11 wins in 21 career starts. He is regularly driven by Nivard, but Orjan Kihlstrom steered him last time out when Nivard was committed to Bold Eagle, and it was more or less a chance for the pilot to get acclimated with the horse heading into the Prix d’Amerique. Perhaps the experience from the last race will prove valuable in this race. Kihlstrom won this race in 2014 with Maharajah.
Bold Eagle will be driven by the great Franck Nivard, who has a record of three wins in seven previous starts in the race, so that experience cannot be overlooked. Whether viewed on the horse’s overall form and his current streak or the talent of his driver in a race of this magnitude, it is hard to imagine that he will not win. But this will be the toughest test of his young career, and in a field of this magnitude and depth, there are no certainties. As they say, this is why they run the race.