America’s Best Racing Staff Writer
PARIS, France — When it comes to having dreams of getting rich by betting on a longshot, France is no different from America. It not only cheers stories like that, it writes them.
While there is plenty of noise being made this week by rich horse owners like Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum and Coolmore, the charisma for Sunday’s $5.2 million Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-G1) is being generated by a baker from some place called Bellegard-en-Forez.
Pascal Treyve is France’s answer to the half-dozen guys who went to high school in Sackets Harbor, N.Y., and later concocted a $30,000 plan to buy a racehorse. Their plan that became a Kentucky Derby (G1)-winning reality in 2003 known as Funny Cide has been reborn in France and goes by the name Saônois.
“This French horse is a real dream story,” said Hubert Monzat, head of the organization that runs racing in France. “I must say, from a French point of view, a victory by Saônois would be a great signal to demonstrate that the glorious uncertainty of the turf remains. You can be a big owner with a big fortune; it’s easier. But maybe you can still win this race with a small amount of money.”
Monzat spoke during Friday’s post-position draw at a restaurant across the roundabout from the real Arc de Triomphe. At the same time Treyve was no doubt 240 miles south of Paris running his little boulangerie – the one flanked by a tobacco bar and a wine shop in a town of fewer than 2,000 people. That bakery will be closed this one Sunday so the owner may watch the 3-year-old colt, on which he spent $5,000 for half-ownership, run for a first prize of nearly $3 million.
“He likes Saonois, and that is why he doesn’t sell the horse,” jockey Antoine Hamelin said of Treyve, who reportedly turned down a Qatari sheikh’s $4 million offer last month as did co-owner and veteran trainer Jean-Pierre Gauvin. “His pleasure is not to keep money and keep money and keep money. His pleasure is to see Saônois on the track.”
Hamelin himself is another unlikely player in this story. He is only 21 – and only four years past his first race as an apprentice jockey. Since he was the only member of team Saônois at Friday’s draw, he was surrounded by journalists hanging on his every word. And since this is still all very new to him, he accommodated everyone who wanted an interview.
HAMELIN CHATS WITH THE INTERNATION PRESS FOR THE ARC
“I’ve been to the last 12 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe,” Hamelin said through his manager who doubled as his translator Friday. “Of course, I am eager to ride in my first.”
The comparison could be made between Hamelin and Martín García, the young man from México who went from working as a cook and sandwich maker in a northern California delicatessen to riding Lookin At Lucky to a Preakness Stakes (G1) victory two years ago.
Likewise, Saônois at just over 15 hands tall could be Mine That Bird, the 50-1 longshot Kentucky Derby winner from 2009, all over again. As Thoroughbreds both are clearly undersized, yet both won big races working their way through tiny spaces. Or in the case of Saônois, crashing through them. As one regular around the tracks in France put it, “He looks like he is winning stock-car races.”
SANOIS WINNING FRENCH DERBY
“It’s a little bit easy for Saônois to insert himself between the other horses,” Hamelin said. “Both Saônois and I are courageous together. Not only just one or the other, but together.”
Hamelin had bumpy rides on Saônois winning this summer’s Prix du Jockey Club (Fr-G1) (French Derby) and Prix Niel (Fr-G2). Seeing such a small horse looking so tormented yet still winning has raised the respect of racing fans for Saônois and consequently lowered his Arc odds to 9-1, the third choice behind Camelot and Orfèvre.
It was somehow appropriate that in an 18-horse field, Saônois drew the number 2 post.
PLACARDS FOR ARC CONTENDERS
“I think this number in the starting gate is a very good advantage,” Hamelin said. “Saônois needs traffic. I hope the race will be like the preceding races. This post allows us to make less effort at the start and not to have to be behind or to be in front. He will stay back. Saônois will be strong at the end.
The case could be made that the $1.4 million Saônois has earned so far is house money for Treyve and Gauvin. But they had to pay a $130,000 supplemental entry fee this week to get into the Arc. With prize money awarded for the top five finishers, it essentially makes their receipt a betting slip that could pay off at odds of as much as 21-1 or as little as 1-7. Or nothing.
Then again, courage takes on other forms in richer camps. According to the Daily Telegraph of London, three-time Arc winner Frankie Dettori used a text message to inform his boss Sheikh Mohammed this week that he would take a ride for rival Coolmore on board Camelot. It was the same Dettori who apologized to the same owner seven years ago for taking a ride for the same rival. Then again, Sheikh Mo did choose 21-year-old Mickael Barzalona over the 40-year-old Dettori, the world’s highest paid jockey, to ride Masterstroke on Sunday.
Sometimes maybe it is just easier to be working for a baker.
MORE IMAGES FROM THE ARC DE TRIOMPHE DRAW
Excitement builds at the draw for Europe's weight-for-age championship.
Post postions are determined by a blind pull.
Jockey Christophe Lemaire, who will ride 2011 Arc runner-up Shareta.