Jamie Lynch: Vive La Trevolution!
As Treve stands on the brink of history in Sunday’s Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Jamie Lynch looks at the wider issue of the march of the mares in modern-day racing.
And then you go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like there should be single-sex laboratories because the trouble with girls is that they tend to fall in love with male colleagues.
He went from outstanding in his field to out standing in the cold by putting his foot in it, his big Nobel Prize-winning foot right in it, to the extent that the London Colloquial Couplet Committee had an emergency meeting to determine whether Berk should be replaced by Sir Tim.
It was only a joke, he claimed, with Winner’s signature ‘calm down, dear’ hovering behind, but know your audience, they say, and the World Conference of Science Journalists probably isn’t the time or place for Sir Tim Hunt to be trying out the sexist material which ended up moving time, setting science back and bringing his retirement forward.
Hunt’s stand-up, stood-down routine included the line that ‘when you criticise them they cry,’ before crying foul when criticised for his comments, all the more ironic considering that his being ironic was his defence.
Racing has its relics, and how, but it’s hardly alone as an industry in that regard, and science, as Sir Tim Hunt so non-eloquently proved, hasn’t been so progressive in attitude as technique, especially regards the influence and importance of women.
In the first 100 years of the Nobel Prize, up to 2001, only ten of the prestigious science awards were bestowed upon women. In the next decade there were sixteen. Nobody told Sir Tim, it seems, but the times they are a changin’, though in rounding off his self-destructive speech he did conclude that ‘science needs women.’
Racing needs women. Specifically, racing needs mares, now more than ever. The Arc needs Treve more than Treve needs a third Arc.
On Timeform ratings, Treve ran to 134 in winning her first Arc and 129 the second. You don’t have to be one of Sir Tim Hunt’s love-struck female colleagues to scientifically work out that, with three-year-olds Golden Horn and New Bay in the equation, Treve is going to have to pull out another 129, at the very least.
In the last quarter of a century, on the Flat, only five horses in the world have achieved a Timeform performance rating of 129 or more in three consecutive years. It’s a remarkable statistic, one that says plenty of the challenge facing Treve but even more about the modern landscape of racing.
Never before has the Timeform maxim – some say fall-back, some say get-out clause – rang truer, that of running to big ratings being as much about opportunity as ability. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of thoroughbreds in the last 25 years had the star track talent to give long and prosper, but only a tiny percentage were afforded the chance, chiefly because of the irresistible tipping point for colts, when ability bounds tip over into fertility pounds, when the sport tips over into business.
By means of illustration, just two of the famous five were colts. One, needless to say, was the faultless Frankel, who was almost unique for hitting the 130 heights as a two-year-old, and the other was exceptional for effectively having two careers, one in each hemisphere, So You Think showing his class in Australia then Europe over several seasons.
Of the geldings that slipped through the net, only one, the President of the castration nation himself, and still going strong today, Cirrus des Aigles, has earned access to the exclusive club, and his is a gold-card membership having done it in not just three but four separate years, only 1 lb away from making it five in the Ganay on his reappearance this season.
Cirrus is an absolute hero of modern-day racing, but we’re in the age of the heroine.
Treve’s Arc story is what’s known as a story arc. In the serial drama that is horseracing, the males have their eventful episodes, even their suspenseful strands, but the climactic narratives, the classic hero(ine)’s journey, the push-and-pull plots that push the sport and pull the audience, those story arcs, are generally generated by the fillies and mares.
And it’s the case the world over, increasingly so, of the fairer sex doing the harder yards for the greater good.
The myth-makers and record-breakers of recent times have, by and large, been the females, from Goldikova’s Breeders’ Cup three-peat to Black Caviar’s 25-race streak, the two magnificent mares who make up the quality quintet to have posted top-class ratings in three consecutive years.
It’s a striking snapshot that, on both sides of the Atlantic, in the championship events, the resistible and retireable three-year-old forces are meeting the immovable older objects, Treve putting the old c-block on Golden Horn and Beholder standing in the way of American Pharaoh in the Classic in the US.
Early retirement is sometimes a waste, better to be recycled as Beholder for one is proving, all systems go for a third Breeders’ Cup win with one Grade 1 three-peat at Santa Anita under her belt already in the race named in honour of another modern marvel mare, Zenyatta.
Zenyatta had been officially retired, if only for a week or so, before her epic 2010 campaign which fully vindicated the decision to go hard rather than go home with her, and her poor record so far at stud is one of the reasons why, generally speaking, the females get more game time than the males: unlike a stallion, there’s no guarantee that the maternal money will roll in. Success doesn’t always breed success.
There have been as many as 224 fillies in the Group 1 bracket (125+ Timeform rated) in the last 25 years, of which 96 had a foal and 52 had at least three foals, making for a fair sample size. How many of those high-class, high-maintenance mares produced an offspring of pattern standard (115+)? The answer is just nine.
So it could be considered more of a gamble, and less of a pay day, to retire a formidable filly early, hence the position we’re in now where the females are the headline makers and history shakers.
It’s a pleasant revolt, almost nature’s way of fighting back, reminding us all that racing is a sport first and a business second. That’s why most people, with the understandable exceptions of the Fabres and Gosdens and Sir Tim Hunts of this world, want to see Treve make history in Paris on Sunday. She could do it. She should do it, in fact.
Feminisim has evolved. Welcome to the racing revolution. The Trevolution.
|Free Race Pass of the Day|
Sunday 4th October
|9. TREVE (FR)||
|Mme C. Head-Maarek, France|
|16. GOLDEN HORN||
|13. NEW BAY||
|A. Fabre, France|