All last week, while the unpredictable Paris weather varied from balmy sunshine to sudden heavy showers, French racegoers had but one concern: by how much would their 3-year-old champion, Right Royal, beat the Italian invader Molvedo in Sunday's 40th running of the mile-and-a-half Prix de l' Arc de Triomphe?
This, in the minds of Europeans, was the race of the year, and the winner could surely lay claim to being the best horse in the world, notwithstanding the reports of a supposedly wondrous American animal named Kelso that drifted about turf circles (but never got into the press) in London, Paris, Ireland and Rome. Too bad, said the French Jockey Club, that America had not sent over a representative for this truly international classic. And too bad, too, they chuckled with glee, that England had sent over a secondary team of runners. Nor were the Russians on the scene. "When the Russians figure they can win the Arc they'll invite themselves," said one French official.
On paper the race figured to be between Right Royal, winner of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and the Italian horse, Molvedo, a son of the famous Ribot (himself twice the winner of the Arc). Molvedo had won the Grand Prix du Centenaire de Deauville and was the fastest-improving horse on the Continent.
The Longchamp course in Paris' beautiful Bois de Boulogne is not a place where a second-rate horse is likely to win from the best 3-year-old (and older) horses in Europe. As the race is run in a clockwise direction, the field must go uphill for the first half mile, downhill for the second half mile and finally along a three-eighths of a mile straight to the finish. Perhaps not so demanding a course as Ascot (where the rise is steeper), Long-champ is nonetheless a tremendous test of pure stamina—and for this reason the winner of the Arc is judged a truly desirable animal for the stud.
When the rains hit the course last week, making the going deep and soft, Right Royal's prospects dimmed, and his owner, Mme. Jean Couturi�, knew that victory would not be an easy matter. In Molvedo's camp, on the other hand, there was supreme confidence that Ribot's son could handle any sort of track. On the morning of the race Owner Egidio Verga, Racing Manager Dr. Antonio Arcari and Trainer Arturo Maggi looked over the soft turf and concluded that to win Molvedo must get a good position almost immediately from the break instead of waiting until late in the race to make his move.
Mme. Couturi�'s strategy was public knowledge. Her other starter, Le Tahitien, was to take the lead, hold it for as long as he could, and then Right Royal, who would be laying not too far back among the 19 starters, would swoosh to the front as the field hit the straight.
Le Tahitien flew away as commanded, but before he had gone a sixteenth of a mile he was overtaken by England's High Hat, owned by Sir Winston Churchill. Up the long hill they ran as some 40,000 fans (including thousands of Italians who dumped more than $200,000 into the machines on Molvedo at the last moment) strained to see what was going on behind the abbreviated forest that blanks out all of the course for a few suspenseful moments. As they emerged High Hat was in the lead, but right behind him was Molvedo under the European Johnny Longden, 50-year-old Enrico Camici. Close up were Match, Misti and Right Royal. These five had the race to themselves.
Down the hill into the right-hand turn (which caused so much concern to Eddie Arcaro when he rode Career Boy in this race five years ago) High Hat still led, and one Frenchman murmured angrily: "He is going to steal it!" But near the bottom of the hill Camici made his move with Molvedo, Rogert Poincelet made his with Right Royal—and the race of the year, for these frenzied fans, was on. Molvedo shot to a lead of two lengths. Behind him, as close as a knee-to-knee international jumping team, were Misti on the inside. Right Royal in the middle and Match on the outside. High Hat was a close fifth. Suddenly Match started bearing in. There was no question that he bothered Right Royal slightly, and possibly Misti, too. Right Royal shook himself loose and went after Molvedo. But the Italian held his ground, and Right Royal never gained an inch in the last sixteenth. Molvedo was a two-length winner, while Right Royal beat Misti by half a length for second place. High Hat was a short neck behind Misti, and Match was another two-and-a-half lengths behind in fifth.
The Italians at Longchamp screamed, yelled, hugged one another, scowled at the French, laughed at the English and said to the Americans, "We have the best horse in the world." The results of the Arc seem to establish, without much doubt, that Molvedo is the best horse in Europe. Will he now come to Laurel to meet Kelso in the Washington D.C. International on November 11? Unfortunately, his appearance in the States is doubtful. He is a bad shipper and even has trouble getting into a van, much less an airplane. Too, Signor Verga knows—as do all European owners now—that foreign horses do not fare well at Laurel unless they use American shoes with toes—shoes which are barred in France because they destroy the sacred turf and because European trainers feel that calked or toed shoes tend to cause injury to a horse's leg. The Molvedo camp is reluctant to switch to U.S. shoes.
Decisions about Molvedo, however, may soon rest in other hands. His owner, a pleasant-faced middle-aged man who seems quite unaccustomed to being in the limelight, would be glad to sell Molvedo right now without risking his reputation in another race. And this week in Paris there is at least one agent bidding for him on behalf of Texas Oilman Nelson Bunker Hunt. Best guess on the bid: at least $1 million.