by Dean A. Hoffman
On Saturday evening, Jan. 24, 2009, I was making my way up the steps to the ballroom at the Hotel Terrass in the Montmartre section of Paris. I was en route to a cocktail party on the eve of the Prix d’Amerique, the great French trotting classic to be contested the next day.
Suddenly I heard someone calling my name. I turned and spotted Swedish trotting journalist Lars Dahlgren. I’d known him for many years.
“Dean, there is a horse that you must watch tomorrow at Vincennes,” he told me. “He’s not in the Prix d’Amerique. He’s only a four-year-old, but he’s a French horse that has the speed to race with the best in America. His name is Ready Cash.”
I took his advice to heart. Ready Cash was racing in the Prix Charles Tiercelin for four-year-olds. As I recall, Ready Cash stalked the leaders in the early stages of the 1-3/4 mile race. As the field began the uphill portion of the race on the backstretch, Ready Cash unleashed his speed.
In a flash, he was past the leaders. In a flash, the race was over. Only the minor spoils were in question once he got to the front.
I was duly impressed. I remembered his name and I returned to Paris for more Prix d’Ameriques and saw Ready Cash win France’s greatest race twice. He fulfilled the promise Lars Dahlgren saw in him.
Like many of the best French stallions, Ready Cash burned the candle at both ends, racing and breeding in the same year. (Prix d’Amerique winner Coktail Jet served a mare in France on Friday, then flew to Sweden and beat the best trotters in the world in the 1996 Elitlopp.)
Ready Cash’s initial offspring quickly established themselves as having his quick speed and determination and he now ranks among the top stallions in France. His offspring have found success elsewhere in Europe. In fact, his son Bold Eagle will be the likely favorite for this year’s Prix d’Amerique, which will be contested on the final day of this month.
On Jan. 17, Bold Eagle made his rivals look ordinary in the stretch drive of the Prix de Belgique, the last major prep race for the Prix d’Amerique. Driver Franck Nivard settled him into a third-over spot as the trotters fought it out in the early stages of the race.
Nivard sat very confidently until the final turn and then eased Bold Eagle out into the clear. Once the field turned into the stretch, what Bold Eagle did defies belief. He sailed past his rivals – the best horses in France – like the proverbial freight train past a tramp. He displayed that same rapid turn of foot that made his sire such a sensation. Like father, like son.
Watching that race would make you think that the Prix d’Amerique (Jan. 31) would be a virtual walkover for Bold Eagle, but he is only a five-year-old, a mere infant in French trotting terms, and he may not have things his way in the big race. Plus, the French have a habit of using the prep races for the Prix d’Amerique as tighteners and try to leave some gas in the tank. Don’t overlook Timoko and last year’s winner Up And Quick.
Bold Eagle is the product of a Franco-American blend of blood that has become so popular in Europe in recent decades. If you march back four generations in Ready Cash’s male line, you come to Bonefish, the son of Nevele Pride that won the 1975 Hambletonian.
Ready Cash’s second dam is by Workaholic, a Speedy Crown son that won the very first Breeders Crown ever contested in 1984.
Interestingly, the second dam of Bold Eagle is also by Workaholic. He stood at stud in New Jersey briefly before being exported to France in the late 1980s, where he was extraordinarily popular and successful.
The Prix d’Amerique was started by the French after World War I. Its name derives from the gratitude that they felt in the land of Lafayette for the role that America played in turning the tide in World War I.
That was very considerate of the French, but the conditions of the race are quite un-American. When asked to describe the Prix d’Amerique, my stock reply is, “It’s a race with 18 trotters, starting without a starting gate and without assigned post positions. It’s contested at about 1-5/8 miles over a track that is a little downhill and then a little uphill.”
When North Americans hear that description, they look at me as if I just fell off the turnip truck. But it’s true.
Also, the French adhere to the belief that the classic races are contested to determine the future of the breed. That is, breeders should select their stallions and mares from those that perform best in the classic events. No geldings are permitted in the Prix d’Amerique.
(American breeder/owner Barry Goldstein once contacted me about taking his superb gelding Arch Madness to the Prix d’Amerique, and also bringing his whole family to Paris to watch the great event. When I informed Barry that geldings were not permitted in the Prix d’Amerique, he fired back a simple email which read: “No geldings. No Goldsteins.”)
All the great geldings from North America were not eligible. That meant no Prix d’Amerique quests over the decades for such greats as Greyhound, Pronto Don, Su Mac Lad, Savoir, San Pail and so many others.
(I should add that the French look with absolute horror on trotting hobbles. Sacre bleu!)
The last winner bred in North America was the amazon mare Moni Maker, the dominant trotter in the 1999 Prix d’Amerique.
In the 1930s, however, many American-bred exports found the winner’s circle. Hazleton won in 1931-32 and the 1929 Hambletonian winner Walter Dear triumphed in 1934. The next year Muscletone, a heat winner in the ’34 Hambletonian, became the only four-year-old ever to win the Prix d’Amerique, a distinction he still holds. DeSota, bred by Walnut Hall Farm, won in 1938-39.
After the end of World War II, Yank expatriates such as Mighty Ned (Volomite), Scotch Fez (Scotland), Nike Hanover (Star’s Pride), Dart Hanover (Hoot Mon), and Delmonica Hanover (Speedy Count) won in Paris. Sea Cove, the mammoth son of Bonefish bred by Mac Cuddy in Ontario, also took the Prix ‘d Amerique in 1994.