Prix d’Amerique makes case for U.S. horses to race longer distances

by Brett Sturman

For as long as standardbred racing has been around in recorded times, everyone knows that the “standard” set has been at a one-mile race.

In nearly every part of the world outside of North America however, that’s not the case. Races elsewhere are run at all sorts of longer distances, including today’s 2024 edition of the Prix d’Amerique at Paris-Vincennes which goes at a distance of 2,700 meters (or about 1 and two-thirds miles). In that race alone are four horses whose sire or dam — or both — are from the U.S.

Today, breeding is international, no longer restricted by borders. The best example is the most well-known one, Joviality. Though Swedish-foaled, Joviality is by the U.S. trotting super sire Chapter Seven. Joviality was campaigned here in North America to dual-millionaire status in her 2- and 3-year-old award-winning seasons. The dam of Joviality, Pasithea Face, is similar. She, too, was Swedish-foaled and her dam consists of European lines, but her sire is Muscle Hill.

When racing with tremendous success in North America, Joviality won all her races at the distance of one mile because that’s the only distance offered here. In Sweden last year, Joviality won multiple times at longer distances, her most prestigious victory coming in Sweden’s Trotting Derby which was contested at a distance of 1-5/8th miles. With her international breeding, distance obviously hasn’t been a hindrance to the success of Joviality.

The only horse in the Prix d’Amerique richer than Joviality is Vivid Wise As, who most here will know from his big win in last year’s MGM Yonkers International Trot. Vivid Wise As is Italian-foaled and has won millions racing in his career at varying distances longer than one mile, though his breeding is purely American. By Yankee Glide, Vivid Wise As is out of the unsuspecting mare named Temple Blue Chip, who won $38,295 with a mark of 1:57.1 racing in Pennsylvania for two years. Her third dam Maiden Yankee produced the great Muscles Yankee. Even with strictly traditional, domestic breeding, Vivid Wise As, now aged 10, has excelled at longer distance races.

It gets fascinating when looking at another Prix d’Amerique starter, Hail Mary. He, too, is the result of U.S. breeding. By Googoo Gaagaa, one of the more remarkable breeding stories to start with, he’s out of the mare Nan’s Catch, making him a half-sibling to Moni Maker. Sire Googoo Gaagaa himself is by a 1:52 pacing stallion, adding only more hodgepodge to the pedigree. Last year, in a Gr. 1 race in Sweden, Hail Mary won the 1-5/16th miles race, with three of the top four finishers being by Googoo Gaagaa.

One final example is another Italian-foaled horse named Aetos Kronos. By the French hero Bold Eagle, he’s out of the U.S. mare Will Of A Woman. In addition to producing Aetos Kronos who has starred internationally, Will Of A Woman has also sent out $600,000 earner in the States, Woman’s Will.

While these are instances of elite horses, the same can be found in lesser, more common races. It works both ways, also. Not only are horses with U.S.-breeding influence racing just fine abroad at longer distances, but we see every single day here horses with international designations — even now seeing more horses with GB and IR notations — and they too are able to adapt to the faster racing at shorter distances.

With all of this said, the point is that there’s no valid reason races in North America shouldn’t be extended beyond one mile. And I’m not talking about adding just a small extra 1/16th of a mile or the one or two races a year that go an extra 1/8th of a mile, but really opening things up.

In thoroughbred racing there’s differentiation between sires as to which ones have a predisposition for preferred distances. We don’t have that in harness racing because horses have never consistently raced at any distance other than one mile. But, who’s to say that if races were introduced with regularity at a one and a quarter miles, one and three-eighths miles and so on, that similar deviations wouldn’t emerge in harness racing? Maybe — and likely even — we’d see pacing and trotting sires with different levels of success based on change in distances. It could change breeding entirely.

Longer distances would absolutely change how horses would be trained as well as the strategy for how they would be driven, but those are all good things in the bigger picture. For all the chatter that at times racing can be boring, redundant, and predictable, breaking away from racing only at one mile would change that. In one of the more exciting races from last year, M-M’s Dream got the best of Jiggy Jog’s 11-race win streak in the Hambletonian Maturity, and the outcome may not have happened the way that it did if not for the rare extra eighth of a mile in that race.

That horses from varying pedigrees including U.S. ones will compete at the highest of levels today at Vincennes shows that horses can be trained to race successfully at longer distances. It’s a matter of training conditions more so than genetic conditions, and it would benefit racing in North America to advance the breed beyond the standard one mile.