First run in the racecourse’s centenary year of 1957, it will be contested for the 57th time in 2013. Record times: 0' 54'' 30/100 by Habibti in 1983. A dead heat occurred in 1976, with Mendip Man and Gentilhombre sharing the spoils. Since 2001, it has been open to geldings. Entries: lowest, 4 starters in 1958; highest, 20 starters in 2002.
A “high-society” abbey*.
The race owes its name to the abbey located on “Longchamp plain”, on the northern edge of the racecourse. A royal abbey if ever there was one, it was founded at the instigation of Isabelle de France, daughter of Blanche de Castille and sister of King Louis IX (Saint Louis). "My brother is giving me 30,000 livres parisis, she wrote to the chancellor of Notre-Dame, Hemeric, of whose advice she was fond; should I use it to found a monastery or a hospital?” Hemeric preferred the monastery idea. The site chosen was a strip of land stretching along the Seine for a few acres, opposite the ferry from the winegrowing village of Suresnes. Thus, on 10 June 1256, the king laid the first stone of the monastery intended for the community of the "Sœur Mineures Encloses de l'Humilité de Notre-Dame".
Isabelle de France was the first abbess of the abbey, which was surrounded, as was the custom, by a farm and a mill. Pious worship was the order of the day for many a year at the monastery, but as the ravages of war took their toll, the austere regime was relaxed somewhat during the Middle Ages. The secular world was allowed to invade the abbey when it began to welcome as lady boarders, “lone women attracted by the beauty of the site and the proximity of the city, then young girls of noble breeding entrusted to the nuns to complete their education until marriage.” Fashions were changing rapidly, and “a high-society Longchamp began to encroach upon the strict cloister founded by Saint Louis’s sister.” Music and song were taught there by a famous opera singer, Mlle Le Maure, who sang the offices of the mass. People flocked to hear her. The Orléans family, who were in the habit of passing the Easter fortnight at their nearby residence of Saint-Cloud, attended Longchamp to hear the offices, followed by gaggles of courtiers. Great actresses of the day came there to be noticed, such as Mlle Guimard on 30 March 1768. Spurred on by fashion, the affluent flocked there in their droves. The Longchamp meeting became a vanity fair, with the archbishop of Paris deciding to shut off public access to “this church visited as if it were a theatre”. But the habit had taken hold, and up until the French Revolution, Longchamp remained the meeting place of “all those wishing to see and in particular, to be seen.” When revolution came, the nuns were driven out and the abbey razed to the ground.
A country house known as “Longchamp chateau” was built on part of the abbey site. For a time, the City of Paris housed its curators there, before it was occupied by the celebrated collector Alfred Chauchard. After being the head office of the International Childhood Centre, it now plays host to the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature).
Double successes or near misses.
Four horses have won the race on two occasions. They are Texanita (1963, 1964), Gentilhombre (1976 dead heat, 1977), Commited (1984, 1985) and Lochsong (1993, 1994). Despite repeated bids, Yours never managed to win the race. Second in 1964 and 1966, he could only finish third as a 6 year-old in 1967. After tasting triumph as a 3 year-old in 1967, Pentathlon could do no better than third two years later. Third in 1978, Double Form redeemed himself with victory the following year as a 4 year-old. Sharpo, second in 1980 and 1981, succeeded in wining the following year aged five. Habitbi, a winner as a 3 year-old in 1983, had to be content with second place the following year. Similarly, Keen Hunter, a winner aged 4 in 1991, came in second the next year. Hever Golf Rose, victor as a 4 year-old in 1995, could only come third in 1996. Patavallian, a winner in 2003, was unplaced in 2004. Conversely, the filly Imperial Beauty, placed second in 1999, galloped to triumph as a 5 year-old in 2001. As for Avonbridge (who shared the same mother as Patavellian), a winner in 2005, he had to content himself with fifth place in 2004.
The role played by 2 year-olds.
They started off with a bang, clinching victory in the first year. Wearing the colours of François Dupré, the lightning-fast filly Texana outstripped her stable companions Polic (4 year-old) and Mystic (3 year-old), finishing the season unbeaten with what was her eleventh win. In so doing she set a new French record, the previous having been held by Mlle de Fligny, winner of ten races in twelve attempts as a 2 year-old in 1868 (see Grand Critérium). Towards the turn of the century, in 1996, another 2-year-old filly, Alips, would also win eleven races, but from seventeen attempts (with six placings), most of them in claimers and on behalf of four different owners.
The third and fourth editions of the Prix de l'Abbaye saw success for another pair of 2-year-old fillies, Sly Pola and High Bulk. In 1963, Texanita imitated her elder sister Texana, albeit a little less impressively, by securing eight wins in eleven outings. And there were two further victories for 2 year-olds in 1965 and 1966, in the shape of two mounts from the Aga Khan’s stable, Silver Shark and Farhana, making it a tally of six triumphs in ten years for the 2 year-olds. But this impressive show of strength was followed by something of a damp squib. A meagre three second places in 1967, 1968 and 1969, then just the one victory, for Sigy in 1978. Since then, there have been two second-place finishes (Superstar Leo in 2000 and Kingsgate Native in 2007) and two third-place spots (Sicyos in 1983 and Magic Ring in 1991). In fact, the 2 year-olds have been conspicuous by their near-permanent absence for nigh on a quarter of a century.
It wasn’t until its eleventh edition that the Prix de l'Abbaye was lifted by a foreign competitor, the 3 year-old Pentathlon – originally from Germany but “made in England " – who managed to hold off a particularly speedy 2 year-old named Zeddaan. From then on the floodgates were open and the foreigners launched an all-out assault on l'Abbaye, with the result that the subsequent 45 years saw only eight victories for French-trained horses, with the remainder going to the invaders. One popular theory is that the total lack of quality sprinters produced by French breeders was a reflection of the disdain for speed races displayed by many breeders. Despite being trained in France, the 2012 winner Wizz Quid was bred in Ireland from Irish stock.
Built for speed.
66.3 km/h, this was the speed achieved – from a fixed start in the stalls - by Habibti in 1983 when she covered the 5 furlongs of the Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp in 54'' 30/100. It remains the French record at this distance, four seconds less than the record established on the same track (but from a start behind the starting gate ribbons) in 1929 by La Fayette (58'' 72/100) and demonstrates that improvement of the equine breed is more than just a vain hope. While Habibti can be justly proud of her record, there have been many other illustrious speed specialists in the Prix de l'Abbaye honours list. The most notable among these include the previously mentioned sisters Texana and Texanita, Sly Pola (1959), Fortino (1962), Be Friendly (1968), Tower Walk (1969), Deep Diver (1972, winner by four lengths), Lianga (1975, who had just lifted the Prix Jacques Le Marois over 1,600 metres), Double Form (1979, a head and nose in front of Kilijaro and Greenland Park), Marwell (1981, the tenth win of his career from thirteen races), Dayjur (1990, sixth victorious sprint of the year), Hever Golf Rose (1995, already a winner of seven sprints that year in Italy, Germany, Sweden and England, his country of origin), Kistena (1996, edging out his training companion Anabaa at the very last moment) and Agnes World (1999, who came over from Japan to conquer the internationally renowned Abbaye). Also worthy of note is the performance of the French horse Marchand d’Or, winner in 2008, who completed the course in 54’’ 40/100, the best time recorded since Habitbi’s record in 1983.
Of all the “mixed” Group I races, it is in the Prix de l'Abbaye that the fillies have enjoyed the greatest success rate: 36.8%. They are almost on level pegging with the males, with a score of twenty-one victories out of a possible fifty-seven (there was one dead heat). Bravo!
The record belongs jointly, with four victories each, to François Dupré: Texana (1957), Fortino (1962) and Texanita (1963, 1964); and Robert Sangster: Commited (1984), Double Schwartz (1986), Handsome Sailor (1988) and Carmine Lake (1997).
3 Prince Karim Aga Khan: Silver Shark (1965), Farhana (1966) and Moubariz (1974).
2 Jeffrey-Colin Smith: Lochsong (1993, 1994).
2 Daniel-John Deer: Patavellian (2003) and Avonbridge (2005).
The record of eight victories is held by François Mathet: Texana (1957), Edellic (1958), Fortino (1962), Texanita (1963, 1964), Silver Shark (1965), Farhana (1966) and Moubariz (1974).
3 Etienne Pollet: Sly Pola (1959), High Bulk (1960) and L'Epinay (1961).
3 Ian Balding: Silver Fling (1989) and Lochsong (1993, 1994).
2 Neil Adam: Gentilhombre (1976 dead heat, 1977).
2 Mme Christiane Head-Maarek: Sigy (1978) and Kistena (1996).
2 Dermot Weld: Commited (1984, 1985).
2 Roger-J. Charlton: Patavellian (2003) and Avonbridge (2005).
During the first ten years, two trainers monopolised the honours, with seven wins going to François Mathet and three to Etienne Pollet. It is also worth noting that, in 1957, François Mathet was the trainer of the first three (Texana, Polic, Mystic), while in 1996, Christiane Head-Maarek trained the first two, Kistena and Anabaa.
The record number of victories belongs to five-time winner Yves Saint-Martin: Fortino (1962), Texanita (1963), Silver Shark (1965), Farhana (1966) and Lianga (1975).
4 Lester Piggott: Tower Walk (1969), Balidar (1970), Moorestyle (1980) and Mr Brooks (1992).
3 Lanfranco Dettori: Lochsong (1993, 1994) and Var (2004).
2 Freddy Head: Pentathlon (1967) and Sigy (1978).
2 Geoffrey Lewis: Be Friendly (1968) and Sweet Revenge (1971).
2 John Reid: Double Form (1979) and Carmine Lake (1997).
2 Pat Eddery: Sharpo (1982) and Double Schwartz (1986).
2 Yutaka Take: Agnes World (1999) and Imperial Beauty (2001).
2 Lanfranco Dettori: Lochsong (1993, 1994).
2 John-Patrick Murtagh: Namid (2000) and Total Gallery (2009).
2 Steven-John Drowne: Patavellian (2003) and Avonbridge (2005).
*The information relating to the history of Longchamp Abbey was taken from two articles which appeared in Le Sport Universel Illustré. The first, dated 9 October 1925 (no. 1,180) was attributed to Raymond de Fontanes. The second, dated 2 July 1932 (no. 1,531) was attributed to Henry Lee.