This event honours the memory of a stallion who played an important role in the establishment of French thoroughbred breeding in France. Created in 1861 under the name of the Grand Prix du Prince Impérial, it was originally run over a distance of 2 miles. Rechristened the Prix Royal Oak in 1869, its distance was also cut to 1 mile 7 furlongs. It was not until 1964 that it was increased to 1 mile 7 ½ furlongs. The race was reserved for 3 year-olds until 1978, before being opened to geldings from 1986. The Prix Royal-Oak was not run in 1870 or 1871, from 1914 to 1918, in 1939 or in 1940. In 1943 and 1944, it took place at Tremblay. One dead heat has been recorded, in 1990 between Braashee and Indian Queen. One horse has been relegated from first to second place: Hallez in 1970 to the benefit of Sassafras. Record time: 3' 16'' 20/100 in 1995 by Sunshack. In 2012, this race will be contested for the 123rd time.
Royal Oak, a brown bay male sired by Catton and foaled by a daughter of Smolensko, was born in 1823 in England, where he won eleven races, four as a 3 year-old and seven at the age of 4. "Of an average size, with perfect poise and form and blessed with magnificent lines, his muscle form was flawless and his limbs simultaneously combined power and distinction. Without being perfectly square, his head had the finest expression and flowed into his neck in a gracious and flexible manner. Royal Oak was the embodiment of everything good in a horse that our latitude and climate can produce." Thus was the description given by a real connoisseur, Ephrem Houël, of this stallion imported into France in 1833 by Lord Seymour, who installed him at his stud farm situated at Sablonville (Neuilly) near the Porte Maillot. The price for him to cover a mare was the highest of the era in France: 250 F plus 10 F "to the stable staff". When Lord Seymour’s stable was sold off in June 1842, Royal Oak was acquired by the Administration des Haras and initially kept at their Paris yard before being moved to the Haras du Pin in 1845 until 1849 when, spent, he was retired. In England, Royal Oak produced Slane (1833), who turned out to be an excellent stallion. In France, Royal Oak was highly influential, siring 171 thoroughbreds registered in the stud book and producing three winners of the Prix du Jockey Club and two of the Prix de Diane. His finest product was the mare Poëtess (1875, Jockey Club), who gave birth firstly to Hervine - Diane and ancestor of the renowned mares Plaisanterie (1882) and Ténébreuse (1884) - and secondly to the great Monarque, a truly remarkable horse and above all a distinguished sire.
A brief history
When it was created in 1861, the Grand Prix du Prince Impérial was intended to complete the Classic race card based on the model of the English system. Along with the Poule d'Essai and the Prix du Jockey Club, it corresponded to the Guineas (1 mile), the Derby (1 ½ miles) and the St Leger (1 mile 6 ¾ furlongs) designed to assess the value of the 3 year-old crop over distances that gradually increased according to the period (May, June and September). But the creation in 1863 of the Grand Prix de Paris run in June over 1 mile 7 furlongs led to an alteration in the role of the race soon to become the Prix Royal Oak. With the passing years, the Prix Royal Oak gradually became the counterpoint to the Grand Prix de Paris, a role it would maintain for over a century and only abandon when the reform of the racing calendar in 1979 opened the race up to older horses.
Consequently, the Prix Royal Oak has enabled certain Classic winners to prove that their intrinsic class was backed up by unfailing staying power. The following Prix Royal Oak victors had previously triumphed in one or more Classic race in England or France. Numbering thirty-eight in all, they represent the very best of French breeding.
First, honour where honour is due. In 1865, the great Gladiateur prevailed in 5 Classic races: Two Thousand Guineas (2 May), Derby (31 May), Grand Prix de Paris (11 June), St Leger (13 September) and Grand Prix du Prince Impérial (24 September).
Next, Perth achieved the feat of winning four Classics in 1899: Poule d'Essai, Jockey Club, Grand Prix and Royal Oak.
Eight horses won three Classics.
- Poule d'Essai, Jockey Club, Royal Oak: Zut (1879);
- Poule d'Essai, Derby, Royal Oak: Relko (1963);
- Poule d'Essai, Grand Prix, Royal Oak: Fiterari (1927);
- Jockey Club, Grand Prix, Royal Oak: Boïard (1873), Le Pacha (1941), Reliance (1965);
- Diane, Jockey Club, Royal Oak: La Toucques (1863);
- Oaks, Diane, Royal Oak: Fille de l'Air (1864).
Twenty-eight horses won two Classics:
- Poule d'Essai, Royal Oak: Stockholm f (1883), Archiduc (1884), Gamin (1886), Brantôme (1934), Tourment (1947);
- Jockey Club, Royal Oak: Souvenir (1862), Patricien (1867), Kilt (1876), Jongleur (1877), Beauminet (1880), Chêne Royal (1892), Champaubert (1896), Maintenon (1906), Ksar (1921), Verso II (1943), Sassafras (1970);
- Diane, Royal Oak: Bavarde (1887), Clyde (1905), Médéah (1908), Uganda (1924);
- Grand Prix, Royal Oak: Le Roi Soleil (1898), Brûleur (1913), Filibert de Savoie (1923), Caracalla (1945), Souverain (1946), Dhaudevi (1968), Pleben (1972), Exceller (1976).
The Prix Royal Oak has never tended to attract high numbers of starters and has been reduced to a two-way battle on three occasions, in 1864, 1865 and 1873, when Fille de l'Air, Gladiateur and Boïard respectively demonstrated their superiority. Before the First World War, there were less than ten starters on just three occasions, in 1900, 1902 and 1911. Between the wars, this figure was achieved once (1934) and exceeded slightly twice, with eleven going to post in 1925 and 1926. The record figure of sixteen starters was recorded in 1975.
The Royal Oak in its present format
Since the race was opened up to older horses in 1979, a satisfactory average of 10 starters (9.73) has been obtained. From that date until 2011, the older horses have performed better than the 3-year-olds The thirty-four winners – there was one dead heat in 1990 – break down into thirteen 3 year-olds, thirteen 4 year-olds, four 5 year-olds, two 6 year-olds, one 7 year-old and one 10 year-old. There have been eight female winners, three of them 3 year-olds.
Only two horses have won the race twice: Amilynx (1999, 2000) and Westerner (2003, 2004).
Two horses have also won and then been placed the following year or the year after that: Gold River (3rd in 1981), Moonax (2nd in 1996, 2 years later) and Allegretto (2nd in 2008).
Three horses have been placed and then won the next year: Ardross (3rd in 1980), Turgeon (2nd in 1989, then 3rd in 1990) and Alcazar (2nd in 2003, then 3rd in 2004).
One horse has been placed twice without ever winning: Tajoun (2nd in 1999, 3rd in 2000).
Before older horses were admitted to the Prix Royal Oak, the foreign contingent showed little interest in the event and only one, England’s Sicilian Prince, mounted a victorious raid in 1962. Since the lifting of restrictions, they have come in their numbers and right from the first year, signalled their intent through Niniski trained by Major Dick Hern on behalf of Lady Beaverbrook. Seven other English trainers have subsequently tasted glory in the Prix Royal Oak: Henry Cecil with Ardross (1981) and El Cuite (1986), Luca Cumani with Old Country (1983), Alec Stewart and William Hasting-Bass with Braashee and Indian Queen, in the 1990 dead heat, Richard Hannon with Assessor (1992), Bary Hills with Moonax (1994) and Paul Cole with Mr Dinos (2002). Irish trainers have also got in on the act, with John Oxx obtaining victory courtesy of Ebadiyla (1997), as well as Dermot Weld with Vinnie Roe (2001). Perhaps most notable among these overseas successes is that of the veteran British horse trained by Hughie Morrisson, Alcazar, who romped to victory at the age of 10 after having been placed in the previous two years. The Prix Royal Oak was only Alcazar’s twenty-eighth start since the age of two, as his career had been interrupted several times by leg problems.
In the last five years, foreign runners have taken the laurels on three occasions: in 2007 the filly, Allegretto, trained in England by Sir Michael Stoute, took the honours; in 2008 it was the evergreen Yeats trained in Ireland by Aidan O’ Brien who got the better of Allegretto; in 2009, Sir Michael Stoute triumphed again, this time with Ask. In 2010, however, this run of foreign winners was halted by the French horse Gentoo, who had galloped to victory in the Prix du Cadran three weeks previously. Another French horse, Be Fabulous, took the laurels in 2011.
Comte Frédéric de Lagrange holds the record with six wins: Palestro (1861), Fille de l'Air (1864), Gladiateur (1865), Nélusko (1868), Inval (1878) and Zut (1879).
5 Baron Edouard de Rothschild: Stéarine (1919), Cacao (1928), Brantôme (1934), Bokbul (1935) and Eclair au Chocolat (1938).
4 Henri Delamarre: Patricien (1867), Clotho (1869), Boïard (1873) and Clio (1882).
4 Baron Arthur de Schickler: Perplexe (1875), Perplexité (1881), Escarboucle (1885) and Chêne Royal (1892)*.
4 Marcel Boussac: Tifinar (1942), Caracalla (1945), Stymphale (1951) and Macip (1955).
3 Michel Ephrussi: Gamin (1886), Bavarde (1887) and Pourtant (1889).
3 Edmond Blanc: Gouvernail (1894), Fer (1902) and Médéah (1908).
3 Baron Geoffroy de Waldner: Tourment (1947), Wallaby (1958) and Le Chouan (1969).
3 Baron Guy de Rothschild: Ciel Etoilé (1949), Barbieri (1964) and Lady Berry (1973).
3 François Dupré: Match (1961), Relko (1963) and Reliance (1965).
2 Claude-Joachim Lefèvre: Beauminet (1880) and Archiduc (1884).
2 Maurice Caillault: Perth (1899) and Macdonald II (1904).
2 Jacques de Brémond: Ivoire (1900) and Jacobite (1901).
2 Edmond Veil-Picard: Clyde (1905) and Anémone II (1907).
2 William K. Vanderbilt: Maintenon (1906) and Reinhart (1910).
2 Alexandre Aumont: Aveu (1909) and Deiri (1931).
2 Nelson-Bunker Hunt: Busiris (1974) and Exceller (1976).
2 Jacques Wertheimer: Gold River (1980) and Agent Double (1984).
2 Daniel Wildenstein**: Mersey (1985) and Star Lift (1988).
2 Sheik Mohammed Al Maktoum: El Cuite (1986) and Moonax (1994).
2 Prince Khaled Abdullah: Raintrap (1993) and Sunshack (1995).
2 Prince Karim Aga Khan: Ebadiyla (1997) and Tiraaz (1998).
2 Jean-Luc Lagardère: Amilynx (1999, 2000).
2 Wildenstein Stable: Westerner (2003, 2004)
* The victory by Be Fabulous in 2011, in the Godolphin colours, might also be attributed to him.
N.B. In the reports, Perplexe and Perplexité were indicated as having the respected owners "Davis" and "Haras de Martinvast". In fact, they both belonged to Baron Arthur de Schickler, the use of aliases being permitted at the time.
The record of seven victories is held jointly by François Mathet: Vamour (1959), Match (1961), Relko (1963), Reliance (1965), Sassafras (1970), Henri le Balafré (1975) and Exceller (1976); and André Fabre: Star Lift (1988), Top Sunrise (1989), Raintrap (1993), Sunshack (1995), Amilynx (1999 et 2000) and Be Fabulous (2011).
6 Thomas Jennings: Palestro (1861), Fille de l'Air (1864), Gladiateur (1865), Nélusko (1868), Inval (1878) and Zut (1879).
4 Thomas-R. Carter: Patricien (1867), Clotho (1869), Boïard (1873) and Clio (1882).
4 George Cunnington senior: Gamin (1886), Bavarde (1887), Pourtant (1889) and Aveu (1909).
4 Lucien Robert: Keror (1922), Brantôme (1934), Bokbul (1935) and Eclair au Chocolat (1938).
4 Percy Carter: Priori (1925), Tourment (1947), Buisson d'Or (1953) and Wallaby (1958).
4 Geoffroy Watson: Ciel Etoilé (1949), Barbieri (1964), Pleben (1972) and Lady Berry (1973).
3 Richard Carter junior: Beauminet (1880), Perth (1899) and Macdonald II (1904).
3 Robert Denman: Archiduc (1884), Fer (1902) and Médéah (1908).
3 Frank Carter: Uganda (1924), Calandria (1929) and Victrix (1937).
3 William Webb: Perplexité (1881), Escarboucle (1885) and Chêne Royal (1892).
3 Charles Semblat: Tifinar (1942), Caracalla (1945) and Stymphale (1951).
2 Thomas Cunnington: Stockholm (1883) and Ramleh (1893).
2 Richard Count: Ivoire (1900) and Jacobite (1901).
2 George Cunnington junior: Clyde (1905) and Anémone II (1907).
2 William Duke: Maintenon (1906) and Reinhart (1910).
2 John Cunnington: Le Pacha (1941) and Arabian (1956).
2 Etienne Pollet: Pan (1950) and Feu du Diable (1952).
2 Pierre Pelat: Sica Boy (1954) and Scot (1957).
2 C.-W. Bartholomew: Puissant Chef (1960) and Brave Johnny (1978).
2 Alec Head: Bourbon (1971) and Gold River (1980).
2 Henry Cecil: Ardross (1981) and El Cuite (1986).
2 Elie Lellouche: Westerner (2003, 2004).
2 Sir Michael Stoute: Allegretto (2007) and Ask (2009).
Only two women have trained a winner of the race: Mme Christiane Head-Maarek with Agent Double (1984) and Mme Corine Barbe with Red Roses Story (1996).
The record of six wins is held by Freddy Head: Dhaudevi (1968), Bourbon (1971), Busiris (1974), Gold River (1980), Agent Double (1984) and Top Sunrise (1989).
4 Charles Bouillon: Cacao (1928), Brantôme (1934), Bokbul (1935) and Eclair au Chocolat (1938).
4 Freddy Palmer: Ciel Etoilé (1949), Buisson d'Or (1953), Wallaby (1958) and Match (1961).
4 Yves Saint-Martin: Relko (1963), Reliance (1965), Sassafras (1970) and Denel (1982).
3 Charles Pratt: Fille de l'Air (1864), Patricien (1867) and Clotho (1869).
3 William Carver: Boïard (1873), Mignonette (1874) and Perplexe (1875).
3 F. Storr: Kilt (1876), Archiduc (1884) and Galaor (1888).
3 Edouard Watkins: Bombon (1895), Champaubert (1896) and Chambertin (1897).
3 George Stern: Jacobite (1901), Fer (1902) and Médéah (1908).
3 Guy Duforez: Laeken (1932), Fantastic (1936) and Verso II (1943).
3 Pat Eddery: Old Country (1983), Raintrap (1993) and Moonax (1994).
3 Olivier Peslier: Amilynx (1999, 2000) and Montare (2006).
2 Edgar Rolfe: Jongleur (1877) and Clio (1882).
2 A.-E. Dodge: Gamin (1886) and Bavarde (1887).
2 Tom Lane: Pourtant (1889) and Perth (1899).
2 Henry Barlen: Ramleh (1893) and Gouvernail (1894).
2 John Reiff: Macdonald II (1904) and Combourg (1911).
2 Alexander-B. Cormack: Clyde (1905) and Anémone II (1907).
2 Matthew MacGee: Stearine (1919) and Keror (1922).
2 George Bridgland: Victrix (1937) and Tourment (1947).
2 Jacques Doyasbère: Tifinar (1942) and Caracalla (1945).
2 Marcel Lollierou: Samaritain (1944) and Souverain (1946).
2 William Johnstone: Stymphale (1951) and Sica Boy (1954).
2 Jean Deforge: Arabian (1956) and Barbieri (1964).
2 Marcel Depalmas: Pleben (1972) and Lady Berry (1973).
2 Henri Samani: Henri le Balafré (1975) and Brave Johnny (1978).
2 Gérald Mossé: Ebadiyla (1997) and Tiraaz (1998).
2 Olivier Peslier: Amilynx (1999 and 2000).
2 Dominique Bœuf: Mr Dinos (2002) and Westerner (2003).
2 Ryan-L. Moore: Allegretto (2007) and Ask (2009).