French racing great and multiple Arc winner Alec Head dies at the age of 97 | Horse Racing News

Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)

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Alec Head, pictured at Royal Ascot in 2000, enjoyed great success in Britain and Ireland

Alec Head, pictured at Royal Ascot in 2000, enjoyed great success in Britain and Ireland

Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)

By Scott Burton, France correspondent

Alec Head, one of the key figures in French racing for more than 70 years, has died at the age of 97.

A highly successful trainer with four wins in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe to his name, Head was also an influential owner and breeder, while his children Freddy and Criquette and his grandson Christopher have continued one of the most remarkable dynasties in the racing world.

In the post-war era Head dominated French training alongside Francois Mathet and enjoyed huge success in Britain and Ireland, with Lavandin’s victory in the 1956 Derby the highlight.

In 1981 his fourth and final Arc victory came courtesy of Gold River under Gary Moore for longtime supporter Jacques Wertheimer and even after his retirement three years later his influence remained huge.

In 2013 his homebred Treve won the Prix de Diane, Prix Vermeille and Arc for Criquette, with the Arc success being repeated 12 months later before defeat as evens favorite when going for the hat-trick in 2015.

In November 2014 Head was accompanied by Freddy and Criquette to London to receive the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Award as ‘La Famille Head.’ The same year he was also honored with the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities Award of Merit, while in 2000 he was created a chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest civilian award.

Edward WhitakerRacing Post

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Alec Head, Harry Herbert, Criquette Head and Thierry Jarnet before the Vermeille in 2014

Alec Head, Harry Herbert, Criquette Head and Thierry Jarnet before the Vermeille in 2014

Edward WhitakerRacing Post

Thierry Jarnet rode Treve in all three of his Arcs but has an association with the family going back to his very first days in the saddle in the mid-1980s.

“I’ve been involved with the Head family for as long as I’ve been in racing and when I started riding and was still a kid I won in both Alec and [Head’s wife] Ghislaine’s colours.

“He had such an understanding for the horse when I was lucky enough to be riding Treve towards the end of my career, he would always come back to France in the summer.

“He always used to call me up and ask me to come by Criquette’s stable or the stud farm to have a look at the yearlings or the two-year-olds – it was wonderful. It was a ritual and every time we ran into one another, he would always invite me to come and do the rounds in the yard.”

He added: “Every trainer has their own jockeys but whenever there was a chance to ride one of the Head family homebreds, Criquette or Freddy would always call me up.”

In 2014 Treve’s road to the defense of her Arc title was paved with disappointment but, even after she could finish only fourth in the Vermeille, Head retained his cast-iron belief in the filly, telling both Criquette and his longtime friend O’Sullevan he was convinced she would win the Arc.

Jarnet recalled: “And when Treve won the Arc I’ll always remember the tears of joy in Alec’s eyes.”

Frank Sorge

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The master horseman: Alec and Criquette Head with Treve the day after her second Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe victory

The master horseman: Alec and Criquette Head with Treve the day after her second Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe victory

Frank Sorge

Head first began training for Pierre Wertheimer at the age of 24 in 1949 and the famous blue and white silks – later inherited by Jacques and finally Alain and Gerard Wertheimer – were carried by a number of his most important winners.

In addition to their Arc triumphs with Ivanjica and Gold River, and the Epsom success of Lavandin, the Head/Wertheimer combination raced such crack milers as Lyphard and Green Tune.

Speaking on behalf of Alain and Gerard Wertheimer and the entire operation, racing manager Pierre-Yves Bureau said: “A huge part of the story of the Wertheimer stables remains tied with that of Alec Head, whose role ran from that of trainer to adviser and who not only contributed a large number of victories but also made a major and permanent contribution to the broodmare band.

In addition to both his glittering training career and raising two more monumental figures in French racing in Freddy and Criquette, Head was a keystone of French breeding through his purchase of Haras du Quesnay near Deauville in Normandy.

Vincent Rimaud has run the stud and stallion station for two decades and recalled Head being demanding but always fair on his long stays when visiting from his retirement home in the Bahamas.

“My sadness comes from the fact that he has died without me seeing him since before Covid,” Rimaud said. “Every time he came to Le Quesnay he would roam around the entire farm. With all of us that worked here it was always ‘Monsieur and Madame’, never boss.

Racing Post / Scott Burton

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Alec Head pictured on Les Aigles in Chantilly in September 2015

Alec Head pictured on Les Aigles in Chantilly in September 2015

Racing Post / Scott Burton

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