Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe: Treble-chasing Treve sends hearts aflutter

Story highlights

  • Treve dubbed the "Usain Bolt of racing"
  • Filly bidding for place in the history books
  • Trainer says "people are in love" with Treve
  • The 94th "Arc" takes place Sunday Oct 4

(CNN)In the city of romance, Paris has been struck by Cupid's arrow by one of its own.

This is no ordinary love affair, this is an equine flirtation with Treve, perhaps the most lauded French horse in history.
Dubbed "the Usain Bolt of horse racing," the five-year-old is bidding for an unprecedented third victory in as many years at Europe's richest flat race, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
    "People are in love," Treve's trainer, Criquette Head-Maarek, told CNN ahead of Sunday's race at Paris' Longchamp racecourse.
    "It's often like that in America with great horses or with Frankel in England but not here," she added referring to the Henry Cecil-trained horse that won 14 races in 14 starts. "This is different."
    The filly's name has been inescapable all across France in the weeks building up to the "Arc."
    Visitors to the race's official website are greeted with a two-minute video -- "Treve Confidential" -- showing a projected image of the horse galloping across the facades of the French capital's most famous landmarks.
    Treve also has her own website, a dedicated Facebook page and a Twitter handle -- all promoted by France Galop, French horse racing's governing body, and sanctioned by Treve owner Sheikh Joaan Al Thani.
    There is even the option to buy Treve memorabilia from caps to scarves, mugs, bracelets, flags and cuddly toys, plus she has had a song -- "Fly Away Treve" -- penned in her name.
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    spc winning post freddie head_00020903.jpg

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    So why the infatuation in a nation that has previously been modest rather than hysterical about its equine stars?
    Anglo-French horse racing journalist and presenter Liz Price argues it is down to the feminine touch.
    "The fact that this is a filly that has won in such tremendous style and is trained by a woman when women in sport is a big subject all over the world, it's that combination," Price says.
    "Women in sport are becoming more empowered and powerful. Criquette is so powerful and France Galop have reacted very well to this double act.
    "I think also people have come to realize that what the sport needs is its heroes. We have very few of them because horses don't run very often or stop after two or three years. Treve is one."
    Had Sheikh Joaan made a different decision, there is every chance Treve would now just be spoken of solely in stud terms now.
    After bouncing back from a poor Arc build-up last year, she once more timed her run to perfection to seal a second victory and was very briefly retired before the decision was reversed.
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    This year's Arc is likely to be Treve's final outing before going to stud although Head-Maarek insists she has yet to even broach the subject with the filly's owner.
    Explaining the secret behind the horse's success, she says: "The speed she has -- it's just so rare to have that. But what makes her so good? I don't know. It's the same with Usain Bolt. She's the Bolt of horse racing and everyone loves Bolt and wants to see him."
    Arguably Treve has a temperament to match that of the languid and laid back Bolt. While many leading flat-racing horses have a penchant to be difficult and aggressive characters, Treve, argues her trainer, is the complete opposite.
    "Sometimes great horses have bad characters and they're funny things," said Head-Maarek. "She's not like that at all. Everything that I ask her to do, she's ready to do. She never does anything silly."
    It's meant Head-Maarek has developed a relaxed attitude to visitors to the extent that the number of spectators for the morning gallops has risen to three figures and people regularly come to her yard just to visit Treve.
    "I know people who've been late for dinner because they'd just popped in to kiss Treve," Price says.
    "It's never been like that before. It's because Criquette is such a great ambassador. Weeks and days out from the Arc and she lets people into her yard. And it's not necessarily racing people. This has never happened in France before."

    Social media following

    The infatuation might not be to American standards. While 10,000 watched Treve win her final Arc warm-up race, 15,000 were in attendance when Triple Crown winner American Pharoah did a mere training run.
    Meanwhile, the previous horse to bid for the Triple Crown, California Chrome, now boasts 17,500 followers on Twitter compared to Treve's 2,500, but Head-Maarek isn't bothered.
    "This filly has changed things and brought a lot of people to races," she says.
    "My hairs stood up on her last run to see the crowd and hear the noise. That wasn't people just betting, which is normally the case, these were people here to watch her race.
    "People now stop me in the street and ask me about Treve. I've not had that before."
    Price agrees that Treve has helped widen racing's appeal in France.
    "I think for the first time there is a horse in France that's inspired people to come racing," Price says.
    "Every sports needs its sports stars. British flat racing didn't have its real star until Frankel and that was in many ways down to the extraordinary story with Henry Cecil. It's the same with Treve and Criquette -- it's something very special."
    A hat-trick of Arc wins against some of the world's greatest horses would make her even more exceptional.
    Head-Maarek's only regret is that this remarkable love affair may be coming to an end.
    "There will be great sadness in my heart when she retires. But whatever she does in this race she is still magnifique. I love her."