If it was a mile-and-a-quarter race I'd say he should be even money against this field.
"He's so relaxed I wonder if he's flirting with a French filly while my men are out drinking champagne at night.
"He won the Monmouth Handicap on Bastille Day but lost the Suburban on the Fourth of July, so we figured he might like France better than America."
The speaker, of course, is portly, forthright Jack Price who is in France training his plucky brown colt Carry Back—or le crock Carry Back, as the French press calls him—for Sunday's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. This mile-and-a-half turf classic at Longchamp has earned the reputation over 40 years for being one of the most demanding among many great European races.
Jack and Katherine Price, Carry Back and his handlers Matt Reddy and Mike Flynn are already racing celebrities in France—a country where an owner with a good horse usually refuses to talk about it except to his close friends. French racing officials, being sportsmen of the old school, greeted the Price invasion with typical courtesy, though Price has occasionally felt that he might be getting a bum steer here and there and naturally spoke up and said so. "At first," says Katherine, "it wasn't that the French were giving us misinformation; it's just that they were giving us no information at all. They respect us and our horse, but they just don't want us to win."
A Frenchman who is not eager to see Carry Back win his country's most distinguished race seems natural enough. Despite this, the French racing press has covered the U.S. invaders as never before. Most racing writers in France never get to talk to an owner at all, and rarely do they bother to question a trainer, knowing perfectly well that it is usually a waste of time. However, they have discovered in the last fortnight that questioning Jack Price is anything but a waste of time. It is, as one of them put it, "Quelle expérience!"
Journeying out to the beautiful training-center village of Chantilly, where Carry Back spent his first 10 days as the guest of Trainer Alec Head, reporters were amazed at what they saw and heard. While Price was attempting to digest the financial page one morning last week, Carry Back was walking under a bright blue Gulfstream Park cooler, and photographers were poking their lenses in every direction.
"Are you nervous about this race?" asked one reporter.
"Why should I be, when I run for $100,000 every 10 days at home?" said Price. Officials got equally frank answers. When asked by the director of the training center whether his room at Chantilly's Hotel du Pare was comfortable, Price fired off something he*d been saving up all week. "The hotel was so cold that first night that I slept with my clothes on," he said. "Things were so bad the second night that Katherine and I had to bundle to keep warm."
All the talk, however, was not light-hearted and funny. As Price put the finishing touches on Carry Back's training, everyone in French racing gave serious study to the American's chances. Most trainers weren't telling Price anything and he was just as glad. "Good trainers don't give you advice anyway," he noted. "It's the self-appointed experts who try to louse you up by telling you a mess of different things to do."
By the end of his second week in France the problems caused by unnecessary mismanagement were gradually disappearing. Carry Back was settling into an orderly routine. In fact, he had never looked so well, nor had he ever been so impressive in his work.
At Chantilly, Carry Back wore his U.S. shoes, but the continual traveling on concrete roads between stable and training area was wearing them down. It now seems likely that after some additional filing to make them virtually fiat (as required on the French turf), Price will not bother to switch to French shoes. Running alone across the vast expanse of the Chantilly gallops, Carry Back amazed several French trainers by going so straight and true. "Usually a horse galloping alone for the first time here," said one trainer, "is so curious that he throws his head all over the place. This horse doesn't." With his long tail flying gracefully along behind him, Carry Back also adapted quickly to running over undulating ground.
The 4-year-old colt got his first look at a French track when officials gave Price special permission to break Carry Back from the webbed barrier and cover 2,100 meters (approximately a mile and five-sixteenths) on the beautiful Chantilly course itself. Neville Sellwood, the brilliant 39-year-old Australian jockey who won this year's Epsom Derby on Larkspur, was riding him. Nobody, of course, knew how he would react to the mechanical barrier or the right-hand turn. When the barrier went up Carry Back reacted perfectly. "He got away quietly and relaxed, and from the first I could see he had lovely action," Sell-wood said later. "We think of a good French horse as one who goes away quietly. We think of U.S. horses as speeding away too fast and using themselves up too quickly. On the turn Carry Back traveled extremely well. I think he's most adaptable. He's lively and full of spirit and seems a genuine little horse. I bet he doesn't know how to run badly."
Four days later, now stabled at Long-champ, Carry Back worked the Arc course itself. This time he was ridden by the other Aussie star, Scobie Breasley, who will handle him in the big race. He ran an unusually fast first mile and then tired noticeably in the stretch.
A field of stayers
For all his good manners, impressive works and enthusiastic rooters. Carry Back has a tremendous task ahead of him. Granted that the opposition is not as powerful as in some recent years, it is still not a field of patsies as Jack Price often tends to picture it. There probably will be Aurelius, who won the 1961 St. Leger and Larkspur, and Surdi and Mexico from Italy. France's Match and Misti both are at home at this distance and Misti was third in last year's Arc. There is a possibility that the good fillies La Sega and Monade may be in there, too. The Arc field may lack a Ribot or even a Ballymoss but it is a field of mile-and-a-half horses. Carry Back has run that distance only once.
Surprisingly enough, whereas most American trainers give Carry Back little or no chance in the Arc, a large number of French trainers definitely do. Francois de Brignac, manager of the Marcel Boussac stable, says, "a horse who wins an American classic at a mile and a quarter should be able to do the same at a mile and a half here. Our pace is slower, and that is the difference."
All Carry Back has to do is win on grass for the first time, win at a mile and a half for the first time, and beat the best horses in Europe while carrying 132 pounds. Can he do it? Jack Price thinks so, of course. "Carry Back by five," he shouts. Carry Back among the first five, is more like it, I would think.
AT HOME AT CHANTILLY, Carry Back crops grass as Mike Flynn and Price look on.