June 18, 2024

Historical Cameo – Corrida

Originally appearing Oct. 2, 2010

Corrida — 1936-37 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe Heroine

Long before Shergar, there was Corrida — a charismatic champion whose tragic
end is shrouded in mystery. While the details of Shergar’s horrible demise have
at length come to light, Corrida’s precise fate remains unresolved, but she was,
in one way or another, a casualty of World War II. Once Europe’s richest
racemare, who came ever so close to winning three runnings of the Prix de l’Arc
de Triomphe, Corrida was a French superstar of the 1930s, hoisting the tricolor
in victory across the Continent as well as on British soil. With Sunday marking
the 73rd anniversary of her second Arc title, and a few of this year’s principal
contenders having distant ties to Corrida, we take the opportunity to pay
tribute to this ill-fated queen of the French turf.

As one would expect from a homebred campaigned by the illustrious Marcel
Boussac, Corrida boasted top-class parentage. Her sire, Coronach, swept a series
of top prizes in 1926 — the Derby at Epsom by five lengths, the St James’s
Palace S. by an estimated 20 lengths, the Eclipse S. by six lengths and the St
Leger in stakes-record time. Though the chestnut added the Coronation Cup and
Hardwicke S. to his record in 1927, he was ever more plagued by breathing

Perhaps because of that malady, Coronach did not have the reputation of being
the toughest of animals. Richard Ulbrich’s Peerage of Racehorses summed
up Coronach thus:

“There was suggestion, current in his time, that he lacked courage. Certainly
he was not lacking in ability.”

According to Abram Hewitt’s Sire Lines, his own trainer Fred Darling
believed that Coronach was “soft,” although Hewitt believed that was more a
matter of prejudice against his light chestnut coat and flaxen mane and tail.

Corrida’s dam, Zariba, compiled an impressive resume on the racecourse
herself. Zariba won the Prix Morny and the Prix de la Foret at two; the Prix
Jacques le Marois, Prix Daru, Prix Penelope and Prix Edmond Blanc at three; and
the Prix d’Hedouville at four. She also garnered runner-up honors in such events
as the Prix de Diane (French Oaks), Prix du President de la Republique and Prix

Zariba, a 45,000-franc yearling purchase by Boussac, was a daughter of
Sardanapale. The star of the 1914 French classic crop, Sardanapale captured the
Grand Prix de Paris and Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby), and eventually
became an influential source of stamina in pedigrees.

As Ulbrich notes, Sardanapale was advertised as “the best horse in the world”
when he went to stud, “an assertion widely accepted.”

Zariba’s female line was no less accomplished, and had made a splash as far
afield as America. Her second dam, *Fairy Gold (Bend Or), produced Belmont S.
winner Friar Rock, as well as the outstanding runner Fair Play, who later gained
fame as the sire of the legendary Man o’ War.

Interestingly, both Fair Play and Corrida descended from the Godolphin
Arabian sire line perpetuated by West Australian, but along different paths:
Fair Play represented the branch that took root in America with *Australian, but
Corrida hailed from the European remnant revived by her grandsire Hurry On.

Corrida had the looks to match her bloodlines, a fashionable appearance
befitting a cosmopolitan celebrity. The blaze-faced chestnut was decked out with
white markings on her legs, two of them fairly prominent.

To Ulbrich, Corrida was “an eye-catchingly lovely and elegant filly,” and
“photographs of her ooze class and distinction.”

Beauty being in the eye of the beholder, however, a slightly different
perspective was offered by Arthur FitzGerald and Michael Seth-Smith in their
indispensable Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, 1920-1948:

“Corrida was no oil painting, but she was an extremely free mover with a
lovely action, courageous, genuine and with a brilliant burst of speed; she
really enjoyed her racing and must be counted one of the best winners of the
Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.”

That verdict lay far off in the future, however, when Corrida began her
career as a juvenile in 1934. Although her bare record reads one win and two
placings from four starts, she stamped herself as a top performer in embryo.
Corrida notably emulated her dam by taking the prestigious Prix Morny over six
furlongs at Deauville, and later underlined her potential by finishing second to
the colt Pampeiro, beaten a half-length, in the one-mile Grand Criterium at

Boussac must have had great confidence in her as a candidate for the 1935
classics. Instead of keeping her at home and aiming for the French classics, he
transferred her to the yard of the renowned English horseman, the Hon. George
Lambton, with an eye toward the One Thousand Guineas and Oaks.

Had her connections solicited Corrida’s thoughts on the matter, she would no
doubt have vetoed the move to Newmarket. Whether homesick for her familiar
Chantilly, or unable to adjust to the cold and windy Heath, Corrida failed to
progress as might have been hoped. She ran three dismal races that English

Dispatched as the second choice (at 8-1 on the tote) in the Guineas, Corrida
wound up dead last of 22 to her compatriot Mesa. The result was a complete form
reversal, for Mesa was demonstrably inferior to Corrida during their juvenile

Indeed, Corrida “ran unaccountably badly,” as Edward Moorhouse put it in the
1935 Bloodstock Breeders’ Review.

Despite that colossal flop, Corrida was sent off as the third choice (at 11-1
on the tote) in the Oaks, having shown a glimmer of life on the gallops. Her
supporters also likely drew courage from the fact that the soft going at Epsom
was much more suitable to her than the firm ground at Newmarket. The result was
a less embarrassing 10th of 17, but she was still well beaten by the victorious
Quashed, and she was again adrift of third-placer Mesa.

Next on tap was the Coronation S. at Royal Ascot, where Corrida turned in her
third straight unplaced effort. In fact, it was her third strike, so to speak,
and she was most definitely out. Lambton realized that the best remedy for
Corrida was to go back home.

Right after rejoining trainer William Hall at Chantilly, Corrida began to
round into form. Runner-up to the elder distaffer Rarity in the Prix d’Astarte
at Deauville, she was then pitted against older males in the Grand International
d’Ostende in Belgium. It was to be the first of her three straight appearances
in the lucrative, about 1 3/8-mile affair at Hippodrome Wellington, named for
Napoleon’s conqueror at Waterloo.

The 1935 edition of the Grand International d’Ostende was postponed in the
aftermath of the untimely death of Queen Astrid, who was killed in a car
accident while vacationing in Switzerland. When the race was finally run on
September 1, the classy veteran Admiral Drake grabbed the tactical advantage by
striking the front before the final turn, and he held off the late-running
Corrida by a half-length.

Admiral Drake was no slouch. Hero of the 1934 Grand Prix de Paris, he was out
of the blue hen Plucky Liege, making him a half-brother to the noted sires *Sir
Gallahad III and *Bull Dog. Admiral Drake graced the cover of the Blood-Horse
following his Ostende success, and he was at one time expected to ship in for
the Santa Anita H.

Corrida used the Grand International d’Ostende as her prep for the Arc. This
first attempt at Arc glory, though, would end in an agonizing near-miss.

Reserved in her customary spot off the pace by Boussac’s retained rider
Charlie Elliott, Corrida came flying down the straight. She outkicked Admiral
Drake, suggesting that she’d improved since her Belgian foray, and left the
defending Arc champion and 1-2 favorite Brantome, now but a shadow of his former
self, behind. Yet the wire came too soon, and Corrida’s daring late thrust fell
just two necks shy of victory.

The top two finishers were also three-year-old fillies — Samos, the
unheralded winner at 19-1, and French Oaks heroine Peniche, who was part of the
heavily favored entry with Brantome. Peniche was an unlucky loser, considering
that she had beaten Samos in their previous meetings. But Corrida was arguably
the most unfortunate, since she had narrowly defeated Peniche at Ostende.

Corrida’s frustrating run continued in the Prix du Conseil Municipal, as she
failed to reel in the 15-1 Come In by a short head while spotting him eight
pounds. Her losing streak was snapped at last in her seasonal finale in the
November 3 Grand Prix de Marseille. Not only did she roll by two lengths from
her old rival from her juvenile days, Pampeiro, but she also confirmed her
supremacy over Peniche, reiterating that Corrida was unlucky not to have won the
1935 Arc.

Corrida experienced another trainer switch in advance of her four-year-old
campaign, but this did not involve a change of address. Rather, her incoming
trainer, John Watts, was replacing the retiring Hall. Under Watts’ tutelage,
Corrida would reach the peak of her powers. That might have been due to his
expertise, but her natural maturation might also have contributed significantly
to her improvement.

Still, Corrida was never really herself in the early part of her 1936 and
1937 seasons either, casting a new light on her disconsolate English sojourn in
1935. If she were just constitutionally subpar in the spring, then the stress of
classic preparations would have been too much for her, whether she were happy in
Newmarket or not. For Watts, Corrida’s first few outings of the year were
usually low-key; only as the campaign advanced did the razor-sharp Corrida make
her appearance, to the delight of her burgeoning fan base.

True to her pattern, Corrida opened 1936 with three straight losses,
including a pair of seconds in the Prix Boiard and Prix de la Jonchere. Then she
began to hit her stride with scores in the Prix du Prince de Galles and the Prix
d’Hedouville. In the latter, Corrida joined her dam on the honor roll as a rare
female winner.

Now the stage was set for a retrieval mission, to redeem her reputation in
English eyes. Last seen crossing the Channel in ignominious failure, Corrida
came full circle by making a victorious return to Royal Ascot in the Hardwicke
S. By driving to a two-length decision over males, unfazed by her 133-pound
impost, she was the only French invader to plunder a trophy at the 1936 Royal

Not everyone was convinced. “The Briton,” the correspondent who covered
British racing for the Blood-Horse, airily dismissed her effort, and
opined that the runner-up, the smart three-year-old colt His Grace, was unlucky.
The Briton did not explain his conjecture, or how the outcome might have been
affected. It was not the last time that he would pour cold water on the ardent
enthusiasm for Corrida found among French turf writers.

Back on her home soil, Corrida was hammered into 1-10 favoritism for the July
5 Prix du President de la Republique over 1 9/16 miles at Saint-Cloud. With her
explosive, last-to-first rally, she collared the talented sophomore colt
Vatellor in deep stretch and prevailed cozily by three-quarters of a length.
Vatellor, runner-up in that year’s French Derby, was himself three lengths clear
of third, signifying that this was a top-drawer performance. Corrida thus became
the first distaffer to win since the inception of the prize in 1904.

Corrida took her game on the road again. This time she went to Riem, near
Munich, as the only foreigner venturing to the July 26 Braune Band von
Deutschland, the richest race in Germany. As its very name implies, the “Brown
Ribbon” was inspired by a Nazi crony of Hitler, Christian Weber, who at one time
held the position of President of the Economic Federation of German
Riding-Stable Owners.

The Brown Ribbon went to the home team, courtesy of the great German filly
Nereide, a perfect 10-for-10 in her career. The winner of the German Derby and
Oaks, each in record time, Nereide took full advantage of her 16-pound pull at
the weights. Corrida, again toting 133 pounds, took a run at her younger rival
in the stretch, but the front-running Nereide kept her at bay by a length.
Corrida’s four-race winning streak was halted, and to celebrate the German
victory over the famous French invader, carrier pigeons were deployed to
broadcast the news throughout the nation.

Corrida rebounded with a sparkling triumph in the August 30 Grand
International d’Ostende. The 7-5 favorite and 128-pound highweight crushed Taj
Akbar, to whom she was giving seven pounds, by 3 1/2 lengths. Taj Akbar,
runner-up in that year’s Epsom Derby, had previously defeated American Triple
Crown winner Omaha in the Princess of Wales’s S. Third-placer Vatellor couldn’t
get nearly as close to Corrida as he had at Saint-Cloud, and was beaten a total
of about seven lengths.

Although Corrida had demolished two solid yardsticks, at least hinting that
she would be a worthy rival to Epsom Derby conqueror *Mahmoud, or the impressive
French Derby winner Mieuxce, The Briton turned a blind eye to that form.
Instead, he preferred to hold her loss to Nereide against her, and crab the
French form generally.

In one respect, though, The Briton had a point: the October 4 Arc was missing
a few key contenders, rendering the Longchamp showpiece less informative than it
might otherwise have been.

“The Frenchmen think that the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe…will settle this
question of world supremacy,” The Briton wrote in the Blood-Horse. “It
will do nothing of the sort, for none of the champions I have mentioned above
(including Mahmoud and Omaha) is engaged, but it should certainly be a fine

Corrida was sent off as the 4-5 favorite in a 1936 Arc that was virtually at
her mercy, and she duly obliged. The only drama took place before the race, when
Corrida went into diva mode, acting up and holding up proceedings. In the race
itself, all went according to script. Effortlessly advancing from the rear,
Corrida asserted her class by 1 1/2 lengths over 27-1 outsider Cousine, with
1935 winner Samos a lackluster fifth and Vatellor ninth.

Wheeling back just nine days later in the Champion S. at Newmarket was not
the most advisable decision. Boussac, apparently brimming with confidence,
traveled to “Headquarters” to see his beloved homebred, but Corrida could not
deliver. Undone by a combination of a dawdling early pace, firm ground and short
rest, Corrida finished a well-beaten third behind repeat Champion winner
Wychwood Abbot. The Briton couldn’t contain his glee.

“Those French critics who had been writing up Corrida as the best racehorse
in the world thus had the bottom knocked out of their argument,” he wrote,
satisfied that the yeoman English had put the uppity French in their place. “The
four-year-old daughter of Coronach had never looked in better trim, but she
simply could not live with Wychwood Abbot.”

Corrida ended the season on a high note when successfully defending her title
in the November 15 Grand Prix de Marseille, mastering her pacemaker Dadji by a
length, with her rival Taj Akbar unplaced.

It would have been understandable had Boussac retired her then, especially
since her dam Zariba had died that year. Yet he allowed Corrida to return to
action as a five-year-old, and she ultimately rewarded his faith.

As might have been predicted by now, the initial phase of her 1937 campaign
was hardly awe-inspiring. She won only one of her first six starts, the Grand
Prix du Tremblay, and gave The Briton more ammunition when a subpar fifth in the
Coronation Cup on very firm ground at Epsom.

Once Corrida turned her calendar page to July, she began to get her act
together, albeit in defeat in the July 4 Prix du President de la Republique.
Lining up as the defending champion, she was relying on her rabbit Dadji to
carve out an honest pace. Far from assisting, though, Dadji was a hindrance. His
slow tempo played into his own hands, while helping the familiar Vatellor too.
Corrida uncorked her patented charge and rapidly gained five lengths, but with
the race shape all against her, she couldn’t make up that final length in time
and settled for fourth in a blanket finish. To prove the absurdity of the race,
Vatellor, who was thrashed by Corrida in 1936, got the nod over Dadji and
Mousson in a three-way photo.

The Blood-Horse race recap noted that the result was “the occasion for
one of the outbreaks which are characteristic of French racing crowds…The
judges waited for the photograph, published with some trembling, and finally
placed the horses in the order given, with Mr. Boussac’s grand filly Corrida
fourth of 10.

“An uproar started immediately after the placing was announced, and some
small buildings near the enclosure were set afire. With the aid of mounted
police, the judges managed to stand their ground.”

Were the rioters upset at the judges, or were they venting their anger
inspired by the hapless Dadji?

That was the last reverse Corrida endured, for she capped her glittering
career with a three-race winning streak. She captured the Grand International
d’Ostende for the second straight year on August 29, neatly gaining revenge on
horses who had beaten her earlier that year. The 9-4 favorite under 128 pounds,
she handled Mousson by three-quarters of a length, while His Grace, the
dead-heat winner of the Coronation Cup, was soundly defeated.

Then there was a little bit of unfinished business to take care of in
Germany. On September 19, Corrida struck in the Grosser Preis von
Reichshaupstadt at Hoppegarten in Berlin. Upstaging all of the leading German
runners, as well as their Axis partner Amerina from Italy, Corrida won
comfortably on the bridle, and in course record time for the 1 1/2 miles to
boot. If the Germans had felt that Nereide had given them a propaganda coup the
prior year near Munich, Corrida repaid them — with interest — in the very
capital of the Third Reich.

Her sometime pacemaker Dadji also inflicted a stinging defeat on the Germans,
capturing the 1937 renewal of the historic Grosser Preis von Baden.

In light of Corrida’s tip-top form, it was unfortunate that the 1937 Arc did
not offer her a clash with the outstanding three-year-olds Donatello II and
Clairvoyant. Those presumptive challengers were ruled out of the engagement, the
former by injury and the latter by retirement.

With those high-class opponents out of the way, Corrida was undoubtedly the
horse to beat in the October 3 renewal of the Arc. Her legions of fans gave her
an enthusiastic reception, and bet her down to even-money favoritism. She played
to them, soaking up their adulation in her grand finale that was to crown it all
– but not quite in the way that was widely anticipated.

Corrida’s most dangerous enemy turned out to be her duplicitous pacemaker
Dadji, who was in no hurry on the front end. Boussac, and the throng of 20,000
at Longchamp, were in a state of high anxiety as he led the field in a stroll.
Isn’t this what cost her the Prix du President de la Republique? There was one
difference: Corrida was now at her sublime best, and nothing could stop her.

FitzGerald and Seth-Smith conveyed the dramatic tension of the stretch drive:

“At this stage Corrida’s position looked quite hopeless. Charlie Elliott had
no choice but to pull the great mare to the extreme outside. Riding one of the
finest races of his career, he got M. Boussac’s ‘crack’ to produce an amazing
burst of acceleration and, making up what had seemed to everyone in the stands
an impossible amount of ground, Corrida snatched the verdict literally on the
post by a short head from Tonnelle to the accompaniment of thunderous and
tumultuous cheering by the crowd, who idolized the great mare.”

Corrida’s career thus ended with a deafening crescendo. In addition to
inscribing her name in the annals of French racing history, she also retired as
Europe’s richest mare with a bankroll of 4.5 million francs, surpassing such
legends as Sceptre, Pretty Polly and La Camargo. To commemorate the feat, the
made Corrida its cover girl for the October 30, 1937, issue,
hailing her as the “Winner of Approximately $236,875 in Four European
Countries.” At that time, Corrida ranked second on the overall list of
money-winning distaffers; only the champion American filly Top Flight had
bankrolled more ($275,900).

With her historic racing achievements, and her exquisite pedigree, Corrida
ought to have become an influential matron, but her short life as a broodmare
was riddled with misfortune. First bred to Tourbillon, she conceived twins, only
to lose them. She next visited Mahmoud and in 1940 produced a gray filly named
El Gaza, who tragically fractured her spine in her stall and died before ever
seeing a racecourse. Barren in 1941, Corrida foaled a bay colt by Tourbillon the
following year. This foal, subsequently named Coaraze, proved to be her only
surviving offspring. From this one son, Corrida would leave a legacy that
endures to this day.

Just when Coaraze was about to become France’s top juvenile in 1944, the
heartland of the nation’s breeding industry – Normandy – was engulfed by the
war. Following the invasion on D-Day, the advancing Allies were locked in a
titanic struggle with the Germans, who fought desperately to contain them, and
Normandy was ground zero. The region’s historic stud farms were now
battlefields. Such famous stallions as Prince Rose (the sire of *Princequillo)
and Plassy were killed in the crossfire, Plassy being so horrifically blown up
that his horseshoes were the only method of identifying his remains.

Corrida resided at Boussac’s Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard, only a few miles
from Falaise, and hence in the middle of the ferocious Battle of the Falaise
Gap. In August 1944, Corrida disappeared without a trace. According to a UP
story picked up by the New York Times on March 1, 1945, she was
commandeered by the Germans in the course of their retreat, and this all-time
great mare, who was cheered to the echo by thousands across Europe, was last
seen harnessed to an artillery wagon.

Boussac tried in vain to find her, and judging by the past behavior of the
Nazi authorities in France, it was not a forlorn hope. For throughout the German
occupation, the Nazis had simply taken the cream of French bloodstock, either by
outright theft or compulsory sale for a risible sum. Top-notch stallions
Brantome and Pharis were among those carted off to Germany, and many horses
still in training were seized as well. Boussac clung to the idea that possibly
Corrida was still alive.

The Blood-Horse of March 31, 1945, featured an article by Cpl. Alex
Bower, dateline “Somewhere in France, March 13,” with an update on the condition
of the French breeding industry. He commented on the case of Corrida:

“Corrida first came to my notice through the French newspaper published in
the town where our outfit is operating. At intervals it has carried
advertisements seeking the return of mares stolen by the Germans on August 17. A
reward of 100,000 francs is offered for her return. Apparently M. Boussac is
hopeful that she may not have been taken to Germany, but may be impounded on a
farm in the neighborhood.”

The reward did not yield the desired result. A few months later, when Coaraze
garnered the French Derby, Corrida was still missing. We can only hope that she
avoided the fate of her compatriots, 1927 Arc winner Mon Talisman, and his son,
the aforementioned Clairvoyant, who were butchered for horsemeat.

Whatever became of Corrida, a trickle of her blood continues to flow through
the breed, courtesy of Coaraze. Her son went on to take the Prix Jacques le
Marois, the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and consecutive runnings of the Prix
d’Ispahan, and later became a leading sire in Brazil. Although his Brazilian
progeny include the unbeaten champion and sire Emerson, Coaraze also left his
mark in his native France. He sired the top-class filly *La Mirambule, a smashing
winner of the Prix Vermeille, who also figures as the direct ancestress of 1998
Arc hero Sagamix. La Mirambule produced Nasram, the sire of Naskra, who factors
in the pedigrees of such notable stallions as More Than Ready, Lion Heart and
Maria’s Mon.

Another daughter of Coaraze, *Chimere Fabuleuse, is the third dam of Silver
Hawk, who promises to remain an influential presence in pedigrees for
generations to come. Aside from his valuable daughters, and his Japanese son
Grass Wonder, Silver Hawk is also likely to endure through his son Hawkster, the
broodmare sire of champion and up-and-coming young sire Afleet Alex.

In Sunday’s Arc, too, a faint ember of Corrida’s flame still glows. Grand
Prix de Paris (Fr-G1) and Prix Niel (Fr-G2) hero Behkabad (Cape Cross [Ire])
traces through the direct female line to L’Esperance (Pommern), a half-sister to
Corrida. Prix du Jockey Club (Fr-G1) and Poule d’Essai des Poulains (Fr-G1) star
Lope de Vega (Shamardal) claims La Mirambule as his seventh dam, so he can
salute Corrida as an ancestress.

Casting the net a bit wider, Corrida’s half-brother *Goya II appears in the
pedigree of Irish Derby (Ire-G1) and Irish Champion S. (Ire-G1) victor Cape
Blanco (Galileo [Ire]). Another half-brother to Corrida, Abjer, factors in the
pedigree of 1999 Arc winner Montjeu (Ire), the sire of 2005 Arc star Hurricane
Run (Ire) and Sunday’s contender Fame and Glory.

Corrida’s memory is also revived annually by France Galop, through the
running of the Prix Corrida (Fr-G2), which has ironically proven a happy hunting
ground for German shippers on occasion.

It is only fitting that France Galop should have the final word on the Gallic
heroine, from its page describing the Prix Corrida:

“One of the greatest ever French mares, a shining ambassador for our breeding
stock on foreign soil…unquestionably the most popular mare to take to the track
in the intervening years between World Wars I and II…much admired in an era soon
to experience events that would shake the world to its very core.”