Top French trainer Criquette Head-Maarek, responsible for dual Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe heroine Treve, has announced she is to retire after a highly-successful career lasting over 40 years. She feels the time is right to call it a day and will saddle her last runners on 1st February. However, she will still be involved in the sport and plans to devote more time to the family stud, Haras du Quesnay in Deauville.
"I've got some runners on Friday and I've got runners on the 1st of February and then I will stop. I am 70 years old," she told Press Association Sport. "It was a tough decision to take, because it is always tough when you decide to change.It is a big change for me. I have been training since 1977, so 41 years. I owe everything to every owner I have worked with - Prince Khalid Abdullah, Maktoum Al Maktoum, the Wertheimer Brothers, my dad (Alec Head). I owe everything to my dad.I have had so many good owners in my life and I was very lucky to train good horses."
Born into the Head racing dynasty that began with her great-grandfather, she was assistant to her father before starting off on her own in 1977. She quickly made a name for herself, being the first female to saddle the winner of the Arc, Europe's most prestigious race, with Three Troikas in 1979, ridden by her brother, Freddy, and owned by her mother, Ghislaine. A plethora of big-race triumphs came over the following decades, seeing her win the French 1000 Guineas seven times, the French Oaks three times and their 2000 Guineas and Derby once each. Her Classic haul includes the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket four times, the first coming with Ma Biche in 1983 and the latest with Special Duty in 2010. The latter and Ravinella (in 1988) completed the English/French Guineas double.
Head-Maarek recalled her first Group One winner was Sigy in only her second season with a licence.
"My first Group One was Sigy in the Abbaye. I started in September 1977 with the yearlings and my first Group One was in 1978 with Sigy, who was a two-year-old," she said.
"My last Group One was with National Defense in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (in October 2016). I think I've won about 80 Group Ones and roughly maybe about 3,000 winners in all, but I don't know exactly. I know it's quite a lot! As a trainer and being a woman, I've had a fantastic life. I was very lucky with fillies, because in those days I used to train for breeders and they used to send me their fillies. I was happy to train a lot of horses at one time. I used to have 200 until 2005. When you have big breeders as owners, that is important for a trainer because every year you have lots of yearlings coming in, about 100. I'm going to spend more time there (the stud) now. I love breeding.I will keep my stable and rent it for the moment unless someone wants to buy it from me."
The Arc wins by Three Troikas and Treve were extra special for Head-Maarek.
She said: "When winning something like the Arc for the first time, it's something. Three Troikas was not bred by my dad. I bought Three Troikas as a yearling at Tattersalls. It was something fantastic for me in my second year to train an Arc winner."
Treve is the horse she will forever be associated with. Bred at Haras du Quesnay, the Motivator filly won six Group One races, her first coming in the French Oaks (Prix de Diane) in 2013.
The first of her two Arc victories came that October and she struck again the following year. Her attempt at a hat-trick on her final career start in 2015 failed, but she was not disgraced in finishing fourth to Golden Horn.
"Treve was a blessing for me because she was bred by my dad, so that was something to win the Arc," she said.
Head-Maarek had plenty of success in England, including the Champion Stakes with Hatoof in 1993, the July Cup in 1996 with Anabaa and the Cheveley Park Stakes on four occasions.
"I won lots of races in England. I was very lucky there," she said.
She also struck further afield, with Hatoof winning the E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine in 1992 and the Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington in 1994.
"I really have had a fantastic life training. I have been blessed. Good horses make good trainers and I've had a lot of good horses in my yard," she said. "I have been president of the European Trainers Federation for three years and president of the French trainers also. I was happy to do these things. It has been a pleasure. I want the young ones to come and I will help them if they need me."