TORONTO, September 30 – He was bred in England. He was named for a French boulevard, and he made his first start in France. His sire was bred in Kentucky, his dam in Ireland.
And his greatest triumphs on a racecourse came in Canada.
A Juddmonte Farms homebred, Champs Elysees began his career in Europe, running 11 times in France and one in Italy, his lone start there a second-place finish Group 1 Gran Premio del Jockey Club at Milan. He won his first stakes race, the Group 3 Prix d’Hedouville, at Longchamp in May of 2007, when he was four.
Yet despite his success on the European turf, where he compiled a record of two wins, four seconds, and three thirds, Juddmonte took the decision to ship him to North America and the barn of California-based Bobby Frankel.
“Given how well his siblings had done for us here, it was a pretty easy decision to bring him to the U.S.,” said Garrett O’Rourke, manager of Juddmonte Farms in Lexington, KY. “He probably had a bit more stamina than his siblings, and [his dam] Hasili’s family in general excelled on U.S. turf tracks.”
Champs Elysees’ older full brother Cacique had come to the U.S. and to Frankel in 2006, winning his first Grade 1 race, the Manhattan Handicap at Belmont, in his third stateside start. He went on to win the Grade 1 Man o’War at Belmont and finish second in the United Nations Stakes and the Arlington Million, both Grade 1 races.
A full sister, Intercontinental preceded both of her brothers to the States, her record 9-2-1 in a 13-race career here that culminated in a 1 1/4-length win in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Belmont in 2005.
In his first four races under Frankel, Champs Elysees finished no worse than third, and he won the Grade 2 San Marcos Stakes at Santa Anita. Two consecutive sixth-place runs in Grade 1 races might have raised some concern for his connections, but then he came to Woodbine.
“I think Woodbine is really where he found his niche,” said O’Rourke. “Frankel sent him up there to take advantage of the big track; he was a big old Cadillac, and it took a while for him to get a full head of steam. He could really use his big stride when he was there. The track suited him ideally.”
It was, one might say, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
“We were trying to get him a Grade 1 to boost his stallion value,” O’Rourke explained. “We had already decided to send him to Banstead to stand, and the way he finished out the year was absolutely fabulous, and obviously a tremendous boost to his value as well.”
Over the next year, Champs Elysees ran at Woodbine six times, finishing in the top three in five of his races there. The unusual configuration of the track, with the turf course outside of the dirt course, suited him particularly well, giving him the running room to use that long stride of his.
“All of his family were amazingly consistent,” said O’Rourke, “and every one of them needed a good stretch to get their stride going.”
Woodbine was essentially the son of Danehill’s home track for the second part of 2009. He raced nowhere but there from July to October, running four times, but unable to make it back to the winner’s circle in his first three runs.
That changed in the Pattison Canadian International Stakes on October 17, when Champs Elysees produced one of his trademark closing—and close—wins. “Rallied, up late, driving” read the chart comment, echoing the description of his win in the Northern Dancer the year before.
That race would be Champs Elysees’ last, and it would prove to be the last major victory of Frankel’s career, as the Hall of Fame trainer died from cancer a day shy of a month after the International.
Champs Elysees headed back overseas, to stand at Juddmonte’s Banstead Manor Stud in Newmarket, England.
“[Champs Elysees’ full brother] Dansili had tremendous success as a stallion, and his stud fee had risen to where a lot of people that had originally supported him found his stud fee had gone too high,” explained O’Rourke. “It was a very good opportunity for Champs Elysees to come home and slot into position where he would get support from those breeders.”
Champs Elysees’ best U.S. runner is the four-year-old filly Suffused. Like her sire, she began her career in Europe then came to the States, winning three Grade 3 races here, with lifetime earnings of just under $700,000. Last year, she missed her first Grade 1 by a nose in Woodbine’s E.P. Taylor Stakes.
He also sired Trip to Paris, winner of the Group 1 Gold Cup at Ascot in 2015.
Despite his success and the prices paid for his progeny at European sales, Champs Elysees was purchased last November from Juddmonte by Coolmore’s Castlehyde to stand as a National Hunt stallion in Ireland.
Juddmonte won’t be featured in Woodbine’s big turf races this year, but O’Rourke recalled with fondness Champs Elysees’ Toronto victories, along with that of another Juddmonte runner, this one the winner of 2009 Woodbine Mile (G1T) and the runner-up in that race the year before.
“We’ve great memories of big occasions at Woodbine with Champs Elysees and Ventura,” he said. “We’ve had good luck there.”
Steeped in tradition, Woodbine’s world-famous turf races have been captured by some of the greats of the sport including recent Woodbine Mile champs Tepin and Wise Dan; the Hall of Fame mare All Along who captured the International in a standout campaign; and the incomparable Secretariat, who concluded his historic career with a runaway score in the 1973 edition of the International. Join us as we profile Titans of the Turf, highlighting those who have triumphed on the Woodbine green.