'A Man With A Heart': Alec Head, 97, Renowned French Horseman, Passes - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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‘A Man With A Heart’: Alec Head, 97, Renowned French Horseman, Passes

Alec Head, 1924-2022

To say that France's Head family has had an enormous impact on Thoroughbred racing worldwide would be understating the matter. Multiple generations of the family –  beginning with William Head, carrying on through his son, Alec, and then to Alec and wife Ghislaine's son Frederic (Freddy) and daughter Christiane (Criquette) – have put their stamp on some of the sport's biggest races around the globe as jockeys, trainers, owners and breeders.  The next generation, Freddy Head's son Christopher, is following in their footsteps as a trainer.

On Tuesday, it was announced that Alec Head has died at the age of 97.

Born near the Maisons-Laffitte racecourse on July 31, 1924, Alec Head was the son of William “Willie” Head, a successful  jockey who would go on to train two winners of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. His mother was the daughter of Tom Jennings, a leading horseman in England who trained  Gladiateur, a horse memorialized in bronze at the front gate of Longchamp. Her brother, Jack Jennings, also was a successful jockey.

Willie Head's father, William Head Sr., was a British steeplechase jockey who moved to France in the 1870s and set up the family's horse business in Maisons-Laffitte. Willie Head moved the operation to Chantilly, where their Haras du Quesnay remains to this day.

Alec Head also got his start as a jockey at age 16 in the early 1940s, winning major steeplechase races, but a bad fall and struggles with weight ended that career in 1947. He shifted to training at age 23, getting his first big break in 1952 when he saddled Aga Khan III's Nuccio for a victory in the Arc. He would also train for the Aga's son, Aly Khan, and for the present Aga Khan. Before he handed the stable over to daughter Criquette, Alec Head would be six-time champion trainer in France. Among other international races, he won the Epsom Derby in 1956 with Lavandin.

Nuccio was the first of Alec Head's four victories in Europe's most important race, the other Arc winners coming in 1959 with Saint Crespin, 1976 with Ivanjica, and 1981 with Gold River.

As a jockey, Freddy Head would win the Arc four times – including Willie Head's second training victory in 1966 with Bon Mot, Alec Head's Ivanjica, and Criquette Head's Three Troikas in 1979. As a trainer, Criquette Head would win the Arc three times, with Treve's back-to-back wins in 2013-'14 joining Three Troikas on her list of accomplishments.  Freddy Head trained Goldikova to three consecutive triumphs in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Alec Head with Queen Elizabeth

Treve is among the many stakes winners bred in the name of the Head family's Haras du Quesnay. In a 1982 interview with the Thoroughbred Record, Alec Head described his basic philosophy on Thoroughbred breeding as follows:

“I try and see that the bloodlines hit, and I try to work it in with the shape and size of the mare and the stallion,” he said. “I am quite fortunate that most of the broodmares I have bred I also trained, so I know much more about the individual mare than if I had acquired her after her racing days.”

Alec Head was among the first European horsemen to recognize the importance of international racing, sending several runners to the Washington, D.C., International at Laurel beginning in the 1950s, though he lamented he never had much luck in the U.S. He would later partner with Roland de Chambure to launch a breeding operation in Kentucky. Horses he bred alone or in partnership in Europe and the U.S. include Arc winner Detroit, champion Ravinella and many others.

Also considered to have a keen eye for yearlings, Alec Head selected Lyphard and Riverman at public auction, both horses going on to outstanding racing and stud careers.

Left to right, French horsemen Alec Head, Maurice Zilber, Francois Boutin at the Keeneland Sales, November 1976.

Euduring relationships are part of the Head legacy, with the Wertheimers of Chanel fame entrusting their Thoroughbreds to three generations.

Alec Head received numerous honors internationally, including the Award of Merit from the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities and the Sir Peter O'Sullevan Award in England. In 1989, Alec Head was the Honor Guest of the Thoroughbred Club of America in Lexington, Ky. – the first European to be so honored.

Among the testimonials at the Thoroughbred Club of America dinner was one from international bloodstock agent George Blackwell, who said: “I have always thought of Alec Head as the most complete horseman of this era. Not only is he a great trainer, but he also is an excellent judge of yearlings – and the two do not necessarily go together.”

The Marquess of Hartington, then a senior Steward of the Jockey Club of England, said: “For nearly half a century, the name of Alec Head has been synonymous with all that is best in racing.”

Lord Carnarvon, who was racing manager to Queen Elizabeth II, called Alec Head “a brilliant trainer and bloodstock breeder,” and said that he “had done an immense amount of work for the benefit of racing and breeding, not only for his own country, but for the rest of the world.”

At that same 1989 testimonial dinner, the Wertheimer family sent a testimonial not only lauding Alec Head's horsemanship but his friendship. “To his professional qualities,” it read, “Alec has always added qualities of humanity, trust, and fidelity. Alec is a man with a heart.”

“I have a French passport and an international outlook,” Alec Head remarked at the Thoroughbred Club of America dinner. “But, of course, it is French racing and breeding that is closest to my experience. However, we must realize that in this international world of racing, what is good for one country is ultimately beneficial to many countries.”

Alec Head is survived by his wife, Ghislaine, and four children: Freddy, Criquette, Patricia and Martine.

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