This event honours the memory of a stallion who played an important role in the establishment of French thoroughbred breeding in France. Created in 1861 under the name of the Grand Prix du Prince Impérial, it was originally run over a distance of 2 miles. Rechristened the Prix Royal Oak in 1869, its distance was also cut to 1 mile 7 furlongs. It was not until 1964 that it was increased to 1 mile 7 ½ furlongs. The race was reserved for 3 year-olds until 1978, before being opened to geldings from 1986. The Prix Royal-Oak was not run in 1870 or 1871, from 1914 to 1918, in 1939 or in 1940. In 1943 and 1944, it took place at Tremblay. One dead heat has been recorded, in 1990 between Braashee and Indian Queen. One horse has been relegated from first to second place: Hallez in 1970 to the benefit of Sassafras.
When it was created in 1861, the Grand Prix du Prince Impérial was intended to complete the Classic race card based on the model of the English system. Along with the Poule d’Essai and the Prix du Jockey Club, it corresponded to the Guineas (1 mile), the Derby (1 ½ mile) and the St. Leger (1 mile 6 ¾ furlongs) designed to assess the value of the 3-year-old crop over distances that gradually increased according to the period (May, June and September). But the creation in 1863 of the Grand Prix de Paris run in June over 1 mile 7 furlongs led to an alteration in the role of the race soon to become the Prix Royal Oak. With the passing years, the Prix Royal Oak gradually became the counterpoint to the Grand Prix de Paris, a role it would maintain for over a century and only abandon when the reform of the racing calendar in 1979 opened the race up to older horses.
Royal Oak, a brown bay male sired by Catton and foaled by a daughter of Smolensko, was born in 1823 in England, where he won eleven races, four as a 3-year-old and seven at the age of 4. “Of average size, with perfect poise and form and blessed with magnificent lines, his muscle form was flawless and his limbs simultaneously combined power and distinction. Without being perfectly square, his head had the finest expression and flowed into his neck in a gracious and flexible manner. Royal Oak was the embodiment of everything good in a horse that our latitude and climate can produce.” Thus was the description given by a real connoisseur, Ephrem Houël, of this stallion imported into France in 1833 by Lord Seymour, who installed him at his stud farm situated at Sablonville (Neuilly) near the Porte Maillot. The price for him to cover a mare was the highest of the era in France: 250 F plus 10 F “to the stable staff”. When Lord Seymour’s stable was sold off in June 1842, Royal Oak was acquired by the Administration des Haras and initially kept at their Paris yard before being moved to the Haras du Pin in 1845 until 1849 when spent, he was retired. In England, Royal Oak produced Slane (1833), who turned out to be an excellent stallion. In France, Royal Oak was highly influential, siring 171 thoroughbreds registered in the studbook and producing three winners of the Prix du Jockey Club and two of the Prix de Diane. His finest product was the mare Poëtess (1875, Jockey Club), who gave birth firstly to Hervine – Diane and ancestor of the renowned mares Plaisanterie (1882) and Ténébreuse (1884) – and secondly to the great Monarque, a truly remarkable horse and above all a distinguished sire.
The Prix Royal Oak has enabled certain Classic winners to prove that their intrinsic class was backed up by unfailing staying power. The following Prix Royal Oak victors had previously triumphed in one or more Classic race in England or France. Numbering thirty-eight in all, they represent the very best of French breeding.
First, honour where honour is due. In 1865, the great Gladiateur prevailed in 5 Classic races: Two Thousand Guineas (2 May), Derby (31 May), Grand Prix de Paris (11 June), St Leger (13 September) and Grand Prix du Prince Impérial (24 September).
Next, Perth achieved the feat of winning four Classics in 1899: Poule d’Essai, Jockey Club, Grand Prix and Royal Oak.
- Gladiateur (5 classics in 1865): Deux Mille Guinées (May 2), Derby (May 31), Grand Prix de Paris (June 11), St Leger (September 13) & Grand Prix du Prince Impérial (September 24) ;
- Perth (4 classics in 1899): Poule d’Essai, Jockey Club, Grand Prix & Royal Oak ;
- Reliance (3 classics in 1965): Jockey Club, Grand Prix, Royal Oak ;
- Relko (3 classics in 1963): Poule d’Essai, Derby, Royal Oak ;
- Le Pacha (3 classics in 1941): Jockey Club, Grand Prix, Royal Oak ;
- Fiterari (3 classics in 1927): Poule d’Essai, Grand Prix, Royal Oak ;
- Zut (3 classics in 1879): Poule d’Essai, Jockey Club, Royal Oak ;
- Boïard (3 classics in 1873): Jockey Club, Grand Prix, Royal Oak ;
- La Toucques (3 classics in 1863): Diane, Jockey Club, Royal Oak ;
- Fille de l’Air (3 classics in 1864) : Oaks, Diane, Royal Oak.
- Tourment (2 classics in 1947): Poule d’Essai, Royal Oak ;
- Brantôme (2 classics in 1934): Poule d’Essai, Royal Oak ;
- Gamin (2 classics in 1886): Poule d’Essai, Royal Oak ;
- Archiduc (2 classics in 1884): Poule d’Essai, Royal Oak ;
- Stockholm (2 classics in 1883): Poule d’Essai, Royal Oak ;
- Souvenir (2 classics in 1862): Jockey Club, Royal Oak ;
- Patricien (2 classics in 1867): Jockey Club, Royal Oak ;
- Kilt (2 classics in 1876): Jockey Club, Royal Oak ;
- Jongleur (2 classics in 1877): Jockey Club, Royal Oak ;
- Beauminet (2 classics in 1880): Jockey Club, Royal Oak ;
- Chêne Royal (2 classics in 1892): Jockey Club, Royal Oak ;
- Champaubert (2 classics in 1896): Jockey Club, Royal Oak ;
- Maintenon (2 classics in 1906): Jockey Club, Royal Oak ;
- Ksar (2 classics in 1921): Jockey Club, Royal Oak ;
- Verso II (2 classics in 1943): Jockey Club, Royal Oak ;
- Sassafras (2 classics in 1970): Jockey Club, Royal Oak ;
- Bavarde (2 classics in 1887): Diane, Royal Oak ;
- Clyde (2 classics in 1905): Diane, Royal Oak ;
- Médéah (2 classics in 1908): Diane, Royal Oak ;
- Uganda (2 classics in 1924): Diane, Royal Oak.
- Exceller (2 classics in 1976): Grand Prix, Royal Oak ;
- Pleben (2 classics in 1972): Grand Prix, Royal Oak ;
- Dhaudevi (2 classics in 1968): Grand Prix, Royal Oak ;
- Souverain (2 classics in 1946): Grand Prix, Royal Oak ;
- Caracalla (2 classics in 1945): Grand Prix, Royal Oak ;
- Filibert de Savoie (2 classics in 1923): Grand Prix, Royal Oak ;
- Brûleur (2 classics in 1913): Grand Prix, Royal Oak ;
- Le Roi Soleil (2 classics in 1898): Grand Prix, Royal Oak.
The Royal Oak in its present format
Since the race was opened up to older horses in 1979, the older horses have performed better than the 3-year-olds
The 42 winners – there was one dead heat in 1990 – break down into:
- 14 4-year-olds,
- 4 5-year-olds,
- 4 6-year-olds,
- 2 7-year-old
- 1 10-year-old.
There have been eight female winners, three of them 3 year-olds.
Only 4 horses have won the race twice: Amilynx (1999, 2000), Westerner (2003, 2004), Tac de Boistron (2013, 2014) and Vazirabad (2015, 2016, also 2nd in 2017).
Two horses have also won and then been placed the following year or the year after that: Gold River (3rd in 1981), Moonax (2nd in 1996, 2 years later) and Allegretto (2nd in 2008).
Three horses have been placed and then won the next year: Ardross (3rd in 1980), Turgeon (2nd in 1989, then 3rd in 1990), Alcazar (2nd in 2003, then 3rd in 2004), Holdthasigreen (1st in 2018, 3rd in 17 and 19).
Two horse has been placed twice without ever winning: Tajoun (2nd in 1999, 3rd in 2000) and Siljan’s Saga (2nd in 2015, 3rd in 2016).
Before older horses were admitted to the Prix Royal Oak, the foreign contingent showed little interest in the event and only one, England’s Sicilian Prince, mounted a victorious raid in 1962. Since the lifting of restrictions, they have come in their numbers and right from the first year, signalled their intent through Niniski trained by Major Dick Hern on behalf of Lady Beaverbrook. Seven other English trainers have subsequently tasted glory in the Prix Royal Oak: Henry Cecil with Ardross (1981) and El Cuite (1986), Luca Cumani with Old Country (1983), Alec Stewart and William Hasting-Bass with Braashee and Indian Queen, in the 1990 dead heat, Richard Hannon with Assessor (1992), Bary Hills with Moonax (1994) and Paul Cole with Mr Dinos (2002). Irish trainers have also got in on the act, with John Oxx obtaining victory courtesy of Ebadiyla (1997), as well as Dermot Weld with Vinnie Roe (2001). Perhaps most notable among these overseas successes is that of the veteran British horse trained by Hughie Morrisson, Alcazar, who romped to victory at the age of 10 after having been placed in the previous two years. The Prix Royal Oak was only Alcazar’s twenty-eighth start since the age of two, as his career had been interrupted several times by leg problems.
Since then, 4 foreign runners have won: Allegretto (2007), Yeats (2008), Allegretto (2009), Technician (2019).
- Rothschild Family (8 wins): Stéarine (1919), Cacao (1928), Brantôme (1934), Bokbul (1935) & Eclair au Chocolat (1938) for Édouard, Ciel Etoilé (1949), Barbieri (1964) & Lady Berry (1973) for Guy ;
- Frédéric de Lagrange (6 wins): Palestro (1861), Fille de l’Air (1864), Gladiateur (1865), Nélusko (1868), Inval (1878) & Zut (1879) ;
- Henri Delamarre (4 wins): Patricien (1867), Clotho (1869), Boïard (1873) & Clio (1882) ;
- Arthur de Schickler (4 wins): Perplexe (1875), Perplexité (1881), Escarboucle (1885) & Chêne Royal (1892) ;
- Marcel Boussac (4 wins): Tifinar (1942), Caracalla (1945), Stymphale (1951) & Macip (1955) ;
- Wildenstein Family (4 wins): Mersey (1985) et Star Lift (1988) for Daniel, Westerner (2003, 2004) for Écurie Wildenstein ;
- Aga Khan IV (4 wins): Ebadiyla (1997), Tiraaz (1998) & Vazirabad (2015 et 2016).
- François Mathet (7 wins): Vamour (1959), Match (1961), Relko (1963), Reliance (1965), Sassafras (1970), Henri le Balafré (1975) & Exceller (1976) ;
- André Fabre (7 wins): Star Lift (1988), Top Sunrise (1989), Raintrap (1993), Sunshack (1995), Amilynx (1999 et 2000) & Be Fabulous (2011) ;
- Thomas Jennings (6 wins): Palestro (1861), Fille de l’Air (1864), Gladiateur (1865), Nélusko (1868), Inval (1878) & Zut (1879) ;
- Thomas-R. Carter (4 wins): Patricien (1867), Clotho (1869), Boïard (1873) & Clio (1882) ;
- George Cunnington senior (4 wins): Gamin (1886), Bavarde (1887), Pourtant (1889) & Aveu (1909) ;
- Lucien Robert (4 wins): Keror (1922), Brantôme (1934), Bokbul (1935) & Eclair au Chocolat (1938) ;
- Percy Carter (4 wins): Priori (1925), Tourment (1947), Buisson d’Or (1953) & Wallaby (1958) ;
- Geoffroy Watson (4 wins): Ciel Etoilé (1949), Barbieri (1964), Pleben (1972) & Lady Berry (1973) ;
- Richard Carter junior (3 wins): Beauminet (1880), Perth (1899) & Macdonald II (1904) ;
- Robert Denman (3 wins): Archiduc (1884), Fer (1902) & Médéah (1908) ;
- Frank Carter (3 wins): Uganda (1924), Calandria (1929) & Victrix (1937) ;
- William Webb (3 wins): Perplexité (1881), Escarboucle (1885) & Chêne Royal (1892) ;
- Charles Semblat (3 wins): Tifinar (1942), Caracalla (1945) et Stymphale (1951) ;
- Alain de Royer Dupré (3 wins): Tiraaz (1998) & Vazirabad (2015, 2016).
- Freddy Head (6 wins): Dhaudevi (1968), Bourbon (1971), Busiris (1974), Gold River (1980), Agent Double (1984), Top Sunrise (1989) ;
- Charles Bouillon (4 wins): Cacao (1928), Brantôme (1934), Bokbul (1935) & Eclair au Chocolat (1938) ;
- Freddy Palmer (4 wins): Ciel Etoilé (1949), Buisson d’Or (1953), Wallaby (1958) & Match (1961) ;
- Yves Saint-Martin (4 wins): Relko (1963), Reliance (1965), Sassafras (1970) & Denel (1982) ;
- Charles Pratt (3 wins): Fille de l’Air (1864), Patricien (1867) & Clotho (1869) ;
- William Carver (3 wins): Boïard (1873), Mignonette (1874) & Perplexe (1875) ;
- F. Storr (3 wins): Kilt (1876), Archiduc (1884) & Galaor (1888) ;
- Edouard Watkins (3 wins): Bombon (1895), Champaubert (1896) & Chambertin (1897) ;
- George Stern (3 wins): Jacobite (1901), Fer (1902) & Médéah (1908) ;
- Guy Duforez (3 wins): Laeken (1932), Fantastic (1936) & Verso II (1943) ;
- Olivier Peslier (3 wins): Amilynx (1999 & 2000), Montare (2006).