» The Force of the French

The Force of the French

By Rory King

Back-to-back victories in the Melbourne Cup, Cirrus Des Aigles’s success in the Champion Stakes, and with Goldikova primed for a fourth Breeders’ Cup Mile win, the French are having a growing influence on the international scene. It seems strange, only one win in the last five years in their own biggest race, the Arc, yet there is little stopping them abroad. Even their rugby team came within a whisker of World Cup glory and spoiling a national party in New Zealand.

It’s not as if it’s a new thing, France has always been a great racing nation and had success on the world stage, but some of the names are new.

The eccentric Corine Barande Barbe has been training for a while, and although she is far from a household name, her handling of Cirrus Des Aigles has been outstanding. She produced him to run a career-best at Ascot on his tenth start of the season having had a trip to the far east at the end of last year.

Dunaden’s win was another feather in the cap of Mikel Delzangles, and his is a cap that looks set to hold many feathers. After an extensive grounding with Alain de Royer-Dupre (whose Americain put up a valiant defence of his 2010 Cup on Tuesday) and time with Jimmy Fitzgerald, Delzangles has quickly established himself as one of the leading young trainers in the world. Chineur’s win in the 2005 King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot at York quickly served notice of his talents and his preparation of Makfi to win the 2000 Guineas last year having not made his debut until the end of November was brilliant. His time with de Royer-Dupre has clearly paid off as Dunaden followed the same Prix Kergolay-Geelong Cup route to Melbourne as Americain last year.

Christophe Ferland, little known over here before this year, is another young French trainer going places. In just his fourth season training he has hit the big time with Dabirsim, whom he bought for just €30,000, who has done the Prix Morny-Prix Jean Luc Lagardere double, and who is now general second favourite for the 2000 Guineas. Ferland, only 35, is certainly a trainer to look out for.

The growing influence of France as a racing nation can also be seen with the success of French-bred horses in the National Hunt sphere in Britain and Ireland. The Doumens are no longer a regular fixture on British tracks but French horses certainly are. Excluding The Fellow, who was trained by Francois Doumen, you had to go back to L’Escargot in 1971 to find the last French-bred Cheltenham Gold Cup winner before 2007. Now though, with Kauto Star and Long Run, three of the last five renewals have gone to French-breds, and that trend could certainly continue in the next few years.

It is a similar story in many big National Hunt races – Mon Mome even bucked the dismal record of French-bred horses in the Grand National, Lutteur III all the way back in 1909 was the previous winner of the race to have been bred in France.

Some names to focus on then for the coming season. Well obviously Long Run is still around, still only six. That’s the thing about these French horses, they are much more precocious than their British and Irish counterparts. They are sent over fences at an age when some over here have barely even seen a saddle let alone an obstacle. Kauto Stone, a half-brother to Kauto Star, has joined Paul Nicholls, he’s already a Grade 1 winner over fences and is very exciting. Quito De La Roque could be top class. Mon Parrain too, he looked like he could be out of the top drawer when jumping like a stag and bolting up on his British debut at Sandown last year before finding only course specialist Always Waining too good in the Topham. He’s set to start off in the Paddy Power next weekend, the starting point of Long Run last season of course, where the subsequent Gold Cup winner was beaten, and it’s far from out of the question that Mon Parrain develops into a Gold Cup contender this season.

It may pay to follow the French for the moment then.

By Rory King