The National Hunt season over in England/Ireland is starting to draw to a close as the major Spring Festivals are about to get into full flow, over in France however, the French National Hunt season is only starting to begin with racing resuming back at Auteuil on March 3rd. The French National Hunt season is very much revolved around ‘The Theatre of French Jumping’ Auteuil, which hosts racing between the months of March – June and then September – November at the historic Parisian jumps course. With racing back at Auteuil, it marks the return of the French jumping superstars and stars in the making. This year, more than ever, there seems to be a plethora of stars ready to step out on the hallowed Auteuil turf in 2017. The following ‘2017 French National Hunt Season Guide’ will take a look in closer detail at those horses ready to take centre stage at Auteuil this year. Part 1 looks at the established French superstars, young pretenders and top prospects ready to dominate at Auteuil this year. Part 2 takes a look at some excellent prospects who stand out due to their outstanding breeding (includes siblings to a Neptune winner and dual Champion Chase winner), whilst also highlighting some top French National Hunt sire’s, whose progeny are a must to look out for this year and culminates in a look at some overseas stars from England/Ireland ready to visit Auteuil this year, which includes a former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner.
Age – 3
Owners – The Papot Family
Trainer – Guillaume Macaire
Breeding: Martaline – Sacral Nirvana (Mansonnien)
Ca Marche is a 3-year-old unraced filly in training with Guillaume Macaire and is bred by the legendary breeder/full time veterinarian Benoît Gabeur. This is a breeder who has a small establishment and is only in the breeding operation as more of a hobby, but Benoît Gabeur really is a master of his craft, from his small operation he has produced spectacular results with the likes of Long Run, Master Minded, So French, Device and Top Notch to name just a few who are all bred by this National Hunt breeding genius. Ca Marche might be the next in a long collection of Benoît Gabeur’s successes, the filly is the second of the dam Sacral Nirvana’s offspring, the first was the very smart 3-year-old hurdler from 2016 On The Go. This now 4-year-old gelding looked a star in the first half of the 2016 season for Guillaume Macaire in which On The Go won three of his four hurdle races at Auteuil. Ca Marche is sired by the excellent Martaline, whose progeny have done excellent at Auteuil. With Guillaume Macaire a master at priming his youngsters from an early age and Ca Marche’s half-brother very forward for his age at 3-year-old, it suggests Ca Marche could have a big impact in the upcoming season and if she’s able to do so, could be yet another number in an ever-growing list of top class National Hunt horses to be bred by Benoît Gabeur.
Age – 4
Owners – Fabrice Foucher
Trainer – Fabrice Foucher
Breeding: Network – Fatima III (Bayolidaan)
Divine Sacrée is a full sister to the one of the greatest National Hunt horses ever, which is none other than the recently retired Sprinter Sacre, Divine Sacrée is the first of ‘The Black Aeroplanes’ full siblings to be seen on racecourse (the other full sibling is his 2015 born brother Flinteur Sacre). Sprinter Sacre’s full sister has ran once so far her in fledgling career, but this race was very much a write off. The race was an AQPS flat race on the all-weather Fibresand surface in December 2016, during the beginning of the race when going into the stalls, Divine Sacrée started off in the worst possible manner as she threw her jockey off when entering the stalls which created a delay to the race. Once racing got underway, the fillies bad behaviour continued in the race as she ran incredibly keen throughout the race pulling her jockey throughout, not too dissimilar to what Sprinter Sacre would do with Barry Geraghty on occasions. Due to the manner in which Divine Sacrée raced, it prevented her from doing anything of note during the race and her jockey eased her down quite a distance before the winning post, in which she finished 10th. It’s fair to say, Divine Sacrée’s performance was poor from the get-go, however, it would be way too hasty to write the daughter of Network off after just one race, picture Sprinter Sacre as a raw and backward 3-year-old running on the all-weather and having to go into a stall, it’s hard to imagine if even he, would have done all too well either. Just like her brother, Divine Sacrée looked to have a big physical presence about her, so the logical guess would be she needs time to develop physically, she looks to be physical and most definitely mentally backward at this stage in her career. With Divine Sacrée very much being a work in progress, it’s likely the filly won’t be seen until at least later on in the year. Hopefully between her race in December of last year and when she next steps out on a racecourse, there is a substantial improvement and she can prove if she shares any of her brother’s ability on the racecourse.
Age – 3
Owners – Ecurie Sagara
Trainer – Jean Paul Gallorini
Breeding: Saint des Saints – Miss Academy (Video Rock)
Equemauville could potentially be a very nice prospect for the National Hunt owners Ecurie Sagara. The unraced gelding is out of the Anglo Arab mare Miss Academy, who was a good mare in her career in which she started off in France, where she won five consecutive AQPS flat races and then moved to David Pipe in the UK. Her highlight over these shores was finishing 4th in both the Fred Winter and the Group 1 Juvenile Hurdle race at the Aintree festival. As a broodmare, Miss Academy has done very well thus far. All four of her progeny who have raced, have won at least once (two of those won in AQPS flat races), her most successful of which are Sizing France and Belle Academie. With Equimauville’s mare excellent in her own right on the flat and some of her progeny also faring well in this sphere, it suggests this 3-year-old will not be devoid of speed, which is a trait that will fare very useful this season, as French 3-year-old hurdles races are ran over a shorter distance. In addition to Equemauville’s mare, the gelding also has an excellent sire in the former jumps horse Saint des Saints, who has sired the likes of Djakadam and Storm of Saintly. The ideal blend of speed from the dams side and the jumping ability from his sire suggests on paper therefore, Equemauville has a pedigree perfect for National Hunt and should be very well suited to the French 3-year-old programme. In addition to this, Equemauville’s trainer Jean Paul Gallorini is excellent at getting his youngsters to do their jobs correctly from an early age, this makes Equemauville a prospect who is very much one to keep an eye on and could have a very good 3-year-old season this year.
Ev Avant Forez
Age – 3
Owners – Vincent le Roy
Trainer – Augustin Adeline de Boisbrunet
Breeding: Network – Pourkoipa du Forez (Robin des Champs)
When it comes to the breeding combination of the sire Network and AQPS Selle Français mares, it is as successful as can be. The most famous example is none other than Sprinter Sacre, but there are plenty of others too, two potential exciting horses currently in training over these shores, that are a product of the breeding between Network and Selle Français mares is the Willie Mullins novice Bon Papa and Dan Skelton’s Captain Forez. Ev Avant Forez is a full sister to Captain Forez and might just be another to join that illustrious list in the future. What really stands out about this breeding combination, asides from the success so many have, is the physical make up of these horses, they are as perfect as can be for a National Hunt horse in regards to their physical make-up and hopefully Ev Avant Forez will be like that too. With them being very big and powerful horses, it might mean Ev Avant Forez who is still just a filly might be quite backward this year when seen and could have a lot of developing to do. Nevertheless, if she is seen this season she could be a very exciting filly to watch and is one to keep an eye on for this year and most definitely for the future.
Age – 5
Owners – Magalen Bryant
Trainer – Dominique Bressou
Breeding: Martaline – Star d’Avril (Phantom Breeze)
Martinstar is a half-brother to the current star of French National Hunt Milord Thomas, with the way in which Magalen Bryant’s ownership operates, it’s not surprising in the least to see that this huge supporter of French National Hunt also owns Martinstar (under a lease ownership) and has sent him to the same trainer as his half-brother. The Dominique Bressou trained youngster has ran twice so far in his career, both of which were over hurdles at Auteuil in September, the son of Martaline finished a hugely eye-catching runner up on his debut and then went one better to win in his second race. Martinstar made a striking impression on his debut, after the last flight the grey was quite a distance away from the first and second positioned horses in the race, but in the long run-in after the last flight the son of Martaline stayed on incredibly strongly to only lose by the narrowest of margins. Martinstar made no mistake at the second time of asking over hurdles, once again Martinstar showed a propensity to stay on very strongly at the finish, this time Dominique Bressou’s youngster won fairly comfortably. Both of Martinstar’s races have been over 2m 1f, the manner in which the grey stays on strongly at the end of his races suggests he will thrive when stepped up in trip and will probably need the staying distances to be seen at best effect in the future, just like his half-brother Milord Thomas. With Martinstar still very lightly raced for a French 5-year-old, it’s likely Martinstar won’t be thrown in at the deep end early on in the season, but hopefully as the season goes on he can get near to the top level in French National Hunt, particularly when he goes chasing.
Age – 4
Owners – ML Bloodstock
Trainer – Guy Cherel
Breeding: Presenting – Lightning Breeze (Saddlers’ Hall)
Ocean Breeze is a full sister to one of the most exciting Irish National Hunt horses in training, which is none of other than the Willie Mullins and Graham Wylie owned Yorkhill. Ocean Breeze moved to France as a yearling after being purchased at the Tattersalls 2013 November National Hunt sale for €14,000 by Bertrand le Metayer. The daughter of Presenting is in training with the French National Hunt trainer Guy Cherel and is also owned by the trainer’s company ML Bloodstock. Ocean Breeze is yet to run in France, but is likely to make her hurdling debut very soon with several entries, some of which are at Auteuil. Being a full sister to Yorkhill, there will be plenty of anticipation of her when she eventually makes her debut in the hope she shares some of her brother’s ability. There could be a few notes of caution with Ocean Breeze however, first off, the filly is still only 4-years-old and horses sired by Presenting have a tendency to be late bloomers, so she therefore may need plenty of more time until she’s seen to best effect. Furthermore, Presenting is a sire whose progeny usually fare better on the good ground, Ocean Breeze is unlikely to get these conditions at Auteuil as going there usually ranges from soft to heavy on almost all occasions. Nevertheless, Ocean Breeze is in very good hands with the excellent trainer Guy Cherel and is a potentially very exciting filly to look forward to this season, if she’s able to produce performances akin to her brother, don’t be surprised to see her over these shores in the future.
Age – 4
Owners – The Papot Family
Trainer – Guillaume Macaire
Breeding: Network – Sixtees (Garde Royale)
In terms of pedigree, Scipion is near to perfection in what you’d want from a National Hunt horse, the 4-year-old is out of an Anglo-Arab dam Sixtees, who was more than useful in her racing career, the dam is also sired by the gem of National Hunt breeding Garde Royale, whose name is found often in the pages of top National Hunt horses and sires, like Poliglote and Kapgarde for example. Scipion is an Anglo-Arab breed (15% AA blood), an Anglo-Arab is perfectly suited to going over jumps and when they have a great jumps sire, like Network in Scipion’s case, the amalgamation of the Anglo-Arab dam and the sire Network results in perfection for a National Hunt pedigree. On top of his breeding, Scipion is trained by one of the greatest National Hunt trainers there’s been, which is none other than Guillaume Macaire.
So far in Scipion’s racing career, the son of Network has raced twice, both of which were over hurdles at Pau in January 2017, both races were restricted to Anglo-Arab juveniles. On debut, Scipion finished runner up, the son of Network was given a very lenient ride by Bertrand Lestrade and had too much to do in catching up the winner Horus de Pompadour, who was given a clever front running ride by Jonathan Plouganou, Scipion did stay on strongly at the finish though and was comfortably ahead of the horses behind him. Scipion made no mistake at the second time of asking two weeks later, Macaire’s youngster showed a very nice burst of acceleration when he was asked by Lestrade to get closer to the pack in the business end of the race, after the last flight in the long run-in to the finish, Scipion stayed on very strongly and looked to have plenty more in the tank at the finishing post. From a physical point of view, Scipion has stood out (see below picture), the 4-year-old is a fine specimen of a horse, which is not surprising given his breeding and looks sure to go over the bigger obstacles sooner rather than later. With the manner in which Scipion has stayed on very strongly in his two races which were over a distance of 2 miles, it suggests he will thrive over the staying distances. With these two factors in mind, Scipion could make a very exciting staying chaser in France, with Macaire quick to get his youngsters over the bigger obstacles, we may see some of that potential this year at Auteuil in the steeplechase races.
Scipion is perfect in terms of National Hunt breeding and is a fine big Anglo-Arab perfect for going over the larger obstacles this season.
Age – 3
Owners – Magalen Bryant
Trainer - Guillaume Macaire
Breeding: Saint des Saints - Westonne (Mansonnien)
Whetstone is a 3-year-old unraced filly out of the brilliant National Hunt broodmare Westonne, this broodmare has already produced two stars of French jumps racing in the form of the 2015 Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris winner So French and the excellent hurdler Device. Whetstone is a half-sister to these two French stars, unlike So French and Device’s sire who is Poliglote, Whetstone is sired by the former jumps horse Saint des Saints, who is a very good sire in his own right with the likes of Djakadam and Storm of Saintly examples of his excellent jumps progeny. Just like her half-brothers, Whetstone is owned by Magalen Bryant and is in training with Guillaume Macaire, whether Whetstone can live up to the family name is an unknown at this stage, but everything is in place for her to be a very good horse and is a very exciting filly to look out for in the upcoming season.
Saddler Maker Prospects
In May of last year, French National Hunt and the sport as a whole, lost a superb sire in the form of Saddler Maker who sadly passed away after suffering a hind leg fracture. Saddler Maker is a sire of multiple Group 1 horses, which includes the likes of Apple’s Jade, Bristol de Mai and Alpha des Obeaux. Saddler Maker died at 18, but his impact in National Hunt did not reach its maximum capability until moving to Haras de Cercy in 2013. Now although Saddler Maker losing his life last year is devastating news and a huge loss to the sport, the silver lining is having moved to Haras de Cercy in his last four years, his book of mares dramatically increased (much higher quality mares too) and therefore there are plenty of his exciting progeny we can look forward to in the coming years, who have yet to see a racecourse, included the following we’re about to look at.
The first of Saddler Maker’s progeny who could be very exciting in the upcoming season is Edgeoy. This 3-year-old gelding is in training with Francois Nicolle and owned by Jacques Detre, the exact same connections as those associated with last season’s French 3-year-old hurdling star De Bon Coeur. Edgeoy is a son of the dam called Ireland, she was a useful jumps horse in her own right but as a broodmare; she has already produced the 2016 Scottish Grand National winner Vicente and the smart five time Auteuil winner Porto Rico. Edgeoy does have an older full sister who was fairly average before passing away, but the hope is Edgeoy will be a lot different and can maybe get to a closer level as his aforementioned half-brothers. With Saddler Maker’s progeny very versatile in regards to ground, Edgeoy should be well suited by Auteuil and could me an exciting son of Saddler Maker to look out for this year in France.
Another of Saddler Maker’s progeny to potentially look out for is Elodie des Bordes. Unfortunately, it is not known yet who the 3-year-old filly is in training with and she may not even be seen this year in France, but if she is, the filly could be a very exciting National Hunt prospect. Elodie des Bordes is out of the dam Nostra des Bordes, in her racing career she was modest at best, but as a broodmare, she has fared much better which is not too surprising considering the excellent National Hunt family she is from on the dam’s side, which includes Garde Royale featuring in it. Two of Elodie des Bordes’ half siblings have amassed over €100,000 in prize money, one of which was a three time Auteuil winner. Hopefully Elodie des Bordes can share some of the ability her siblings have and with the influence of Saddler Maker, she could be a very exciting prospect to look out for in this season and beyond, and no doubt will be an excellent broodmare in time too.
Two of Saddler Maker’s other progeny too look out for are the fillies Apple’s Shakira and Echo Tiepy. They are not guaranteed to run this season and they may even be sold overseas before even racing in France, due to their potential value, but if they are seen there will be a lot of interest in seeing how they'll fare. Apple’s Shakira is a full sister to Apple’s Jade, the filly is a year younger than the triple Group 1 hurdles winner. Echo Tiepy is a half-sister to Coastal Tiep, who is no doubt one of the best looking National Hunt horses in training, in regards to his physical make-up. Echo Tiepy’s also has other useful half siblings so is from a good family and with Saddler Maker as her sire, if she is seen this year in France, it will be very exciting to see how she fares.
One of Saddler Maker’s progeny who we’ve already seen race, but is most definitely one to keep an eye out on this year is Burn Out. The now 4-year-old made a great start to hurdling last year in his 3-year-old season and was a big money purchase for owners Simon Munir & Isaac Souede. Most tellingly, they decided to keep him in France as opposed to moving the son of Saddler Maker over to these shores. Burn Out is a four-time winner over hurdles in 2016, two of his wins came at Auteuil and his win in the Prix Robert de Lipowski was the most impressive, as he beat the smart Darling des Bordes in atrocious bog like conditions. Burn Out seemed to thrive in these conditions and his liking for that ground could prove crucial at Auteuil this season, when he goes chasing. Simon Munir & Isaac Souede have a very good young chaser by Saddler Maker over these shores in the form of Bristol de Mai, could his fellow grey by Saddler Maker Burn Out, reach a similar level in France this season?
Two Young Sires To Look Out For
Two young National Hunt sires whose progeny are most definitely ones to keep an eye this season are those of Spanish Moon and Vision d'Etat. Both have made excellent starts to life as a National Hunt sire with Spanish Moon's current flagbearer Crack Mome a strong contender in the Supreme Hurdle at Cheltenham, whilst the flagbearer of Vision d'Etat is the brilliant French filly De Bon Coeur. Both these sires have good National Hunt sires in their pages with Spanish Moon having Rainbow Quest and Saddler's Wells, whose progeny have a good aptitude for the heavy ground and therefore perfect for Auteuil, whilst Vision d'Etat has Smadoun and the legendary Garde Royale in his page. Spanish Moon has been backed in the breeding by a lot of French breeders, most notable of which are the Devilder family, who are responsible for the 'des Obeaux' horses who are equally as successful in France and England. With Vision d'Etat now considered proven among the French breeders having sired a Group 1 Auteuil winner, the 'holy grail' for French breeders, he is now high in demand and there will be plenty of interest in his 2014 crop at Auteuil this season in the hope there are others like De Bon Coeur. Both sire’s progeny are definitely ones to looks out for and plenty will have a big impact over these shores in the near future too.
Age – 5
Owners – Simon Munir & Isaac Souede
Trainer - Willie Mullins
Footpad in his three visits to Auteuil last year was absolutely brilliant at the Parisian racecourse, particularly in his two runs in the spring where he beat Device in the Prix Questarabad and then won the Group 1 Prix Alain du Breil in June. In Footpad’s last race at Auteuil in the Prix Renaud du Vivier in bog like conditions, he lost by the narrowest of margins to Capivari who was benefiting from race fitness, whereas the race in November was Footpad’s first of the season. Auteuil really seems to play to Footpad’s strengths, as English and Irish National Hunt fans can attest to from his races over these shores, the son of Creachadoir is a notoriously strong finisher in his races but not perhaps the strongest of starters in a race. With the long run-in after the last flight at Auteuil, Footpad really seems to come into his own at this point as he’s given ample opportunity to get a free run without jumping and can stay on very strongly at the finish to pick off his rivals.
With his liking for Auteuil, it is no surprise to hear Simon Munir and Isaac Souede’s racing manager Anthony Bromley mention in recent interviews regarding Footpad, that Auteuil is very much on his agenda later in the spring, with the Prix La Barka and potentially the French Champion Hurdle his Auteuil targets. The Prix La Barka is ran over a distance of 2m 5f, with a lot of the elite French trained hurdlers perhaps suited by more of a staying distance and question marks over Blue Dragon, Footpad has to go into the race with an excellent chance at a distance which looks likely to suit him. If Footpad can do well in this race, his likely target afterwards would be the French Champion Hurdle. This race is run over 3m 1f, this is a big step up in trip from Footpad’s races over these shores which are over 2 miles, but it was quite telling that Anthony Bromley mentioned recently he sees Footpad as an RSA type for next season, if this is the case, then the step up in trip to 3 miles in the French Champion Hurdle may bring about an even greater improvement in Footpad.
Footpad was excellent in his three races at Auteuil last season and really seems to come into his own in the long run-in at Auteuil, he is massive player in the big French Hurdle races in the spring
Age – 10
Owners – The Max Partnership
Trainer - Mark Bradstock
The 2015 Gold Cup winner Coneygree needs little introduction, but in an interesting move it seems the Bradstock’s are considering sending their star to Auteuil in June for the French Champion Hurdle. For those not as aware of French races, the route to go hurdling at Auteuil instead of chasing might be surprising might seem surprising on the face of it, however, French hurdles or hedges as they’re often referred to as are very much like mini fences, so in theory it should be easier for a UK chaser to revert to the smaller obstacles compared to if they were reverting to hurdles in UK/Irish races. The distance of the French Champion Hurdle should very much suit Coneygree, as should the soft Auteuil ground. Whether Coneygree can be as slick and efficient over the smaller obstacles remains to be seen, but he is a very classy and intriguing contender in what looks to be a brilliant French Champion Hurdle in June.
Age – 4
Owners – Done, Ferguson, Fogg & Mason
Trainer - Paul Nicholls
Chameron is a fairly new French recruit for the UK Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls, the 4-year-old is yet to be seen in England since moving in November, but Paul Nicholls has already earmarked sending him to Auteuil later in the spring this year. It is not too surprising that Paul Nicholls is considering sending Chameron back to Auteuil for the spring, considering the former Guy Cherel trained hurdler is unbeaten in his two hurdle races thus far in his career, which were both at the Parisian racecourse. Chameron was an impressive four length winner on his hurdling debut in which he highlighted he has a lot of stamina having been able to keep up with the gallant front runner in the race and then outstay him, whilst the others in the field were unable to get clear. In his second and final race, Chameron had to concede a lot of weight to the field but still won nicely in which he found aplenty in the long run-in after the last flight. It’s likely Chameron’s two targets at Auteuil this spring will be the feature 4-year-old hurdle races which are the Group 3 Prix Questarabad in May and if all goes well, then the Group 1 Prix Alain du Breil in June. Chameron will have to step up considerably in class from his two Auteuil races, however the son of Laveron looks a progressive hurdler and has hopefully developed enough to play his part in these races.