Obituary: Etienne Pollet

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The Independent Culture
ETIENNE POLLET was one of the greatest trainers of racehorses of the 20th century.

His training career spanned only 28 seasons and yet, as well as winning nearly all of Europe's major races, he prepared several great champions including Right Royal, Scantus, Hula Dancer and Vaguely Noble, and in Sea Bird II he looked after a horse that few would dispute was the best to race in Europe this century.

Sea Bird II was bred in Normandy by his owner Jean Ternynck. As a two- year-old in 1964, Sea Bird won his maiden race and the Criterium de Maisons- Lafitte before being beaten by his better-fancied stable companion Grey Dawn in the Grand Criterium. As a three-year-old Sea Bird reappeared in the Prix Greffulhe which he won in a canter and then after he had beaten Diatome by six lengths in Prix Lupin, Pollet announced that the chestnut would run in the Derby at Epsom.

Sea Bird started the 7-4 favourite at Epsom and confounded the rumours which suggested he was highly strung by remaining calm throughout the preliminaries. The race appeared to be little more than an exercise canter for Pollet's champion as having shot past the field in a few strides, he was eased right down to beat Meadow Court by two lengths. Sea Bird returned to France to win the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud in July, again in a canter, before taking a long break to prepare for his final career start in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in October.

The 1965 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe brought together one of the best fields for a horse-race this century. The 20 runners included five Derby winners and champions from France, England, Ireland, Italy, Russia and the United States. Sea Bird started the 12-10 favourite, but his main rivals included Reliance, the unbeaten winner of the Prix du Jockey-Club, Grand Prix de Paris and Prix Royal Oak, Meadow Court, who had won the Irish Derby and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes since Epsom, and the American three-year-old Tom Rolfe, the winner of the Preakness Stakes. The strength of the field did nothing to diminish Sea Bird's superiority and Pollet's champion beat Reliance and Diatome by six lengths and five lengths. Tom Nickalls, of The Sporting Life, described Sea Bird's victory as "the best performance of my lifetime".

Three years later, in 1968, Pollet won the Arc with another great champion in Vaguely Noble. Vaguely Noble was sold at Newmarket for a record 136,000 guineas at the end of his two-year-old career following the death of his breeder, Major L.B. Holliday. As a result, the colt was not able to run in the Classic races and his new part-owner, Nelson Bunker Hunt, insisted he should be sent to Pollet to win the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Pollet ran Vaguely Noble only four times. In the spring, he won the Prix de Guiche and Prix du Lys very easily, before finishing only third in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud. He reappeared in the Arc, for which he started 5- 2 favourite, and won easily, defeating the Epsom Derby- winner Sir Ivor by three lengths.

Pollet had started training in Pau in 1943, in his early thirties, and was the leading trainer in France in 1944, with 36 winners. The following year, he moved his stable to Chantilly, where he remained until his retirement at the end of the 1970 season. His first top horse was Pan, who won the Prix Royal Oak in 1950 and the Gold Cup at Ascot the following year.

His other major winners in England included Right Royal, the winner of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, the 2,000 Guineas winner Thunderhead II, Never Too Late II, who won the 1,000 Guineas and the Oaks in 1960, and another great filly, Hula Dancer, who won the 1,000 Guineas, the Prix Jacques le Marois, Prix du Moulin and the Champion Stakes in 1963. In France Pollet also won the Prix du Jockey-Club with Right Royal and Scantus, while in 1953 he saddled the full siblings La Sorellina and Silnet to finish first and second in the Arc de Triomphe.

Pollet was renowned as a trainer of two-year-olds and in this sphere his feats included winning the Prix de la Salamandre every year from 1955 to 1962 and winning the Grand Criterium seven times in 11 years. His best horses were able to win top races at two before training to repeat the feat at three.

Perhaps the most extraordinary feature of this long list of triumphs is that Pollet trained for only 28 seasons and never kept more than 50 horses in his stable. After his retirement from training, Pollet remained a familiar figure on French racecourses and was always present for the big days of his pupil and close friend Francois Boutin, who became a great trainer after him.

Etienne Pollet, racehorse trainer: born 1911; died 27 November 1999.

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