Francois Boutin : OBITUARIES

If sporting ability is measured by an instinctive feel for the game, then the French racehorse trainer Francois Boutin can be called one of the greats of his profession. His career was carved not out of textbooks or oil-burning studies; Boutin wasa man who trusted in his native skills. Boutin's distinguished demeanour gave the impression that prosperity and comfort were his by birth. In fact, his suave, upper-class appearance belied his origins; he was one of seven children from a small farming family in Dieppe. His fortune in attracting a pool of the most prosperous racehorse owners in France he made for himself, steadily gaining the experience to match his instinctive ability. The names of some of the horses he trained are instantly recognisable to even the casual racegoer: Miesque,Nureyev, Arazi, all great champions.

It was through his father's interest in training animals for harness-racing that Boutin first become involved with horses. His first serious contact with thoroughbreds came after military service in Algeria, when he joined the leading thoroughbred stud Haras du Mesnil which belonged to the owner-breeder Mme Jean Couterie.

While at the stud, Boutin met Etienne Pollet, the man who handled the brilliant colt Sea Bird II. Having left Ecurie Couterie, Boutin was working for a vet when the call came from Pollet. Boutin, then 24, took seconds to accept the offer to become Pollet's assistant.

After three years with Pollet, Boutin moved to another proven training ground: looking after young horses belonging to the dominant owner-breeder Marcel Boussac. When the two men split after a disagreement, Boutin set up on his own in Chantilly, the maintraining centre in France. His first big break came when he was asked to buy a horse for an owner called Henry Berlin, whose resources were as limited his own at the time.

In 1966 he bought the filly La Lagune for 25,000 francs. She provided Boutin with easily his biggest career win of the time in the 1968 Oaks at Epsom. It was her first overseas run, and the trip to Epsom was disrupted by a strike. But La Lagune won by five lengths.

La Lagune's success brought in better owners and better-bred horses. One of these owners was Gerry Oldham. The Boutin-trained, Oldham-owned Sagaro won the Ascot Gold Cup in 1975, 1976 and 1977 at a time when that race still carried prestige. Other top-class horses from that partnership were Lacovia, an impressive winner of the Prix de Diane (French Oaks) in 1986, and Zino, winner of the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket.

As well as being his first Classic winner, La Lagune marked the advent of an international approach to Boutin's training at a time when European raids on races in the United States and other countries were nowhere near as prevalent as they are today. Oneof his best overseas campaigners was April Run, a filly who received a prestigious North American Eclipse Award after wins in the Washington International and Aqueduct Turf Classic in 1982.

American racing has good reason to mourn the loss of Francois Boutin: no other European trainer has had such success there, particularly in the Breeders' Cup championship series. His Breeders' Cup success started with Miesque, a small, unappealing filly whose ability far outreached her looks. After racing successfully at the top level as a juvenile, Miesque gave Boutin his fourth British Classic in the 1,000 Guineas in 1987 (following La Lagune, Nonoalco in the 1974 2,000 Guineas and Zino in the 1982 running). Miesque - whose first foal, Kingmambo, won the 1993 Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2,000 Guineas) for Boutin - remains unique in winning two Breeders' Cup races, the 1987 and 1988 Mile on turf.

Miesque, like Kingmambo, ran in the colours of the Greek shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos, Boutin's most successful owner. For the past 12 years, Boutin provided Niarchos with a Group One winner every season, and in 1993 won for him the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) with Hernando as well as the Poule d'Essai des Poulains with Kingmambo. Aside from Miesque, Niarchos and Boutin's best racehorse was undoubtedly Nureyev, now a highly successful stallion. He was denied Classic status after being disqualified from first place in the 1980 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket for causing interference. ``If he had been an English horse he would not have been thrown out,'' Boutin insisted.

Some of Boutin's bitterest experiences came when racing in Britain. The colt Trepan was disqualified from the Princess of Wales Stakes at Royal Ascot when he tested positive to caffeine. Amazingly, the same horse was again disqualified when winning the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown in 1976. This time he tested positive to theobromine, a broken-down version of caffeine. Boutin described the second positive test as ``pure invention'', claiming he had been made a scapegoat.

If that was disappointment for Boutin, it was nowhere near as acute as that felt during the decline of Arazi, a colt many felt at his peak was the nearest thing to Pegasus a racecourse had seen. His two-year-old career in France in 1991 was extremely impressive. What he did the same year in the United States was awesome.

It was considered impossible for a European-trained two-year-old to go to the United States and win a race as competitive and alien as the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Yet that is what Arazi did. As soon as the stalls opened he appeared to be struggling, another European star biting the dust on a hard, cruel dirt surface. Then a miracle happened. Arazi took off, swept past the field on the turn to win by nearly five lengths.

As a three-year-old it all went wrong for Arazi. At the end of his two-year-old career, he had had operations for bone chips on his knees. Boutin was far from convinced the surgery was necessary and felt it hindered his preparation of the colt to run in the Kentucky Derby in May. Arazi flopped in the race, finishing well down the field, tired and humiliated. There then followed in the American press intense criticism of the way Boutin had trained the horse for the race. It hurt and angered him deeply. The colt and Boutin were further ridiculed by the American press after Arazi flopped again in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Boutin's American sceptics were silenced by his results in France in 1993. He and the jockey Cash Asmussen landed the first three French Classics, an astonishing achievement even disregarding the fact that Boutin was being treated for cancer at the time,and rarely made it to the racecourse.

In his last season Boutin came closest to realising one of his few remaining ambitions as a trainer: to win the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe. Hernando was prepared solely for that race, and went heartbreakingly close, just beaten by Carnegie. Typically, Boutin immediately announced he wanted the horse to stay in training so he could win the Arc in 1995 as a five-year-old.

But last year was another successful one for Boutin. Coup de Genie went close in the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket, while East of the Moon, a daughter of Miesque, won three Group One races, including the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches and the Prix de Diane.

Richard Griffiths Francois Boutin, racehorse trainer: born Beaunay, Normandy 21 January 1937; twice married (one son, two daughters); died Paris 1 February 1995.

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