Doumen expects a sterling exchange

William Hughes finds the French backed with cash and confidence
Francois Doumen believes that the bookmakers again underestimated the French challenge for today's King George.

"If they were trained in England, my horses would have been half those odds," claims the trainer, referring to some of the more extragavant prices quoted about Algan and Val D'Alene when ante-post betting opened on today's race.

Doumen, who says he has not the slightest interest in betting on French racing, has landed some notable gambling coups in the King George since he brought the unconsidered outsider Nupsala to Kempton in 1987.

"I backed him at 50-1 before that race, and he won it by 15 lengths," he said. "And I could not believe that I was able to get 16-1 about The Fellow when he won it first time."

And Algan last year? "Yes, of course. I was on at 25-1, or was it only 20s." Needless to say, he has backed both his pair at healthy prices for today's contest.

Although admitting that the race looks especially strong, Doumen feels remote enough in his SIS-free Lamorlaye yard not to be harried by the big Anglo-Irish reputations lined up against his horses. "I am sitting here in France, and I read in my English racing papers good news about one rival, and bad news about another. I don't worry too much either way."

And Doumen has little to worry about, his string having accrued well over pounds 1.5m in prize-money in 1995, including a blitz of Flat and jumping winners just before the Parisian racing season closed down a couple of weeks ago.

All this despite the death of his stable stars, Ucello and Ubu, and the retirement of dual King George winner The Fellow to the Marquesa de Moratalla's stud near St Albans.

As for Algan and Val D'Alene, the trainer says: "They have been running in the top French jumping races this season. At home I have just been keeping them warmed up and they are both very fit."

Doumen is not prepared to split the two, but Ian Williams, his assistant, does confess to a slight preference. "Last year I told Lord Oaksey that I preferred The Fellow to the inexperienced Algan. That opinion was then broadcast on television before the race, so I felt a bit embarrassed afterwards.

"This time I do think Algan may be the one, he really is spot on," Williams said. He has been an integral cog in the Doumen team since he left Jenny Pitman's yard four years ago.

Doumen has also targetted So Far Bold at Kempton's Feltham Novices' Chase and the trainer is not reluctant to make grand comparisons about him.

"He is a quality horse, who recently won the same good race at Auteuil that Val D'Alene had won en route to his success in the Racing Post Chase," he said.

The role of the today's venue in the Doumen success story can be gauged from the fact that the family Jack Russell is called Kempton.

And even Kempton, the dog, seems lucky for Doumen. A year ago the trainer and his wife Elizabeth mislaid Kempton 50 miles from the stable only to recover him after what Doumen describes as "a bizarre series of coincidences".

"Anything to do with Kempton seems lucky for us."