King George and the French connection

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The Independent Online

The French connection with jump racing in this country is long and honourable; in fact it is no exaggeration to say that horses from across the Channel have shaped the modern sport. In breeding terms, the Irish were quick to realise the potential of French-breds as stallions, from Vulgan in the Fifties to Roselier in the Nineties.

The French connection with jump racing in this country is long and honourable; in fact it is no exaggeration to say that horses from across the Channel have shaped the modern sport. In breeding terms, the Irish were quick to realise the potential of French-breds as stallions, from Vulgan in the Fifties to Roselier in the Nineties.

On the track, barely a major race goes by these days without Gallic imports being somewhere near the sharp end (King George contenders Lady Cricket and Edredon Bleu, for instance). But Martin Pipe and the others who have discovered the worth of such beasts were not the first. In the immediate postwar era Royal trainer Peter Cazalet regularly raided France for quality young stock. One of his recruits, Manicou, became the first horse to run in the Queen Mother's colours, and won the 1950 King George, consolidating his owner's interest in her newly-adopted pastime. And that Royal pat-ronage was one of the single most important factors in jump racing's growth in popularity.

But in the early years, actual challenges from France were few and far between, and when Nupsala won the 1987 King George, he was the first French-trained winner anywhere in Britain for 25 years. François Doumen, a confessed Anglophile, has waged a one-man campaign and perhaps it is fitting that he has spanned half a century by becoming the Queen Mother's first trainer in France.

Before the Doumen era there were only four French-trained King George runners. Mateo (20-1) came fifth in 1948; two years later Cobios (100-8) was going ominously easily upsides Manicou when he came down three out; Le Drole (20-1) was last of six in 1951; and four years later New Quick (100-7) fell at the first.

Nupsala (25-1), the first of Doumen's nine contenders, beat Desert Orchid 15 lengths. The Fellow ran four years in succession, winning in 1991 (10-1) and 1992. He was then third and finally pulled up. Val d'Alene (10-1) came fourth, with Algan 6th, in 1995 and Djeddah (25-1) refused three out three years ago.

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