Racing: Doumen banks on Baracouda's plain talent

Since the early 1700s, Chantilly has been the realm of dream horses, from the time when Louis Henri de Bourbon, the owner of the great chateau, convinced himself he would be reincarnated as a thoroughbred.

Since the early 1700s, Chantilly has been the realm of dream horses, from the time when Louis Henri de Bourbon, the owner of the great chateau, convinced himself he would be reincarnated as a thoroughbred.

To ensure his next life was similarly comfortable, the French prince constructed the Grandes Ecuries, the most opulent and baroque stables the world has ever seen. If Louis has indeed returned to these environs it may be within the frame of Baracouda, possibly the sovereign hurdler in the modern age of National Hunt racing.

Baracouda was out down the sandy lanes of the Chantilly forest yesterday, preparing for yet another appointment in the Cotswolds. If François Doumen's gelding wins the long- distance hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival next month it will be his third success in the championship race, his 19th in 24 starts for his trainer, an addition to the €1m (£700,000) he has already accrued. These are the statistics.

There was more to enjoy about the poetry under pale blue skies yesterday, 50km north of Paris, the sight and sound of good horses pounding up La Piste des Lions, the three-mile straight sand gallop guarded at its start by two huge, stone felines.

Doumen's small string exercised in their distinctive fluorescent orange bandages. Doumen likes his horses to be seen and be recognised. If any horse has earned the right to be the king of this particular jungle, with its winter leafless canopy, it is Baracouda.

Yet it emerged yesterday that this is no simple story of one man and his horse. It is not all undying affection between the pair.

Doumen does not like the way Baracouda looks. He is not taken with the gelding's character much either. But he admires the athlete and benefactor.

"Physically he is a very plain horse," the trainer said. "His neck goes the wrong way and his hips go out. He has got a white eye. He's spooky and he doesn't like his sugar lump. And he hasn't got that much personality, I'm afraid.

"I was completely in love with The Fellow [his 1994 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner]. He was a real personality, but you can't make me say how wonderful this one is. He's wonderful in my bank account and wonderful because he's a challenge.

"I have enormous respect for him, but it's difficult to be personally attached. I have been in touch with many horses and they have been something like pets with me. Jim And Tonic, The Fellow and Snow Drop, for example, were horses that were sensitive with me. He is not. He is a very plain horse."

Doumen was born at the side of the road in wartime France and has travelled a long way down it. There are 70 horses at his other yard, Le Gué, at Beauvoisiniere in Normandy, 20 at his Lamorlaye base, where yesterday he poured Veuve Clicquot in a front room which was not much less than a chapel to his victories around the world.

He could not have done it without the horses. There have been four Cheltenham Festival successes, 50 per cent of them provided by Baracouda, who, on 17 March, will attempt to add to the legend in the freshly minted Ladbrokes World Hurdle. The 10-year-old might look like a crayonned figure in a child's drawing book, but the engine and performance have always been something else. That was what first attracted Doumen.

"He was elastic on four legs," the trainer said. "He had an amazing approach to the jumps. He didn't seem to make any effort at all. The take-off and landing didn't appear to be an effort. His action seems to be trotting on a cloud, on an air cushion.

Doumen is 64 now, but the calendar has been kind to him. They season well on the Avenue des Chartres. "This horse is ageing positively, getting stronger," the trainer added. "He is so well today that I wish Cheltenham was next week. He's never been so strong. He's fantastically well in his skin. We have to dose his work to get him to his top on D-day."

The Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham at the weekend was a race which might have shaken Doumen, a race in which several Festival combatants were ranged. Events hardly appear to have given him the collywobbles.

"I won't write a big novel about it, but all I can say is what I saw at Cheltenham on Saturday was constructive," Doumen said. "I don't think they were of his level. He has to do it [at the Festival]. He is the best horse."

¿ The second race at Lingfield yesterday was declared void as some stalls opened before others. Cargo, the first horse home, had charged the gate in stall eight, causing those numbered five to 12 to open fractionally before those numbered one to four.

¿ The trainer Barney Curley has apologised for his outburst on At The Races against pundit John McCririck and presenter Luke Harvey after the poor run of his Cristoforo at Folkestone last Friday. "My wife's said enough's enough," Curley said. "She can't stand this carry-on."

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
News
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
video
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little