The failure of The Fellow, trained by Doumen and ridden by Kondrat, to win the Gold Cup last year is an image vivid in the mind of those associated with the horse.
'I've seen it many times and I remember so clearly the race last year,' Doumen said yesterday. 'The horses came into the straight with Carvill's Hill well in front and Kondrat was sitting just where he was ordered to be, a length behind and holding double.
'You could have expected Carvill's Hill to carry on more than he did, but he stopped suddenly as if he had been shot between his eyes, he just dropped in five strides and that caused us problems.'
There are those happy to criticise Kondrat for failing to rouse The Fellow sufficiently, especially as Cool Ground's victory owed much to Adrian Maguire's ferocious driving, and the jockey is keen to eradicate the spectre.
'He remembers everything as much as I do,' Doumen said. 'And he's going to be even more careful that something like that does not happen again.'
Despite the carping over Kondrat (Toby Balding, Cool Ground's trainer, has said 'he is no help to the horse whatsoever') and the fact that he has been beaten a short-head in consecutive Gold Cups (Garrison Savannah was the 1991 victor), Doumen will stick with both him and the French riding technique.
'When there's only a nose in it, every detail is analysed and people have to find something to explain the nose,' Doumen said. 'I've heard all these stories about Kondrat very often, but I'm just not going to change my jockey, and if he wasn't available I would choose another French jockey.
'Our jockeys run for the jump and approach it in a more positive way. If you see the replay of the last fence at Kempton (for the King George VI Chase), the other jockeys were checking their horses but The Fellow was going forward. He is used to running for the jump, not being checked to make sure he gets over the jump safely.
'It's not a question of quality of jockey, it's schooling of horses. This horse of mine would be very disturbed to be checked on the approach to a jump, he'd probably go completely wrong.
'I won't say one method is better than the other, but my horse is used to the French way and if you change that at the last minute you are bound to have problems. It's not something The Fellow could accept.'
Many in Britain would find it difficult to accept a French horse carrying off the Gold Cup, especially as this animal is not even a thoroughbred. The Fellow is a selle francais (French saddlebred), and ineligible for the French stud book, but is a deserved short- priced favourite for the race on 18 March. He is in such good form with himself and Doumen sees only one area for unease.
'The worry for me is going to be the state of the ground at Cheltenham on D-day,' he said. 'It mustn't be heavy. But at least The Fellow is in good shape. If you're as well as he is you'll be all right.'Reuse content