It's that time of year again. Welcome to the 2023 French Recruits series. We are still a fair distance away from the opening meetings of the National Hunt season but I have started this series in August for the last 2 years and it seems to fit quite well between Goodwood, Galway and York. The first thing to say is that this has been the most difficult year to produce. A lack of available information about the sales and now the whereabouts of many French horses has made it a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack at times. At the time of writing I have an unprecedented 22 horses on the "unknown" list. I'm sure they will turn up somewhere along the line but it can be frustrating and there is much more to this series than just typing a horse's name into Google and finding all of the required information at your fingertips.
In the last 3 years I have been very lucky when writing these pieces, especially with the Juvenile hurdlers, as I have unearthed Quilixios (Oct 20), Vauban (Sept 2021) and Lossiemouth (Aug 2022). Will we find the Triumph hurdle winner in August this year? Well, let's hope so but despite the run of form that the French horses are in, it will come to an end at some point and so I won't be advising any specific ante post bets, but I will let you know of any that I have had a speculative punt on for March. This years series will be quite short and to the point as there are a lot of horses to get through and I wanted to be able to share as many as possible, whilst also making the workload manageable. The plan is to cover each horses breeding, form and the ratings that I have them running to over hurdles in France. If they have gone chasing, I will do my best to assess that form also, but I haven't yet perfected a ratings model for the races over fences so this will be slightly more subjective.
Before we get cracking I wanted to say how much I enjoy writing this series and the interest that it generates with National Hunt fans is superb. If you ever want an opinion or to discuss a horse then please feel free to drop me a line in the contact us page on this blog or send me a DM on social media and I will do my best to answer as soon as possible. However, I have decided that 2023 will be the final year for the French recruits series. In part this is because it takes around 3 hours to research each piece, not including the 3-4 hours every week spent searching the BHA and HRI sites to try to find where various horses are sold to. More than this though is the fact that I also like Flat racing. I'm 37, which isn't that old I know, but as I am maturing I am finding the 12-month narrative around the Cheltenham festival more and more trivial. The month of June should be spent in the garden with a beer and a barbecue whilst Royal Ascot is going on, not looking at the Ante post markets for the Triumph and the Supreme. There's so much more to this great sport than those 4 days in March and it is time to let someone with more enthusiasm for the Jumps take over the mantle. I've said my piece now and I am sure there are plenty who won't agree, but that's how I feel and I realized that this year when I enjoyed Royal Ascot far more than ever before. Let's just hope that we can end this series with a flourish, here's the first horse.
4-year-old Gelding who has joined Nicky Henderson for Mrs Angela Yeoman.
Cokoriko x Pafadas (Martaline)
Bred by Ecurie Sagada
5th Foal. Dam won 4 of her 8 starts, including Listed (French Rating 69k). Half-Brother to 3 winners including Italian Grade 1 winner Mauricius.
Twice raced over hurdles, he was sent chasing at the start of 2023 by Dominique Bressou and managed to win a Class 4 contest in March before producing a career best over fences when 2nd in the Listed Prix Philippe Manager on his final start in April. His form over fences is solid without being exceptional and on the back of that form he was given a rating of 66.5k by the French handicapper which would translate to 133 in the UK. That's fair form, but it is his hurdles form that is more interesting to my eye, especially as he retains his novice status.
He made 2 starts over the smaller obstacles in the autumn of 2022, both at Auteuil and it is the debut run that stands out. This was the Listed Prix Finot (Poulains) and the form of this race could not be working out better. Excello raced prominently throughout that contest and actually jumped the last in front, only to be collared in the final strides by the fast-finishing Libeccio after a protracted battle on the run-in with the 3rd placed Authorityt Seven. The time was just 3.91s outside of the course standard and despite coming off the bridle as they turned for home, he showed a great attitude to battle all the way to the line and be beaten just a short-head.
The winner has gone on to win a Listed hurdle and is now rated 68k, the 3rd is one of the highest rated maidens in France (70k) but he has subsequently placed at both Listed and Grade 2 level, whilst the 4th placed Kansas du Berlais has joined Gary Moore and won 3 times in the UK, earning a rating of 117 after 6 starts. I have Excello running to a rating of 76.5 on my own scale, which puts him in the top 15 performances for 3-year-old debutantes last year and it is no surprise that he was able to make his mark at a higher level after such a promising debut. His second start has produced a much lower rating, but given that the model I use looks at the time as part of the calculation, that is no surprise as this race was run on very tacky ground in October. He was narrowly beaten again, this time by the Francois Nicolle trained Javelot, with 4 subsequent winners in behind. He raced prominently on both occasions and looked relatively straight forwards and he has the ideal blend of experience and a Novice status for his new connections to try to exploit.
Nicky Henderson hasn't been on the phone to ask my opinion, but if he did I would lean towards the hurdling route as it can be very hard for a 4-year-old to go chasing, especially once they lose the weight for age allowance and as a winner over fences in March 2023, his options would be limited. Over hurdles, he could take in a maiden or novice hurdle for his first start, but if they felt slightly bolder they could surely take advantage of an opening mark of 133, which would look to leave him with 10lbs or so in hand.
I have placed a link to his French form with France-Galop below for anyone looking to do their own research.