The Flat season is over by now surely? Yes we still have the Champions Days, the Arc and the seemingly never ending series of 2-year-old races at Newmarket to come, but once the July meetings have come and gone it is time to look forwards to the Jumps. Flat fans probably see things in a different light. Many of them would be right to think that the Jumps season, with its Cheltenham obsessed layout, never really goes away and its reliance on the March showpiece is becoming a somewhat stale narrative. They’d be right. This series is going to highlight a number of horses who already feature in the Ante-post Cheltenham markets, despite the fact that they have never run in the UK or Ireland and the prices on offer for most of them are quite frankly appalling.
I’ve been very fortunate when writing this series in the past. In 2020 I found Quilixios and in 2021 Vauban, so when I first started this research project it was going to include a planned assault on the Triumph hurdle markets. However, I soon changed my mind when making a couple of polite enquiries with several bookmakers and realizing the game was gone. Being given a quote of 10/1 for a once raced 3-year-old, who didn’t even win on his only start at Auteuil was enough to make me realize that it would prove a pointless effort.
Instead I’m going down a different path. Hopefully, though I may naturally make the odd error, this series will not mention the word “Cheltenham” outside of this first piece. I’ll focus on the horses, what they have achieved, who they have been sold to, who will train them, what their record is like with similar recruits and what type of track and conditions may suit. That’s where it will stop. There won’t be any quoting of prices or discussion about which Festival race will suit. There will be no recommended bets, no quotes of prices and no suggestion as to what mark a horse may get for the Boodles Juvenile hurdle or the Champion Bumper.
So what has been happening with the French recruits? Well for a start there are more names on my list than in either of the 2 previous years that I have written this blog. I’ve whittled it down but the first draft had a list of over 100 horses who have crossed the Channel since March. At last count, there was over €3m worth of sales and that is just for those horses where the official sales price has been published. Many more have been sold privately and quite likely for bigger sums. French bred National Hunt horses are very fashionable. The high prices being demanded from the Point-to-Point field, especially in Ireland, has led to many connections looking to recruit elsewhere and France is the destination of choice.
The plan is to build a list of horses to add to the tracker, some will win graded races, some may go right to the top, whilst others may end up running in a 0-100 handicap hurdle on a wet Monday afternoon at Plumpton. Whatever the weather, I have got a solid list together which should bring a long some decent winners throughout the season. Before we get cracking I should also say that I will be releasing them in short, sharp bursts, probably 1 per day to start with. Partly, this is to make it easier to focus on each of the horses, but mostly it’s because I am traveling in the US for August and don’t want to spend too much time writing this when I could be out with the family.
There is one final point before I get started and that is a lesson that it seems to be taking me a very long time to learn. French horses, particularly National Hunt types, are so different to the Point-to-Point recruits bred in the UK. They start schooling earlier, often as Juveniles and many of them will have jumped a proper fence by the time they turn 4. This is mainly because French racing follows a very different pattern, with Jumpers bred to peak as 5 and 6-year-olds, as the winners of this years Grand Steeple and Grande Course de Haies did. Sel Jem and Hermes Baie were not bred to win a Cheltenham Gold Cup at 9 or a Grand National at 10, nor were they given a year running in bumpers and another in uncompetitive Novice hurdles. They were given proper schooling, sent over hurdles and were bred to rise through the ranks and peak in their prime, which they have.
Equally speaking, whilst there has been the odd exception, Docteur du Ballon in recent times, these horses may well be long past their prime by the time they reach the ages of 8 and 9. Defi du Seuil is perhaps the best example of this, a horse who was brilliant at 3 and 4, peaked again aged 7, but by the time he was 9 the miles on the clock had caught up with him. Willie Mullins was often questioned for minding Al Boum Photo so much, but the fact he only raced 3 times per season probably helped to prolong his career and keep him at the top level much monger than others from his native France. There are plenty of good horses in this series, but they are bred in the main to peak as 5 and 6-year-olds and it is probably only this year that I have truly begun to appreciate that fact. By the time they are 5, Most of these horses have been in full training for at least 3 seasons and are very likely to have reached the peak of their powers, whilst the National Hunt recruits bred in the UK and Ireland are only just beginning to display theirs. The pattern repeats itself, French bred winners of the Triumph hurdle are frequent, but the list of those who have gone on to struggle in the following season would fill many posts on this blog.
So here we go. Day 1. Horse 1.
ICARE GRANDCHAMP (Gary Moore)
We start with a pick based more on breeding than form. A full-brother to multiplier graded hurdle winner Dalia Grandchamp and a half-brother to one of my favorite French horses Poly Grandchamp, this 4-year-Old has the pedigree to be very smart. His dam didn’t achieve a great deal on the track, but as a broodmare she has produced progeny that have returned just short of €1.5m in price money in France.
He made his debut for Francois Nicolle at Auteuil in September 2021, finished 6th beaten just over 6-lengths. A solid start, he was given a break and returned to finish 2nd at Compiegne in March before being sold. He made the running that day and looked to be the most likely winner as he was sent for home around the bottom bend, but he tired and was caught by the eventual winner at the last. Although the winner and 3rd have not run since and it is hard to assess the form as a result, the time was solid given the soft conditions and I think it can be trusted as a piece of form. He looked raw, jumping slightly to his right and seemed to be taking in the occasion with his ears pricked and his mind not always on the job, so there is almost certainly a lot of improvement to come. He shouldn’t mind soft ground and will probably stay further than 2-miles in time, though he may take a couple of runs before he starts to show his full potential.
Bought for €155,000 by Nicolas Bertran de Balanda, he will run for Harry Redknapp and be trained by Gary Moore, as so many of Nicolas’ purchase have been. Nicolas told Jour-de-Galop “He is going to England and will be trained by Gary Moore. He is a great horse, who does not seem to have matured yet, and I think we'll give him time to settle in. He has the profile to do well over fences in the future."