Updated: Feb 22
When you tell people that you analyse French racing for a living, most racing fans switch off. Other than the Arc weekend in October, it’s not very high on most peoples agenda. The efforts made by France Galop and others has helped to raise the profile, but in the main it is still a minority aspect of the sport in the UK. French jumps racing follows a similar pattern. With the possible exception of the cross-country races held at Cheltenham, where the French passion for these races really comes into its own, or the occasional UK and Irish raider for the French Gold Cup or Champion hurdle at Auteuil, it is seen as little more than a breeding ground for the UK and Irish National Hunt scene.
Master Dino changed that.
Trained by Guillaume Macaire, Master Dino made a busy, but relatively quiet start to his career. Indeed, he had 9 starts in his 3-year-old season over hurdles, all at Auteuil, with a gradual improvement that culminated in victory in the Grade 1 Cambaceres Hurdle in November of that season.
He returned at 4, adding 4 more wins over hurdles to his CV, including another Grade 1 in the Renaud du Vivier Hurdle. However, it would be over fences that he would really make his mark on the racing world.
A 30-length demolition of a decent field on his chase debut at Auteuil was followed by a performance that made him a star on the wider stage. On a cold, grey Sunday at Plumpton, he announced himself. Guillaume Macaire is an infrequent visitor to the UK, with a preference for running horses closer to home at Auteuil or Pau, but when he brings a horse to the UK it is never just for the duty free trip on the Ferry. Master Dino was very well fancied and was sent off 11/10 favourite.
This was no ordinary Novice chase, the field consisted of Knocknanuss, Glenloe, Slate House, Good Man Pat and Onefortheroadtom, who have all made their mark since.
Master Dino settled perfectly under Daryl Jacob, putting in a brilliant round of jumping and when asked, he picked up the long time leader Knocknanuss and went away on the run to the line to record a 7-length victory.
Now he had hit the headlines, everyone became aware of this superstar French chaser who was about to take the racing world by storm. Priced up as short as 6/1 for the JLT Novice chase at the Cheltenham Festival, injury was to rob him of the chance of taking up that engagement, but he had still made a lasting impression on the British racing scene.
In 2020, after 18 months off the track, he made his long awaited return at Dieppe, where he won twice with the minimum of fuss, before a further setback ruled him out of a shot at the Grand Steeple at Auteuil in October.
At 6-years-old, he was far from past his peak and his career record will stand at 11 wins and 6 places from 20 starts and over €676,000 in prize money. Perhaps his legacy is more important to remember. Master Dino was able to bridge the gap between British and French racing. In spite of winning just one race at Plumpton, Master Dino had captured the imagination of the racing public and elevated French jumps racing to a new level. Suddenly it was no longer about French imports bought by Mullins, Henderson, Nicholls and co, instead, French horses were seen as being competitive in their own right.
To lose him at 6 is devastating and my thoughts are with all of his connections, but hopefully he will be remembered for paving the way for French trained horses to have more of an impact on the National Hunt game across Europe and beyond.