While there is a friendly rivalry between Britain and Ireland at the Cheltenham Festival, a third nation has a major say in where some of jump racing’s biggest prizes end up. France supplies much of the ammunition to both sides in this annual battle, and at each of the last two Festivals, eight races were won by horses with a (FR) suffix, while in 2009 a record ten events were won by French-bred jumpers. That year they included Kauto Star who won his second Cheltenham Gold Cup, Master Minded who won his second Queen Mother Champion Chase and Big Buck’s who won what was to be the first of his four World Hurdles.
With more than 160 French-bred jumpers entered for the Festival’s handicaps alone, here are some of the French sires with good chances of success at this year’s Festival.
DOM ALCO (by Dom Pasquini) Maiden on flat who won five times over hurdles in France and once in Italy. Best known in Britain as sire of Grand National winner Neptune Collonges (third and fourth in 2008/9 Cheltenham Gold Cups) and Silviniaco Conti who misses the Festival altogether this year after three failures when strongly fancied for the Gold Cup. Both those were trained by Paul Nicholls who has been a big supporter of Dom Alco and could be represented at this year’s Festival by Al Ferof, Arpege d’Alene, Sire Collonges, Unioniste and Vicente. Al Ferof already a Festival winner in 2011 Supreme Novices’, while Dom Alco’s other Festival winner was Naiad du Misselot (2008 Coral Cup). ONE TO WATCH: VICENTE (National Hunt Chase)
KAPGARDE (by Garde Royale) Won twice over hurdles at Auteuil, including G3, and ran three times over fences, winning once and second in G1 Prix Ferdinand Dufaure. Sire of France’s current best chaser Milord Thomas and twice leading French jumps sire by number of wins in last five years. Festival possibles include Alisier d’Irlande, As de Mee, Clan des Obeaux, Fixe Le Kap and Garde La Victoire. ONE TO WATCH: GARDE LA VICTOIRE (Arkle Trophy)
POLIGLOTE (by Sadler’s Wells) Won five times on flat, including Criterium de Saint-Cloud, and second in Prix du Jockey Club. Sire of 2012 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Solemia but more successful as a sire of jumpers and champion in that sphere in France in four of the last six years. Two Festival winners to date with Butler’s Cabin (2007 National Hunt Chase) and Spirit River (2010 Coral Cup). Possibles this year include Don Poli (who has an IRE suffix, though out of a French-bred mare), Let’s Dance, Top Notch, Politologue, Roi des Francs. ONE TO WATCH: DON POLI (Gold Cup)
SADDLER MAKER (by Sadler’s Wells) A Wertheimer-bred son of Sadler’s Wells like Poliglote (out of that horse’s half-sister, Oaks third Animatrice) but failed to win from nine starts on flat, though placed up to nearly two miles. Enjoying much his best season in British Isles with Festival entries Alpha des Obeaux, Apple’s Jade, Bouvreuil and Bristol de Mai. ONE TO WATCH: BRISTOL DE MAI (JLT Novices’ Chase)
SAINT DES SAINTS (by Cadoudal) Won seven of his fourteen starts over jumps in France, including only completed outing over fences. G2 winner over hurdles and second in G1 Prix Alain du Breil. Emulated own sire Cadoudal, becoming champion jumps sire in France in 2014 when son Storm of Saintly won Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris. Two Festival winners to date thanks to Salut Flo (2012 Byrne Group Plate) and Aux Ptits Soins (2014 Coral Cup). Latter figures again in this year’s Festival team along with Connetable, last year’s Gold Cup runner-up Djakadam, Romain de Senam, Sambremont and The Saint James. ONE TO WATCH: DJAKADAM (Gold Cup)
VOIX DU NORD (by Valanour) Winner of four races on flat in France, notably Criterium de Saint-Cloud and Prix Lupin. Sire of 2014 JLT Novices’ Chase winner Taquin du Seuil and good chance of another Festival win from a line-up that could include the same horse again, along with Bachasson, Vaniteux, Vibrato Valtat, Voix du Reve and Vroum Vroum Mag. ONE TO WATCH: VROUM VROUM MAG (Mares’ Hurdle)
WALK IN THE PARK (by Montjeu) Mile winner in France at two and ran best race when second to Motivator in Derby. Well beaten only try over hurdles. Raced in the colours of Michael Tabor before starting stallion career in France but back in the Coolmore fold when bought to stand at their Grange Stud in Ireland this year. Sire of the brilliant 2015 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Douvan who is hot favourite for the Arkle Trophy at this year’s Festival, while Min looks another exciting prospect with an excellent chance of giving his sire a second consecutive winner of the Supreme. ONES TO WATCH: DOUVAN (Arkle Trophy), MIN (Supreme Novices’)
Other French sires with leading Festival hopes include AL NAMIX (Saphir du Rheu: World Hurdle), BALLINGARRY (Diego du Charmil: Fred Winter), BLUE BRESIL (Ibis du Rheu: Martin Pipe), CREACHADOIR (Footpad: Triumph Hurdle), CRILLON (Buveur d’Air: Supreme Novices’), ENRIQUE (Blood Cotil: Grand Annual), GREAT PRETENDER (Box Office: Pertemps Final), GREEN TUNE (Gangster: Albert Bartlett), GRIS DE GRIS (Campeador: Fred Winter), LION NOIR (Vyta du Roc: RSA Chase), MARTALINE (Squouateur: Martin Pipe), NICKNAME (Aurore d’Estruval: Mares’ Hurdle, Frodon: Fred Winter), POLICY MAKER (Velvet Maker: Grand Annual), RUSSIAN BLUE (Blue Hell: County Hurdle) and SMADOUN (Smad Place: Gold Cup, Smashing: Ryanair Chase).
Of these, Enrique has already sired the 2010 Champion Hurdle winner Binocular, while Martaline had two winners at the 2014 Festival with Dynaste (Ryanair Chase) and Very Wood (Albert Bartlett).
ROBIN DES CHAMPS and DENHAM RED were among last season’s successful Festival sires thanks to Vautour (JLT Novices’ Chase) and Un de Sceaux (Arkle Trophy) respectively. The Willie Mullins-trained pair are strongly fancied again at this year’s Festival, this time in the Gold Cup and Champion Chase.
[Images of Big Buck’s and Vautour courtesy of Carine06]