The second day at the 2023 Cheltenham Festival yielded further French bred winners thanks to Impaire et Passe who lifted the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle Race. His trainer Willie Mullins was as always in great form and sure enough, only a couple of races later, Energumene successfully defended his crown in the Grade 1 The Betway Queen Mother Champion Steeple Chase. As a little anecdote, Energumene, a son of Denham Red and Olinight who was bred by Christophe Dubourg, actually started his career in Point-to-Point races before he was sold to owner Tony Bloom. Energumene’s victory was followed by Delta Work, bred by C. Magnien & J. Magnien, who also successfully defended his title in the Glenfarclas Chase, while the Henry de Bromhead trained seven-year-old Maskada made it a fourth French bred win of the day when she beat the favourite Dinoblue in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase. Maskada, a daughter of Masked Marvel and Mandina, was bred by Herve Lair & Jean-Louis Lair and is a half-sister to French hurdle winner Exalting, who was trained by Anne-Sophie Pacault. This means that at the end of the second day, French breds have already won seven races at this year’s Cheltenham Festival. Breaking last year’s record of nine Festival winners, hence looks more and more likely.Impaire et Passe gets France off to a great start ! The Eric and Pascale Papon bred Impaire Et Passe was a convincing winner of the Grade 1 The Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle Race, the Cheltenham opener, on Wednesday afternoon. Formerly trained by Yannick Fouin, it was a third 2023 Festival success for his Irish trainer Willie Mullins, who said: “He was very impressive. Paul (Townend) got the break up the inside and when he picked up he flew. He stays well and I’m glad I ran him in this race after that performance.” Back in France, Eric and his wife Pascale had watched the race on TV and cried tears of joy when the son of Diamond Boy and Brune Ecossaise galloped up the hill to win the race from stable companions Gaelic Warrior and Champ Kiely. “I have just about recovered,” said Pascale Papon when she was joined by phone a little later. “We cannot believe it, it was marvellous! What a great performance, he is a real star.” What a way to celebrate a first Grade 1 success as a breeder! “Yes, it sure is and now we must absolutely come next year to Cheltenham,” she concluded. Following that impressive performance, Impaire et Passe is already getting quotes of 5/1 with British bookmakers for the Champion Hurdle 2024.
Chris Bryan: a question of prizemoneyChris Bryan loves horse racing and above all, he loves horse racing in France. In fact, unlike everyone else at Cheltenham, his dream is to win the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris rather than the Cheltenham Gold Cup. And so he has no regrets selling Gaelic Warrior, who ran three times for him at Auteuil when he was trained by Hugo De Lageneste & Guillaume Macaire, to the Rich Ricci family. “Yes, a winner in Cheltenham is nice but I really would like to win the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris,” he confirms while nevertheless watching Gaelic Warrior with eagle eyes in the pre-parade ring as he was preparing himself for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. So what is it about France that he likes so much? “I have always liked racing and had horses in England in the 1980s with various trainers,” tells Chris Bryan, who used to work in the clothing industry and had his own men’s clothing brand before he retired. “I had a horse called Off The Record who I ended up sending to Australia to run in the Melbourne Cup. He never ran in it, but he won four races for me. That was quite revolutionary back then and the prizemoney in Australia by comparison to England was astronomical. I then pulled out of horse racing in the 1990s, because the prizemoney in the UK was just ridiculous. When I wanted to come back into racing a few years later, I did some research and seeing that France has a PMU system and we had a house in France, I found myself a bloodstock agent and the rest is history.” The agent is no other than Pierre Boulard, who is Willie Mullins’ go to man and Chris Bryan confirms: “To date, Willie Mullins has trained 92 Cheltenham Festival winners and if you look back, you will see that Pierre Boulard has sourced probably over half of them. That is the reason why I came to him. That was four years ago.” Originally, Chris Bryan wanted to be a flat and jump owner, but ended up focusing only on jump racing. Today he has horses with Hugo de Lageneste & Guillaume Macaire and has become great friends with Pierre Boulard. “A condition to be a client of Pierre was that I needed to have my horses in France,” continues Chris Bryan. “He introduced me to Guillaume Macaire and I would very much like to be the owner who gives Guillaume his ninth Grand Steeple Cup because it is an incredible record. I love racing in France, I love the atmosphere, the tracks and I think the breeding of national hunt horses is par excellence !”
So close and yet so farGerri Colombe, who was bred by Christophe Boistier and M. A. Boistier, had two horses in front of him when he jumped the final flight in the Grade 1 The Brown Advisory Novices’ Steeple Chase. On the flat, he dug deep and got within a nose of The Real Whacker who just had his head down at the right time when passing the finish post. Nevertheless, it was a great performance by the French suffix, who is by Saddler Maker out of Ruse de Guerre. Two French raiders in the Stayer’s Hurdle ! Following Gold Tweet’s success in the Gr2 Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January, it was maybe not that much of a surprise that French trainer Hugo Merienne decided to take a leaf out of his colleague’s book and supplement Henri Le Farceur for the Stayer’s Hurdle. Bred by Nicolas de Lageneste who is a third-generation breeder based in the Allier region where he operates from his stud, the Haras De Saint-Voir, Henri le Farceur would not be his first high-profile horse to run at Cheltenham. In fact, many of his horses have found their way across the Channel and he has a very close relationship with Irish trainer Willie Mullins. This week will be his fourth visit to Cheltenham and he says: “The first time I went to Cheltenham was when Quel Esprit (a son of Saint Des Saints, who was bred and promoted by the de Legeneste family) was going to run in the Gold Cup. Trained by Willie Mullins, he had won the Irish Gold Cup, but then for whatever reason, he was declared a non-runner on the day. It wasn’t the greatest experience, as I wasn’t organised and barely managed to get a ticket. In fact, I had to buy a ticket from a ticket tout and then I didn’t even get a proper place in the stands to watch the race. It is my fault as I am so used to the races in France, where you can get really close to the horse, but that is not the case at Cheltenham. In France, everything is open and in Cheltenham you have to be organised, you must have tickets, a parking, etc… Obviously, it’s fabulous when you are there and when you have a horse like Vautour win the Ryanair chase. I have to say that I still prefer Auteuil to Cheltenham, simply because you can get closer to the horse, but obviously I am very excited to come to Cheltenham this year for Henri le Farceur. It’s all organised, I have a ticket and I’m sure it’s going to be a great experience, especially since I believe he has a real chance !”
Getting a week off from school to ride at the Cheltenham FestivalMost teachers frown on pupils taking time off from school to go on holiday, but the teachers at St Augustine’s College in Ireland were more than understanding when they let John Gleeson take off the week to go to Cheltenham. But then, the 18-year-old was not going on holiday but was actually riding the favourite A Dream To Share in the Grade 1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper on Wednesday. “This was my first ride at the Cheltenham Festival,” said John Gleeson who only had his first ride under rules at the Curragh in October 2020. “It’s all a bit surreal but it’s really exciting and I can’t believe I actually won it. I had to request the week off from school and thankfully got accepted! In fairness to the school they were very good to me and have been very supportive, which is nice!” A Dream To Share is trained by 85 year old John Kiely and carries the famous colours of John P McManus. The Champion Bumper is a Grade 1 National Hunt flat race, which is open to four, five and six-year-old horses. It is run over 3300m and has been won twelve times since 1992 by Willie Mullins. In fact, Irish-trained horses have enjoyed a superb record in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, accounting for 23 of the 30 winners. And while it has been won by famous jump horses like Florida Pearl, Cue Card or Facile Vega, the Bruno Vagne bred Envoi Allen, who won it in 2019 for trainer Gordon Elliott, is the only French bred horse to grace the podium.
Did you know that Cross Country racing was introduced to Cheltenham in 1995 ?While cross country racing has been taking place at Cheltenham since 1995, the Glenfarclas Chase, which asks horses to negotiate 32 obstacles, including banks, ditches and hedges over 6000 metres, was only introduced to the Festival in 2005 when the Festival went from three to four days. Dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll is the only horse to win it three times, while Balthazar King, Garde Champetre and now Delta Work are the only horses to have won it twice. Delta Work, who is trained by Gordon Elliott, was bred by C. Magnien & J. Magnien and becomes the third horse to win the race back to back. On another note, Irish trainers boast a formidable record in this race, having taken 15 of the 18 renewals. Philip Hobbs, trainer of the 2012 and 2014 scorer Balthazar King, is the only British trainer to have been successful. Although Cross Country chasing is a very popular sport in France, there has only been one French trained winner and that was in 2020 courtesy of the David Cottin-trained Easysland. However, the Enda Bolger trained dual winner Garde Champetre, was the first French bred to win this race in 2008 and 2009. He was a son of Garde Royale and Clementine Fleurie and was bred by Olivier Delegue.