For a period, he was the leading two mile chaser on Irish turf, especially when conditions were at their most testing. Nickname was dominant during the winter of 2006 and spring of 2007, winning six of his seven outings.
He arrived in Ireland in 2005 off the back of three successful years over hurdles in France. Under the guidance of Jean Paul Gallorini he had run up a string of graded victories at Auteuil including two at Grade 1 level.
Martin Brassil was tasked with handling the young chaser and Nickname made an instant impact with a stunning chase debut at Leopardstown at the end of December 2005, in the process thrashing Willie Mullins’ leading prospect Our Ben by 10 lengths. He followed up with another thumping victory just a few weeks later at the same track, giving notice of a special talent that would come to fruition in subsequent campaigns.
It was the following winter as a seven-year-old turning eight, that he dominated affairs over the minimum trip. The likes of Newmill and Central House were no match for him when conditions turned testing. In five victories from December 2006 to March 2007 he won by an aggregate distance of 61 lengths. He shot to a handicap mark of 168, and looked set to dominate for several years to come.
However, at the age of nine the owner Claudia Jungo-Corpataux surprisingly decided to retire him to stud, taking him back to his native France. It was a sad moment for Brassil, who at the time commented: “He left the yard about four weeks ago and is going to be syndicated for stud in France. From day one there was always a chance he would return to France but we were sorry to see him leave as it will certainly be hard to fill his boots, that’s for sure.”
He had won nine races during his time in Ireland, the highlight being the success in the Grade 1 Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown in that stunning winter of 2006. “That was my first Grade 1 winner so it was a special day for the yard and gave us all a lot of pleasure,” said Brassil. “He was also a revelation the way he won his beginners chase at Leopardstown the previous year,” the trainer added.
Sadly his spell at stud was all too short, when having to be put down after suffering a fractured tibia in his stable at Haras de Victot. Thoughts of the classy gelding have been reignited with the chasing debut of one of his most talented offspring; the Paul Nicholls trained Le Mercurey. Co-owned by Chris Giles of Silviniaco Conti fame, this latest French import arrived in the UK last year with a huge reputation. His performance over fences at Plumpton yesterday suggests he may soon deliver on that promise.
Still a relative youngster at five, he was a top-class juvenile in France, but was always expected to make into a better chaser than hurdler. His pedigree certainly suggests the larger obstacles will bring out the best in him, though like his ‘old man’ he may need testing conditions to be at his very best. He certainly looked a natural over his fences yesterday, effortless at times. He appeared to out-stay Violet Dancer, who had taken up his usual front-running tactics. You’d expect the winner to improve a fair amount for the run, and he looks sure to have a successful campaign.
Another Nickname gelding was making an impact a week or so ago, this time in Ireland, when Gwencily Berbas took a Grade 3 hurdle at Naas. Trained by Alan Fleming, the four-year-old ran away from Willie Mullins’ young hurdler Petite Parisienne in fine style. The way he attacked his hurdles with aggression and enthusiasm was quite eye-catching. The trainer was full of praise after the race, saying: “He is a lovely horse and a real chaser in the making. He’s one for the future over the big ones but he’ll definitely stay over hurdles this year.”
Venetia Williams is another to get in on the act, as she produced the five-year-old Yala Enki to win a novice hurdle at Exeter a fortnight back. A Nickname gelding out of a Cadoudal mare, he’d been successful over fences in France and may well run at Haydock this coming weekend. He destroyed the opposition at Exeter under an aggressive ride from Aidan Coleman. It was hard work for many in the prevailing testing conditions, but not for the winner.
It’s great to have these youngsters flying the flag for their famous father. Sad as it is that Nickname’s career as a stallion was cut so short, nevertheless it appears he’s left us with a few exciting prospects to follow over the coming winters.