Blackmore out of luck in France as ‘amazing’ Docteur De Ballon lands Auteuil repeat

Rachael Blackmore was out of her luck on her trip to France for the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris as Docteur De Ballon produced his trademark late run to complete back-to-back victories in the Auteuil showpiece.

Louisa Carberry’s nine-year-old came from last to first in the hands of Betrand Lestrade, running out a ready winner of the Grade One heat over three and three-quarter miles, worth £327,000 to connections.

The nine-year-old had been seen just the twice since collecting the valuable prize in 2020 that was delayed until October due to the pandemic.

Le Berry, David Cottin’s unbeaten five-year-old, was sent off favourite and tried to make all the running. However, his stablemate General En Chef shared pacemaking duties until the complexion of the race changed dramatically at the business end.

General En Chef held a narrow lead at the second-last, but he was strongly challenged by Carriacou. The 2019 winner, ridden by James Reveley, put in a big bid to reclaim his crown – but Docteur De Ballon had other ideas.

The 3-1 shot stormed into the lead and pulled away to score readily by five and a half lengths. Carriacou was second, with three and a half lengths back to Galleo Conti, who snatched third place from General En Chef by a short neck.

Blackmore – riding at Auteuil for the first time – held a prominent position on Ajas for the Cottin stable for most of the race until the seven-year-old ran out of steam in the final half-mile.

British raider Lord Du Mesnil, trained by Richard Hobson, was up with the pace until unshipping Danny Mullins at the 10th fence.

“What an amazing horse. The horse is just everything to us. Philip (Carberry, husband) had done a huge amount of work with him. Bertrand just rides him perfectly,” Carberry told Sky Sports Racing.

“I just wanted him to come home safe this year. I didn’t want to put any pressure on him. To do that is just exceptional. I’m just lucky to have him.”

She added: “It’s unbelievable. To do that is so unreal. Philip has been associated with Princess D’Anjou and won it twice (in 2006 and 2008), now him. It makes you want to cry. It’s just amazing.”

Rachael Blackmore out to make history at Auteuil too

Rachel Blackmore reigned supreme at Cheltenham and Aintree this season – and this weekend, she has France in her sights as she rides Ajas in the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris.

Blackmore became the face of the National Hunt game when crowned leading rider at the Cheltenham Festival and then making history with her Grand National victory on Minella Times.

On Sunday, she will be seeking to become the first female jockey to win the most prestigious race of its kind in France, when she teams up with trainer and former champion jockey David Cottin to ride Ajas.

“It’s a privilege to be able to ride in the race and even better when you get to ride a horse like Ajas,” said Blackmore.

“I have watched his videos, and he looks a very nice horse to ride, very straightforward – and it also looks like he’s improving. He is a very exciting horse to ride.

“It’s going to be my first time over there, my first time riding on that track. I think he is a very nice horse to get to experience Auteuil – he knows what he is doing more than anything.”

Coronavirus restrictions have made life tougher for travelling jockeys, of course, and it will be a flying visit for Blackmore – who has called on two of the best when asking for advice.

Rachael Blackmore became the first female jockey to win the Grand Nationa
Rachael Blackmore became the first female jockey to win the Grand National (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“Quarantine issues are quite strict, so I am not arriving in France until Sunday morning, and I will walk the track then, and get a feel for it. I also spoke with Ruby (Walsh) during the week, and David Cottin – and he will obviously be able to tell me a lot more than most trainers, I think, about riding the track,” she said.

“I will definitely speak to some people about this, and walk the course myself. At the end of the day, I am the one riding it, and have to kind of figure it out for myself.

“I have obviously only seen pictures and videos (of the fences at Auteuil) – and they look massive! They do look very big, but I am very excited to be able to ride round there – and getting to ride a horse like Ajas makes it all the more exciting.

“In Ireland and England, we have Cheltenham, Punchestown, and the Grand National, but I think that they are closely followed by the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris.

“It’s definitely a race that we would always watch and admire. It’s a race that you would be very excited to be taking part in, and I am just excited about it more than anything!”

Isabelle Pacault was the first female trainer to win the Grand Steeple in 2019 with Carriacou – while Louisa Carberry, married to Champion Hurdle-winning jockey Philip, followed suit last year with Docteur de Ballon. Both former winners line up again.