Tag Archive for: Noel George

British challenge on the horizon for Il Est Francais

The exciting Ile Est Francais is set to be campaigned in Britain later in the year following a dominant success on his chasing debut at Auteuil.

The five-year-old was a Grade One winner over hurdles at the Parisian track last year for Tom George and is now trained in partnership by his son Noel and Amanda Zetterholm.

He returned from a summer break for his first start over fences on Tuesday and could hardly have been more impressive in the hands of James Reveley.

“Auteuil is not easy to jump round for your first time and he jumped round like he’d been round there a hundred times. He was very impressive,” said Noel George.

“We’ve been waiting to run him over fences for a while and now we’ve been able to do it, he impressed us as much as we thought he would. Hopefully he’s got a big career over fences ahead of him.”

Ile Est Francais is set for one more run at Auteuil this autumn before potentially being readied for major meetings on UK soil.

George added: “We have to discuss it with the owners, but I think he’ll probably run at the beginning of November at Auteuil – there’s a Listed race for a five-year-old chasers, which I’d like to think would be a penalty kick for him.

“After that we’ll maybe consider the Coral Gold Cup meeting at Newbury or Kempton at Christmas. He’ll be travelling over to the UK this year, that’s for certain, but when and where that will be, I can’t say for certain yet.

“Newbury would be a nice place for him to start for his first run in England as it’s flat with a nice, long straight.

“I think we’ll probably start him over two and a half miles because he runs over two and a half a lot over here and we can then make a decision on whether he needs to go up or down in trip.

“He’s very versatile and for me, with his speed and jumping, he could easily be a two-miler in England, but we’re dreaming of winning a French Gold Cup with him one day and that is over three and a half miles, so we don’t want him going the wrong way.”

Burke steps up for Il Est Francais ride

Jonathan Burke will head to Auteuil on Sunday for the plum ride on exciting prospect Il Est Francais, who continues his French Champion Hurdle preparation.

The Noel George and Amanda Zetterholm-trained five-year-old is already a Grade One winner and is unbeaten in five attempts over hurdles.

With regular partner James Reveley sidelined with a broken leg, Felix de Giles came in for the ride on the gelding when he won by a length and a half from Kapteen earlier this month, who renews rivalry.

Il Est Francais is set to take on six rivals, who include Arnaud Chaille-Chaille’s crack hurdler Theleme, in the Prix Hypothese, a Grade Three contest over an extended two and a half miles.

Going two furlongs further than when landing the Grade Three Prix Juigne at the same track, George is anticipating it will be a tough assignment.

He said: “He is running and Johnny Burke is coming over to ride him. I just thought we should give him another run.

“He has come on a lot for his comeback run. We are taking on Theleme, who is one of the best hurdlers in France, so it is not going to be an easy task, although he’s got to give us four kilos as well, so hopefully we can keep our unbeaten record.

“But the main objective is in May (French Champion Hurdle).”

Il Est Francais, winner of the Grade One Prix Renaud du Vivier at Auteuil in November, could represent owners Richard Kelvin-Hughes and Haras De Saint-Voir at the Cheltenham Festival next year, should he progress as hoped.

Yet George and Swedish-born Zetterholm, who owns the yard at Avilly Saint-Leonard on the outskirts of Chantilly, are taking it one race at a time with the strapping gelding who takes a bit of work in order to get him cherry-ripe.

George added: “He might have another run before the French Champion Hurdle after this. We will see how he comes out of it.

“To be honest, he is not easy to get 100 per cent fit, because in the morning there are not many who can go with him.

“It is quite nice to get a few runs into him before the big race, but we will see. He is a nice horse.”

British race-fans won’t have to wait too much longer before finally getting to see Il Est Francais in the flesh.

“Hopefully he will be in England in autumn when we go novice chasing,” said George.

“He will probably run in a French chase first and then maybe come over at Christmas-time, for something at Kempton or something like that.

“Hopefully we will be at Cheltenham next year for a novice chase I think.”

Noel George doing father Tom proud, as Il Est Francais flies the flag in France

Il Est Francais is a step closer on his French Champion Hurdle quest as the George continental foray continues to prove fruitful.

The five-year-old has become a flagbearer for the father and son French venture, winning three times under Tom George’s name before switching to a joint-licence held by his son Noel and Amanda Zetterholm.

Having landed a hat-trick of hurdle contests that culminated with a Grade One success in the Prix Renaud du Vivier in November, which he won by eight lengths, Il Est Francais then stepped out of his age group to take on the Grade Three Prix Juigne at Auteuil on Sunday.

Running for the first time under the name of his new trainers, the gelding was an authoritative length-and-a-half winner for Felix de Giles as usual rider James Reveley was ruled out after a fall.

The French Champion Hurdle – the Grande Course de Haies d’Auteuil held in May – is the ultimate target and he may take in another outing along the way.

“I was delighted, he had to step up his game when going from his age group to open company but he did it impressively,” George said.

“He’s definitely going to improve for the race, he’s a very exciting horse for the future.

“He won’t be coming to the UK until the autumn, the French Champion Hurdle is the main plan. Whether or not he’ll have a prep race for that – there’s one in three weeks or one in six weeks – we haven’t really decided.

“He is bucking and squealing in the field today and we’ll see how we go over the next week or so.”

The Prix Juigne serves as something of a trial for the Grande Course de Haies d’Auteuil, with Il Est Francais defeating 2022 winner Hermes Baie at the weekend and prior champions such as L’Autonomie and Paul’s Saga contesting the race en route to the summer Grade One.

“It’s the first big prep race for the Champion Hurdle in the programme at Auteuil and he managed to keep his unbeaten record in it, which is great,” said George.

“It was the first time Felix had ridden him and he got off him and said that he’s a very, very smart horse that’s going to be even better when he jumps a steeplechase fence. It’s very exciting to hear that when someone gets off.”

The horse is proving George’s French enterprise has been a worthwhile pursuit and is helping establish a family operation that runs on both sides of the channel and can open new avenues for horses handicapped out of contention in Britain – with the French-style hurdles also acting as a middle ground between smaller British hurdles and steeplechase fences.

“For horses that end up being badly handicapped, the programme out here is based on how much money a horse has won, a lot of horses can have won races in England and not picked up any money,” George explained.

“Also, for example, we ran a horse round Auteuil under dad’s name and he’d got a bit scared over English fences, but we ran him here and he just fell in love with it again.

“It gave him lots of confidence over those French hurdles rather than the high tempo of the chases we have in England.”

Prize-money is another great draw, with Il Est Francais the winner of over €300,000 in prize-money and premiums during his career so far.

“At the end of his four-year-old year he’d earned nearly €250,000, for what he’s won you’d have to be winning Grade Ones in England to be honest,” said George.

“It’s a great programme in that he’s been able to run against his own age group for a certain amount of time and he’s only just stepped into open company.

“It’s taken a few a years, I’ve had to learn the language and move away from home to a completely different lifestyle.

“To bump into a horse like him so early on has meant it’s not a difficult decision at all, these are exciting times and hopefully he can attract new owners and prove that horses are able to do it on both sides of the Channel for myself and dad.”