Nine years ago, while writing a similar column to this in a since defunct organ, I remember eulogising about a horse that must lay claim not just to having gone under the radar, but simply evading all attention, writes Tony Stafford.
By the time of his sixth successive victory, having won twice as a late-season juvenile, and at three, adding a Conditions race and a Listed event before collecting the 20-runner Prix du Jockey Club and the Prix Niel (Group 2), he went to the Arc unbeaten despite never having started favourite.
That’s right, even after gallantly holding Famous Name (eventual winner of 21 of 38 starts, all bar one at Group 2, 3 or Listed level) at Chantilly, he did not even head the market for his Arc trial. He won it only narrowly – his sole win at a mile and a half - so maybe fifth around three lengths behind Zarkava and one adrift of Youmzain and Soldier of Fortune was decent enough in a first defeat.
In four seasons’ racing he won ten of his 17 starts, collecting £2.5 million, bolstered by further Group 1’s, the Prix Ganay, a Prince of Wales and a Hong Kong Cup at Sha Tin. A son of dual Group 1 winner but equally unheralded Chichicastenango – what a great name – he would have been even more formidable had he truly stayed the Classic distance.
Vision d’Etat always showed a turn of foot, so when he retired to the Haras de Grandcamp at a fee of €6,000, there were plenty of takers. Among a numerous second crop, divided between Pur Sang (fully thoroughbred) and AQPS (effectively non-thoroughbred) mares was a filly out of the Saint des Saints mare Santa Bamba called De Bon Coeur.
Yesterday at Auteuil on the traditional closing day of their Autumn season and ridden by James Reveley, she made it eight wins in nine starts over hurdles (she fell when cantering clear in the other) in the Prix Renaud du Vivier, the 4yo Champion Hurdle.
Her maternal grand sire, the aforementioned Saint des Saints, never raced on the Flat and in a 14-race career competed exclusively at Auteuil. He won six of 12 hurdles and the first of two chases, being switched back to the smaller obstacles after falling in his next race over fences.
As a sire he has excelled, notably with Willie Mullins’ top-class chaser Djakadam, but it is arguable whether he has produced anything with more potential than De Bon Coeur. In his racing days he three times had to give best to the great Marly River, including in this same 4yo championship race.
As in all her runs where I have found race comments, she has been allowed to sit in behind the leaders until mid-race when, as was the case yesterday, Reveley has taken her to the front. It took some believing to witness the way she carried herself clear of her field before the home turn without any obvious encouragement from the jockey and drew away to win untroubled by ten lengths from the best of her generation. Seven of her eight wins have been achieved by between seven and 12 lengths.
Two years ago Blue Dragon won the same race with equal authority and he remains at the top of France’s hurdling tree, even allowing for the fact that he has had some alarming late capitulations on occasion.
So far there is no sign that De Bon Coeur has similar frailties and yesterday’s times take as much believing as the raw visual impression of the race. There were two other races run over the same 3900 metres (just short of two and a half miles) trip. She was nine seconds (maybe 150 yards) faster than the earlier Listed handicap won by a smart gelding and more than 13 seconds faster than a classy Martalane filly in another, worth 22K to the winner.
Vision d’Etat switched studs for this season to Haras du Treban where he stood at €2,800. I expect they will be busy next year and beyond!
There were a couple of striking performances at Navan yesterday, the Mullins five-year-old Footpad making a spectacular debut over fences suggesting he will be hard to leave out of Arkle Chase consideration next spring. Footpad, a French-bred, actually returned to his homeland for last year’s Prix Renaud du Vivier and was only narrowly beaten into second by the outsider Capivari. That race was run only four seconds faster than one of the handicaps.
The second smart performance came from another French import, Apple’s Jade, in the Lismullen Hurdle. Once with Mullins, she was moved, along with many of the Gigginstown House horses, to Gordon Elliott and the daughter of Saddler Maker will be competitive in all the big hurdles this winter.
If connections of Pallasator had expected (as I confess I did!) him to follow his charity race romp with a debut win over hurdles at Naas on Saturday, they were to be disappointed. The winner here was Next Destination, by an emphatic 13 lengths, in the happily once more visible Malcolm Denmark silks. He has run a few horses recently, still concentrating on long-term protege Mark Pitman, but this one is with Willie Mullins and was not far behind ill-fated Fayonagh in last season’s Cheltenham bumper.
That was the race where Denmark and Pitman enjoyed a 50-1 triumph together, one of eight wins from only ten starts by the brilliant Monsignor. That was his second win from four bumper runs when oddly three of his four riders - Brendan Powell senior, Timmy Murphy and Graham Lee - all won the Grand National, although the latter pair now ride only on the Flat.
Monsignor won all six races over hurdles the following winter beating triple Gold Cup hero Best Mate at Sandown and National winner Bindaree a couple of times including in the Royal and Sun Alliance hurdle at the Festival.
Norman Williamson rode the gelding in all six and will have been as frustrated as everyone in racing in the spring of 2000 when injury prevented his running ever again. Just how far he might have changed racing history must often exercise the minds of Messrs Denmark, Pitman and Williamson. It was nice to see him on show at Newbury races one day a couple of years back as an equine participant in the Retraining of Racehorses scheme and it would be appropriate if Next Destination reaches anywhere near his level.
Saturday in the UK belonged to that highly-efficient dual-purpose trainer Ian Williams. Having won the big handicap hurdle at Wincanton with his Cesarewitch runner-up London Prize, he was on hand at Doncaster to send out Saunter, a recent addition to the stable, to stroll home in the November Handicap.
In the way of such coincidences, Williams has another young horse, good enough to run second behind sadly-deceased Permian in the Listed Newmarket Stakes back in May and to canter away from his field in a Huntingdon juvenile hurdle just over a week ago. His name? Speedo Boy. His sire? Vision d’Etat. Do you feel a Triumph or more likely a Fred Winter coming on? I do.