‘Unbelievable’ Ile Est Francais in great shape for Boxing Day

Trainer Noel George described Ile Est Francais as “the best horse I’ve had anything to do with” ahead of his planned British debut in the Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

A Grade One-winning hurdler last year when officially trained by George’s British-based father, Tom, the five-year-old has made a fine start to his career over fences with successive victories at Auteuil.

As Ile Est Francais carries the familiar colours of part-owner Richard Kelvin-Hughes, George and his training partner Amanda Zetterholm are keen to test his powers on UK soil, and he is now being readied for a festive trip across the Channel.

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Trainer Noel George
Trainer Noel George (Valentin Desbriel)

“Because he’s owned by Richard Kelvin-Hughes, who has half of him, we are obviously going to want to compete in the UK at some stage,” said George.

“I thought it would be best for him to run over English-style fences early on his career so he’s learnt before he has too much of a tendency to jump like a real French chaser.

“I think the track at Kempton will suit him very well and he’s obviously still a novice, so hopefully it should be a nice opportunity.”

With Ile Est Francais having been campaigned almost exclusively at Auteuil so far, he will have a number different questions answer at Kempton, where James Reveley will ride.

Ile Est Francais enjoys a schooling session
Ile Est Francais enjoys a schooling session (Valentin Desbriel)

George, though, is unconcerned about a step up to three miles, the possibility of better ground or travelling abroad, while he will also have the opportunity to school over English-style fences before the big day.

He added: “The ground was very soft last time and Kempton never gets very, very soft. He’s got a very high cruising speed and a slick jumping style, which I think will definitely suit the track and I don’t think the trip should be an issue at all.

“France Galop built us three made to measure English fences on the grass and he’s going to school over them next week. There’s two plain fences and a ditch, so he’ll have seen them all. I would have been happy going without doing it, but he’ll be going there having seen it.

“He’s very straightforward and he’s travelled a lot to go away for grass gallops. There’s always a little bit of a question mark about the travelling, but he’s very professional and has got got a companion going with him, so he should be very settled and I don’t think it should be an issue.

“I think we’ve chosen the closest track to the Channel tunnel, so he doesn’t have to go too far!”

Having seen his father saddle numerous big-race winners over the years, George admits it would be a special achievement if he can secure Grade One success of his own on home turf.

“It would be a complete dream. His main target this year is the French Gold Cup in May, but this is very much a prestigious race on Boxing Day at Kempton – one of the biggest days of the year,” said George, speaking on a Jockey Club press call on Wednesday.

“We had to discuss it between us because you have to bear in mind there are two different owners’ opinions. We want him to win on the big stage for both of the owners and I think, hopefully, he’s capable of doing it.

“I talk to dad every day and he gives me lots of advice. He worked for Francois Doumen when The Fellow and horses like that were coming over, so he was saying how he thought we should approach coming over to the UK. I think we’re doing it at the right time for the horse.”

Ile Est Francais with Noel George and James Reveley
Ile Est Francais with Noel George and James Reveley (Valentin Desbriel)

The George-Zetterholm partnership has already saddled a couple of runners in Britain this season without success, but it is clear expectations are significantly higher for their latest challenger.

George said: “He’s the best horse I’ve had anything to do with – he’s unbelievable.

“He’s very much going there with a French flag. Even though we’re not French, he’s trained in France and he’s a French horse.

“When we’ve got the level of horse that we think can compete on the big stage we’ll definitely bring them over to the UK.

“We’ve had a couple of runners already, but this is our first proper big gun coming over, flying the flag. He’s our best horse, so fingers crossed he can show us what he’s made of.”

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