Last weekend heralded the final hurrah of the French Jumps season in a grand weekend that includes the French equivalents of the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup. For older readers, this latter race is the one in which Fred Winter steered Mandarin to victory without a bit.
Auteuil is a big galloping track to the south west of Paris, and stages some magnificent fixtures, even if very few seem to know about the venue. The French have never been avid racegoers, more's the pity; in fact, of the crowd that attends the annual Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in October, at least a third are English. Frenchmen are envious of our crowds, if not our prize money, which is poor in comparison to the Paris-mutuel funded French model.
In recent years, globe-trotting Willie Mullins has sent runners successfully to Auteuil, and British trainers like Tom George have been afforded temporary licences to train to capitalize on the superb training facilities and excellent programme of racing.
And true to form, one W R Mullins sent a strong team over to Paris this last weekend for a tilt at the Grande Course de Haies, including Klassical Dream, Kemboy and King George winner Tornado Flyer. Klassical Dream ran on well in the soft ground to come second in the €350,000 hurdle over 5,000m, more an equivalent of our Stayers Hurdle.
Earning more publicity was Mullins' attempt on the Grand Steeplechase de Paris, in which Franco de Port, Burrows Saint and Al Boum Photo were joined by RIchard Hobson's Lord du Mesnil. Al Boum photo disappointed but Franco de Port will be aimed at the same race in 2023 after finishing a 25l third behind Sel Jem, a seventh victory in this race for Guillaume Macaire.
Mullins and Hobson were not the only trainers from the British Isles to tilt at Auteuil riches however. One Nick Littmoden, formerly of the Hamilton Road in Newmarket, now training at Moulins near Vichy, landed a valuable listed handicap on Saturday with Captain Speaking. Always handy, he took closer order turning into the final bend, and picked off long time leader Starko at the final fence.
This was Littmoden's biggest success since his move, the ninth of 2022 from just 47 runners. To paraphrase an old BA advert, he's one of ours, doing rather well over there.
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