A Franco-South African Alliance – Turf Talk: 27 February 2017
WRITING last week about the otherworldly effort by Fred Winter and Mandarin at Auteuil inevitably brought to mind an extraordinary French training achievement over the jumps not only in winning that Grade 1 Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris five times but also multiple successes on the other side of “La Manche”. For millions, this means a one-word answer “Doumen”. But to write about those achievements would occupy several Turf Talk newsletters.
That job will be done soon in a Profile of trainer François Doumen whose National Hunt and bang up to date flat careers are regularly punctuated by brilliant success. Perhaps we can serialise it and make the movie.
I am already composing lines about the Aintree crowd chanting the name of The Fellow, one of the famous Three Musketeers (not of Dumas but of Doumen), and about Nupsala (ridden by Doumen Junior) beating Dessie by 15 lengths and about the magnificent hurdler Baracouda, not to mention the tough Hong Kong star Jim and Tonic and more re-cent Newmarket and Woodbine Group 1 winner, Siyouma.
François may not be able to resist defaulting to the anti-Les Rosbifs posture of the French, but his everso slight smile when so doing betrays affectionate knowledge of his esteem amongst Brit-ish racegoers and of the sheer power of his achieve-ments in England. And he did train for H.M Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, one of the most passionate of all National Hunt owners.
A pioneer in campaigning horses overseas, M. Doumen is indeed a cosmopolitan, as is his wife, Elizabeth, born in the old Transvaal, the daughter of a Turffontein Steward and niece of a trainer, a graduate of the University of Natal and as cosmopolitan a South African as one could possibly meet.
After a few years in South Africa in the 70s, the young couple moved to France to take over the family training yard. Elizabeth rapidly “learned” life in France where her multi-lingual capabilities as a wordsmith – she was a prominent design magazine editor – and her Lon-don drama school experience carried her through.
Whilst of course deeply involved in the racing successes, Elizabeth is the boss when it comes to the Doumen’s stud farm HarasD’Ecouves near the town of Boucé in Normandy. Breeding there since the early 1990s, the Doumens have produced in addition to globe-trotting Jim and Tonic, many group winners including Rajpoute, Kasbah Bliss, Top Trip and (pictured on page 1) Aim to Please.
Since 2011, the stud under Elizabeth’s direction started to sell its produce instead of training them all, and accelerated the process by bringing in David Twomey to commercialise the farm. Meanwhile, the Doumens, who retain a base in the Southern Suburbs, sent a very high earning Mark of Esteem mare to breed in the Cape. Mieux-Mieuxand, her 2016 Duke of Marmalade foal boards at Barbara Sanne’s Oldlands Stud in the Hemel ‘n Aarde Valley.
Such activities could be the seeds of new Franco-South African cooperation in bloodstock. Not only is HarasD’Ecouves exactly where you would want a boarding farm to be but also it is fully equipped with a South African owner who is a prominent player in the French bloodstock game and a member of the establishment. Elizabeth was appointed Ambassador for Horse Welfare in a newly formed department in the French racing authority.
Buy a mare in Newmarket or Deauville? Board in France and breed to the French premiums using French, UK or Irish stallions? Generate overseas currency? All of that can be done…..just call….