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

6 March 2023

French Champion Hurdle the big target after latest Auteuil triumph.

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.”


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