Francois Doumen calls time on glittering training career
One of the finest dual-purpose training careers of the post-war era has come to an end with international pioneer Francois Doumen announcing his retirement with immediate effect.
A groundbreaking trainer on the Flat with Hong Kong and Dubai hero Jim And Tonic, Doumen will forever be remembered in Britain and Ireland for the exploits of crack jumpers such as Baracouda, First Gold and, most memorably, The Fellow, who became the first French-trained winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup on his fourth attempt at the race in 1994.
Now 77, Doumen has been struggling with ill health since last winter. Speaking at his house in the Chantilly satellite of Lamorlaye on Thursday, he said: "After my hip operation I really wasn't able to be present on the gallops in the morning and it showed in the fact that the horses weren't ready at the start of the season.
"Elizabeth [Doumen's wife] had to take my place on the training tracks and I thought it unfair to keep asking of her to do that all the time.
"I don't want to just get by, to make the best of it, I would rather do the best I can or stop.
"Now I have to go to a facility in Creil every day for two months for treatment. Fortunately they don't work at weekends! But I would rather stop completely because I already have two months when I can't work."
Doumen's breakthrough in Britain came when Nupsala sprang a 25-1 shock in the 1987 King George at Kempton - a race he would win four more times - beating Desert Orchid by 15 lengths.
"It was a great period because Double Bed won a Grade 1 in America eight days after Nupsala won at Kempton," said Doumen. "At that time the yard was quite evenly balanced between the two disciplines, although after that it became much more heavily weighted towards jumping.
"It was wonderful because I came back on December 27 with Nupsala and Andre Pommier, changed wardrobes from winter to summer and left straight away for Hialeah Park in Florida with Gerald Mosse, who celebrated his first Group 1 on his 21st birthday."
The Marquesa de Moratalla became a major supporter of the jumping wing of Doumen's operation through the 1990s, campaigning the 'Three Musketeers' - The Fellow, Ucello and Ubu III - while JP McManus also enjoyed huge success with the Doumen-trained dual Stayers' Hurdle winner Baracouda and First Gold, whose victories included a King George, two Aintree Bowls and a Punchestown Gold Cup.
"Through Sol [the Marquesa de Moratalla] came the relationship with Sir Peter O'Sullevan and from him the Queen Mother, a link which brought us some unforgettable memories and the honour of training for her," said Doumen.
"I got to know JP McManus as well through Sir Peter. I offered to sell him [Supreme Novice Hurdle winner] Hors La Loi and then [Triumph Hurdle winner] Snow Drop and to begin with he would refuse, saying: 'I don't want to deprive you of all your best horses and, if I buy them, they will be sent to Irish trainers.' Eventually he gave in because we were at a function and the Marquesa de Moratalla sold him First Gold over lunch. I asked whether I would be getting commission and she said that all I would get was a guarantee that the horse could stay with me."
Doumen's long love affair with Cheltenham and British jump racing ended in 2009 when Kasbah Bliss was beaten in the World Hurdle.
Kasbah Bliss - homebred by the Doumens and owned in partnership with Henri de Pracomtal - also changed disciplines, going on to win the Group 1 Prix du Cadran on the Flat at the age of nine.
"I gave up training jumpers after I turned 70," said Doumen. "Elizabeth really insisted that I couldn't carry on doing both Flat and jumps, especially in my case as the British National Hunt season filled in the months and you never got a break. All the way through to Cheltenham with all the travelling back and forth.
"And luckily I was successful straight away and Siyouma winning a Group 1 in Britain [the Sun Chariot] really gave me heart. I've turned out at least one good filly nearly every year sincewith Xcellence and Sea Calisi coming along and then Aim To Please at the end. Now we will both concentrate our efforts on the stud and our breeding."
Aim To Please provided Doumen with his final Group winner when landing the Prix Bertrand de Tarragon at Maisons-Laffitte last September, just weeks before the death of Jorg Vasicek, a longtime supporter of the yard through such horses as Millenium Royal and Top Trip.
Doumen's final winner last week brought the story full circle, with 50-year-old Mosse in the plate when Capital Flight won at Deauville.
Reflecting on the wandering spirit that has brought him such renown outside his own country, Doumen said: "I was always seeking out new challenges from the beginning of my career because I love the idea of being the first to do something: the first to go to Hong Kong; the first European to win the Dubai Duty Free; Singapore the same. That's what I find exciting. I suppose the same with Nupsala."
FRANCOIS DOUMEN CV
Born Angouleme, June 11, 1940
Amateur rider more than 100 wins 1956-70
Assistant to Jean Doumen (father), Theo de Klerk (South Africa)
First trainer's licence 1977
Cheltenham Gold Cup winner The Fellow (1994)
Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris winners The Fellow (1991), Ucello (1993, 1994), Ubu (1995), First Gold (1998)
Grande Course de Haies d'Auteuil winners Ubu (1992, 1993), Laveron (2002)
Prix La Haye Jousselin winners The Fellow (1990), Ucello (1992), First Gold (2000)
King George VI Chase winners Nupsala (1987), The Fellow (1991, 1992), Algan (1994), First Gold (2000)
Martell Cup winner First Gold (2001, 2003)
Punchestown Gold Cup winner First Gold (2003)
Stayers' Hurdle winner Baracouda (2002, 2003)
Other Cheltenham Festival winners Snow Drop (2000 Triumph Hurdle), Kelami (2005 William Hill (NH) Handicap Chase), Moulin Riche (2005 Brit Insurance Novices' Hurdle)
Long Walk Hurdle winner Baracouda (2000, 2001, 2003, 2004)
Hong Kong Cup winner Jim And Tonic (1999)
Dubai Duty Free winner Jim And Tonic (2001)
French Flat Group 1 winner Kasbah Bliss (2011 Prix du Cadran)
British Flat Group 1 winner Siyouma (2012 Sun Chariot Stakes)
Other big Flat wins Double Bed (1988 Hialeah Turf Cup), Rajpoute (1997 Prix Niel), Jim And Tonic (1998 Hong Kong International Bowl, 1999 Queen Elizabeth II Cup), Siyouma (2012 EP Taylor Stakes)
Prix du Jockey Club runner-up Ghost Buster's (1988)
Most valuable win 800,000 (Jim And Tonic, 2001 Dubai Duty Free)
Most notable 1-2s 1993 Grande Course de Haies d'Auteuil (Ubu, True Brave), 1995 Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris (Ubu, Val D'Alene)
Compiled by John Randall