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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

How bold-jumping Edredon Bleu bravely triumphed in the King George

Edredon Bleu and Jim Culloty win the 2003 King George
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First published December 8, 2013


Win, lose or draw in the 2003 King George, Edredon Bleu's place in racing folklore was already secure. His titanic battle with Direct Route in the 2000 Queen Mother Champion Chase is one of the legendary duels in jump racing and, along with his four Peterborough Chase wins and bold-running style, that ensured he was never going to be forgotten.

However, with stablemate and 2002 King George winner Best Mate sent to Ireland for the Ericsson Chase, he was handed the chance to give his glittering career a fairytale ending by adding a first win at three miles to his bulging cv. With his 12th birthday just a week away, and having failed to stay in the same race three years earlier, victory appeared unlikely. But where Edredon Bleu was concerned, nothing was impossible.


Champion Chase and King George hero Edredon Bleu dies aged 26


FIRST STEPS TO GLORY

Jim Lewis, Edredon Bleu's owner I went to France to buy a horse called Or Royal but the owner wanted to put him in the sales rather than agreeing a private sale and Martin Pipe and David Johnson outbid me by a considerable amount. We were a bit disappointed as we had high hopes for him and of course he went on to win the Arkle. I said to my agent in France, Pierre-Charles le Metayer, "keep the money and find me another horse" and he found Edredon Bleu. David Johnson and I always used to joke about it because it could have been very different.

Henrietta Knight, Edredon Bleu's trainer When he first came to me he looked like two planks put together – thin and worn out. We were very disappointed as he'd had such a big build-up and I was expecting a big, robust horse.

Jim took him home for the summer and fed him up and he came back looking good in the autumn. But when we raced him he was very disappointing. He pulled up on his third start under Richard Dunwoody at Ayr in a two-mile chase and I remember Richard saying to me: "I think Jim Lewis has been sold a pup – he's no good and can't jump."

We were shattered and had a long discussion about what we were going to do. Terry [Biddlecombe] told Jim not to give up because he'd shown he had ability as a four-year-old in France. We looked at some of his photos from his past races and noticed he was running in a tongue strap, which we didn't know about. We tried him the next season in the tongue strap and he went from strength to strength. He was a revelation.

From that moment Edredon Bleu never looked back and, in a wonderful era of top-class two-mile chasers, marked himself as one of the best of his generation. His victories included the 1998 Grand Annual, the 2000 Champion Chase, two Haldon Gold Cups and four Peterborough Chases.

Knight We thought two and a half miles would be his optimum but he won easily over two miles at Sandown on his fourth run of the 1997-98 season and AP McCoy said he'd win the Grand Annual, so we kept him back for that and he won it well. We kept him to two miles after that and he ran some fantastic races.

The best race he ever ran was when he won the Champion Chase under what was one of AP's greatest rides – he dared him at every fence. Edredon Bleu would make up all his ground by being so quick away from his fences – he was like greased lightning over them. He was headed by Direct Route on the run-in but he wanted to be the one in charge and forced himself back in front.

Edredon Bleu and Tony McCoy jump the last in the lead from Direct Route and Flagship Uberalles

KING GEORGE FAILURE

The following season it was business as usual, as Edredon Bleu secured a third win in the Peterborough Chase, after which connections decided to put his stamina to the test by running in the 2000 King George.

Lewis It was always a topic of debate whether he'd stay three miles. He always stayed on at the end of his races and, as well as having doubts, we thought there was a chance.

Knight Terry always said he'd stay further, so we ran in the King George. But it was too soft, which he didn't like because he couldn't bounce off it. He didn't show.

Lewis The ground had something to do with it, along with the way the race was run, but he was beaten a long way into sixth.

Jim Culloty, Edredon Bleu's jockey I tried to ride him like he was a bit of a non-stayer, which wasn't the right tactic, and in the end he didn't get the trip.

THE RACE

His King George flop proved nothing more than a minor blip and Edredon Bleu was back to Grade 1-winning form at Sandown on his next start. A further seven wins followed over the next two and a half years, including three straight victories at the beginning of the 2003-04 season, after which he was handed a second crack at the Christmas showpiece.

Knight Best Mate was going to Ireland and, as Edredon Bleu was in such good form and the ground was quick, we thought we had nothing to lose by running. I couldn't believe he could win but Terry was always adamant he could stay three miles, especially round Kempton.

Lewis We arrived at Kempton very early in the morning and my son phoned. He said: "Dad, why did you tell everyone in the pub not to back Edredon Bleu?" I said: "To be honest, son, he's 25-1 for a start, which is an indication of his chance, and there's a doubt whether he'll stay – he's a champion two-miler." "Well, should I back him?" he asked, and I told him: "I wouldn't if I were you."

Edredon Bleu was a 25-1 shot in a field of 12. Heading the market at 2-1 was French raider Jair Du Cochet, with the 2000 winner First Gold also strongly fancied.

Culloty This time I said to him, "Go as fast as you can for as long as you can" – if he didn't stay, he didn't stay.

Lewis He was leading but they came to get him down the back and at that stage I thought we might get a place with a bit of luck. Then suddenly Jim galvanised him for one last effort.

Culloty He was the first one off the bridle turning down the back and I feared the worst when they got to me. I decided to pull him out and allowed them up my inner. With a horse like him it's about keeping confidence high. If they'd have come round the outside, they'd have then come in on me and taken my ground. He'd have thrown in the towel. So instead I pulled out, filled his lungs and was able to kick him into the straight with his head just in front and no danger of getting blocked off. It gave him a bit of heart.

I gave him a good old drive down to the third-last; I rode into it as if it wasn't there. We were upside Thierry Doumen on First Gold, he bottomed it a little bit and we made two lengths, which gave my horse a bit more heart and on he went. The rest is history. I rode him at the beginning of his career and again at the end but not really in the height, so to bag a Grade 1 at the end of it was an unbelievable thrill.

Henrietta Knight can't contain her excitement as Edredon Bleu wins the King George

Knight I managed to watch and remember standing on the rails just beyond the winning line. Once he got his head in front again he got his morale back and thought he was in charge. I couldn't believe it, I was so excited jumping about on the rail. To win over two miles, then over three with a near 12-year-old was special. He'd done a lot as a four-year-old in France and people say French horses don't last but he blossomed as he got older. He was almost at his best when he was 12.

Lewis It was a surprise he won but it didn't surprise me that he stuck his neck out. He was so brave and an incredible jumper. Poor old Jim Culloty missed a King George through injury and I was as chuffed for him as I was for the horse. It was up there with his Queen Mother win. It was the fact that we never expected him to win – and the good news is my son still speaks to me. I'll never have another Christmas like that one as Best Mate went to Leopardstown and won his race.

THE AFTERMATH

Knight He was a sensitive horse who liked his comforts but he was fantastic to deal with and absolutely adored. You had to gallop him so little and keep him fresh and enjoying life so that he thought he was in charge, although he knew Best Mate was the boss out in the field. They were best friends.


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It was a surprise he won but it didn't surprise me that he stuck his neck out. He was so brave and an incredible jumper

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