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It's au revoir, as Dunaden hangs up his racing plates

There are plenty of changes necessary outside Sydney and Melbourne racing . (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
Expert
20th July, 2014
9

You may honour Dunaden as a star of the Australian turf, with his glorious wins in the 2011 Melbourne Cup and 2012 Caulfield Cup. French racing fans know that he is theirs, ‘un globe-trotter’, world traveller and world beater.

They were drowning their sorrows in champagne on Bastille Day last week when they heard the news that Dunaden is hanging up his racing plates for good.

It is farewell, they said, to “le super champion multimillionnaire Dunaden!”

If he were an Australian footballer, ‘Doona’ would be saying that the old body couldn’t face up to another season.

He’d say that of course he’d given everything he could at every training session, but knowing where he was at and what was involved, he had nothing left.

At least he’d bow out with the satisfaction of knowing he’d won the big one.

Because of Dunaden’s poor English, it was up to trainer Mikel Delzangles to break the news to Britain’s Racing Post, and from there it was flashed to France. A foot injury – un mal à pied – was the problem.

“After consultation with his entourage, we’ve said to ourselves that it wasn’t worth the pain of continuing,” said Doona’s agent. “Henceforth he will devote himself fully in his new career at the stud.”

Retired footballers should be so lucky.

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But, sérieusement, the retirement of Dunaden is a sad story for all the racing world. It came in the same week as we shed a tear for the death of old Vintage Crop, the Irish winner of the 1993 Melbourne Cup.

If you are a fan it is well worth dusting off your school French or Google Translate to trawl the French racing websites. It gives you a new perspective on where le Melbourne Cup and le Caulfield Cup stand in international racing.

There’s a lot to be found there about Dunaden’s French wins and placings which are often passed over in haste in Australian reports.

French racing fans loved Doona. A career magique, they say.

“We’re not ready to forget this horse whose numerous French supporters have barracked for him at each of his outings, and who carried high and strong the colours of our beautiful horse-breeding territory where he was produced,” says my rough translation of website Au Canter.

“A great bravo to him, and to those who have been around him all these years, a very respectful homage for this champion – and above all I wish for very beautiful years of happy tranquillity to come for him.”

If only our footy players were given such articulate send-offs.

The stats will read: 46 runs for 10 wins and 20 places, prize money $8,122,328. Bay horse, bred in France, born 25 February 2007, sired by Nicobar (GB) out of the French mare La Marlia, trained from 2011 by Mikel Delzangles for Pearl Bloodstock Ltd.

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How will Aussies remember Doona?

In Australia, five starts for three wins.

He ran in three Melbourne Cups, for a win in 2011, a 14th after meeting interference in 2012, and an 11th under 58.5 kilograms last year.

Dunaden gave Australian racegoers one of the most impressive Caulfield Cup performances of recent years.  [Thanks Tim for correcting my error!]

Carrying the handicap weight of 59 kilograms, he started from the extreme outside barrier, which has brought many a great horse undone. Craig Williams made the decision to dive for the inside running rail before the first turn.

It saved ground but pushed Dunaden back to near the tail of the big field. There he stayed for three quarters of the 2400-metre race.

When Dunaden did make his run, Williams was forced by the traffic in front to make a sustained run way out wide around the home turn, and it was only in the last 100 metres that most racegoers saw him coming.

The Melbourne Cup win in 2011 had been no less impressive.

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French jockey Christophe-Patrice Lemaire joined a select handful of riders who have somehow managed to win the Cup at their first ride at Flemington.

Here again Dunaden found himself a long way back for most of the race, and it took all the bravery of a seasoned rider to get past a wall of horses as they came round the home bend, and to set his galloper for home.

After that it was pure courage by horse as much as rider to resist a late challenge by English horse Red Cadeaux. Only the strictest reading of the photo finish allowed the judge to call it in favour of Dunaden rather than a dead heat.

Fifteen hundred euros – his price as a weanling – had been parleyed into millions.

There is much to like in the Dunaden story.

It involves an aged French count who breeds the horse; a Dutch enthusiast of labradoodles and golden doodles (I kid you not) who buys him for a song; a German woman who trains his first victory; a succession of top French trainers who spot his potential; an ambitious Sheikh from Qatar who wants instant success in international racing… and gets it.

The scene shifts from county to country, to England, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Dubai. Where will he call home now?

Another website, Courses de Paris du Jour, enjoyed recalling the “two fairytales in one month” when Dunaden followed up his Melbourne Cup with victory in the rich Hong Kong Vase.

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I’ll chance my hand at some more translation:

“Most fortunately, all the champion quadrupeds are not the Maktoums, the Aga Khans or the Coolmores.

“The multi-millionaires have, for sure, numerical and financial superiority – but the gene is a Grand Republican and it happens that good chromosomes find their way into the common people.

“The story of DUNADEN gives back heart to small proprietors, demonstrating that anyone might know the joy of a prestigious success. The winner of the greatest Australian race has been conceived of by a very aged breeder at the end of his activities.

“He did not wish therefore to invest in the fashionable stallions and sent his mare to the obscure NICOBAR for 500 Euros. Thus was born DUNADEN.”

In my enthusiasm to remind readers of The Roar that Dunaden, like all horses, has his own personality, his own character, I’d also encourage you to look at some of the great photos.

Largely because his jockey wore yellow silks and Dunaden always wore a big white noseroll, he’s easy to pick out in replays of his races. He’s a lovely bay horse, though no-one picked the foal Dundaden as a future champion on looks or pedigree. But he was not an accidental hero.

One more translation, from the racing site French Sire, has director of the Maulepaire Stud, Pierrick Rouxel, speaking of Count Edouard Decazes, the breeder of Dunaden, and of his loyalty to the six generations of his mares that produced the champion.

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“Winning races pleased him, to breed thoroughbreds was his passion, but to win money with horses has never been his motive.

“Son of the Duc Decazes, Count Edouard is as much owner as breeder, inscribing himself into a tradition which might have qualified one for the 19th century. Which speaks of custom, speaks of faithfulness.

“Faithfulness to men (trainers for example), faithfulness to breeding theories. Faithfulness to following the line.

“The case of Dunaden is the very representation of Decazes’s conception of breeding.”

Not mentioned on the French websites but nice for Australians is the fact that some 10 generations back you will find 1890 Melbourne Cup winner Carbine in Dunaden’s pedigree, along with Carbine’s half brother and 1886 runner-up Trenton.

For pedigree enthusiasts everywhere, sire Nicobar is a rarety as one of the few direct male-line descendants (son of a son of a son for 26 generations) of the Byerley Turk – one of the three ‘foundation thoroughbred stallions’ who came to England a hundred years before horses came to Australia.

Let’s hope Doona gets plenty of opportunities to pass on that heritage as he enters his new career. Better that than having anything to do with coaches.

HOOFNOTE: Jockey Steven Pateman, profiled on The Roar on June 25, rode another double on Sunday at Warrnambool to bring his jumps tally in Victoria this season to 14 wins and 9 placings from 33 starts. That’s a mighty winning strike rate of 42.42 per cent.

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