He was one of the leading lights of the trotting world from1990 to 2010. Jean-Etienne Dubois left France eight yearsago to make a life for himself in Australia, still in the world of horses, but in the world of galloping. He has been coming back regularly ever since, like a perfect globe trotter. This time, the French break is rolonged. “JET’ will have spent the summer in France. His words are rare. Nevertheless, he agreed to talk to us. About what prompted him to turn the page on his French life and his Australian experience, all through the prism of racing.
Jean-Etienne Dubois is in France. For several weeks now.The man who was one of France’s prodigies in the discipline, combining precociousness with an exceptional record of achievements, disappeared fromnational programmes almost ten years ago. It was a gradual process, but the youngest of the Dubois siblings, son of Jean-Pierre and youngest son of Véronique and Jean-Philippe, embarked on another life, on the other side of the world, inAustralia. At the time, his decision caused a great deal of ink to be spilled and feathers to be dipped in the ink of incomprehension. How could a man in his forties, who had succeeded in everything, who had enjoyed the greatest honours both on the track and at stud with Coktail Jet(Quouky Williams) and his Jet label, how could a man who at the time had in his stables a pearl in the making named BoldEagle (Ready Cash), how could this man leave everything behind in France? His return in recent weeks is fuelling fresh speculation. What if Jean-Etienne Dubois was back in Franceafter what would appear to be no more than an Australian interlude? No, says the man himself.
It all happened in just a few years. Jean-Etienne Dubois began to leave the French trotting scene eight years ago, then definitively turned the page on trotting four years ago by selling the Haras de la Perrière, including its livestock, toMatthieu Millet, the founder of Ecurie Hunter Valley. Among his sales is, of course, Bold Eagle (Ready Cash). What was to become one of the greatest competitors in history and remains the richest French trotter of all time (with earnings of€5,124,087) ran as a 2yo until the summer of his 3rd birthday, in 2014, for his breeder Jean-Etienne Dubois. His sale to an association made up of Pierre Pilarski and the Bernereau family will mark the official departure of Jean-Etienne Dubois for another world. The world ‘down under’. Present in France this summer, regularly seen at the Deauville meeting, Jean-Etienne Dubois was at last week’s Auctav sales at the Bois Roussel stud. He was there with his family, as part of an initiative spearheaded by his nephew Louis Baudron, who is also president of Auctav. Jean-Etienne Dubois only appeared as a spectator. He will confirm this. A free interviewwith a man of few words.
Where do you stand today? We’ve been seeing you inFrance for several weeks now, particularly in Deauville thissummer. There are even rumours that you might be making a comeback.
Jean-Etienne Dubois: I know that. But it’s not true. I now spend 70 to 80% of my time in Australia. The rest is spent inEurope and a little in the United States. I came back for a longer time because I had more things to do in France thissummer. I left trotting completely four years ago when I sold my business (editor’s note: the Haras de la Perrière toMatthieu Millet/Ecurie Hunter Valley). Now my life is gallopers. I have absolutely no more interest in trotting.
Let’s go back to that incredible decision several years ago to leave trotting. You were born there, your family created the largest influential French group in the sector. You’ve had great success in the industry, not least thanks to Coktail Jet. So why?
J.E.D.-. I couldn’t see an attractive future any more. I couldn’t see any change in direction that would give me hope that we were going to evolve, and evolve well. There was no sign of an opening on the horizon, for example. We were and have remained a small domestic market, just us. It didn’t really appeal to me any more. What gets you up every morning? It’s trying to fi nd a better horse, a better horse and a better horse.But I had the feeling that we were going round in circles with our origins. No matter how hard I tried to turn it around, there was no way out. What does trotting boil down to these days in terms of the number of male bloodlines? Two strains, three strains? There’s Ready Cash (Indy de Vive) and Coktail Jet (Quouky Williams). A third is And Arifant (Sharif di Iesolo), via Goetmals Wood . For me, crossbreeding had become aChinese puzzle. And, basically, when you don’t mix bloodlines, you don’t make any progress. What doesn’t move forward moves backwards. I didn’t see a promising future ahead. I hope things will change.
But things have changedsince you left. Trotting has a new management team. PMU has launched new projects. Couldn’t that be a reason to come back?
J.E.D.-. I’m not saying that, if one day they (the directors)opened up the French trotting studbook to start bringing in new blood again, I wouldn’t reconsider my position. Why not?But, for the moment, I have the impression that everyone is quite happy and satisfied with the current system.
What do you mean by“opening up the studbook”?
J.E.D.-. Quite simply what was done in 1985. To open up the studbook at a moderate and controlled level to American and/or European horses. In short, to bring in new blood. A stud can only progress with new blood. I haven’t been back to trotting sales in France for a long time and I haven’t felt this desire to move since my return. To be honest, the fact that breeding was so static was the main reason why I stopped eight years ago.
So tell us about your current life in Australia.
J.E.D.-. I breed for commercial purposes by selling my yearlings, I do pin hooking for breeze-ups (editor’s note:buying yearlings to sell them a few months later, at 2 yearsold, at sales where the horses are presented mounted and ready to run). I also train a few horses, often fillies or horses we haven’t managed to sell.
But don’t you miss top-level competition, the kind you’ve known?
J.E.D.-. Yes, but not so much the competition as the contact with the horse. Competition has become something for professionals. I’ve been watching for two months now and I can see that trotting races have become drivers’ races. Even more so than when I left the trotting circuit eight years ago.Today, we’ve really moved on to a higher level of professional driving. What I miss is the training, the contact with the horse.I don’t ride. So I don’t have the physical contact with my horses that I had when I was in trotting. It would be a lie to say that I don’t miss this aspect of training trotters.
What attracts you to Australia? What makes the country so attractive to you?
J.E.D.-. First of all, it’s a young country, from every point of view. This country is only two hundred years old. And I likeAustralia because the races there are very well organised. Everything is done to get as many starters as possible. InAustralia, they estimate the ideal minimum number of starters for the races at 12. Nothing is done to block horses in their career. For example, a colt that starts well in a maiden will not be blocked in handicaps because of this. Their system is based on handicaps but without preventing a Listed horse from finding a place in big handicaps. Their strong point is to have a racing system which is simplistic with handicaps by category which could be similar to the categories of trotting races, defined by winnings. On the other hand, as we are in a handicap logic, the value of your horse can drop if its performances are less good. The system is simple, withhorses that last over time thanks to a high turnover of starters. As a result, they have old horses that run until they are 8 years old, that people know, a bit like our trotters.
You’ve clearly found it a good place to stay.
J.E.D.-. Every system has its advantages and disadvantages, there’s no right or wrong system, but I think the Australian system is well done. It’s designed to encourage people to buy yearlings. Then, horses are traded online as soon as they are not good enough. They can then be offered on a second racing market. There is virtually no claiming, for example. If horses don’t fit in Sydney or Melbourne, they go to Perth or Brisbane, for example. And then there’s a third market like Darwin and a fourth which is Thailand.
FACTS ABOUT JEAN-ETIENNE DUBOIS
- Born in October 1969 (53 years old)
- 1,512 victories in France as a trainer (from 1989 to 2018)including:
- 1 Prix d’Amérique (1996 with Coktail Jet)
- 1 Prix de France (1996 with Coktail Jet)
- 1 Prix de Paris (1997 with Défi d’Aunou)
- 3 Prix René Ballière (1995 with Coktail Jet, 1996 with Défi d’Aunou, 2011 with Quaker Jet)
- 5 Critérium des Jeunes, etc.
- 1,222 victories in France as a driver
- Top European honours including the Elitloppet (1996 with Coktail Jet), the Hugo Åbergs Memorial (2001 with Giesolode Lou), the Kymi Grand Prix (1999 with Défi d’Aunou), the Copenhagen Cup (1999 with Giesolo de Lou), etc.
- Breeder of two Prix d’Amérique winners: Coktail Jet and Bold Eagle
Seen from Europe, Australian races seem to attract a young audience. Can you confirm this?
J.E.D.-. Absolutely. And at the root of all this, there is no doubt a general principle. Australians are looking for the simplest possible set-ups that are economically viable for owners and trainers. There are a lot of owners’ unions. Over there, it’s one horse for ten or twenty owners, not one owner with ten horses. In Australia, simplicity is key. If you want to become a member of a syndicate, everything is simplified. Everything is done to encourage people to get into the racingbusiness. I have the feeling that it’s the opposite of France, with its onerous bureaucracy that puts the brakes on vocations. The Australian system works well and offers well-funded races. Saturday is the big weekly race day and there is an incredible amount of youth. This is true everywhere, fromSydney to Melbourne, the majority of the public are between20 and 30 years old.
What would you say about the French system?
J.E.D.-. I think it could be simplified. That would perhaps allow more starters to enter the races. Simplifying does not mean reducing the number of racecourses. France’s strengthis that it has more than 200 racecourses and offers great diversity. This means we can attract a lot of people to the races. In Australia, there are also a lot of local racecourses in the spirit of ‘country racing’. It’s like going to a village fair and people love it. Do you still follow French trotting? J.E.D.-. Not very closely. I’ve obviously watched the exploits of Ready Cash’s production, who was an incredible stallion. I mainly watch the big races. On this subject, I think that thetrotting organisers have done a great thing by grouping the beautiful Group 1s together over two or three big days. It’s a very good idea. These are meetings that I watch. On the same day, you see the best horses in the country and, at the sametime, you get information about the top players.
We’re at the Rouges Terres sale, the brainchild of your nephew Louis Baudron. What’s your impression?
J.E.D.-. I think it’s a great initiative. It took courage to launch it. The fi rst yearling sale was a success. The Rouges Terressale is more lacklustre. In any case, for the business to work, the races have to work and they have to generate customers.It’s a combination of things that determines success. How did your family react to your decision to leave trotting and France? Was it a shock for some people? J.E.D.-. It was a fairly sudden decision, essentially for all the reasons I’ve mentioned. I left at the age of 45 and I think there’s an age for changing your life and leaving. After that, if you wait, you don’t leave. We’re a family of adventurers and nomads and there was really no problem getting people to understand my decision.
Bold Eagle, a source of pride and regret Jean-Etienne Dubois: “I would have liked Bold Eagle to be a great stallion, but for the moment he’s a respectable stallion. I would have liked him to be another ‘Coktail’, but that didn’t happen. Bold Eagle was the last great horse I bred and I’m very proud of him.”
A BRITISH DELEGATIONIN MAYENNE
Two weeks ago, a British delegation was welcomed toMayenne, in north-western France, as part of a Franco-British exchange programme. The exchange programme began on Saturday with a visit to Yves Dreux’s breeding and training facilities, followed by a cocktail reception on site. On Sunday, at the Laval fixture, eight British drivers (W.Greenhorn, W. Green, J. Foody, P.X. Mather, R. Wilson, Ph.O’Neill, J. Ripley and I. Pimlott) and two French drivers (Eric Raffin and Paul Ploquin) competed in the Prix de l’AmitiéFranco-Britannique, the second race on the card. To add to the British atmosphere, the race was commented in part inEnglish by young announcer Steven Lees. The race was won by Paul Ploquin, driving Horizon d’Almani (Very NiceMarceaux) in training for Nicolas Martineau. The BritishTrotting Federation (Trot Britain) also had a booth at the meeting to offer culinary specialities to the public. The event in Mayenne was made possible thanks to the contributions of Yves Dreux, president of the Société des Courses Lavalloises, and Freddy Bouton, the racecourse manager. A return match is already being considered for 2024.
He was one of the best representatives and continuators in France of the blood of the influential Italian stallion Sharif di Iesolo (Quick Song). Biesolo died on Saturday26 August at the age of 34 at Taloney, where he was enjoyinga peaceful retirement. A pupil of Jean-Pierre Dubois, who trained him, he won five times at Vincennes from 3 to 5yo.Third in the Gr 2 Prix Octave Douesnel at 4, he also finished sixth in the fi nal of the UET Grand Prix in Rome at the same age, in a famous edition which saw Ina Scot (Allen Hanover)get the better of Buvetier d’Aunou (Royal Prestige).
It was Pierre Julienne who took charge of his stallion career, integrating him into his pool at the Cruchettes stud. The sireof champions Giesolo de Lou (€1,763,027) and Oiseau deFeux (€1,360,371), who were particularly successful outside France, Biesolo is also the sire of the classic Lady Madrik (€86,470), third in the Critérium des Jeunes (Gr.1) and dam of The Best Madrik (€1,367,710). The stallion was a model of longevity, remaining active until 2016 (then aged 27) and has1,589 registered offspring in France. Pierre Julienne told us: “The breeders who have used him as a stallion have generallybeen happy. He has always commanded reasonable stud fees and share prices, with a regular rating that has never wavered.Throughout his career, he has been a very pleasant horse to manage, leaving a fi ne production.”
CABOURG SUMMERMEETING FIGURES
The Normandy evenings at Cabourg from 4 July to 29August attracted a total of 105,977 people, up 9.33% on the previous edition. This large attendance also had a positive impact on the stakes, which rose by 4.22%. A total of137 races were contested at the 17 fixtures.