In this mythical marathon race endowed with 820,000 euros which has been contested in Auteuil for more than 150 years, the jockeys form an extraordinary couple with their mount.
To overcome obstacles of record dimensions, the horse must trust its rider. The dreaded rail ditch and fence, or “justice of the peace”, requires a jump of five meters and the tribune river, crossed twice, an eight meter jump.
To create this essential bond, jockeys frequently gallop with their horses in training. This is the case of Angelo Zuliani, gold whip in 2020, who will drive Happy Monarch, from the boxes of François Nicolle in Charente-Maritime.
The 22-year-old, whose father was also a jockey, has already raced the Grand Steeplechase twice. He finished second in 2020.
“I am preparing physically and mentally to achieve my dream,” he says. “A good steeplechase horse has stamina and class. He knows how to manage his efforts. Afterwards, you need luck!”, He believes, citing his idol, Christophe Pieux, the man with 15 riding crops. ‘gold.
“Last year, he ran a bit half-heartedly, but this winter, he has taken a step forward. I find him really good. The longer distance will help him, the light ground will not hinder him” , believes for his part François Nicolle about Happy Monarch.
“He could neglect himself a little bit on certain obstacles. He must not make any mistakes, but I think he has a good chance”, adds the head of the list of French coaches, still looking for a first coronation.
– Flood Jem favorite –
Like many of the competitors, he fears the dark bay horse Sel Jem, who won 2nd place in the Prix Ingré, the final preparatory race.
Ridden by Johnny Charron, 42, Sel Jem also won the other preparatory races, the Prix Troytown and Murat, and will attempt to achieve a rare feat for a five-year-old horse.
His trainer Guillaume Macaire has already led three five-year-old horses to victory: On The Go (2018), Storm Of Saintly (2014) and So French (2016).
Coach Willie Mullins, based in Ireland, will have three cartridges.
His first resident Al Boum Photo is a double winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. “It would be nice to have a horse that can do Auteuil and Cheltenham. He has a lot of staying power and jumps very well,” he says. He will be ridden by Paul Townend.
His other pupil, Burrows Saint, won the Irish Grand National. “He has staying power and jumps well enough for Auteuil”, according to the coach.
In the Liverpool Grand National this year, he knocked down his jockey with one lap to go. “He hasn’t returned to his best form yet. He had an operation for his breathing last season. But he is fine and deserves a chance,” he added. It will be ridden by a woman, the Irish Rachael Blackmore.
His third horse, Franco de Port, “jumps very well. We will see what he will do in the Grand Steeple 2022 and that will give us indications for the future. He could thus make his mark to come back to run other Grand Steeples “.
As for David Cottin, a former crack jockey, he can also dream of a first title as a trainer with Général en Chef who finished fourth last year.