“He’s not normal. He is a gift from heaven, this horse.”
With those words, trainer Louisa Carberry perfectly summed up what we were all thinking in the aftermath of Docteur de Ballon’s famous win at Auteuil yesterday afternoon. The nine-year-old has won an incredible three Grade 1 contests in the space of seven months, this second success in the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris elevating him alongside some of the true greats of the sport.
In 2019, Carriacou’s win saw Isabelle Pacault become the first female trainer to saddle the winner of the Grand Steeple, on the occasion of its 141st running. Fast-forward two years and the glass ceiling to which Pacault took a hammer has been well and truly shattered by Carberry, who was pictured on the podium yesterday alongside Pacault, for whom Carriacou once again ran a fine race in defeat.
An International-level event rider, Louisa Carberry has only held a licence for seven years, but the British trainer now finds herself a history-maker at the top level.
The tenacity and desire that Docteur De Ballon showed when landing this race, his first Grade 1 success, last October have always been present. However, it is the step up in trip that has proven key to unlocking the necessary improvement required to make him the exceptional staying chaser that he is today.
His first attempt beyond three miles came in this race in 2019, where he was a little unsighted when coming down at the famous ‘rail, ditch and fence’. His sole defeat in four completed starts since came when runner-up in his prep race this year, the Prix Murat, over 2m6f.
Docteur De Ballon’s irresistible rise to the top has coincided with the booking of Bertrand Lestrade. The partnership did not get off to the best of starts when four-time champion jockey Lestrade hit the turf at Compiegne last September on what was Docteur De Ballon’s reappearance after 15 months on the sidelines. Since then, it has been formidable.
Speaking to Jour de Galop after the race, Carberry was effusive in her praise of her stable star.
“It’s crazy how he is able to sprint (at the end). But he is so intelligent and so calm, that he saves everything for the finish. It’s how I like my horses to run, but it isn’t easy, as you need the requisite ability. In the space of seven months, ‘Docteur’ has won three Grade 1s…that’s not normal in France. I am delighted and so pleased that there was a crowd (of 1000) yesterday to share in his victory. I want to share him with everyone. I’m like a spoilt child and I want to show off my horse to everyone!”
Hyeres III, Katko and Mid Dancer are the only three-time winners of the most prestigious jumps race in France, all three having won their first Grand Steeple by the age of six. He may have come a little late to the party, but it would take a brave man to bet against the Doctor in 2022.