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International Star Ecurie D Eyes 'Crown'

Published: October 27, 2021 2:23 pm ET

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The horse is bred by a Frenchman, sired by an Italian stallion, originally registered in Denmark, developed in Norway, owned by Swedes – and finally sent to the U.S. to take the world by storm. The only horse to be supplemented to the Breeders Crown open division for trotters this year, Ecurie D, has a truly international background.

With that kind of background, the horse naturally has an international pedigree with multiple Franco-American crosses. His pedigree is a mix of some of the best bloodlines in both Europe and North America. His sire, the recently deceased Infinitif, is an Italian-born son of Pine Chip out of the French-born half-millionaire Island Dream. His dam, To Soon, is by Muscles Yankee. Even though the second and third dams are unstarted, one should not be fooled into underestimating the genetic quality. Ecurie D hails, without doubt, from one of the best French maternal families. Five euro millionaires trace their maternal line back to Ecurie D's fifth dam, the incomparable Dourga II. Best of these is probably Oyonnax, winner of the 2010 Prix d'Amerique. Another millionaire, Daguet Rapide, completely dominated the Italian 2000 crop at three and four. A third, the speedy gelding Giesolo de Lou, is one of the only horses to ever beat Varenne fair and square. Another maternal family member, Indy de Vive, has also secured eternal fame – not as one of those five millionaires, but as sire of a certain Ready Cash.

In the trotting world, few things are as entertaining than intercontinental competition. After a one-year absence, another European-bred and born trotter has entered the open division of the Breeders Crown. Ecurie D has some impressive shoes to fill, but if he can notch up another win at the Meadowlands, he will make it five out of 10 for European-bred and born trotters, for a rather incredible 0.500 record against North American opposition.

Can Ecurie D make it three in a row?

Should Ecurie D indeed win, it will make it the third start and win in a row for a European trotter in the open division.

The last time was two years ago. Veteran superstar Bold Eagle made the journey across the Atlantic, and had no problems asserting his superiority on a wet Canadian night of racing. The North American public surely didn’t know what to think when Bold Eagle was high-strung and behaved in a rather unorthodox fashion before the post parade at Woodbine Mohawk Park. In the race itself, though, the French legend behaved perfectly for Brian Sears. Despite Six Pack and Atlanta doing their best, Bold Eagle easily held off the North American challengers.

The French son of Ready Cash was the first European challenger in five years in the open division. Seven years ago, an 11-year-old superstar wrapped up his fantastic career by winning this race. Commander Crowe, making his 106th start, went to the front at the half, and with some urging from Örjan Kihlström in the final stretch of the Meadowlands, held off Maven and Creatine to make it the 61st - and last - win of his illustrious career.

For the well-travelled Commander Crowe, it was a matter of third time lucky.

In 2012, Le Grand Blonde had a stellar season in Europe. At the half of that year's Breeders Crown, he looked to be on the way to more glory, sitting pretty in the lead with Chapter Seven parked outside. It was not to be, however, as Chapter Seven put on monster performance and Commander Crowe faded to third in the six-horse field at Woodbine Racetrack.

In 2011 at Woodbine, Commander Crowe and Rapide Lebel honourably defended the European colours in the Breeders Crown. Still, it was not quite good enough to beat San Pail, who narrowly beat the European challengers. Randy Waples read the race correctly and sent San Pail forward early. That ensured Rapide Lebel, with Commander Crowe on his tail, had to travel on the outside of the Canadian star the whole race. San Pail got two lengths early in the final stretch, and even though the two French-trained horses inched closer and closer to San Pail at the end, it was too little, too late for Rapide Lebel and Commander Crowe.

Can Ecurie D make it three for Dubois?

There is, of course, a link between these last two European winners. Bold Eagle was bred by Jean-Etienne Dubois, son of the legendary Frenchman Jean-Pierre Dubois. Commander Crowe is a son, and physically quite a clone, of French stallion Juliano Star – the latter bred by the senior Dubois. Ecurie D can give Jean-Pierre Dubois another Breeders Crown win as a breeder, as the 81-year-old Frenchman is the breeder of Ake Svanstedt’s latest star.

Of course, Dubois is no stranger to breeding superstars – nor to breeding Breeders Crown winners. In the '90s, Dubois also bred trotters in partnership with Sandro Viani, through the latter’s Italian stud farm Allevamento di Zenzalino. One of these Italian-bred horses would give Jean-Pierre Dubois a Breeders Crown-winning experience – though only as a breeder. Unsure of the horse’s ability after a disqualification in his first career start, Dubois had sold the horse at three. The horse should actually have been sold the the previous year, as a deal to sell the then-two-year-old had been reached. However, when the x-ray in the subsequent veterinary checkup revealed a tiny chip in the right rear fetlock, the buyer reneged on the deal.

A few years later, the trotter had blossomed into one of the all-time greats. When Varenne came to the Meadowlands in 2001, he provided Europe with its first victory in the Breeders Crown – and in irresistible fashion. Not only did he toy with the opposition, he won spectacularly in a new world record of 1:51.1. It was one of many highlights of a stellar career, and made the 2001 season a particular highlight. That year, Il Capitano won the Breeders Crown in addition to the Prix d’Amerique, the Elitlopp, the Lotteria, the biggest races in France, Sweden and Italy, respectively.

The only winner to be kidnapped

Varenne’s victory would be the first of two Italian wins. Six years later, in 2007, Jan Nordin brought Equinox Bi to North America. The well-bred son of Valley Boss Bi and 1996 Breeders Crown winner Personal Banner was very talented but equally injury-prone, and only managed 27 starts in a career that spanned four years.

The three starts he made in North America in the summer and fall of 2007 turned out to be his swan song. After a surprise second-place finish in the Nat Ray, he was placed first to win the Breeders Crown at Mohawk. Admittedly, there was an element of luck to that win since Corleone Kosmos was first across the wire, but was off stride in the process. Two weeks later, however, he won the Maple Leaf Trot to underline his credentials. That would, however, be Equinox Bi’s final career start.

The following year he would stand stud at Blue Chip Farms, but not without drama in-between: in early November 2007, Equinox Bi was kidnapped from the owners’ farm in Italy. Despite no ransom being paid, the horse was returned unharmed one month later.

Dubois for six generations

Twenty years after Varenne, and 14 years after Equinox Bi, Ecurie D can give Dubois yet another Breeders Crown win. It would only be fitting, because Ecurie D is Dubois through and through.

Jean-Pierre Dubois acquired Ecurie D’s fifth dam, the above-mentioned legendary Dourga II in 1981. In 1982, she was bred to High Echelon, who three years prior had given Dubois his first Prix d’Amerique win as a driver. The resulting foal, the mare Rangone, was one of the best fillies in her crop and crowned her career at four by winning the Grand Prix de l’UET, also known as the European Derby, naturally with Dubois as breeder, owner, trainer and driver. Through matings with Defi d’Aunou and Love You, two stallions both bred by Dubois, we arrive at See You Soon, Ecurie D’s maternal grandmother. She was taken out of France and bred to Muscles Yankee at three to produce To Soon, the dam of Ecurie D. On the paternal side, Dubois bred Infinitif, the sire of Ecurie D. He also bred Infinitif’s dam, Island Dream, and the Dubois family also bred her sire Coktail Jet, who is bred by his son Jean-Etienne.

In fact, Dubois, including his family, bred both parents, two of the four grandparents and three of the eight great-grandparents. Looking closely at Ecurie D’s pedigree, we see that Dubois even bred two of the horses found in the sixth generation in Ecurie D’s pedigree.

And finally some revenge…

Amid all the excellence and all the glory, Ecurie D can also provide some revenge. Despite the Dubois family’s two wins as a breeder, they also have one loss. After all, before Varenne, European trotters had underperformed in the Breeders Crown.

In 2002, Stig H. Johansson brought Victory Tilly to the Breeders Crown, and the Swedish gelding was second favourite behind Fools Goal. These two put in a lightning fast :26.4 opening. In the end, Fools Gold was full of steam, while Victory Tilly faded to fourth. Two weeks later, the Swedish visitor got his revenge in the Nat Ray in a world record 1:50.4.

The very first European horse in the Breeders Crown, however, was Coktail Jet in 1996. The French legend had already won the Prix d’Amerique and the Elitlopp that year, and travelled to the US full of confidence after having won the Prix d’Europe two weeks prior. Nobody knew it at the time, but Coktail Jet would never win a race again. In the race, Jean-Etienne Dubois drove passively. He sat second-last at the half and only attacked at the three-quarter pole. That proved very costly. Instead it was CR Kay Suzie who triumphed with ease, while Coktail Jet was unable to make up much ground in the final stretch.

The one time the Dubois family could have won the Breeders Crown, both as a breeder and owner, they ended up finishing sixth. Now Ecurie D can provide another little bit of revenge. Not only that, with Ecurie D being 3x4 bred on Coktail Jet, it would be a win with a particular sweet aftertaste.

(Breeders Crown)

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