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Enjoying Life In A Different League


Amy and Con Marnane with Matthieu Palussiere at Chantilly | Emma Berry

By Emma Berry

Hovering just outside the top ten trainers in France is Matthieu Palussiere, a name which gained wider recognition through last year’s Royal Ascot victory of Con and Theresa Marnane’s Different League (Fr) (Dabirsim {Fr}). The statuesque filly was unbeaten in her two starts prior to the G3 Albany S. and went on to secure two Group 1 placings in the Prix Morny and Cheveley Park S. prior to her sale for 1.5 million gns by Amy Marnane to White Birch Farm and MV Magnier.

If one spoke to Palussiere without knowing his name it would be easy to assume that he’s a neighbour of the Marnanes in Tipperary, for the Frenchman has spent almost as much time away from his native country as he has at home and has a strong Irish accent that would have most people fooled. He was born, however, in Le Mans, famed for a different type of horsepower, and he was, by his own admission, “a latecomer to racing”.

He’s making up for that tardy start now. Having returned to France in 2013 after a long spell in Ireland, Palussiere is now sending out runners and winners from his Maisons-Laffitte base with eye-catching frequency, thanks largely to his fruitful association with the irrepressible figure known on the breeze-up circuit as ‘King Con’.

While the €8,000 foal purchase Different League did not pass through a breeze-up sale—she failed to reach her reserve when bought in as a yearling at Doncaster for £14,000—a number of the Palussiere stable’s winners this season have been unsold 2-year-olds from the Bansha House Stables draft who have very quickly taught any potential buyer who shirked them at the sales the folly of that decision. In turn they have elevated Theresa Marnane, in whose yellow and black colours they run, to the position of fifth leading owner in France behind only such heavyweight names as the Niarchos family’s Flaxman Stables, Godolphin, Gerard Augustin-Normand and the Wertheimer brothers. Not even the Aga Khan and Al Shaqab Racing can match strides with Madame Marnane.

The Marnane-Palussiere combination has thus far provided a first winner for Lane’s End Farm’s Noble Mission (GB) in the dual winner On A Session, who, portentously, has won the same two races annexed by Different League before her Albany assault. It’s safe to assume that the colt won’t be the same generous 20-1 starting price when he lines up for the Chesham S. next week.

On A Session won’t be alone on the lorry bound for Ascot. The dual winner Junius Brutus (Fr) (Cockney Rebel {GB}) will get the ball rolling in the G2 Coventry S. on Tuesday though he, like G3 Albany S. entrant No More Regrets (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}), could yet be running for different connections as both will be offered in Monday night’s Goffs London Sale. The latter, who was unsold at 38,000gns at the Craven Sale, has won in France and was runner-up in the listed Premio Vittorio Crespi in Milan on Sunday.

On Wednesday it will be the turn of Forever In Dreams (Ire) (Dream Ahead), another dual winner, to make use of her racecourse experience in the G2 Queen Mary S., while Saturday will see a three-pronged attack, with On A Session’s Chesham challenge being followed by Rolling King (More Than Ready) and Pardon My French (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}) going head to head in the Windsor Castle S.

As is evident from this enviable team of young talent, after 18 years in Ireland, Palussiere’s then relatively low-key training career charted a markedly different course when he “happened to meet Con”.

“I started out in racing in Marseille with Christian Scandella but when I decided I wanted to see a bit of the world Ireland was the first choice,” says Palussiere.

It transpired to be a good choice as it was at the Aga Khan’s Gilltown Stud that he met his wife Liz, who has played an important role not just in his home life but also in the pre-training business they ran before the five years with a training licence, first based on the Curragh and later in Tipperary.

He continues, “Initially I was only planning to be [in Ireland] for six months but I ended up staying 18 years. I got a job with the Aga Khan breaking yearlings. I was there during what were to me the best years—Sinndar, Daylami, all those champions.”

A four-year stint with the Aga Khan led Palussiere to a job running Mick Halford’s second yard on the Curragh and continuing in his breaking role before going out on his own and notching his first winner as a trainer in 2008 when Deputy Consort saluted at Limerick in Liz’s colours. Greater success would come that same year via the Grade 3-winning hurdler Tramp Stamp (Ire) but Palussiere decided to call time on his lengthy sojourn overseas as the realities of the economic downturn started to be felt by many in Irish racing.

“I had a mix of jumps and flat horses and we had some success but then the economic crisis came along and I decided it was time to return to France,” he says. “I knew Con through the ponies—both our children were involved in showing and I’d see him every other week. When he learned that I was moving back to France he suggested we work together and that’s where it all started. Without himself and Theresa I wouldn’t be where I am, there’s no doubt. I’m very pleased to be working with them. I have to tip my hat to Con. He loves the game and he’s not afraid to gamble. He buys very well and this year’s [2-year-olds] are better than last year’s but the sales were bad. That suits me because they are coming this way, and that explains the success we have here.”

Palussiere admits that he took time to adjust to being back at home. “Obviously I am French but I was so young when I left France that I haven’t been taught in the French ways,” he says.

He’s clearly been well taught in the ways of Irish horsemanship and is backed up in Maisons-Laffitte by a team of riders from his former adopted home who together have already put 31 French winners on the board this season.

“We have a load of top-class people down there and they are doing a great job,” says Marnane, who makes regular trips from Tipperary to Paris to see the horses.

“It was a horrendously bad year this year at the sales. I don’t know what went wrong. We’re selling more winners than anyone else and we’ve even had a Classic winner this year [Teppal].”

That bad year in the ring is already translating into a good year on the racecourse, however, and the Marnane and Palussiere families will be returning to Berkshire with their enhanced team in the hope of adding at least one more Royal Ascot victory to the roll of honour.

Reflecting on his first taste of success at the meeting, Palussiere says, “It was amazing, it’s something I’ll never forget. I don’t tend to be nervous—you go there and you’re hoping that you’ll run well but you never dream that will happen. But there we were there with all Con’s friends from Tipperary and we all started dancing. That never happens on a racecourse in France, and not really in England, except perhaps at Cheltenham. Let’s hope we’ll all be dancing again this year.”






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