David Doing A Wonderful Job Against Goliath

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Dual Group 1 winner Wonderful Tonight | Scoop Dyga

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Triumph and disaster. In racing, the two are rarely far from each other. For David Menuisier to cast his mind back to last autumn will doubtless bring mixed emotions.

At his local course of Goodwood on Sept. 23 he lost the horse who played an enormous part in the growing success of his stable, Thundering Blue (Exchange Rate). The 7-year-old's fatal injury in the listed Foundation S. was a cruel blow which brought the trainer and his partner Kim Johnstone to tears. But when the racing gods take, they so often give something back and, while nothing could fully compensate the Menuisier team for the death of the much-loved grey, less than a fortnight later the trainer celebrated his first Group 1 success in his home country of France.

The progression of Wonderful Tonight (Fr) (Le Havre {Ire}) from a “lanky, unfurnished” yearling to a fully-flegded Group 1 star has not gone unnoticed. As we speak, Menuisier is occupied overseeing a yard extension. His excellent grasp of idiomatic English leads him to explain that he is “dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's so that we can have a smooth transition from having 45 horses to about 70 or 75.”

He adds, “It's about making sure we hit the ground running.”

Menuisier certainly ended the 2020 season in some style. Following her victory in the G1 Qatar Prix de Royallieu on Arc weekend, Wonderful Tonight backed up a fortnight later to win the G1 QIPCO British Champions Fillies & Mares S. to set the seal on her trainer's most successful year since he set up at Pulborough in 2014. From his relatively small team, he is now responsible for one of the best middle-distance fillies in Europe, with Wonderful Tonight's official rating of 117 placing her behind only the Oaks winner Love (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) in this sphere.

“Last year was just a weird year,” says Menuisier. “In a normal season she probably could have prepared for races like the French Oaks but because of the lockdown it was just very hard to get your head around things and get the horses to peak. This filly is very active, so not knowing when the races were going to start again I just kept the lid on her for as long as possible and she wasn't ready for those Classics when they came up. We just built her up as we went along and at the end of the day she did herself justice.”

With Wonderful Tonight's main target of this year being the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Menuisier is giving her an extended nearby break nearby at Arundel and will bring her back into training later this month.

“She gets fit really quickly because she's so active so I don't want to bring her in too early.  She's only down the road so I pop in and see her regularly,” he adds.

Wonderful Tonight runs in the colours of successful owner-breeder Chris Wright and, like so many runners owned by the co-founder of Chrysalis Records, she has a song title for a name. In her case, however, she is not a product of Wright's Stratford Place Stud. Her acquisition at the Arqana August Yearling Sale could be said to have been fortuitous. Wright had just sold the day's top lot for €360,000 to Godolphin. Meanwhile Menuisier had been approached by Wonderful Tonight's breeders, Sylvain Vidal and Mathieu Alex, after the filly had been led out of the ring unsold in the same session.

“I saw the filly and I'm not going to lie: she was a lanky, unfurnished filly and she didn't look much in fairness, but she was a half-sister to a stakes horse already and it's the family line of Camelot (GB). Her dam is by Montjeu (Ire), which is something I've always liked, and of course she is by Le Havre, the same sire as my first stakes winner, Havre De Paix (Fr),” Menuisier recalls.

“I bumped into Chris and I wasn't really thinking of that at the time but I said to him that she was really very little risk if we could buy her for €40,000. He said if I liked her then I should have her vetted, and my feeling was that if she won her maiden she would retain her value. Two Group 1s later it's a dream come true really.”

Wright, who has previously raced Dark Angel (Ire), the homebred Bungle Inthejungle (GB), and Breeders' Cup winner Chriselliam (Ire), now has another four horses in training with Menuisier in Sussex and has been a patron of the trainer almost from the outset of his career.

“Chris sent us our first yearling when we had only 16 or 17 horses,” Menuisier adds. “For a major owner like him to support a small trainer was very flattering. I couldn't be more pleased that I managed to find him such a fantastic filly to thank him for his support.”

With four wins—three of those coming in her native country—from eight runs, Wonderful Tonight could yet make an even bigger name for herself. Clearly very effective on soft or heavy turf, a campaign geared towards the autumn seems sensible and, if she is able to return to ParisLongchamp this October for the main event, perhaps her trainer will be able to accompany her this time around. For the French-bred trainer to take his French-bred star back home, there is not just the pandemic to worry about this year, but also the extra complications posed by Britain no longer being a member of the EU.

He says, “The main plan will be the Arc de Triomphe. Then it's a case of planning towards the Arc. Technically I don't know how just yet because the consequences of Brexit are a bit of a problem. At the moment it's just getting my head around the situation. I will give it another four to six weeks and see how things go. Obviously she is one who ideally would go back to France to run, perhaps in a race like the Prix de Pomone in Deauville in August. She goes on any ground but she's better on softer ground and that's also a part of the equation. But I have a fair few others I want to campaign in France this year so it's a matter of seeing how things go in the next month and then trying to make it happen as smoothly as possible.”

Despite the better prize-money on offer in France and increased travel restrictions post-Brexit, Menuisier insists he has no intention of leaving Britain to train in his home country, where he was formerly an assistant to Criquette Head.

“I'm happy where I am and I will do my utmost to stay here and keep on having a flourishing business, ” he says. “As long as circumstances allow, this will always be my main aim. I would only contemplate going elsewhere if at any point I was feeling that my business or my life was affected by it. I'm very happy here. My partner Kim and I have a daughter and we love Sussex. There's no reason for me to go to France.”

There are indeed plenty of reasons to keep Menuisier at his Pulborough stable as, alongside Wonderful Tonight, he has a number of horses that he is itching to get back to the racecourse this spring.

He says, “Last year was weird but exceptional for us really. We had our first treble at Sandown, a double at Salisbury with 2-year-olds winning for the first time. There have been a lot of firsts: I've had my first winner at Wolverhampton as well!”

Menuisier continues, “When people ask me what was the highlight, of course 'Wonderful' comes first but there were a lot of other horses that made me proud. Bellocio (Fr) (Belardo {Ire} is a horse we've always liked. He won at Salisbury and then I was meant to run him in the Group 1 at Saint-Cloud but he had a problem with the transport so he was unable to take part. Then we sent him to Toulouse three weeks later and he won the listed race really convincingly. So fingers crossed he could be a flag-bearer this year.”

Among the new recruits to the stable is Xaario (Fr) (Kendargent {Fr}), who was runner-up to subsequent G1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere winner Sealiway (Fr) (Galiway {GB}) on debut last May before winning and then having to have a break with a small injury.

“I hope to target the Stewards' Cup with Atalanta's Boy (GB) (Paco Boy {Ire}) this year,” Menuisier adds. “We had bad luck with him last year when it mattered because he missed the break. He missed it in the Stewards' Cup and also in the Ayr Silver Cup, so it was quite unfortunate but I know he has the ability to run really well in those races.  Nuits St Georges (Fr) (Mount Nelson {GB}) ran well in the November Handicap and I would expect him to have a decent year, as well as 3-year-old Rewired (GB) (Power {GB}), who got beaten a head by a horse of Godolphin's at Newmarket last year. He's another exciting horse to follow and I'd like to believe we have a strongish team with about 35 2-year-olds.”

The trainer is also keen to return to Australia following a successful visit in 2019 when Chief Ironside (GB) (Lawman {Fr}) won the G2 Schweppes Crystal Mile at Moonee Valley. It was Danceteria (Fr) (Redoute's Choice {Aus}), for the same owners, Australian Bloodstock, who became Menuisier's first ever Group 1 winner in Germany that same year, but Wonderful Tonight's first strike at the top level in Paris was understandably extra special for the Frenchman.

“It was a shame I couldn't attend because of the [Covid] restrictions and I needed to be at Tattersalls two days later. It was a little bit frustrating, but to watch on TV from here was just unbelievable. Speaking to Chris afterwards, he was crying on the phone, and when you deal with someone who's had horses for four decades and you see what it means to them, it was really moving,” he says.

“Most Group 1s in the season end up going to very few stables and I think it's good for racing when it happens to a smaller set-up. It was fantastic to see Archie Watson winning at the Champions Day meeting, and by the same token it was fantastic to see Roger Teal doing well last season. It's David against Goliath most of the time in this business and sometimes it's good when David wins.”

 

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