Menuisier Leading The Dance With Aplomb

David Menuisier is bound for Australia with his first Group 1 winner Danceteria | Racing Post

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It is a sign of the times that one of the success stories of the racing summer involves a French trainer based in England, winning his first Group 1 race in Germany for a horse owned by a group of Australians.

Step forward David Menuisier, a graduate of such centres of racing excellence as the training yards of Richard Mandella, Criquette Head and John Dunlop now making a name for himself from his adopted West Sussex home of Coombelands.

This was the place from which Guy Harwood honed the prodigious talent of Dancing Brave (Lyphard), and they are dancing still in Pulborough courtesy of the victory in the G1 Grosser Dallmayr-Preis of Australian Bloodstock's Danceteria (Fr) (Redoute's Choice {Aus}).

“It was a fantastic result, especially for the horse because we have always felt that he could reach that level, even last year,” says Menuisier, who shares the 150-acre estate with Harwood's daughter Amanda Perrett.

“Obviously last year we had Thundering Blue, who knocked on the door a few times, and after Danceteria's good run in Eclipse we thought it would be good to get the monkey off our back. These are not easy races to win and when it happens it's a joy but also a relief that you managed to get one to the top level. It's a good feeling.”

Danceteria won his first race last June in the same colours as Thundering Blue (Exchange Rate), those of the flamboyant Clive Washbourn, whom Menuisier credits as playing a significant role in the first five years of his training operation.

“Danceteria was fully bought out by Australian Bloodstock after the Eclipse but Clive has been the biggest supporter of our yard from the first year after we started and he has been really important to the success of the yard. He really did give us a good leg up.”

The trainer is equally fulsome in his gratitude towards Australian Bloodstock, who will have the chance to see their latest star racing closer to home later this year in the Cox Plate.

He says, “Australian Bloodstock target their purchases in a very shrewd way and it's a real pleasure to deal with them. Danceteria was invited for the Cox Plate after he won in Munich so that's our next adventure. I admire Australian Bloodstock for having the guts to keep the horse with a smaller trainer like me. I really mean that. A lot of other owners, if they had bought this horse, the chances are they would have sent him to a bigger trainer.

“I was flattered that they chose to leave him with me. It's an acknowledgement that we have done well with the horse and know him better than anyone else. It's a different approach to many owners.”

Like many trainers in these days when there is lucrative business in selling a horse on, Menuisier has found himself on the less fortunate end of such a transaction in the recent past when his rising star Vintager (GB) (Mastercraftsman {Ire}) caught the eye of Godolphin. After his impressive victory at Newmarket last July his rating was boosted to 112 and he was then sold and joined Charlie Appleby's stable.

“You do feel a bit sore when it happens,” he admits. “And then when you have the next good horse and you have phone calls, you worry that the same thing is going to happen. I don't think the number of horses you train makes you a good or bad trainer. Someone asked me the other day who in my opinion was the best trainer in England and it's a very hard question to answer. The best one might have six horses and they are all rated 42 but he is getting the best out of them.”

Menuisier himself has a team of 28 at Coombelands—a fraction of the number of some of the increasingly dominant stables in the land but enough to prove that he is more than capable of selecting and nurturing the nascent talent of young Thoroughbreds. In a sense he was born to the job. His parents Jacques and Marie-Francoise Menuisier have now retired from their breeding operation in the north-east of France but, in addition to giving their son his love of horses, they also provided him with his first winner in 2014 with their homebred Slunovrat (Fr) (Astronomer Royal).

“He was basically the last horse that they bred and he was the first horse in the yard and the horse that really launched us, so it feels like a bit of continuity,” says the trainer.

Nowadays he also trains for another key mentor in his life, Criquette Head, the owner of Edmond Dantes (Ire) (Alhebayeb {Ire}), who won at Goodwood in June.

He recalls, “Criquette visited the yard last year and was intrigued to meet Thundering Blue in the flesh. She saw the famous grey in his stable and then asked about another grey next to him and I said I was looking for someone to buy him. She said, 'I'll buy him, I love him'. It was very simple and she is a fantastic owner to have. She just said to me, 'I've been through it all before, so you just do what think is best, I won't interfere'.”

It would seem that there is little chance of Thundering Blue having his thunder stolen by his Group 1-winning stable-mate just yet. The popular grey has led his owner and trainer on a merry international dance, last year landing the G2 York S. and G3 Stockholm Cup and perhaps gaining even greater admiration in defeat, notably with a valiant third place behind Roaring Lion and Poet's Word (GB) in the G1 Juddmonte International, in which he finished ahead of Group 1 winners Saxon Warrior (Jpn), Benbatl (GB), Without Parole (GB), Latrobe (Ire) and Thunder Snow (Ire). He was also second in the GI Canadian International. On Saturday he will reappear in the G3 Rose of Lancaster S. after a sub-par effort in the G1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.

“I ran him in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and I think the race was not really run to suit him. He's a horse that wants a lot of pace with a good rhythm throughout and a long straight. He takes a furlong to get himself organised in the straight. I do believe he has retained his full ability from last year. I think the perfect example of this is when he ran third at Goodwood in the listed race, beaten six lengths by Elarqam (GB) with a five-pound penalty. He didn't really handle the track I thought that was a terrific effort.”

Thundering Blue holds entries for the Juddmonte International and Irish Champion S. but his participation in either of those hinges to a degree on this weekend's effort.

Menuisier says, “He's six now and we need to look after him. He's not an easy horse to train—he's the sort that you really need to pussyfoot around. He's very intelligent, which is not always a good thing, and you have to get into his head. Obviously it would only be 11 days between Haydock and the Juddmonte International so it all depends on how he comes out of Haydock. He would have to win and he would need a good confidence boost—well actually not so much him, more the trainer—to go for the Juddmonte. We just need to play it by ear really. He is also in the Irish Champion Stakes in September and that could potentially be a more realistic target timewise, though obviously that will be a strong line-up too. We have the option to go back to Sweden for the Stockholm Cup and to Canada for the Northern Dancer in September. He owes us nothing and he is the boss, so he will keep on telling us what to do.”

The winner of six of his 25 races and a top-three finisher a further nine times, Thundering Blue now has a legion of fans, starting with those closest to him.

“He's part of the family now,” adds Menuisier. “He's been a flag-bearer but more than that I think he has been a real icon. When we went to Sweden and Japan last year he had a massive fan club. When he won the Group 2 at York I was literally surrounded by people patting me on the back. It was unbelievable to see the crowd and it was the same in Canada. People are super fond of him. It is incredible but it's the horse, it's not us. We don't take it in a pretentious way, it's just a joy that people can see this horse with our eyes, that they can see him as an icon as much as we do.”

This level of appreciation for horseracing was one of the reasons why Menuisier chose to remain in England at the end of his tenure with Dunlop, instead of returning home to the greater riches of French racing.

He says, “Unfortunately there is no real buzz in France. I worked for six years for John Dunlop down the road and I was about to start with nothing anyway but I thought at least people have seen my face here for the last few years so I've got probably more chance of making it in England than in France.

“I also stayed for the weather,” he adds with an ironic chuckle. “I've said it before but in my opinion the UK is the best racing nation in the world, or at least in Europe, because of the enthusiasm of the people. Everything is run very professionally; just one example is something like CCTV in the stable yard. This is the only place in Europe where you see that. In France anybody could get into the stables. The UK really comes across as a very professional nation and I have a really Cartesian straight, square mind and it just suits me when everything is in order. I really clicked with English racing from the first few days I came to work for John Dunlop.”

Working alongside the great names he has been associated with was almost a process of learning by osmosis. “Just being there and seeing how they work and think, they don't even need to speak, you don't need words or anybody telling you how to do this or that. You can feel what they are feeling. Training horses is not something you can learn in the books.”

He is undoubtedly right in his assertion but to have successfully taken up the baton in his own right hints at an intuitive approach to horsemanship which is bestowed first by nature, even if nurture then plays its part. And, of course, every trainer needs the raw materials.

“Criquette Head always said that trainers and jockeys are only as good as the horses they ride and train,” he says. “I do feel fortunate for the horses we have. I had Thundering Blue last year but I didn't get any new owners. Some people bluntly told me. “You're lucky to have Thundering Blue, now you have to prove that you can do it again with another horse'. That's basically what I've done.”

In black and white it's a statement that could be construed as arrogant but to listen to Menuisier speak, in his perfect idiomatic English, is to hear quiet confidence. And with the horse he describes as a “straightforward fantastic traveller”, he is entitled to be quietly confident of following his compatriots Mikel Delzangles and Alain de Royer Dupre on the road to Group 1 glory in Australia.

 

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