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By Emma Berry

Every day this week, a member of the TDN’s Europe/International team nominates a horse of the season. Emma Berry starts the series with the dual French Classic winner

At the start of 2017, Jean-Claude Rouget could have been forgiven for feeling that he had the world–or at least the French racing world–at his feet.

The previous season, Almanzor (Fr) (Wootton Bassett {GB}) had won three Group 1 races in three different countries and La Cressonniere (Fr) (Le Havre {Ire}) had followed the example of Avenir Certain (Fr) (Le Havre {Ire}) to win two French Classics. Those two horses who had made such a significant contribution towards their trainer securing his fifth championship– achieved with 173 wins and more than €10 million in prize-money–were both to stay in training at four.

But the fickle Gods of horseracing had other ideas. During a turbulent April, Almanzor became one of 57 horses to be placed in quarantine following an outbreak of Equine Herpesvirus at Rouget’s Pau training base, while time was called on the career of La Cressonniere as her training was halted through a back injury.

At a time of the season when pistons should be starting to fire ahead of the Classics, Rouget’s stable was stuttering along under the blackest of clouds. Making a statement from Chantilly during a weekend of Classic trials, the trainer said, “It has been the worst week of my 40-year career. It is a very devastating virus that affected the colts’ barn. We don’t know where it came from. Fifty-seven horses were infected and two have been put down.”

Then along came Brametot (Fr). The perky bay colt had completed his debut season in 2016 with three wins from four starts, becoming the first stakes winner for his then-freshman sire Rajsaman (Fr) in the Listed Grand Criterium de Bordeaux. Finishing that year with a provincial win rather than starring during France’s ‘Arc’ weekend meant that Brametot entered winter quarters still relatively unheralded. His under-the-radar profile was exacerbated by the fact that, despite running for a big stable in the colours of major owner Gerard Augustin-Normand, the colt had been bought by Sylvain Vidal and Mathieu Alex as a foal for just €26,000. This wasn’t a blockbuster Arqana August yearling purchase, or a regal Wertheimer or Niarchos homebred, but a relatively humble horse who had been all but overlooked at Arqana in December 2014.

Keen to support their young stallion Rajsaman, Vidal and Alex perused all of his first weanlings on offer and outbid Joe Hernon for the Jorge Cardemil-bred colt out of a Law Society half-sister to the great Monsun (Ger). It’s hard to imagine that the duo will ever make a better purchase.

With a sense of timing that should ensure he is one of his trainer’s favourite horses of all time, on the very weekend that Rouget’s plight became publicly known, Brametot set about delivering the boss his first victory in the G3 Prix de Fontainebleau, a race also won by his sire Rajsaman and grandsire Linamix (Fr).

Even without the story’s bleak undertones, the manner of his triumph had sufficient drama to make it one of the most memorable races of the season. Breaking awkwardly from the stalls and detached from the main pack along Chantilly’s back stretch in the shadow of the Grandes Ecuries, Brametot, one of the more experienced runners in the field, appeared suddenly to recall what this racing lark was all about. Rounding the turn, he started to hunt down his prey before swallowing them up and spitting them out in a last-to-first swoop which saw him win rather cosily by two and a half lengths.

Brametot’s hunger for success was yet to be sated. Sent to Deauville for the relocated running of the G1 Poule d’Essai des Poulains, the colt bore the colours of his new part-owners Al Shaqab Racing, the deal to buy into him having been completed, with timing as fortuitous as the colt’s own, just days earlier.

Again slowly into stride down Deauville’s straight mile but apparently deliberately dropped out by jockey Cristian Demuro, Brametot once more had a full field of opponents to pass for glory. This time, however, he cruised effortlessly into contention to lock horns with Le Brivido (Fr) (Siyouni {Fr}) and the previous year’s G1 Racing Post Trophy winner Rivet (Ire) (Fastnet Rock {Aus}) within the final furlong. Classics are generally hard-earned and this was certainly the case for Brametot, who fought all the way to the line for his short-head verdict over the Andre Fabre-trained Le Brivido, later successful in the G3 Jersey S. at Royal Ascot.

For Brametot, Ascot was eschewed in favour of an attempt on a second French Classic at Chantilly on June 4. For the first time in his 3-year-old season he started favourite, and in his now customary style, he again missed the break, having to be rousted from the gate by Demuro.

Riding with ice in his veins, the Italian, doubtless emboldened by his mount’s two previous efforts from the back of the pack, waited until the field was pinging off the home turn into the straight before encouraging Brametot to make his challenge. This time, surely, it would be impossible for him to pull off such a feat, and for some 300 metres it appeared that the likeable colt had given himself too much to do in his pursuit of back-to-back Classics. But suddenly the fight was back in him and Brametot, swooping wide and late, found the winning line just in time, again denying a Fabre runner–the G1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud winner Waldgeist (GB)–to take the Jockey Club by a bob of his head.

Perhaps these three astounding efforts within seven weeks took too much of a toll on the horse, or perhaps he just started to encounter more fearsome opposition. Whatever the reason, Brametot didn’t return to the winner’s enclosure in three subsequent starts in the G2 Prix Guillaume d’Ornano, G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and G1 Champion S. His fifth-place finish in what may well go down as an Arc for the ages was certainly no disgrace, with Enable (GB), Cloth Of Stars (Ire), Ulysses (Ire) and Order Of St George (Ire) ahead of him and such names as Winter (Ire), Seventh Heaven (Ire), Zarak (Fr) and Capri (Ire) among those in his wake.

Now ensconced in Normandy, in the region which prompted his name, as a dual Classic winner Brametot is entitled to be considered as the standout among the burgeoning Al Shaqab stallion line-up at Haras de Bouquetot.

In this mind, he will remain a standout racehorse who lit up the early summer during a season in which the Classic generation was being too easily derided. Bravo, Brametot.

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