Horse Racing

France wildfire survivors bid for remarkable Saudi Cup win

There’s added significance to part of France’s challenge at the Saudi Cup because, less than a year ago, 480 horses trained at the famous La Teste-de-Buch racecourse in the southwest of the country were had to evacuate due to forest fires.

Big Call trained by Christophe Ferland (Animal Kingdom), Longines Red Sea Turf Handicap runner, and Elisabeth Bernard’s Sultana (GB) (Af Al Buraw {AE}), Al Mneefah Cup runner on Tuesday Six, awarded by the Ministry of Culture, were among the horses that had to flee their stables.

“It was a nightmare,” recalls Elisabeth Bernard, who coached 75 purebred Arabs. “We were informed by the firefighters in the morning that the fire would not reach us and then suddenly, in the afternoon, the wind changed direction and the fire was already there. It’s like an apocalypse. The villagers were evacuated, but as you can imagine evacuating the horses was not so easy. However, the smoke was very toxic and we had to move quickly.”

Urgent evacuation of 480 horses was no easy task and after the transport companies had filled their crates, there were still plenty of horses at La Teste-de-Buch racecourse.

“We started calling our friends and Xavier [Thomas-Demeaulte] sent me his horse box,” continued Bernard. “And Didier Guillemin also sent it to me. But then we still had to find a yard for them, because I didn’t want to split my horses.

“Also, the staff were panicking and I thought if I didn’t keep an eye on everything it wouldn’t be effective. There’s only one place I can go and that’s Pau, which has the infrastructure to accommodate 20 staff and 75 horses.”

It was an anxious 24 hours for the trainers at the famous racecourse, but Bernard concluded: “In the end, people panic more than horses, the horses handle things very well. No horses were injured, but it was an operation.

“I think Christophe [Ferland] had to take some of his horses to the stables, some to the Bordeaux Racecourse and some to Deauville. Logically it was a challenge, but the world of racing is amazing, because they all help and it all ends well.”

Fortunately, the fire did not spread to the racecourse and it is still active, with Big Call and Sultana proving that the training center is still capable of producing the best runners.


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