All dressed up and nowhere to go: coronavirus stalls overseas mission for ‘Frankel of the Fjords’

Horse Racing Square De Luynes
Square De Luynes (Rab Havlin): travel plans on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions. Photo: Elina Björklund/Svensk Galopp

By Jon Lees

Norway: Plans to take the horse dubbed the ‘Frankel of the Fjords’ on a tour of Europe’s major racing capitals have been grounded by coronavirus restrictions.

Since winning the 2018 Norsk Derby, Square De Luynes has risen to the pinnacle of racing in Scandinavia, winning all his starts last year.

He proved so dominant in stringing together three Group-race victories that the aggregate winning margin was 20 lengths – and he saved the best for last by landing the G3 Stockholm Cup by nine lengths under Rab Havlin.

“I think we have a horse on our hands that is a little bit better than normal and we are keen to take him out of Norway,” said trainer Niels Pietersen. “Our plan was to go to France in April but because of this coronavirus things just stopped.”

After Square De Luynes’s Scandinavian exploits, invitations came last year to run overseas from the Breeders’ Cup and Hong Kong but they were resisted by his trainer in favour of the Dubai World Cup Carnival.

But although the gelding travelled to the UAE, he never ran there and is now back in locked down Norway, free to run at home but facing barriers to racing elsewhere.

“He ran here in the back end of September and, as he is a lightly raced horse, I gave him a bit of break but the winter came very quickly in Norway, with the temperatures dropping below freezing in November,” said Pietersen. 

“The ground went hard and I couldn’t do a lot with him so we didn’t really get him into good form before the backend of the carnival. It didn’t appeal to me to run him on Super Saturday with a horse that wasn’t 100 per cent fit against horses qualifying for World Cup night.

“He is back in Norway now and doing great,” the trainer went on. “He looked fantastic when he came back and it will do him good for the new season. There are not really any races here before June.”

Opportunities in Britain and France were all being considered by Pietersen before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. “The problem is Norway is very closed,” explained Pietersen. “If I send a horse away with a person or myself I have to do two weeks’ quarantine when I come back. 

“France has announced it is coming back in mid-May, which is good, but as long as Norway is as closed as it is it makes it very hard. I’ve got runners in Denmark next weekend and I have to send the horses with a chauffeur!

“My jockey from the stable can’t even go. I’ve got to get another guy to ride him, another guy to look after him. That makes it difficult for making plans.”

Norway’s season opened on Thursday with a behind-closed-doors fixture at Ovrevoll where 48-year-old Pietersen, champion trainer of Norway for the last nine years and Scandinavian champion in five of the last seven, sent out the first winner.

Five-year-old gelding Square De Luynes, a French-bred son of Manduro, has won five of just eight starts and still has plenty to learn, according to his trainer.

But until restrictions are lifted the only remaining options are the races he won last year. “The thing is, what he does here, he does almost asleep,” explained Pietersen.

“When Rab rode him in the Stockholm Cup he said he was a big baby and he doesn’t really know the game. He is a bit of a tank that likes to gallop. He has won from the front because he takes such a tug so it would be nice to teach him to sit off the pace and finish his races.”

Pietersen added: “When they called him the ‘Frankel of the Fjords’ they made a big thing of it in the newspapers here in Norway about how he was compared with the best horse in the world.

“He is a horse that puts you on the map, so it would be fun to take him to places we wouldn’t go to normally. I don’t want him to start at the top of the ladder, but I would like to take it one step at a time. 

“He is French-bred so France is appealing because of the bonus system but in terms of putting him on the map I would love to go to England. I think it’s harder to compete at a high level there but it’s tempting to go.”

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