Aldo du Plessis, Birth of a Champion
André Chenu was a top level rider, as was his wife Annick, and although they only breed a few horses per year, their affix “du Plessis” puts them among the breeders whose reputation has far exceeded the borders of their region, and even their country. Ulane, Venus, O'Brion, Flèche, Oncle Pol, Ti Pol, and of course a certain Paddock du Plessis are all names known well to show-jumping fans. But the Chenu family have not limited themselves to home-bred horses – they have also bought or invested in partnership in many stars. Today, Timon d'Aure is helping Alexis Deroubaix to break out at the highest level, while four years ago, the horse rotation final was led by another star that bloomed in their stables – none other than Orient Express, bred by their friend, Patrice Bourreau, who then entrusted him to the Chenu family for improvement. This partnership of real horsemen allowed the star to become the horse we knew under Patrice Delaveau after winning the French champion’s title as a six-year-old.
Today, the story continues, as the young eight-year-old stallion Aldo du Plessis is following in his father's footsteps. Still in the shadow of Timon d'Aure, he could soon take over. A rare son of Orient Express, his mother is a daughter of Palestro II, Flore du Plessis, who herself progressed over 1m50 with Jérôme Hurel and who also produced Près d'ici, progressing now on the world cup circuit in Eastern Europe. His grandmother is none other than Bourrée, one of the great dams of Selle Français breeding, in the pedigree of many internationals. With a model much more imposing than his father and a height of 1m72, he is the pride of his breeder, who still rides him very regularly.
Aldo du Plessis (Orient Express x Kannan) with André Chenu and Alexis Deroubaix
When you chose Orient Express as your stallion, was he still at home?
André Chenu: “At the time, he was still at home. I had him with Patrice Bourreau, his breeder. The horse arrived at the age of three and was exploited until the age of nine. I made a few matings, five foals actually, including Aldo.”
What did you already like about him as a sire?
A.C.: “Orient was three when I saw him jump. I said right away that he was a star. He had a lot of kick, great technique and he was very brave. He's a bull. He proved it afterwards because he was always formidable in events.”
When you chose him for a mare, what did you want to bring back?
A.C.: “I had put him on a Palestro x Bourrée who jumped 1 m 50-55 and who was 1m 72-73 – Orient is 1 m 66-7. I thought it would be not too big a cross, not too bad, and Aldo is 1.72 m tall. But he’s a horse with a very, very good head, really good for a stallion. He behaves himself at competition. He is fearless, brave and I think he has the right abilities. He started to make some 1m50 very well. He's only eight years old, we’re sparing him. He's a horse that, I think, will be a great sire. So, we decided that we wouldn’t sell him.”
Orient Express (Quick Star x Le Tot de Sémilly x Foudre de Guerre) at the WEG 2014 in Caen
He won’t be for sale?
A.C.: “No, I’m keeping him. He’s my favourite horse.”
Then why did you decide to sell his father at some point?
A.C.: "I only had 33% of the father, plus all expenses and earnings. Patrice Bourreau, who has been a friend for 30 years, gave me free rein with him, but when he was nine and he had to go to a good rider, I didn't have a rider like Alexis (editor's note: Deroubaix) at the time, so he had to move on.”
For you with Aldo, is it something of a dream to have a horse born at the stud that could go to the highest level?
A.C.: "Yes, I think he's a horse that will do very well in competition. He is a very strong horse with a good head... it’s important.”
Is that a dream you had?
A.C.: "Oh no, not especially. You know, I've always had Grand Prix horses. In fact, when I sold Orient Express, a journalist told me "Now you're only going to make young horses" and I said "No, I still want to have grand prix horses" and today I have one again with Timon d'Aure.”
With Aldo, when you say you're going slowly, what do you mean?
A.C.: "I'm not going to wear him out. For example, Alexis went to La Coruña, we could have made him drive 1,400 km to do the intermediate races, but it is pointless to exhaust him, he has time.”
So how did you manage his early career?
A.C.: "He took the classic route. As a four-year-old, he did 14 courses out of 14 and finished eighth in the championship [editor's note: under Teddy Thellier]. As a five-year-old, he also did Fontainebleau. He did the six-year-olds and finished fifth in the championship at Fontainebleau. He did all the classic events. He also did the Master of Stallions and he was second... But the problem is that at the moment he doesn't cover too many mares. He's going to cover 25 this year, I think. To do more, I would have had to take him out to Normandy, which is the real breeding country, while he went abroad like Arezzo, ... but we have time..."
Is his stud career an important aspect for you nonetheless?
A.C.: "No, no, it's not an important aspect.”
Are you disappointed that he doesn’t interest people that much?
A.C.: "No, I'm not disappointed. People sometimes say they find him a little heavy, but he is a horse with a lot of impulse. He’s often better on the third day.”
Do you also think he's heavy?
A.C.: "I would have liked him a bit lighter, but he’s built like his father. If you have 1.64 m stallions built like thoroughbreds, you’ll need pygmies to ride them (laughs).”
Compared to Orient, how do you see him?
I think he has as much ability as Orient. Maybe he's a little heavier than Orient, but Orient is a phenomenon and he proved it.”
For you, is Orient THE horse you've had in your career?
A.C.: "No, I’ve had other good horses... a long time ago. I had Impedoumi and Krishna who were stars. Impedoumi went to the Olympics, and Krishna was a great star too... I’ve had a few anyway.”
Do you always make the comparison when young horses come in?
A.C.: "Yes, absolutely. For now, I have great confidence in one six-year-old, Aldo's half-sister, who is a daughter of Paddock du Plessis. I also have a seven-year-old by Kashmir that I bought a half of with Mr. Busseron, who looks very, very good. He has ability, a lot of blood. Nowadays, when you have a stable, you have to try to aim for the top level, because if you do 130-135, you're starving. That's the sad reality... unless you do a lot of trade.”
For his rider, Alexis Deroubaix, he also represents his greatest hope to continue at the highest level in the coming years.
So you started with him when he was five?
Alexis Deroubaix: "It was at the end of his five-year-old season. Ever since I started riding him, I’ve loved this horse very much. After that he did his six-year-old run, he did 20 courses out of 23, I think, and was fifth in the championship. At home, he always jumped like a real star. As a six-year-old, he was a little shy, very concerned about the bar. He was a fighter, so I tried to calm him down between the bars which might have made it look like he was a little heavy and lacking spark, but in fact the opposite was true. He was just jumping what he had to, without making a show of it... but without touching anything either! Then, at seven, I continued on the same path, but he progressed. Then, it was really this year that I’ve been able to use him to the full. So, I can afford to gallop, I dare to gallop on the track and he really shows his true colors. People are starting to like him, whereas before, they didn’t... but I believe in this horse a lot. He’s a very serious stallion. He's a jumping machine, he's getting ready for his job, he has very good technique in front and I've never felt him forcing it. He has huge resources and he’s very respectful. He's a horse with a bit of heart, because he's the same every day. He doesn't change his mood, he's lazy at home but that doesn’t show when he’s competing. He's very sensitive and he’s a fighter.”
How do you see the future?
A.D.: ”He is highly rated in the showjumping ring. I think that next year we can hope for some great things. We're going quietly, he’s eight now. Today, he’s jumped a few 150 events after having done a lot of clear rounds in 145. At the beginning of the year, he was fourth in the two-star Grand Prix at Le Mans and he often makes the lower rankings. I'm not looking to go faster for the moment... but I think his progress will be fast.”
It's must be difficult, are you sometimes tempted to try him on something bigger?
A.D.: "I think he's really going to walk on 1.55 m but he's only eight years old! We did the same with Timon. He was so good, but we never made Timon do 1.50 m at eight. Even though he had won a pair of 145 grand prix events, we never jumped 1.50 m. Our idea was to make him want to give his all. I think that if you go too fast with horses that are full of ability, even if they’ve had the right preparation as young horses, if they are well trained, they still need some experience and a few years of competition anyway. I think that if we go too fast, we give something away, we exhaust his capital a bit. The horse must want to give his all with respect. I think that if you go too fast then as ten-year-olds they become horses without a temperament, a little weak, and then a little "touching". They have to go out with a spark, that's why we don't go too big, but we do like to shine a little, so that the horses aren't going through the motions in the ring.”
Do you understand why the horse isn’t in much demand at stud?
A.D.: "Yes... but I think it will come. Now he’s starting to go out and run nicely. Once he's 1.50m next year, things will get moving. Here he does it correctly already and people have changed their minds I think... but, well, the breeding season is over. During the last competitions he did, many people came to me and said, "You know, we didn't think of him that way." We always knew he was great. Also, he has always done clear rounds, unlike many horses of which you hear "they’re stars” and all that... but they don't do clear rounds... He’s respectful, and then he jumps everything that’s put in front of him.”