• Une de Mai

    It wasn't just a win, it was humiliating demonstration of supremacy. It was unthinkable really, that an - in North America - unknown French mare could not only defeat, but totally humiliate the trotter that according to the US fans was undoubtedly the best trotter in the world. The 1969 International Trot was supposed to be an easy win for Stanley Dancer's jewel Nevele Pride. However, Jean-Rene Gougeon was did not agree as he before the race declared to Sports Illustrated that "I think we can win, or else I would not have come. I think Une de Mai may trot better than Roquépine. She has more speed, she can leave faster. Now it will be interesting to compare Une de Mai with Nevele Pride." Even though Nevele Pride had post 7 he had no problems moving to the lead for Dancer, but Une de Mai quickly moved forward and settled outside of him. The very idea of racing outside of Nevele Pride seemed crazy but not to Gougeon: "I wasn't going to take her back (...) because then Stanley Dancer would have been able to take back and I didn't want him to do that. I wanted to keep the pressure on him." 4 times Une de Mai came at Nevele Pride, slowly zapping him of his energy. As patriotic Americans expected their champion to leave the rest behind at the end of the last turn, it was instead the 5 year old French filly who exhausted the favourite and shocked the American crowd. However shocked, the crowd also recognized that they had witnessed a spectacular performance by an even more spectacular trotter and immediately gave Une de Mai due recognition. Roosevelt's Jack Lee simply stated that "I have seen them all, but I have just seen the greatest." Gougeon summed the race, and Une de Mai's character, up in legendary fashion "When she looked him in the eye, he understood."

    Even though she was unknown in the US, prior to the race, she was by no means unaccomplished. A winner of Criterium des 3 Ans and Prix de Vincennes at 3, Prix de Selection, Prix Phaeton, Prix d'Europe and Criterium Continental at 4, Grand Criterium de Vitesse, Prix de l'Atlantique and the Lotteria mades it obvious that it was indeed a very capable filly that Jean-Rene Gougeon was bringing to the States. Yet for all of Une de Mai's wins, there is one race she never managed to win, and this failure earned her the nickname "reine sans couronne", meaning "queen without crown". Despite numerous attempts, the glory of winning the Prix d'Amerique eluded her. In 1969 she came close by finishing second to fellow 5 year old Upsalin before finishing sixth the next year. In 1971 she finished third behind Tidalium Pelo and Vanina B. In both the 1973 and 1974 events she could only manage 4th place finished. The reality is that Une de Mai did not favour the sloped Vincennes track with its uphill. However, winning the Prix d'Amerique also requires luck and in 1972 this completely evaded her. In the last turn, as Une de Mai is about to pass a Vismie to take the lead, the latter drifts out slightly and the sulkies got entangled, giving Tidalium Pelo a clear and easy win. It is impossible to say if Une de Mai would have won without the incident, but it would surely have been a duel between her and Tidalium Pelo as the others were several lengths behind.

    As mentioned above, Une de Mai won both the Criterium des 3 ans and its monte (racing under saddle) equivalent for 3 year olds, the Prix de Vincennes, thus quickly establishing herself as the top dog in her crop. The following year she followed up by winning the Prix de Selection, Prix Phaeton and Criterium Continental and this year she would have several touch battles with Henri Levesque's Upsalin, the top colt in the crop. But it wasn't always obvious she would end up as trotting star. Her trainer, Jean-Rene Gougeon, quicky realized he not only had a talented filly, but also one with quite a fiery temper, and she could be both unpredictable and at times dangerous to be around. He assigned Jean Louis Peupion as her groom and between him and beautiful chestnut filly, through endless patience and using pockets full of goodies, a love story was born: "Une de Mai, for me it was something other than a horse! I was with her all day. We were accomplices. She trusted me." said Jean Louis Peupion. But while they succeeded in calming and molding Une de Mai into a sweet horse, she would continue to be merciless with her opponents.

    In fact, Une de Mai would win an unprecedented 15 group I races in France alone, including five consecutive wins in the Grand Criterium (de Vitesse) in Cagnes-sur-Mer. Une de Mai is the only French trotter to be given a retirement ceremony at a US track, which was given to her at Roosevelt Raceway in 1974, and when her career was wrapped up in 1974, she could look back at a career with 149 starts, of which she won 74, was second 28 times, third another 15 times and earned 8 908 977 FFF/€1 359 689). Her personal best, 1:13.9/1:58.4 was set in California when she finished fifth in the 1972 Pacific Trot at Hollywood Park, behind Super Bowl (making his final career start), Flower Child, Oppy and Dayan. In the course of her career Une de Mai won Prix de Paris (1970, 1973), Prix de France (1972), Grand Critérium de vitesse (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973), Prix de la Côte d'Azur (1970, 1971, 1972), Critérium des 3 ans (1967), Prix de l'Atlantique (1971, 1972), Prix René Ballière (1970, 1971), Prix de Vincennes (1967), Prix de Sélection (1970) Prix de l'Etoile (1969), Prix d'Europe, Prix d'Été and Prix de Washington among the group I and group II races in France. Internationally she won the International Trot (1969, 1971), the Challenge Cup (1971, 1973), Lotteria (1969, 1970, 1971), Gran Premio Delle Nazioni (1970, 1971), Gran Premio d'Europa (1968), Preis der Besten (1971), Elite Rennen (1971) and Grote Prijs der Lage Landen (1971) - to name some of her 29 wins outside of France. Une de Mai was the first trotter worldwide to earn more than (the equivalent of) 1 million dollar. Jean-Rene Gougeon also drove the previous French queen, Roquepine, and when comparing the two stated that "You had to drive her unlike Roquepine, more waiting and then rely on her class in the latter part of the race."

    Despite what some think, her name has nothing to do with being born on May 1 - she is in fact born April 22, 1964. Her breeder, Hippolyte Bernereau, had bought her dam, Luciole III the year before and covered her with a young promising stallion, Kerjacques, who would soon prove himself as the premier French stallion of his time. Bernereau was a butcher by trade who had a few broodmares on the side. As a yearling he sold Une de Mai for 13000 French francs (1981 euros) to agent Michel Lemelletier who a bit later sold her to Pierre-Desire Allaire for 20000 francs. In the fall of 1967, after owning Une de Mai for 10 months, he sold 50 % on to Count de Montesson and she was moved to the stables of Gougeon where she would remain throughout her massively successful career.

    Une de Mai was in foal to Nevele Pride in 1974 but aborted and in the end only had 1 foal, May Flower (by Quioco), in 1978 but sadly she passed away shortly after giving birth because of internal bleeding. Despite failing to win the Prix d'Amerique, Une de Mai will forever be remembered as one of the better trotters of all times - and the best one to look Nevele Pride in the eye.