by Lisa Harkema
One of the biggest stars of French trotting, Coktail Jet is unique in many ways, both as a horse, trotter and stallion and a champion in every possible way.
When the French studbook was briefly opened between 1987 and 1992, conservative French breeders generally nixed the opportunity to breed their mares to non-French sires. Some even went as far as claiming they «didn’t want to plant weed in their garden», saying in no unclear terms that the American standardbred had absolutely nothing to offer the French trotter whose studbook had been closed since 1937 and only opened to allow Florestan, Granit, Kimberland and Mickey Viking to stand stud (Mickey Viking died after just one year at the national stud and Workaholic was then brought it to replace him).
The Franco-American protocol also opened up for 10 French mares to be bred to non-French stallions plus 10 non-French mares to be bred to French stallions: the foals would still qualifying for the French studbook. Breeders had to apply in advance and given that more that 10000 broodmares are bred in France every year one might have expected tough competition for these spots but that was not the case. However, a few bright minds still saw the potential, among them Jean-Pierre Dubois and his family. Dubois owned a few excellent French broodmares, including Nesmile, that they bred to US stallions. His oldest son, Jean-Etienne, decided to take the reverse approach. He bought the Canadian-born Armbro Glamour for $17000 at an auction at the Meadowlands in 1988. But though she was bought by Jean-Eteinne there can be no question that Dubois senior influenced the decision: he had seen Elma impress at Vincennes in the mid-60s, winning the Prix de France and finishing second to Roquepine in the Prix d’Amerique. Armbro Glamour was out of Speedy Sug, a daughter to a full sister to Elma.
Taking her to France, Jean-Etienne Dubois bred her the following year to the young French stallion Quouky Williams. This seems like a strange selection given that Quouky Williams was not highly regarded. Dubois has later revealed that the pedigree of Quouky Williams was a big part of the decision. By Fakir du Vivier, he hails from one of the better French maternal lines. His dam Dolly Williams was third in Criterium des Jeunes, one of the biggest races for three-year-olds in France and she was also the sister to Hase Williams, dam of the great Tidalium Pelo, the only horse in history to win the Prix d’Amerique, Prix de Cornulier and the Elitlopp. And despite sometimes being talked about derisively these days, Quouky Williams was not a bad trotter. He had in fact shown very early talent, winning the Prix Louis Cauchois in September as a two-year-old for Jan Kruithof before finishing second in the Prix Emmanuel Margouty, the biggest race for two-year-old colts in France. He followed up by finishing second to the German star Dizam Speed in the Prix Henri Cravoisier the following year. Quouky Williams died very early and only stood stud for two years in France and Italy but proved himself way above average as those crops contain several good trotters.
In an interview with the Swedish Travronden in 1992, when asked to pick out and pose with the most promising two-year-old in his stable, Jean-Etienne brought out Coktail Jet. He was unstarted but Dubois knew exactly what he had on his hands. Coktail Jet had a knee problem at two and Dubois was extremely careful not to destroy his immense talent. Instead of starting him against the best right away, in the beginning he simply gave Coktail ample time to develop against easier competition. Coktail Jet was 6-2-1 in 9 starts as a three-year-old. In his last start that year, in Prix de Vichy at Vincennes, he defeated Capitole who had won the group II race Prix Albert Viel earlier that year.
In the 1994 winter meeting Jean-Etienne Dubois started the four-year-old star against the best, and despite two mishaps where he was disqualified, he picked up two second places in the Prix de Sélection and Prix Gaston de Wazieres. Dubois knew he could do even better, however, and took him to Gran Premio d’Europa at the San Siro track in Milan, Italy, a race won by several French horses (earlier winners include Une de Mai, Equileo, Fakir and Hadol du Vivier, Passionnant and Bahama). Winning in Italy, he was one of the favorites in his next start, the Criterium des 4 ans. But again he broke stride and was disqualified. Dubois knew it was a one-off and sure enough, next time out he won the Gran Premio Citta di Torino in Italy ahead of King Lavec.
Knowing his new star’s abilities, Dubois did something surprising, he started him in the Group I race Prix Rene Balliere in mid-June. Even though it was not unprecedented for a four-year-old to start there, the race is extremely demanding and always a high-speed event. The 1994 edition was no exception as Sea Cove and Jos Verbeeck shattered the existing race record, winning in 1:12.0 / 1:55.4 over 2100 meters (1 5/16th mile) but Coktail Jet impressed everybody by finishing just a few lengths behind. Despite the proven talent, consistency still evaded the son of Quouky Williams and he only won 2 of his 6 remaining races that year. The second last race that year was a French qualification heat to the Grand Prix de l’UET (European Derby for four-year-olds) and Coktail Jet again broke stride and was disqualified. But when Cashinga, who was second in that qualifier, pulled out of the final the French association gave her place not to the third-placed Cliotte but rather to Coktail Jet. Breaking stride, yet again, in the final, Coktail Jet could only muster a sixth-place in the final at Solvalla.
He enjoyed mixed success in the winter meeting, a third-place finish in the Prix du Luxembourg and after enjoying four consecutive second places, the last a memorable race in the Grand Vitesse at Cagnes-sur-Mer where he narrowly lost to Houston Laukko (timed in 1:55 at the fast Mediterranean track) it was clear he was adding consistency to his repertoire. A win in the Prix Henri Levesque was followed up by a 1:55.3 win at Argentan in the Criterium de Vitesse de Basse-Normandie. Even though he was disqualified in his next start at Caen it would be the last dq in his 64-start long career. He finished third in the Prix Chambon P and followed up by winning the Prix Rene Balliere, narrowly missing out on Sea Cove’s race record before winning the Prix de Washington at Enghien, winning in 1:11.2 / 1:54.3 and demolishing Express Ride’s old race and track record that stood at 1:12.5 / 1:56.3.
In his second trip to Sweden, this time for the Hugo Åbergs Memorial, he «only» managed a fourth place finish but if one looks behind the numbers he was extremely impressive. Sitting last with nowhere to go in the last turn, Jean-Etienne Dubois overcame traffic problem and Coktail Jet finished faster than anybody. However, Houston Laukko was too far ahead and could not be caught. Back in France he notched up wins in the Prix Jockey, Criterium des 5 ans and Prix de l’Etoile before taking a few months off to prepare for the winter meeting.
In the Prix d’Amerique Dubois eased his star from the start, but quickly moved him forward on the outside of the field in the downhill. Before the uphill he was in the lead . Cedre du Vivier pressed him hard in the uphill but in the final stretch he pulled away, winning by a little less than two lengths ahead of Abo Volo. The next week he followed up by winning the Prix de France and later that spring he also took home the Prix de l’Atlantique. In May he went to Solvalla to try to become one of the unique few horses to win the Prix d’Amerique and the Elitlopp in the same year – a feat that then had not been accomplished since 1971 when Tidalium Pelo managed the double.
In this elimination heat Coktail Jet was again eased out of the gate from post 7 and Dubois also felt he was a bit sluggish. Attacking with a bit more than a quarter to go, he got to the final with the slimmest of margins, narrowly taking the fourth place ahead of the Finnish gelding Isla J Brave. Many observers felt that Dubois had made the mistake of attacking too late, though. In the final Coktail Jet was again eased slowly from the start and sat pretty in last place in the backstretch. While the Swedish commentator screamed that «Dubois has to do something here» the French trainer-driver did no such thing and again waited until the last turn. It had not paid off in the elimination but Dubois felt his horse was much better than in the elimination heat and was still confident of success. Attacking with a quarter to go, Coktail Jet showed French horses are not only strong but also speedy as he flew by the field down the final stretch, winning comfortably by more than a length. The 27-year-old Jean-Etienne Dubois and his 6-year-old superstar had managed to win the Prix d’Amerique and Elitlopp double, a feat only achieved by 7 horses in history by then (later Varenne did this twice, too).
Back in France he again won the Prix de Washington and then Prix d’Europe before he set his sight on something no European horse had won before, the Breeders Crown in the US. Despite being in great form and even made the favorite by the Meadowlands crowd, on that day he met his match in the freakishly good CR Kay Suzie who showed her superiority when winning in 1:52.3. Coktail Jet finished sixth, timed in 1:53.4.
Back in France, he targeted another Prix d’Amerique win, finishing second in the Prix d’Ete and then third in a race at La Capelle before Dubois again withdrew him for two ahead of the winter meeting. Finishing second and seventh in the warm-up races, without being driven to win, Coktail Jet disappointed by finishing seventh in the Prix d’Amérique and when he could only manage a sixth-place in the Prix de France the following week Jean-Etienne Dubois took one look at his star and decided to retire him to stud full time.
He has since been a French champion stallion 7 times and his get has won numerous top races all over Europe and even in the US (Papagayo E won the 2015 International Trot). Coktail Jet’s influence is absolutely massive and will not diminish anytime soon. More than 100 sons and grandsons currently stand stud all over Europe – and he is also found in US pedigrees as he is the paternal grand-sire to International Moni.
Coktail Jet passed away on December 17, 2018. He was 28 years old.