Åge Paus- It's hard to keep a good man down
He was riding in flat races in Norway at the age of eleven. He rode his first race over hurdles at thirteen, and one year later he became champion jump jockey. Yes, it may have been on a small circuit more than 50 years ago, but it was already clear that Åge Paus was a horseman a bit out of the ordinary. He was. It was also quite clear that the kid from Oslo could go on to make his mark on a much bigger stage. He did. Some forty years later, Paus trained Group One winners in France, before things went badly wrong in 1981.
After a battle, “that took me three years and left me absolutely skint,” he had his licence, which had been wrongfully withdrawn, back. Paus had to start all over. No longer particularly impressed by the French racing authorities, he went to New York, where he trained for a short spell, before returning to his native Norway. “Training back in Norway was also a new challenge,” he says, “as I was dealing with quite moderate horses compared to my days in Chantilly.” Indeed he was. A classic winner in Scandinavia does not exactly compare to horses winning races like the Marois, Morny and Ispahan in France. Paus was competing at the top level. A good friend of Francois Boutin, he trained for Robert Sangster, Charles St. George and Mahmoud Fustok, and Lester Piggott often flew over from Newmarket to ride his horses.
His story is as bizarre as it is fascinating, and as frustrating and enjoyable in hindsight. Who is this horseman, who turned 70 in October? What was his background, and where is he today? To the last question first: Paus is still working with horses but no longer training. He and his partner Elle Bitte Ihlen work long hours daily treating horses. Paus turned his attention to chiropractic some years ago. They were based in Lambourn for four years, “and we had plenty of work,” he explains. “Most trainers have seen the value of this work now,” he says. “For example, when Brian Meehan got around 80 newly bought yearlings into his stables, he asked me to check each and every one of them, before they were put into training.” Working in England is ideal, in many ways, but not in every way. “Elle Bitte was keen on the idea,” he remembers, “she kept telling me that the UK was such a small country and it would not be a problem to get around - we were soon fed up with being stuck on the M4 and the M25 though,” he says, “and we moved back to Norway.” Today, the couple works with Thoroughbreds, harness horses and show jumpers in Norway and Sweden. Their services are in great demand and they make a good team. “So we should,” Paus laughs. “We were madly in love as teenagers but our lives took separate ways, until our paths crossed again 15 years ago and we got together again.”
As a boy Age would ride his bike for well over five miles to ovrevoll racecourse, where he fancied riding those highly strung Thoroughbreds instead. “My weight was only 35kg,” he recalls, “so I was really too light, but I was given the chance, and rode races from when I was eleven.”
He took out a trainer’s license in Norway in 1959 and in 1965 he moved his operation to Sweden, where they had more racing. Paus soon had a string of between 80 and 90 horses in his care. To put things into perspective, the Thoroughbred population of Norway is around 450 horses today.
He bought horses in England and France and that is how he met Francois Boutin. “It was quite amusing,” he recalls, “how we first met. I was at the sales in Newmarket in the late 60’s, and one of Boutin’s owners was selling a horse called Irish Royal. I liked him a lot and I bought him. Boutin was upset, as he had planned to buy the horse in himself. When I realised this, I approached him and said that if he thought so much of the horse I would be happy to put him back into training with him.”
This conversation led to a long and fruitful friendship with Boutin. Shortly afterwards, Paus delivered one horse at Boutin’s stables, and bought five. The French trainer was probably more than happy that he had failed to buy that horse back in.
“Boutin repaid me big time,” Age continues, “he was the one who made me realise that I should move to France. Things were going well in Sweden. Over a period of ten years, I was champion trainer seven times, but I needed new challenges. And Boutin was very helpful when I made the move in 1974. We took only five horses from Sweden, so it was very much a case of starting from scratch.”
On his trips to England, Paus had also become friendly with Richard Galpin, and through him he got two horses from England into his ever growing stables in Chantilly. They were Mendip Man, who Paus trained to win the Prix de l’Abbaye, and Sun Of Silver, who became a Group 3 winner. He was owned by the famous bookmaker Jack Davies. Paus got a flying start to his international career. He was not French, so the locals may not have been too keen on his success, but then again, he looks more French than Scandinavian, and his French was soon fluent too. Within a year he had between 90 and 100 horses in his care. Men like Sangster, Getty and St. George were also impressed, and put horses in training with the Norwegian. “At one point, I had 47 horses for Alan Clore,” he recalls, “who was the son of Sir Charles Clore, the founder of William Hill Bookmakers.”
Then came a horse called Nadjar. Paus bought the colt at the Deauville yearling sales for 120,000 francs in 1977, on behalf of his long time friend Gunnar Schjeldrup. The son of Zeddaan was out of the Orsini mare Nuclea, who was a half-sister to the German Derby winner Neckar. Nadjar was a stakes winner at two and but for the top class Irish River he would have been a classic winner. Irish River beat him in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains, like he had done also in the Prix de Fontainebleau. Nadjar trained on at four, when he became one of the best horses in Europe. He defeated Foveros and In Fijar to win the Prix d’Ispahan by five lengths. He followed up by beating the top class English miler Final Straw in the Prix Jacques le Marois, then ran second in the Prix du Moulin. Hard on his heels followed the filly Pitasia, who Paus trained to win the Prix Robert Papin, Prix Morny and Criterium des Pouliches (now Prix Marcel Boussac) at two, and the Prix de Malleret and Prix de la Nonette at three, when she was also third behind the subsequent ‘Arc’ winner Three Troikas in the Prix Vermeille.
“As a trainer, you must find the right owners, that was no different in the 70’s,” Paus says, “but of course, the best way is to win Group One races, and the owners will come to you.” Nelson Bunker Hunt bought Pitasia after her career in France and after a while Paus also had good connections in USA. Mahmoud Fustok of Buckarm Oak Farm had his own stables and trainer in France. One day he approached Paus and asked him to “find me a good horse.” Paus did that, and another good relationship had been formed.
He trained in France for seven years, leasing stables belonging to the Countess of Batthyany, an influential breeder in Germany. Things had been going will for seven years in Sweden, and the first seven years in France were even better. They were also to be the seven last, however, as disaster struck in 1981. That spring, Paus won the Prix Greffulhe with the outstanding colt No Lute, a son of Luthier out of the top class miler Prudent Miss (Prudent II). He had been bought for just 640,000 francs at Deauville as a yearling. Just like Nadjar, he was a dream fulfilled. His name was soon associated with what can best be described as a true nightmare in the life of Age Paus though, one that lasted three years and changed his life forever.
“No Lute tested positive for steroids,” he tells us, “and he was disqualified. I had been using steroids through the winter, but never through the season or close to races. I was testing my horses meticulously all the time myself, as I had been taking regular blood samples when racing in Sweden. When I trained in Chantilly, we always took two tests of each horse, and sent one off to a lab in England and the other one off to a lab in Sweden, to get a double check. I wanted to know as much as possible, every day, about the wellbeing of my horses. Avoiding mistakes is so important in this game.”
The test was positive though, No Lute was disqualified and Paus stripped of his license. A few weeks later No Lute, ridden by Pat Eddery, outclassed his rivals in the Prix Lupin. The racecard gave Robert Sangster, one of the colt’s part owners, as the trainer. After this win No Lute was sent to Henry Cecil in Newmarket and Sangster’s ‘career as a trainer’ was thus cut short – shorter than the battle his previous trainer was about to fight to clear his name. Paus left no stone unturned in his strive to get the license reinstated. “The results of the test were out of this world,” he says, “I felt that in no way could I let this go unchallenged.”
Paus went to the police and pressed charges against “Mr. X,” meaning that he also told the police to suspect himself for foul play. “One big problem,” he says, “was that although vets in France were shaking their heads when presented with the test results, not a single one of them were willing to be an expert witness in a court case. Not just that, but the French legal system did not allow such expert witnesses from outside of France.”
Did he find such expertise abroad? He did. Paus travelled to the University of Kentucky, where he was assured that these traces of steroids could be produced naturally by a horse. Experts in Kentucky sent the tests off to two other universities. Paus wanted a second opinion, and he wanted a third opinion. All three reports came to the same conclusion. So, the married man and father, well aware of the fact that he soon needed to be earning a living again, made haste for Newmarket and the Animal Health Trust, where the original test had been analysed.
“I was well received there,” he recalls, “and I felt that I would be able to turn the whole situation around. I was asked to leave the matter with the AHT for a week and get back to them. When I did, the tone was not at all the same. I was told that they were willing to investigate the matter, but that it would cost around 300,000 pounds and that I would have to foot the bill. That was not possible, as I was nearly broke. But for help by friends and owners, I would not have been able to go on.”
Paus had the analysis, reports and conclusions from three highly respected authorities in USA, but in Europe he was running into a brick wall. The situation was not much better than it had been on the day he lost his license. It is also part of his story that a couple of years before No Lute was disqualified, his stables in Chantilly were attacked by arson. Not once, not twice, but three times. When the actor Alain Delon learnt about his story, he wanted to make a film about Paus’s life. “They did a script, but when I read it I said no, it was simply too bad,” he says.
In the autumn of 1981, another horse who would play a crucial part in this drama entered the stage. His name was Vayrann. He was owned by HH The Aga Khan and trained by Francois Mathet. Some six months after No Lute was first past the post in the Hocquart, Vayrann was first past the post in the Champion Stakes at Newmarket. Vayrann’s post race test came back positive, showing the exact same result as No Lute’s. This time, no hasty decisions were made. The Jockey Club ordered an inquiry, and it took months.
“I was contacted by the Aga Khan’s office,” Paus explains, “as he wanted to borrow my files from USA. Of course, I had no problem with that but my condition was that the Aga Khan would have to help me clear my name if the decision in England was to go in his favour. This he agreed to, and they had copies of my files. Again, my problem was this, whatever the findings would be in the UK, the French legal system did not allow expertise from abroad in a French case. My case was purely French, so there I was. The ongoing investigations in England were still so important to me.”
The Aga Khan paid for extensive tests of a group of horses in England, and the horses chosen for this exercise were horses that belong to The Queen, as they were under a 24-hour surveillance. The tests showed that the Americans had been right. Vayrann was not disqualified from his win over Cairn Rouge in the Champion Stakes and, eventually, in 1984, Paus was handed his French license back.
“I was advised by legal experts to sue the Societe d’Encouragement for damages,” he says, “but I also knew that if I did, they could appeal the case all the way to the Supreme Court. In other words, it might take the best part of ten years.”
Understandably, Paus was no longer completely charmed by France, and when Mahmoud Fustok offered him a job in New York, it was easy to accept. Paus moved his family to the Big Apple, and began training a small string of Buckram Oak Farm-owned horses at Belmont Park. “I had around 25 horses,” he recalls, including a number owned by Mr Haakon Fretheim, who had owned the famous Noble Dancer. The problem was, he had mainly offspring of Noble Dancer, who was nowehere near as good as a sire as he had been as a racehorse. Noble Dancer had been fourth in Ivanjica’s Arc, when trained in Norway by Terje Dahl, Age Paus’s boyhood friend, and the colt went on to be a turf champion in North America.
“My time in New York was interesting,” he recalls, “but not very successful.”
In 1986, Paus returned home, or at least back to where he was brought up, and the small racing community outside Oslo was simply buzzing before his arrival. “Paus is coming back to train here,” was the whisper; “no way,” many said, “that can’t be true.”
But it was, and he soon made his mark on the Scandinavian circuit, transforming the handicapper Flying Galivant to a winner of the Danish Derby in a matter of months, and training winners at a high strike rate. Truth be told, Flying Galivant would probably have finished last in each and every race contested by the Paus-trained stars in France but, as all horsemen know, it is not exactly easier to win races with moderate stock.
Today, Paus is working as a chiropractor and it is not all a new thing in his life. “During my years of training in France, I met a Dr. Aldridge at Longchamp,” he tells us, “educated in Japan and Australia. He told me about his work with athletes and football players, and offered to teach me his trade. He thought it might be interesting to use it on horses. He also introduced me to laser treatments, and let me borrow his equipment. I picked it up at his practice after racing, and worked through the night treating horses after they had run, then returned the equipment in the morning.”
Having obtained this skill and knowledge also helped Paus through the three years when he could not train for a living, as he worked for other stables in this capacity.
Paus does not see his work a chiropractor as unique, “but I use laser at the same time,” he says, “which may not be all that usual.” Very simple mishaps can cause big problems for a racehorse, “a horse can become cast in his box, and it rules him out of training, never mind racing, for some time,” Paus comments, “and the horses know when they get help. Nine out of ten horses are easy to treat, as they feel good and become relaxed. I use the laser after having treated the horse, sometimes I use it before we begin as well, to loosen the horse a bit. We also use laser from both sides simultaneously. At the end of the session, I often make use of acupuncture.”
This treatment helps many horses but it must also mean they need a recovery time after the session?
“Oh, yes,” Paus answers. “a horse may need a day or two of rest after we have worked with him. Therefore it is important to cut down on feed, and they also drink a lot during these hours of recuperation. “
He also explains how he prefers to take a look and examine the horse straight after activity. His experience is that the main causes for problems are simply being cast in the box, taking a bad step in a race, and neck problems, which are often there when the horse is a yearling. In his opinion, horses that rear up and become stuck in the starting stalls should be taken out of the race, because “it can take very little to make bad damage.” He also says that jumpers have more tendon injuries, and that his work in Scandinavia has shown that harness horses suffer more frequently from back problems.
“Trainers in Scandinavia seem to be better with these matters,” he says, “they often have quite moderate horses to work with, and to get results, they need to be a bit smarter.”
Good for them then, that they have cosmopolitan horseman Mr Paus on their side.