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Visitors admire Siyouni on the Route des Etalons | Zuzanna Lupa

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NORMANDY, France–The signs had accumulated two years of dust by the time they were taken out again to point towards the farms taking part in France's Route des Etalons. The many stallions who took up stud duties in the northwestern part of the country last year were deprived the chance to show off their credentials to a large number of breeders. There was, as a result, a palpable feeling of excitement when the gates were swung open for the 2022 renewal of the iconic event. Although Covid restrictions didn't allow it to be a fully singing-and-dancing edition, seeing young stallions in the flesh rather than through a computer screen provided widespread interest.

Having kicked off at dawn from Chantilly, with bloodstock agent Tina Rau behind the wheel and her pair of dogs on the back seat, we arrived at 9 a.m. sharp for the first show at Haras de Bouquetot, having duly given the four-legged companions a little walk beforehand. They call it German precision.

Bouquetot is still to celebrate its first decade of operation, and yet it has been one of France's fastest-growing stallion stations with eight sires currently on the roster. All of them, bar the fresh arrival Armor (GB) (No Nay Never), are Group 1 winners, and two share the distinctive feat of having landed one of Europe's most competitive mile contest in the G1 Prix Jacques Le Marois. The first crop by Al Wukair (Ire) (Dream Ahead) included 15 winners at two and already two at three, including recent debut winner Hauran (Fr). Such a promising start has caused his fee to swing back to its initial level of €8,000.

Romanised (Ire) (Holy Roman Emperor {Ire}), who annexed the Marois on the back of a Classic triumph in the Irish 2000 Guineas, is still to have his first foal on the ground but he was the busiest stallion at Bouquetot last year with 127 mares. His starting fee of €7,000 has been maintained and seems excellent value, as Al Shaqab Racing's Sebastien Desmontils explained.

“Romanised is still owned 100% by Mr. Ng who raced him,” he said. “When stud plans were arranged, we offered him to syndicate the horse, arguing that it would guarantee him significant support. Mr. Ng, however, was keen to remain Romanised's sole owner but he suggested that we gave him a very affordable covering fee in order to make him an attractive proposition to breeders.”

Another stallion expecting his first foals is Wooded (Ire) (Wootton Bassett {GB}), who ended a long drought for France when winning the G1 Prix de l'Abbaye. He joined Almanzor (Fr) as the second son of Wootton Bassett to stand at stud in this country and, at €15,000, is the joint highest-priced sire at Bouquetot. He shares top billing with the eye-catching Zelzal (Fr) (Sea The Stars {Ire}), who was one of the sensations of 2021, notably through the achievements of his listed-winning daughter Zelda (Fr). He also boasts a 92% fertility rate and has seen his fee more than double from €6,000.

The latest addition to the Bouquetot roster is Richard Hannon's former charge Armor (GB) (No Nay Never), who won last year's G3 Molecomb S. and ran third in the Middle Park. Still two months from his actual third birthday, the dark bay will be offered at €5,000.

“The plan is to try to replicate the success story that Al Shaqab has experienced with Mehmas. French breeders are always looking for speed and precocity, so we think he is a great proposition,” said Desmontils.

A little deeper into the Norman countryside, Haras de Bonneval is busy celebrating the 100th anniversary of His Highness the Aga Khan's breeding operation. (Click for Emma and John Berry's excellent three-part feature: Part I, Part II, and Part III.) And could there be a better advertisement than the excellent performances achieved by Zarak (Fr)'s first 2-year-olds? After all, the powerful bay traces back, through his illustrious dam Zarkava (Ire) (Zamindar), to Zahra (Ire) (Habitat), the sole daughter out of the champion Petite Etoile (GB) (Petition {GB}), herself a descendant of the “flying filly” Mumtaz Mahal (GB). One hundred years of breeding excellence summed up in one pedigree.

A son of Dubawi (Ire), Zarak has so far been represented by 18 2-year-old winners, the exact same number as his barn mate Siyouni (Fr) (Pivotal {GB}) achieved with his first crop. And his best offspring to date is the G1 Qatar Prix Marcel Boussac runner-up Times Square (Fr), who is, fittingly, out of a daughter of Siyouni. Such eye-catching results have had a major impact on the stallion's worth and he now commands a covering fee of €25,000, doubled from his €12,000 starting price.

“There has been huge interest in Zarak,” explained nominations manager Fanny Cyprès. “He has covered a full book every season, and for 2022 he has been full since last October. Mares are coming from Germany, from Ireland and from the UK for him. His value has increased quite dramatically, as shown by the evolution of his share price: when we syndicated him, a share cost €60,000, while at recent auctions on Arqana Online, shares sold for €350,000 to €380,000.”

Full credit where it's due: the now 15-year-old Siyouni remains France's most expensive stallion at €140,000 and is expecting another stellar crop of foals including full-siblings to Sottsass (Fr) and Dream And Do (Ire), as well as youngsters out of Group 1 winners Watch Me (Fr) (Olympic Glory {Ire}), Kitesurf (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) and stakes winner Zarkamiya (Fr) (Frankel {GB}).

Cyprès added, “We have seen with Times Square that Siyouni is starting to make his mark as a broodmare sire, and we think he can follow in the footsteps of his own sire Pivotal in this respect.”

Larissa Kneip's Haras de Saint-Arnoult is steadily making a name as a source of affordable speed, and she currently has six stallions who all performed over middle to short distances. The good-looking Elarqam (GB) (Frankel {GB}) currently stands out as the sole son of Frankel at stud in France. The Group 2 winner will have his first foals on the ground this season and remains available at an attractive €5,000. The first crop by Seabhac (Scat Daddy) are now 2-year-olds, while Group 1-winning juvenile Mkfancy (Fr) (Makfi {GB}) is the newest recruit.

Only minutes away, Julian Ince's Haras du Logis is home to an impressive line-up of former Godolphin colourbearers, with the notable exception of the infamous globetrotter Tiberian (Fr) (Tiberius Caesar {Fr} ). For the coming season there has been another extremely classy addition to the roster in the dual Group 1 and Classic winner Victor Ludorum (GB) (Shamardal). The handsome bay boasts a special pedigree as he is not only by 'sire of sires' Shamardal, but also from the family of Shamardal–he is inbred 3×3 to Helen Street. Victor Ludorum's placid demeanour and solid constitution guarantee him strong support at €15,000. Another popular young sire is Cloth Of Stars (Ire) (Sea The Stars {Ire}), whose first yearlings sold extremely well and whose fee remains unchanged at €7,000.

Leaving Calvados for the Orne area, we reach Haras du Petit Tellier. Patrick Chédeville's historical farm stands the dual Classic winner The Grey Gatsby (Ire) (Masterscraftsman {Ire}), whose first crop already includes six winners and made him one of the 'talking horses' of the winter.

Driving back to Deauville, one notices a sign indicating where the Greenwich meridian crosses through Normandy. Indeed, this part of France should effectively follow the GMT schedule, and it is no wonder days are so dramatically short at this time of year, which make the Route des Etalons an inevitable rush as breeders try and see as many stallions as possible in a limited amount of time. It is a real shame to have to give the likes of Persian King (Ire) (Kingman {GB}), Le Havre (Ire) (Noverre), Galiway (GB) (Galileo {Ire}), Golden Horde (Ire) (Lethal Force {Ire}) or Flintshire (GB) (Dansili {GB}) a miss, and only minor solace comes from the existence of online stallion books.

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