Thoroughbred Daily News
Kitten's Joy - Devine Actress, by Theatrical (Ire) - Mill Ridge Farm
Mill Ridge Farm - Lexington, KY | 2014 | Entered Stud 2019 | 2020 Fee $20,000

In Memoriam, Ben Massam, 1988-2019

The TDN Weekend

From the TDN Weekend: Montaigu, the Sweet Smell of Success

No less than the perfumes that funded its foundation, and just like every other stud farm, Haras de Montaigu is sustained by subtle but constant adjustment to a formula. Each year of production, a little bit more of this, a little bit less of that; seeing what works, what doesn’t work, without compromising on the hallmarks of your brand. Because with Thoroughbreds and perfume alike, there is no such thing as the perfect balance. And while tastes will always be changing, you can’t merely respond to some fleeting commercial vogue. Your metier demands time, and patience.

Listening to Sybille Gibson, then, you recognise an equivalence with her ancestors not just in process but in mindset. “With mares you try one stallion, you try another, until you find the right blood cross,” she says. “I can’t say we just try a bit of everything. The way we handle the horses, for instance, does not change. Nor does the place where we raise them, which is the heart of everything. But with the crosses, you are always trying something different.”

Elegant and thoughtful, she is sitting in the stall at Arqana that once housed Montaigu’s most famous graduate. It is early one sales morning, there is hardly anyone around-some prospective buyers have probably only just reeled out of Le Drakkar–and Gibson is in her element: the air is saturated with the scent of fresh straw, and the silence punctuated only by a drowsy snicker, or a thud against wood echoing down the row.

“And it’s all a mystery,” she says. “My parents bought Martaline to be a Flat stallion but he became the best National Hunt sire in France. You try things that don’t work, but you keep going because you believe in what you do. And one day it works: this comes through, or this. Each time a nice filly is born we say: ‘She will win the Diane!’ But the things that work, it’s a mystery.”

Not that anyone should be able to explain, in advance, why an experiment might work, when it can be hard enough to do so even after it has proved effective. Gibson’s great-grandfather, Jacques Guerlain, was ever taciturn when pressed to explain his genius for finding the right balance–the right “cross,” as it were-in a new fragrance. After all, it was a hereditary genius: the family had established one of the world’s most venerable perfume and cosmetics brands as early as 1828. And you can’t really articulate instinct; it’s something you are born with.

It is the same with the other passion handed down from one generation to the next. So that when Gibson’s mother saw Pour Moi (Ire) (Montjeu {Ire}) win the 2011 Derby, she immediately announced that this was an optimal mate for one of the Montaigu mares, the Classic-placed Ysoldina (Fr) (Kendor {Fr}). By the time the result of that pairing was himself lining up for the 2017 running, Pour Moi had been removed to a National Hunt stud. But then Wings of Eagles reprised his father’s remarkable burst of acceleration in the Epsom straight, and now he is back where he was born with a first crop of foals due in the spring–the first Derby winner in over half a century to retire across the Channel. (After publication of this article, it was announced that Wings Of Eagles would stand at The Beeches Stud in Ireland next term.)

If this represents the crowning moment in the Montaigu story, so far, then his is not the only important homecoming. For only a couple of years previously Gibson, having for decades led a life away from the 360-acre homestead, had returned to promote an expanded commercial operation–and, in the process, to prepare herself for the day when she takes the family’s stewardship of Montaigu into a fifth generation.

The farm was founded in 1903 by her great-great-grandfather Gabriel, son of the perfume house’s founder. He had started his Turf career on land near Paris but knew Normandy was the place to raise horses and eventually found a 200-hectare site for sale. On his death, 30 years later, Montaigu passed into the hands of his son Jacques, as celebrated a parfumeur as any in the pedigree; but Jacques, despairing after the loss of his youngest son in the war, handed the stud over to another, Claude. And it was Claude, Gibson’s grandfather, who became the first to devote himself to Thoroughbreds full-time.

“He was a man of the land,” Gibson explains. “And while the family would go to and fro–my mother was brought up in Paris–this was his true base. He had no interest in city living. His grandfather had won the Grand Steeplechase [de Paris, in 1912] with Hopper, and Jacques bought five or six mares in Newmarket, but it was still just a hobby until Claude took over. He had cousins who could keep the [perfume] business going. But since that time, everything has been about the place he loved: it has been at the heart of the family, and for us now at the heart of our business.”

Gibson remembers the old man from her girlhood. “He was a very discreet man,” she says. “Very straightforward, very respected. Not very talkative, maybe even a little cold: he hid his emotions. Certainly compared to my grandmother, who was from the south and more voluble. A good mixture.”

Even the humans manage a good cross here, it would seem. One way or another, anyhow, the passion within passed down–along with the farm–to Gibson’s mother Aliette, a renowned horsewoman who found a husband of similar stamp in the bloodstock agent Gilles Forien.

“My grandfather didn’t have that many mares, but bred Rescousse to win the Prix de Diane and finish second in the Arc,” Gibson recalls. “But by 1984 he felt the time had come to let his daughter transform the farm into something more commercial. She had become passionate about horses through show jumping–and from this, I think, she developed what I think remains our marque de fabrique of Montaigu.”

Gibson condenses that trademark in a single word: respect.

“Respect for the horse,” she says. “We have never pushed the yearlings too hard during their preparation, we don’t over-lunge, we don’t overdo anything. And, whatever happens, they get turned out in the paddock every morning. I know other people also take great care of their horses. All I know is that my mum’s been doing it the same way for 30 years, and been in the top five [vendors at Arqana every summer] for ages.

“I don’t know if it’s because of her show jumping background, and the fact that she’s a horsewoman. But we do try to hire people who love their horses. It’s not just taking them on the lead. Day by day we adapt the work of each horse, according to how each one takes what we ask them to do. It’s about that attention to detail.”

Stallions, of course, give an extra commercial dimension to the operation, and Wings of Eagles has joined a roster of six trying to follow in the footsteps of Kendor, one of the most resonant names in modern French pedigrees. The grey, champion French juvenile of 1988 and winner of the G1 Poule d’Essai des Poulains the following spring, presided here for 17 years and sired three Group 1 winners-one of whom, Literato (Fr), arrived as his heir in 2009.

Though Kendargent has kept the line fashionable, Gibson concedes that stallions like Literato are at the mercy of a market notoriously addicted to commercial reputation. Literato mustered a Group 1 winner from a debut crop of just 37, but is still having to graft away at €3,000.

“If you actually want a runner, then buy a Literato,” Gibson says. “For his quality, his fee is nothing. The market works a la mode, and I think stallions are killed in the market far too quickly. Literato has always been difficult, commercially, because of his size. Nobody understood that, in size, he always produces foals that are literally like the dam. We invested in him, we used him with our own mares, but it was difficult to convince people.”

(For the full TDN Weekend feature on Haras de Montaigu, click here.)

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TDN Weekend August 2018
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TDN Weekend July 2018
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Arrogate Named Longines World’s Best Racehorse

LONDON, UK – Less than five months after Arrogate (Unbridled’s Song) had posted the top-rated performance of 2016 when winning the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic, the Juddmonte colt’s last-to-first effort in the G1 Dubai World Cup earned him the accolade of Longines World’s Best Racehorse for the second time.

Following American Pharoah’s title in 2015, the award has gone to a horse trained in America by Bob Baffert for this third consecutive year. The winners were announced on Tuesday during an awards ceremony at Claridge’s in London, with Baffert in attendance alongside his wife Jill and son Bode.

Arrogate, who was awarded a mark of 134 for his exploits at Meydan, becomes the second Juddmonte representative to have been a dual winner of this prize following the homebred Frankel (GB) (Galileo {Ire}), who was the Longines World’s Best Racehorse in 2011 and 2012, his first mark of 136 equalling that awarded to Sea The Stars (Ire) (Cape Cross {Ire}) in 2009, while his final rating of 140 remains the highest ever.

Paying tribute to Arrogate, Baffert said, “He gave so much that night [at Meydan] spotting horses like Gun Runner eight to ten lengths. He never could come back to that form. It was one of those races–I don’t think I will ever witness a race like that again and that is why they are honouring him today.

“He showed so much heart and determination, it was an off-the-chart run. His Travers was off the chart, his Breeders’ Cup was off the chart, and his Pegasus was off the chart. Dirt racing is very demanding and to do what he did in the Breeders’ Cup and the Pegasus–the Dubai World Cup was like his drop the mic race and that was it.”

Arrogate was beaten in his final three starts, all at Del Mar, including when attempting to defend his crown in the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“He was never the same after [the Dubai World Cup],” Baffert added. “He was healthy and all but he just said that’s it.”

Winx Is Top Mare And Turf Horse
Australian superstar Winx (Aus) (Street Cry {Ire}) again had to play second fiddle to Arrogate in the overall rankings but was named the top-rated mare and turf horse in the world when earning a rating of 132 for her victory in the G1 George Ryder S. in March. The Chris Waller-trained 6-year-old has subsequently won another six races, remaining unbeaten in 22 consecutive races since May 2015, including three G1 Cox Plates.

Debbie Kepitis was one of a number of Winx’s owners in London to accept the award and said, “It’s the most amazing feeling being involved with a horse like Winx. She’s taken us on the most amazing rollercoaster ride. We’re at the top of the rollercoaster and it doesn’t seem to be coming down for a while.”

Asked whether Winx might make an appearance at Royal Ascot this summer, Kepitis’s fellow owner Peter Tighe replied, “We can’t give you a definitive answer now. We’ll get back to Australia and put her through a few trials but we don’t want to give anyone false hopes, either here or in Australia. Once she’s through her trials we’ll give it careful consideration.”

Gun Runner And Cracksman Tied
Another American star, Gun Runner (Candy Ride {Arg}), who is set to make his final start in Saturday’s valuable G1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational before taking up stud duties, tied for third in the rankings with Frankel’s first European Group 1 winner Cracksman (GB), raced by his breeder Anthony Oppenheimer. The pair was awarded 130, a mark to which the consistent Gun Runner ran to on four separate occasions–in the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic, GI Woodward S., G1 Whitney S., and G1 Stephen Foster H.

Case Clay, representing Three Chimneys Farm, where Gun Runner is set to stand after his Saturday swansong and which owns him in partnership with Winchell Thoroughbreds, said, “Gun Runner has done really well in training and we’re very happy to be here. He carries his speed well and is a good-looking horse who is well bred so we are hoping that he will pass on these attributes to his offspring.”

He continued, “Steve Asmussen and his team have done an incredible job managing the horse since he started racing and he is a dream come true for the whole of team Gun Runner–I’m just here on behalf of Three Chimneys and the Winchells but I know that we’ve all been pinching ourselves all year. He was very impressive as a 2-year-old and a Grade I winner at three and then he did what he did at four.

“We’ll see what he can do on Saturday, it won’t be easy. Every Grade I is hard to win. He’s been well received by breeders and he has about 150 mares on the book right now.”

The top-rated 3-year-old in the world, Cracksman earned his 130 rating in the G1 QIPCO Champion S. at Ascot. John Gosden can take pride in having trained the two best horses in Europe in 2017, though many may feel that Cracksman’s stablemate Enable (GB) (Nathaniel {Ire}), the winner of five consecutive Group 1 races, culminating with her best-rated performance in the G1 Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, should have been higher up the list, especially given the fact that the Arc, which she won by four lengths, was named as the Longines World’s Best Horse Race for the second time.

Gosden, however, was quick to praise the efforts of Arrogate and said, “Enable won the best race but to paraphrase Mark Twain, horse races are purely a matter of opinion.

“What Arrogate did in the Dubai World Cup was beyond wonder. I think it was the most frightening, extraordinary race of the year. I stood there and I couldn’t believe what he did. That to me is enough in itself. I’m thrilled to be here today, with Cracksman, and Enable winning the best race, so it feels like we’ve had a couple of winners and I’m pretty happy.”

Regarding seasonal plans for his two stable stars, Gosden added, “Cracksman will start when he tells me he’s ready, though the way he behaved this morning I might run him next week at Newcastle. He’s full of himself–he had three bucks and a rear before he cantered today.

“But one is doing a canter, one is trotting. If they are happy and healthy and well, they will both go to Longchamp and if they meet along the way, they meet along the way. All options are open. I think Mr Oppenheimer and I are very clear that we’d like Cracksman to run in the King George–this is a race that his family sponsored for years–and we want to run in the Arc. Everything before that or during is not as important as those two races, so that’s where we’re aiming.”

He continued, “With Enable, obviously the Arc is the key race but we’re looking at the Juddmonte International beforehand. What happens before that, the horses will tell us.”

For her Arc victory, Enable was awarded a rating of 128, while the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Ulysses (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) was next with a mark of 126 for his G1 Juddmonte International win in the colurs of the Niarchos family

Godolphin Duo Honoured
Godolphin’s Cloth of Stars (Ire) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) was the top-rated French-trained horse on 125, earned for his runner-up finish in the Arc when splitting Enable and Ulysses. Andre Fabre’s colt was joint-seventh overall with the highest-rated sprinter on the list, Harry Angel (Ire) (Dark Angel {Ire}), who also carries the royal blue of Godophin and is trained by Clive Cox. His four-length G1 Haydock Sprint Cup victory over Tasleet (GB) was judged to be his best performance of 2017.

Representing Britain, America and Japan respectively, Ribchester (Ire) (Iffraaj {GB}), Collected (City Zip) and Kitasan Black (Jpn) (Black Tide {Jpn}) finished in equal ninth position on a rating of 124. Japan’s top horse Kitasan Black bowed out with victory in the G1 Arima Kinen on Christmas Eve before retiring to Shadai Stallion Station, while Ribchester was a third horse in the top ten for Godolphin, earning his best rating for his G1 Prix du Moulin win. Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up Collected was another feather in the cap of Bob Baffert in 2017.

Just below the top ten, eight horses earned the same mark to finish collectively in twelfth position on 123 and these included three from Aidan O’Brien’s stable all by Galileo–Churchill (Ire), Highland Reel (Ire) and Order Of St George (Ire).

Arc Is World’s Best Race Again
For the second time, the G1 Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was awarded the title of Longines World’s Best Horse Race of 2017. The award was inaugurated in 2015, with France’s most famous race being named the winner in the first year, while last year the award was claimed by the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Collecting the award on behalf of France Galop, President Edouard de Rothschild said, “It is a pleasure to receive this for the second time. The Arc will return to Longchamp this year after the redevelopment and we will be honoured to display this commemorative plaque on our new stand.”

The Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings are determined by international handicappers according to the performance of horses around the world, while the Longines World’s Best Horse Race Award recognises the top-rated race of all Group 1 races run internationally, taking into account the ratings of the top four finishers in each race as the basis for assessment.


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