Derby Dream Thriving At Hony-Hof

Simon Minch with the late Hony-Hof matriarch Salve Regina | Frank Sorge


A small private stud in the heart of Germany provided one of the great stories of the 2020 racing season in Europe as the breeder of G1 Prix du Cadran winner Princess Zoe (Ger) (Jukebox Jury {Ire}).

The graduates of Gestut Hony-Hof, which lies among remote woodland in the country's Hessen region to the north-east of Frankfurt, are more commonly seen running in the colours of the stud's owner Manfred Hellwig, whose purple-and-white silks are emblazoned with a giant H. Currently they are worn by three colts of this season's Classic generation, including Sunday's G2 Derby Trial winner in Hoppegarten, Sea Of Sands (Ger) (Sea Of Stars {Ire}). 

For most German breeders, winning the Deutsches Derby remains the ultimate goal, and few colts have better genetic claims to this coveted prize than Sea Of Sands. His third dam Sacarina (GB) (Old Vic {GB}) was bought as a 2-year-old by Philipp Stauffenberg on behalf of Gestut Karlshof. Though she didn't make the racecourse herself, Sacarina was a grand-daughter of the Schwarzgold-Rennen (German 1000 Guineas) winner Bravour (Fr) (Birkhahn {Ger}), who was also third in the G1 Preis der Diana (German Oaks). She more than atoned for her lack of performance by producing for Karlshof the Derby-wining full-brothers Samum (Ger) and Schiaparelli (Ger). The mare's repeated matings with their sire Monsun (Ger) also produced the Preis der Diana winner and Derby runner-up Salve Regina (Ger), who was bought as a youngster by Hony-Hof, and the unraced Sanwa (Ger). The latter is now best known as the dam of the 11-length Derby winner Sea The Moon (Ger), who is now a sought-after stallion at Lanwades in Newmarket.

For Gestut Hony-Hof, Salve Regina was an inspired purchase. Not only was she a superior racemare but she left quite a dynasty of her own in the quiet wooded paddocks of Hessen, where she produced seven fillies. Three of those daughters–Salve Haya (Ger) (Peintre Celebre), Salve Estelle (Ger) (Dansili {GB}) and Salve Aurora (Ger) (King's Best)–are each represented by a son in the entries for this year's Deutsches Derby.

Being by the outstanding Sea The Stars, Salve Haya's son Sea Of Sands is of course very similarly bred to Sea The Moon and he is currently co-favourite with Martial Eagle (Ire) (Adlerflug {Ger}), representing last year's winning connections of Gestut Schlenderhan and Francis Graffard, and the Gestut Auenquelle homebred and Henk Grewe-trained Virginia Storm (Ger) (Soldier Hollow {GB}). Jean-Pierre Carvalho trains the Hony-Hof trio which is completed by Sassoon (Ger) (Soldier Hollow {GB}), a winner in Cologne and Chantilly this year and a decent fourth in Monday's G2 Prix Hocquart, and Sun Of Gold (GB) (Golden Horn {GB}).

Simon Minch, the Irish-born manager of Gestut Hony-Hof, says of Sea Of Sands, who has now won two of his five starts and was third in the G3 Bavarian Classic before his Derby Trial victory, “He's still learning his job. He was going around the parade ring screaming his head off [on Sunday]. We'll probably give him another run before the Derby just to get the routine into him more than anything. He's got talent to burn and he's improving with his racing but he he needs to learn.”

He continues, “We were very lucky to get into this family. Mr Hellwig bought Salve Regina directly from Gestut Karlshof. It was more by accident than anything else because when she was a yearling Samum hadn't won the Derby yet. Then we bought Sanwa as well, and we actually sold her in foal to Dansili at Tattersalls in 2008 to Charlie Gordon-Watson. So we had the dam of Sea The Moon here, but we already had Salve Regina, and Sanwa is tiny so I was worried she didn't have much scope. That shows you what I know as she produced a Derby winner, but we might get our own one out of the family yet.”

Minch has been at the helm of Hony-Hof since 2005, since then it has enjoyed success with horses such as G2 Goldene Peitsche winner Donnerschlag (GB) (Bahamian Bounty {GB}), GII Ballston Spa H. victrix Salve Germania (Ger) (Peintre Celebre), and the G2 Badener Meile winner Palace Prince (Ger) (Areion {Ger}), the half-brother to Princess Zoe who has just embarked on his second season at stud in France. A recent foal purchase became the 2019 G3 Preis der Winterkoenigin winner Ocean Fantasy (Fr) (Make Believe {GB}).

“People kind of think Hony-Hof are new kids on the block but the Hellwigs have been breeding for over 30 years. I took over in 2005 and we had our first group winner in 2009,” says Minch. “I'm very lucky that I have an owner like Manfred Hellwig who can go to Sea The Stars. How many breeders can do that if they're not a sheikh and it's not a foal share? Sea Of Sands, Sassoon and Sun Of Gold were the only three colts we had in that year and they are all knocking on the door so we're delighted.”

He continues, “A horse like Ocean Fantasy is part of the long-term strategy of the stud. We breed purely for our own racing stable, we don't sell yearlings or foals. I bought Ocean Fantasy at Arqana as a foal for €30,000 and she was bought to be a broodmare here to give us another string to our bow. We also have a Make Believe half-sister to Sassoon. I've always liked the stallion, and we have another mare in foal to him this year.”

Salve Germania was sold on to stud in Japan after her American stakes win and it is her full-sister Salve Haya who has now produced Sea Of Sands. Their Classic-winning mother who started the ball rolling, Salve Regina, was lost to lymphangitis several years after producing her final foal, Salve Estelle, the dam of Sassoon who in turn died last November after producing only two foals. Her yearling filly by Make Believe will hopefully continue her branch of the line, while her half-sisters Salve Haya and Salve Aurora are still in action at the farm, along with Salve Stella (Ire), a Shamardal half-sister to Sea Of Sands.

“It's a beautiful farm and we were dreaming of winning the Derby so over the years we upgraded the broodmares,” Minch says of the property, which is the sole stud farm within a 100km radius. “We bought Palace Princess, the dam of Princess Zoe, privately as a foal, and we have the 'Salve' line. And we slowly built it up and brought new fillies in like Ocean Fantasy. In breeding it doesn't happen from one day to the next, but I am very happy that for a small stud with eight to ten mares we are doing alright.”

The stud manager grew up in Ireland in a family with close ties to both racing and showjumping, and went to Germany initially in the early 1990s to break in some yearlings. 

“It's all the fault of Joe Hernon,” he recalls. “I worked in Castle Hyde Stud as a young lad and did the yearling sales for Camas Park and Islanmore. I was asked if I wanted to go to Germany to break in nine yearlings–I used to ride a lot in those days–so I came over and it all went swimmingly well. We got the yearlings broken in and got some nice horses out of it and I was asked if I would like to stay. It was never my plan but I just found my niche and I've got to work with some very good people.”

He adds of his colleagues at Hony-Hof, “It's only possible because of the stud's good owners who will let us do our thing. Teresa Lotz does a great job here, and there's really only two of us on the farm. But the farriers, the feed men, the lads in the racing stable–if they don't do their job then all we do is for nought. It's a big team effort.”

Minch admits that it is likely we will see the name Gestut Hony-Hof on the list of consignors at BBAG in the years to come. “We're going to start selling and we'll probably keep fillies, sell colts,” he says.

In the meantime, there appears to be much to look forward to on the track in the seasons to come, especially with the arrival this year of a half-sister to Princess Zoe from the first crop of Gestut Auenquelle's Best Solution (Ire). The filly has already been named Palace Sunshine (Ger).

Minch says, “Palace Princess has been very difficult to get in foal but she had a filly this year. The mare is not a good traveller. I sent her to England once and she ended up being on a drip for two days with travel sickness. So I can really only use stallions here who aren't too far away and we like to support the German breeding scene as well. We also have Palace Prince's full-sister, Palace Girl, in foal to Best Solution.”

Perhaps the only foal by his sire in Germany is a colt from the first crop of four-time group winner and Hony-Hof graduate Palace Prince. He now stands at Elevage Joel Denis near Moulins in the prime National Hunt breeding territory of central France. Also much prized among the crop of eight foals this year is the Le Havre (Ire) half-sister to Sea Of Sands. The filly also has a full-sister, Salve Le Meer (Ger), in training alongside the Classic hopeful at the Carvalho stable.

Minch says, “The Le Havre 2-year-old filly is a goddess, she's absolutely gorgeous. The trainer has nearly built an altar with incense sticks outside her box. I love her so much we sent the mare back to Le Havre and happily we have a full-sister this year. We live in hope that we have another nice one there.”

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