Equine Worlds Collide In Team Behind Classic Hope Onesto

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Onesto and Gregory Defrel on Chantilly's Piste des Lions | Emma Berry

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“Ca va, ca va, ca va,” says one rider after another as they report back to trainer Fabrice Chappet on their respective mounts during a routine Monday morning exercise in Chantilly.

Then comes Gregory Defrel, the Martinique-born rider of G2 Prix Greffulhe winner Onesto (Ire) (Frankel {GB}).

“Tres, tres bien,” he says, before gesticulating with the internationally recognised hand signal for 'ok'.

That's good enough for the trainer, who remains outwardly impassive as he watches his second lot circle under the trees in the Rond Allez France. Chappet is not prone to issuing wild statements of excitement about his runners, either pre- or post-race, but he does concede that he is very happy to have Onesto in his immaculate Chantilly stable. One wouldn't have Chappet pegged as overly superstitious, but he notes with the merest hint of a smile that the horse arrived in his yard from America last year on Prix du Jockey Club day. An omen, perhaps?

Onesto has certainly taken a fairly unusual route towards this year's 'French Derby'. Bred in Ireland at Coolmore by American breeder Adam Bowden of Diamond Creek Farm, he made his first public appearance in England at the October Yearling Sale at Tattersalls, where he was unsold at 185,000gns. With the pandemic showing no sign of abating and 2-year-old sales potentially being halted or delayed again, the colt was shipped to the States and was eventually consigned to the Ocala Spring Sale in Florida, where he first caught the eye of bloodstock agent Hubert Guy.

“He went to Ciaran Dunne, who is one of the great consignors at Ocala,” Guy recalls. “This horse worked and I was shocked. He had an unbelievable stride and did a fantastic time (breeze-up video). Then I saw that he was by Frankel out of a Sea The Stars mare, so it looked  on pedigree like he was a mile-and-a-quarter, mile-and-a-half horse, and his grandmother was by Kahyasi, and you go back to the dam of Hasili, from the best family of Juddmonte. I called Jean-Etienne Dubois and I said 'we have to buy this horse'.”

Therein two worlds collided, in more ways than one. Adam Bowden has only relatively recently added Thoroughbred breeding to his repertoire, having majored in Standardbreds. His Diamond Creek Farm, with wings in Kentucky and Pennsylvania, stands 11 stallions. On the other side of the Atlantic, Jean-Etienne Dubois is a name etched in the annals of the French trotting scene, as a former champion trainer, driver and breeder. Dubois, who is now based in Australia, owns a third of Onesto, in partnership with his father Jean-Pierre-Joseph Dubois, as well as Ecurie Hunter Valley, Ecurie Billon, Haras d'Etreham, Hubert Guy and Fabrice Chappet. Quite a vote of confidence from agent and trainer, as well as a potentially shrewd investment from the renowned stallion-makers at Etreham.

“He has a super turn of foot. Unfortunately it doesn't happen all the time that you are able to buy the horse that you really like, and then for that horse to repeat it on the racetrack. But he had a perfect vetting, everything was right,” says Guy, who rallied the troops to buy him at $535,000.

“When I watched the work, I rushed to the barn to see him. When I arrived, I saw a little chestnut pony, but he walked really well and had a fantastic attitude. Nothing fazed him.”

An agent glimpsing a catalogue page with Frankel and Sea The Stars in the first two generations may reasonably assume that the horse in question could be on the large side. Perhaps Onesto's neatness comes from his dam's side of the family. As Guy has referenced, this is one of Juddmonte's best. His great-grand-dam Kerali (GB) (High Line {GB}) produced the petite Hasili (GB) (Kahyasi {Ire}), the legendary dam of five Group/Grade 1 winners. It is Hasili's unraced sister Kalima (GB) who features as Onesto's grand-dam.

His pedigree is lent some nice historical symmetry by the fact that his fourth dam Sookera (Roberto) was the joint-top-rated filly in the Irish Free Handicap of 1977 with Fairy Bridge (Bold Reason), who also appears in Onesto's fourth generation in the top line as the dam of Sadler's Wells. Furthermore, with Galileo (Ire) and his half-brother Sea The Stars as his grandfathers, Onesto is inbred 3×3 to Urban Sea (Miswaki).

“He has always been a nice horse,” says Chappet of Onesto, who lives only a hop, skip and jump from his front door. The trainer celebrated his first Classic success five years ago with Precieuse (Ire) (Tamayuz {GB}) in the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches, and he has come agonisingly close in the intervening years with Dice Roll (Fr) (Showcasing {GB}) finishing third in the colts' equivalent, the same season that Intellogent (Fr) (Intello {Ger}) won the G1 Prix Jean Prat after finishing a length off the winner when fourth in the Prix du Jockey Club. During the delayed Classic season of 2020, Speak Of The Devil (Fr) (Wootton Bassett {GB}) was beaten a nose in the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches and was followed home in third by her stable-mate and paternal half-sister Mageva (Fr).

He adds, “Everybody saw that when we bought him at the breeze-up. He went very fast, and he's not born for that.”

Onesto, whose name translates from Italian to mean 'honest', certainly has the look of a horse deserving of such a moniker. As he wanders through the Chantilly forest, he keeps his head low, focused on his job, never putting a foot wrong as one or two of his stable-mates exhibit a touch of Monday morning high jinks. His lack of stature is compensated for by powerful quarters and a long, loose walk.

The chestnut colt made his racecourse debut on his home track last September when rounding the field to break his maiden with ease, beating Juddmonte's Badge (GB), a close relative to his own sire Frankel. He was awarded a 'TDN Rising Star' for his efforts.

“He had a small break when he first came here, but he has always done what we've asked him to do,” Chappet says. “He was very impressive first time out. Next time we wanted to give him a good lesson and he was beaten by Welwal (Fr) but he was dropping back to 1,500m. And then first time out this year, since he was a winner and because he has showed such a good turn of foot, we thought maybe he could go for the Guineas. So we sent him to the Fontainebleau, and he ran well–as a matter of fact, if you look at the clock–but he just showed that the mile is definitely a bit short for him now to show his best.”

Onesto bounced back from his eighth place in the G3 Prix Fontainebleau when stepping up to the Jockey Club trip of 2,100m in the G2 Prix Greffulhe. Once again his turn of foot was deployed to full effect as he accelerated past odds-on favourite Agave (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) to win eased down.

“Then last time he was impressive and that was what we wanted to see before we decided to go for the Jockey Club,” Chappet adds. “And he has come out of that race perfectly well. I'm quite happy with him at this stage.”

Golden Start For Diamond Creek…

For breeder Adam Bowden, an avowed fan of European turf racing, it has not only been Onesto who has made his early-morning race viewing even more exciting this year, as his Diamond Creek Farm is also the breeder of 'TDN Rising Star' and Royal Ascot-bound Queen Olly (Ire) (No Nay Never). The farm will also be doubly represented in the GII Black-Eyed Susan S. by graduates Missy Greer (Nyquist) and Favor (Pioneerof The Nile).

“Two of the fillies that we've bred are in the Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico on Friday, so it seems like there's too much good luck all at one time,” says Bowden with a chuckle. “I'm just very thankful and I'm enjoying it because I know it's extremely difficult, so when it happens you'd better enjoy it.”

Of his foray into the Thoroughbred world he adds, “I was a huge fan of Galileo and Frankel. I spent all my mornings in the office watching all the English and Irish tracks and just got hooked on it years ago.

“My wife and I had gone over to Ireland as we sponsored the Vincent Delaney Memorial Standardbred race, and one of the days we had free, we had a tour of Coolmore. While we were there they told us they had some mares for sale. Eddie Fitzpatrick was fantastic and is my contact there, and we ended up buying a couple of mares from them.”

If breeders want to make a splash in European racing they could do worse than buy from the best, and in addition to the mares acquired from Coolmore, Bowden later bought Onesto's dam Onshore (GB) (Sea The Stars {Ire}), as an unraced 3-year-old from the Juddmonte draft at the 2016 Tattersalls December Mare Sale.

“Her pedigree was the huge draw for me,” he says of the relation to stallions Dansili (GB), Champs Elysees (GB), Cacique (GB) and Leroidesanimaux (Brz), not to mention star racemares Banks Hill (GB), Intercontinental (GB) and Heat Haze (GB). “We had circled the mare and my agent Mike Akers went to see her and said, 'well if you're willing to spend what it takes to buy her, then I think she is the type of filly that we want.' And it worked out.”

It also appears to be working out with Queen Olly's dam Surprisingly (GB) (Galileo {GB}). The mare's elder offspring, the dual winner Schooner Ridge (Ire) (Siyouni {Fr}), is one of two fillies Bowden has in training in Chantilly with Nicolas Clement, while Queen Olly was herself bought at the Orby Yearling Sale for €300,000 by Amo Racing.

“It's crazy that all of this is happening at the same time and she looks pretty special too,” Bowden notes. “It's more than I could have hoped for in a short period of time. We really only got into the Thoroughbred side six or seven years ago. We've had decent success at the sales and now it has rotated to the track.”

Four Diamond Creek mares have recently returned to Coolmore after a spell in America.

“We've cut to 10 mares and have split them relatively evenly between Europe and the U.S.,” the breeder explains. “All of our mares shipped over to Kentucky in the fall of 2020. I couldn't travel because of the pandemic and we just wanted a better feel for them, and to see what the foals looked like. I wasn't sure how long the pandemic was going to last so they ended up staying here a while and have recently gone back with the yearlings.”

And the small world that is the horse world recently brought Bowden together with Onesto's part-owner Jean-Etienne Dubois, who has also enjoyed success in Britain as part of the syndicate that owned Group 1-placed Flotus (Ire) (Starspangledbanner {Aus}).

“He happened to be over here in Kentucky doing some Standardbred stuff a couple of weeks ago and we ran into him,” says Bowden. “We were there looking at one of their Standardbreds to stand as a stallion and we ended up talking about Onesto the whole time.”

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