“Everyone Is Welcome,” – Opportunity Knocks On La Route Des Etalons

Thomas, Mathieu and Eric Leffray with No Risk At All | Sybille Gibson


Is it just me or should France be known as the bloodstock land of opportunity? This is the country that saw Wootton Bassett (GB) and Walk In The Park (Ire) pull themselves up by the bootstraps after entering the stud book at relatively modest sums. There are few serious racing nations that provide as much of a chance for a stallion to flourish than France does.
Take Kauto Star (Fr), the greatest staying chaser of the modern era, as an example. He hailed from the largely unheralded Village Star (Fr) but the cream was still provided with the right chance to rise to the top here.

A similar story was shared on one of the final stops of this year's Route des Etalons at Haras de Montaigu as the stud's Mathieu Leffray, along with his brother and father, sourced a mare by the name of Idaho Falls (Fr) for the miserly sum of €500 from the French equivalent of Done Deal.

What has that got to do with anything, you might ask? Because it was Idaho Falls who went on to produce multiple Grade 1-winning chaser Allaho (Fr), the highest-rated son of Haras de Montaigu's No Risk At All (Fr), who played a starring role on the Route des Etalons.

No Risk At All has proven his versatility as a jumps sire given he is also responsible for Champion Hurdle-winning mare Epatante (Fr) and, as he stood proud in the French sunshine, another high-class prospect, Allegorie De Vassy (Fr), hardened her reputation for Cheltenham Festival honours when winning by a street at Thurles.

Opportunity does not just knock for the National Hunt breeder alone at Haras de Montaigu, either, with G1 Prix Morny and G1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere winner Dabirsim (Fr) new to the roster, as Emma Berry highlighted in her preview of La Route.

Along with the opportunities available to Flat an National Hunt breeders in France, another thing that quickly became apparent whilst touring through Normandie was how interconnected the breeding sector is, with every stud playing host to a foreign-registered vehicle and many of the same faces who toured the Irish Stallion Trail a week previously spotted in attendance.

One man in particular who reported an increased level of international traffic, largely down to young sires Persian King and Hello Youmzain, was Nicolas de Chambure of Haras d'Etreham. A strapping son of Kingman (GB), the French 2,000 Guineas winner Persian King is quite the contrast to the dual Group 1-winning sprinter Hello Youmzain (Fr), but both stallions, whose foals sold well in 2022, compliment each other at stud.

“We have great expectations for them,” de Chambure said. “We put in plenty of work in getting Persian King and Hello Youmzain purchased and then by putting the syndicate together to support them.

“When the foals arrived, it was the first step towards seeing a little bit more of them, and obviously the breeders had high expectations and they've met those expectations so we are very happy.
“Persian King and Hello Youmzain are very different horses. That is also why we took the risk to retire two horses in the same year because they have very different profiles and are from different sire lines.

“The foals also looked different and were what you'd expect from their stallions. We will keep a good eye on them throughout the spring and right up to the yearling sales. That's going to be very important for them and then hopefully they will be spread out among good trainers around Europe. We will be supporting them as well.”

De Chambure added, “The fact that British and Irish breeders can see that these good French sires have appeal to the main pinhookers and trainers in the industry, I think that will give them the confidence to increase their trust in these French stallions on the whole. It has been very positive.”

Etreham also has the first 2-year-olds by City Light (Fr), a smart miler by Siyouni (Fr), to look forward to in 2023 while, interestingly, de Chambure revealed that breeders are now adopting a different approach to the mares they are sending to Almanzor (Fr).

He explained, “City Light has over 90 2-year-olds to run this season and, being a son of Siyouni, there is a bit of a buzz about him. The first reports are positive. His 2-year-olds are quite racey and, by the end of the year, we can expect them to be showing what they can do because they should be 2-year-olds.

“Almanzor has four or five exciting horses who have just turned three. He has an important year ahead of him but I think he has the numbers coming and breeders have adapted in the mares that they have been sending him. We are going to continue to see him improve and his next big horse is just around the corner, I am sure of that.”

That horse could well be the Aga Khan's Rajapour (Ire), unbeaten in three starts at two and, crucially, hailing from the smart Rock Of Gibraltar (Ire) mare Raydara (Ire), who is exactly the type de Chambure will be encouraging breeders to send Almonzor going forward.

“We were all a bit surprised that Almanzor had been throwing some size and, from his first crop, we got a few who were a bit big and backward. We all realised that and, even though they were like that, he showed that he can sire a really good horse. They can quicken and they have a turn of foot. Most of the breeders, the mares they have sent him now have a bit more speed and are more short-coupled, and we have seen the difference in the progeny.”

a half an hour down the road from Etreham, some of the finest National Hunt sires standing in France were on show Haras de la Hetraie , including Gold Cup-producing Kapgarde (Fr), whose Fakir D'Oudaires (Fr) took the feature G2 Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles on Sunday.

The sire of last year's Gold Cup hero A Plus Tard (Fr) was joined in parade by fellow accomplished National Hunt stallion Great Pretender (Ire), best known for being the sire of Benie Des Dieux (Fr) and Greaneteen (Fr).

But it wasn't all about the stallions at Haras de la Hetraie, as not only did the stud offer top-notch entertainment when For Fun (Fr) lived up to his name by trying his hardest to break away from his handler, but the spread on offer was not bettered on the trip.

If it's French onion soup made by the boss himself, Pascal Noue, a fine selection of cured meats and enough oysters to feed a small village, Haras de la Hetraie was worth the trip even for those who hadn't got a mare in tow.

However, the majority of the people who made the trip to Sumbe were there in a professional capacity, according to Mathieu Le Forestier, nominations and racing manager at the stud, who reported that a lot of business had been done across the two days.

Easy to see why. Horses like Mishriff (Ire) don't retire to stud very often and, despite the fact that his debut season will be interrupted due to a slight setback, Le Forestier explained how interest in the stallion has not dwindled in the slightest because of it.

He said, “We envisage him covering 140 mares this year, which is a good number. The Prince [Faisal] will send him 35 to 40 mares of his own, which leaves about 100 nominations in Mishriff. “There have been virtually no cancellations from breeders after we announced his setback and the interest in him did not wane. We expect that he will resume covering on Mar. 15 and we don't see it being a big issue, except maybe for in the case of maiden mares.

“There aren't many alternatives to a horse of the quality Mishriff has in France and we have waited a long time to have a freshman with credentials as good as he has in the stud book here. Selling him is not the hardest job in my life.

“The good thing about Mishriff and Golden Horde (Ire) here at Sumbe is that they do the talking. We have done a lot of business over the past two days. There have not been many passers by and most of the people that have come here have been serious breeders.”

On the 2020 G1 Commonwealth Cup winner Golden Horde, who stands for €8,000, he added, “Golden Horde has been popular. He'll have good numbers but, most importantly, the right blend of people who breed to race and those who breed to sell have used him. We have 15 yearlings by him that we plan to race and they will be divided up between Andre Fabre, Jean-Claude Rouget, Roger Varian and Clive Cox.”

The sentiments shared by Le Forestier about Mishriff were be echoed by Mathieu Alex at Haras de Beaumont about G1 Qipco Champion S. winner Sealiway, set to stand for €12,000 this season, and very much the pride and joy of Pauline Cheboub's operation.

Asked if there had been much international interest at Haras de Beaumont on Saturday and Sunday, Alex said, “Yes, German, Irish, English, Swedish, Danish, American–we have had plenty of interest. This is business but also, and this is very important, the Route des Etalons gives us a chance to open our doors to the public and the industry needs that. Tourists, neighbors, it doesn't matter, everyone is welcome and we have to open the doors and explain our game. We have to show them that we love our horses. We have a mission.”

He added, “Sealiway was a champion two-year-old, which is extremely important nowadays. He won a Group 1 in England, the Champion S., where he beat three Classic winners, so he is a serious horse for France. That type of horse usually retires somewhere else. This place is for him. If it wasn't for him, none of this would be here. He's an extremely important horse and stallions like him are extremely important for this country. You've seen it with Le Havre (Ire), Siyouni (Fr), Wootton Bassett (GB), the whole country is propped up by them because they attract breeders from abroad. Also, they prop up the sales. So we need stallions like that.

“There has been a short-supply of top-class stallions in France and then we had three or four good ones at the same time. I don't know why that is. Siyouni is getting old, Le Havre is dead and now Wootton Bassett is gone. There is an opening and we need new good ones coming through. French people know that and, without mares, it doesn't matter how good Sealiway is, we need the mares. We are in the process of sorting out the mares for him this year and the important thing is numbers.”

If La Hetraie boasted the best food of the tour, well then the biggest crowd was recorded at Haras de Bonneval, where over 100 people turned out to see Siyouni and co strut their stuff during one of the afternoon sessions on Saturday.

Siyouni may have been the star attraction but Zarak (Fr), one of the hottest properties the country has to offer and set to stand for €60,000 this term, sent tongues wagging. Even Alain De Royer-Dupre turned out to say a few words about his Group 1-winning son of Dubawi (Ire) who has quickly made his mark at stud.

One of the more famous studs in France, Haras de Bouquetot, were provided with an opportunity to showcase some of its newbies, with Galileo Gold (GB) having made the move from Tally-Ho to stand alongside fellow newcomer Thunder Moon (Ire). Armor (GB) should make plenty of appeal to breeders, being a speedy son of No Nay Never, but there was no doubting the star attraction, as Wooded (Ire) wowed everyone in attendance and makes plenty of sense at €12,000.

Whether you are a high-end breeder on the Flat, want to produce the next big jumping star or are in search of a bit of value over both codes, the 2023 Route des Etalons confirms that there is something for everyone in France.

Three takeaways from the Route des Etalons
After a helter-skelter two days touring some of the best studs in France, here are some takeaways from a memorable trip.

Important Newbies
Mathieu Alex obviously has a vested interest in seeing Sealiway succeed but he spoke frankly and honestly about the need for another superstar stallion in France.

Siyouni is obviously operating at his pomp and, if Zarak continues on the trajectory that he is on, he could well take over the mantle but the importance of horses like Sealiway and Mishriff entering the stud book in France cannot be understated. Let's hope they are a success as there is clearly an opening there.

Exciting Times For Haras d'Etreham
Haras de Etreham managed Wootton Bassett from a €6,000 freshman to becoming a €40,000 stallion after just seven seasons before Coolmore swooped in and secured a deal for him to stand in Ireland in 2021 where he stands to this day for a cool €150,000.

Have Etreham uncovered the next Wootton Bassett in either Persian King or Hello Youmzain? That is obviously an exceptionally high bar to aim for but the early signs are promising.

In Persian King, Etreham can offer breeders a quality son of Kingman who has plenty of size while Hello Youmzain is exactly what you'd expect one of the fastest sons of Kodiac to look like.
The first foals by both stallions went down well in 2022, with some notable names signing for the progeny of the two, and it appears as though the future is bright for everyone at the famous French stud.

Dominance Of The Jumps
The dominance of the French-breds over jumps in Britain and Ireland is nothing new and a major highlight of the trip was getting the chance to see Kapgarde and No Risk At All in the flesh.
On Saturday, the Willie Mullins-trained It's For Me (Fr) (Jeu St Eloi {Fr}) shot to the head of the Champion Bumper betting when bolting up in a Navan bumper for Simon Munir and Isaac Souede.

Jeu St Eloi is more or less an unknown as a stallion in Britain and Ireland, which goes back to the point made about France's ability as a nation to churn out top-class horses time and time again from relatively obscure origins.

Beaumec De Houelle (Fr) could be the next sleeper of a stallion for National Hunt breeders to take note of. One of the only sons of Martaline (GB) to stand in France, he won five of his six starts, including the G1 three-year-old hurdle at Auteuil in 2018.

Of course, jumps horses retiring to stud is nothing new in France, with Balko being another example, whereas it is quite rare in Ireland. Apart from Nickname, few entires have competed at the highest level, although who's to say what heights Sir Eric would have reached had he not suffered a fatal injury.

The French do things differently, that's for sure, and they are all the better for it. The proof, as they say, is in the eating, and there was a lot to digest on this trip.

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