By Emma Berry
The Route des Etalons was established in 2010 in an attempt to stimulate a flagging French stallion scene. A little over a decade on, it could be said that it's 'job done'. That doesn't mean that the annual open weekend of Normandy studs has been shelved. Its popularity has grown year on year for breeders and bloodstock pilgrims alike, and it is only a global pandemic that has stopped it run in 2021. It will, however, be staged online across this weekend, with videos of the 108 stallions involved shown on the official website from 9am local time.
The A to Z of the region's stallions, from Almanzor (Fr) to Zelzal (Fr), has a price range from €1,000 to €140,000, the latter commanded by France's champion sire, Siyouni (Fr), sire of last season's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Sottsass (Fr). Between those two figures can be found a horse to suit just about every breeder's budget and, as has increasingly been the case in recent years, a number of high-profile young stallions have joined the French ranks for 2021.
There's quite a leap in price from Siyouni down to the next most expensive stallion in France at €40,000, the established Classic sire Le Havre (Ire). His best runner last year was the dual Group 1-winning filly Wonderful Tonight (Fr), who was bred at Haras de Montfort et Préaux, where her sire stands under Nurlan Bizakov's Sumbé banner. Le Havre has recently been joined by new recruit Golden Horde (Ire). The G1 Commonwealth Cup-winning son of Lethal Force (Ire) whose grandam is a half-sister to champion racemare and producer Serena's Song (Rahy), makes his debut at €10,000.
“It's always very nice to meet the breeders, especially when you have a new horse, but we were lucky that we were able to bring Golden Horde in to Deauville during the sales so plenty of people saw him there, and he has had visitors every day,” said Mathieu Alex of Sumbé. “But of course there is always a great atmosphere for the Route des Etalons, when you can welcome people, and breeders meet, but this year we have to be sensible and be careful.”
He added, “We obviously liked Golden Horde a lot physically but it's always nice to get feedback and to hear that people agree with us. He's going down well and it's obviously important to get the support from the breeders. Mr Bizakov will support him with mares also.
“It's also an exciting year for Recorder (GB) with his first runners. We've worked for three years for that and he has 100-plus horses in training, in France and some abroad. We have 15 that were bred here that we've sent to good trainers, so fingers crossed.”
While its flagship stallion Wootton Bassett (GB) has moved to stand at Coolmore in Ireland, Haras d'Etreham has an exciting year in store with the arrival of two new Group 1 winners, Persian King (Ire) and Hello Youmzain (Fr), each being the sole French representative of their popular respective sires Kingman (GB) and Kodiac (GB). Furthermore, once the Flat season starts, Wootton Bassett's champion son Almanzor (Fr) will be represented by his first runners, while the first foals of his fellow Etreham resident City Light (Fr) will be arriving over the next few months.
Camelot (GB) enjoyed a terrific season with his runners in 2020 and two of his sons join French studs this year. Etreham's National Hunt wing, Haras de la Tuilerie, welcomes the Irish Derby winner Latrobe (Ire), while among Haras d'Annebault's new faces for the season is Fighting Irish (Ire). Breeders using the Group 2 winner in his first season will be eligible for a €50,000 bonus if they are fortunate enough to breed Fighting Irish's first Group winner in France, Britain or Ireland.
The retirement of Kendargent (Fr) to stud in 2010 coincided with the first year of the Route des Etalons initiative. Breeders who viewed him and perhaps used him then at his introductory fee of €1,000 will have enjoyed the success he has had in the ensuing years, which has really put Haras de Colleville, the farm of his owner Guy Pariente, firmly on the map of Normandy's leading studs. The grey, now 18, was joined at stud in 2017 by his son Goken (Fr), who was France's leading first-season sire in 2020, and their stud companion Galiway (GB), has also made a pleasing start to his career, most notably as the sire of G1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere winner Sealiway (Fr).
Another son of Kendargent returns to France this year. The former Godolphin campaigner Jimmy Two Times (Fr) spent his first two seasons in Germany at Gestut Hofgut Heymann but is now resident at Haras de Montaigu alongside the popular young National Hunt stallions No Risk At All (Fr) and Beaumec De Houelle (Fr).
“Jimmy Two Times is small and compact but he is very well-balanced, strong horse,” said Sybille Gibson of Haras de Montaigu. “I took him to the Hippodrome de Clairefontaine during the sales in December and lots of people came to see him then. We just hope he will do as well as Goken has done. 'Jimmy' was the best colt by Kendargent so we dream.”
The offspring of No Risk At All include the reigning Champion Hurdler Epatante (Fr), while Beaumec De Houelle, who now has yearlings on the ground, is a son of the late Montaigu resident Martaline (GB).
Gibson continued, “No Risk At All and Beaumec De Houelle are both fully booked, with mares from all the best breeders in France, and more and more people from abroad. The English are just mad for No Risk At All. Both horses are limited to 150 mares and they were full in November.”
Breeders going both ways across the Channel this year face increased expense and paperwork in the wake of the end of the Brexit transition period, which is understandably causing a few headaches for stud owners.
“We have had received a few mares from England and we have already had one or two cancellations,” Gibson said. “And for us it's the same, we don't know if we are going to send all our mares that were due to go to England because with Brexit the transport is now quite complicated.”
She added, “We will really miss the Route des Etalons this year. We have had a few breeders come to the farm but I think some people don't really want to travel too much at the moment. Normally we would have between 200 and 300 people visit us over the weekend. They came not only to see the new stallions but to see us and to see how the horses were changing. We had more and more people coming from a long way, not just Normandy. We will just have to look forward to next year.”
The burgeoning stallion unit at Larissa Kneip's Haras de Saint Arnoult has been extended again this year to include newcomers Elarqam (GB)—a son of two champions in Frankel (GB) and Attraction (GB)—and Yafta (GB), a Group 3-winning son of Dark Angel (Ire).
Kneip said, “Elarqam is very well booked, which is not surprising. He's the only son of Frankel in France and he was Frankel's second-highest rated runner after Cracksman. Yafta already has about 50 mares booked to him. Until recently we didn't have too many speed stallions in France but there are a few more now and obviously there was a demand for them. But none of them seem to have the sort of pedigree Yafta has, because it is really speed throughout, back to the fifth generation, and that's quite a rarity.”
The farm with the largest roster of nine stallions is Al Shaqab's Haras de Bouquetot, which this year has signed up Robert Ng's G1 Prix Jacques le Marois winner Romanised (Ire) as well as the G1 Prix de l'Abbaye winner Wooded (Ire), a son of Wootton Bassett. They join Shalaa (Ire), who has recently returned from Arrowfield Stud in Australia, where his first crop includes the Magic Millions 2yo Classic winner Shaquero (Aus), and Al Wukair (Ire), who has first-cop runners in Europe this season.
Sea The Stars (Ire) has two young sons at stud in France, Bouquetot's Zelzal (Fr), who his first runners this year, and Haras du Logis resident Cloth Of Stars (Ire), the G1 Prix Ganay winner who was placed in two Arcs and has his first yearlings at the sales of 2021. Another young stallion taking that next important step in his career this year is Recoletos (Fr), the winner of seven of his 14 starts including two Group 1s. He stands alongside the Derby winner Motivator (GB), sire of the mighty Treve (Fr), at Haras du Quesnay.
Plenty will be expected from the first-crop runners by Zarak (Fr) when they take to the track this year. Not only is he a Group 1-winning son of Dubawi (Ire), whose sons Night Of Thunder (Ire) and New Bay (GB) have made encouraging starts to their own stud careers in the last two seasons, but he is out of the brilliant Arc winner Zarkava (Fr) and shares his broodmare sire Zamindar with Kingman. Ordinarily, a visit to the Aga Khan's Haras du Bonneval is one of the highlights for travellers on the route. This year Zarak, Dariyan (Fr) and their illustrious stablemate Siyouni must be admired from afar.
Videos and further information on the stallions from the 28 participating studs will de displayed online over the weekend and, when the world returns to some sort of normality, be sure to brighten up next January with a trip around the picturesque farms of Normandy.