French Breeding’s Route To Success


Dabirsim’s fee has increased to €30,000 this year | Emma Berry


Nine years have passed since the stallion farms of Normandy first collaborated in an open house initiative to help to restore what was then a relatively flagging French stallion industry.

With a huge intake of new sires this year and an established bunch of star names dotted around the region, it’s fair to say that La Route des Etalons has played its part in the revival of the stallion market in the country. This year’s edition, held in constant rain over last weekend, was not for the faint-hearted but it was nevertheless once again well supported, attracting an ever-growing list of overseas visitors.

In 2015, Ireland started its own stallion trail and the difference in the way racing is regarded and supported in the two countries is perhaps evident in the participants of their respective stallion weekends. In Ireland, where racing has a huge following among the general public, many fans of the sport visit the studs alongside breeders for a chance to see their former heroes. The French weekend remains largely supported by breeders, but the appeal of the wide range of stallions, along with the chance to see some of Normandy’s most beautiful farms, brings them from far and wide.

With 24 participating studs spread over a large area, it’s impossible to see all 105 stallions on show over the weekend, so it’s wise to do some planning and map-reading ahead of the event.

Studs with a new stallion to show off naturally tend to attract more visitors and in 2018 France can boast last year’s Derby winner Wings Of Eagles (Fr) (Pour Moi {Ire}), and four former winners of the Prix du Jockey Club in Brametot (Fr) (Rajsaman {Fr}), Almanzor (Fr) (Wootton Bassett {GB}), The Grey Gatsby (Ire) (Mastercraftsman {Ire}) and Reliable Man (GB) (Dalakhani {Ire}) among its recent intake, while the Queen has also opted to take advantage of the country’s thriving breeding scene to stand her homebred Recorder (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) at Haras de Montfort & Préaux alongside Le Havre (Ire) and Rajsaman (Fr).

At Haras de Montaigu, one of the southern-most farms on the route, there has naturally been much excitement in welcoming a returning hero, Wings Of Eagles, who was bred at the farm by Gilles and Aliette Forien before being sold as a yearling to the Coolmore team and going on to win the Derby. That Coolmore chose to stand him at his birthplace is a huge vote of confidence for the Foriens and their daughter Sybille Gibson, all of whom were on hard to talk to breeders throughout the weekend.

“He’s been back here since October so he has settled in really well and is fully recovered from his injury,” said Gibson as a very relaxed Wings Of Eagles posed endlessly for photos like an old pro. The Derby winner already had 50 mares booked to him before the weekend and that number should surely have risen now that breeders have had the chance to see the balanced and good-looking young stallion in person.

Along with the new arrival there’s much to look forward to at Haras de Montaigu, which stands a mixed roster of Flat and National Hunt stallions. The established and popular Martaline (GB) has a full book of around 150 mares, while challenging to succeed him as the farm’s leading jumps stallion is No Risk At All (Fr) (My Risk {Fr}), who has wasted no time in making his mark among the up-and-coming National Hunt sires despite the fact that his eldest runners have only just turned four. The Montaigu team is also preparing to welcome the first foals by Night Wish (Ger) (Sholokhov {Ire}), while another recent recruit, Prince Gibraltar (Fr) (Rock Of Gibraltar {Ire}) will have his first yearlings at the sales later this year.

Zarak (Fr), the Group 1-winning son of Dubawi (Ire) and Zarkava (Fr), was a huge draw at the Aga Khan Studs’ Haras de Bonneval, which was only open on Saturday but which welcomed more than 500 visitors to see its newcomer, along with the popular Siyouni (Fr) and Charm Spirit (Ire), who has his first runners this year.

On the north-western wing of the Normandy area and a good hour and a half from Deauville (allowing for navigation hitches) is Haras d’Etreham. The farm has consistently had a strong roster of stallions, again catering for Flat and National Hunt breeders, but it has been significantly enhanced this year by the arrival of the treble Group 1 winner Almanzor to stand alongside his sire Wootton Bassett on a Flat roster which includes the dependable Elusive City and the athletic-looking shuttle sire Scissor Kick (Aus), a son of the former Australian champion Redoute’s Choice (Aus).

Franck Champion and Nicolas de Chambure talked breeders through the attributes of the stallions, advising that Almanzor was close to full before the weekend had commenced and that his book would be limited to 140 mares.

“We have sold 24 shares in him and of course we will support him well ourselves, along with SF Bloodstock,” said de Chambure, who later went the extra mile to ensure that this visitor had a particularly memorable weekend by taking our small group out to the stallion paddocks for us to see the now-pensioned Poliglote (GB).

The 25-year-old son of Sadler’s Wells in many ways epitomises Haras d’Etreham as he is one of the best dual-purpose stallions to have stood in Europe, with the Arc winner Solemia (Fr) to his credit, as well as the treble Grade 1-winning steeplechaser Don Poli (Ire) and one of the leading fancies for this season’s G1 Queen Mother Champion Chase, Politologue (Fr).

With my travelling companions Alayna Cullen and Dawn Laidlaw allowing me to indulge my not-so-secret passion for National Hunt breeding, we also called in on Etreham stalwart Saints Des Saints (Fr), looking a picture at the age of 20, and his stablemates in the jumping wing, Masked Marvel (GB) and Kamsin (Ger). Despite the fact that Masked Marvel, a St Leger-winning son of Montjeu (Ire), has proved popular with jumps breeders, de Chambure noted that he has been sent some Flat mares by Etreham and there’s no reason why the beautifully-bred 10-year-old couldn’t succeed under both codes if given a decent chance.

Henrythenavigator’s G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner George Vancouver retired to Pascal Noue’s Haras de la Hetraie in 2014 and his yearlings impressed many when they arrived at the sales in 2016, with Karl Burke, Liam Norris and Con Marnane being among those buyers to have cherry-picked some of his nice young horses from France for export to Britain and Ireland. The wind was particularly fierce by the time we arrived at Hetraie in the middle of the Cerisy forest but it was well worth a visit, not just for the delicious homemade crepes, but also to see that George Vancouver has been stamping his stock in his own good-looking image.

Almost certainly the pride of the Hetraie roster is the redoubtable Kapgarde (Fr), now 19 and a leading jumps sire who stands alongside his younger half-brother Kap Rock (Fr). The latter was co-bred by Noue, who divulged that their dam Kaprika (Fr) (Cadoudal {Fr}, whose offspring also include the former Nicky Henderson-trained G1 Christmas Hurdle winner Geos (Fr), is still at the farm in retirement at the age of 28.

Al Shaqab’s Haras de Bouquetot has not only the biggest stallion roster in France but also the one with the most new faces. The lure of Brametot, Al Wukair (Fr) (Dream Ahead), Ectot (Ire) (Hurricane Run {Ire}), Zelzal (Fr) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) and the relocated Toronado (Ire) (High Chaparral {Ire}) meant that the farm was packed with visitors throughout the weekend.

“We ordered more food for this year but it was all gone by noon,” said Benoit Jeffroy as the team prepared for the final show of the day on Saturday. All nine stallions behaved beautifully despite the fact that they had only moved into the unfamiliar surroundings of their newly finished stallion yard on Thursday.

Another farm which unsurprisingly drew many visitors was Haras de Grandcamp, home to the leading first-season sire in France in 2017, Dabirsim (Fr) (Hat Trick {Jpn}).

“He has 200 mares on the books for 2018 but we will have to bring that down to a smaller number, said Grandcamp’s Eric Lhermite, who will have some difficult phone calls to make in the coming weeks. He is in the unique position of being able to offer French breeders an alternative route to some Sunday Silence blood as Grandcamp stands another grandson of the great stallion, Martinborough (Jpn), a son of Deep Impact (Jpn) from the immediate family of last season’s G1 Japan Cup winner Cheval Grand (Jpn) (Heart’s Cry {Jpn}). The 9-year-old covered 72 mares last years and his first foals will be on the ground this season.

The Grandcamp roster also includes Dream Ahead, who has recently returned from shuttling duties at Emirates Park in Australia, Smart Strike’s son Zanzibari, and Shamalgan (Fr) (Footstepsinthesand {GB}), who made an encouraging start with his first juveniles last season despite a small first crop of 31 foals.

A brace of grey Prix du Jockey Club winners is now in France with The Grey Gatsby about to stand his first season at Haras de Petit Tellier and Reliable Man having been relocated from Germany. The latter had two Group winners from his first 2-year-old runners in Europe last season and has also made a favourable impression in the southern hemisphere from his shuttling stints to New Zealand. Reliable Man’s co-breeder Carina Hanson was at Haras de Thenney to see the 10-year-old in his new home and said, “I’m so pleased that he’s here in France and that he’s been given such a good reception. He has some lovely mares booked to him and he is now full at 120 mares.”

Julian Ince survived a cyclone while getting married in Mauritius last week and he arrived safely back at his Haras du Logis hours ahead of welcoming more than 300 visitors to the farm on Sunday.

The veteran Slickly (Fr), Derby winner Authorized (Ire), former Horse of the Year Manduro (Ger) and Rio De La Plata were all on show, while Manduro’s Group 1-winning son Ultra (Fr) has also been welcomed to the fold. Logis is certainly not short on Monsun (Ger) blood as it also stands his son Masterstroke (GB), a grandson of Urban Sea via her Oaks-placed daughter Melikah (Ire) (Lammtarra).

“It was a great day, we had a constant stream of people and it works really well in giving breeders a good chance to see the stallions,” said Ince. “Every year we’re surprised by how many people come, and by the amount of new people who come. Of course it helps when you have a new stallion to show and it was great to have the opportunity to parade Ultra. We do a fair bit of business on the day and we also find that the phone calls start to come in over the coming weeks after people have gone home and made their final decisions.”

One of those new faces making the pilgrimage to France and certainly the breeder with the most airmiles notched to reach this year’s route was Layton Register, a native of Lexington, Kentucky, who already has a fondness for European racing and has horses in training in England with Andrew Balding. Register now has plans to extend his breeding operation to France.

“I can’t say enough good things about the whole experience,” he said after visiting 11 farms in two days with British TBA board member and breeder Anthea Gibson Fleming. “It was really well organised and I’ve learnt so much from the weekend. It was particularly impressive that all the farms coped so well with the elements and were still so welcoming. I thought that Dream Ahead looked fantastic and I couldn’t help but be impressed with Wings Of Eagles. I’m now even more encouraged to have some mares in France.”

Such an endorsement is exactly what the founders of La Route des Etalons would have been hoping for at its inception, and that it continues to be such a popular and useful way to spend a grim weekend in January is a testament to their vision.

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