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La Route: Sizing Up the French Sire Ranks

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Haras de Colleville stalwart Kendargent | Alayna Cullen

By Tom Frary

Set in the midst of the winter-gripped month of January, “La Route des Etalons” is by now firmly established which is no surprise given that it represents many welcome things in the post New Year slump. A chance to meet and greet old friends, both equine and human, a chance to traverse the verdant land of Upper Normandy brushed by the Atlantic air, a chance to size up the new blood among France’s stallion ranks. It helps if you like stripy buildings too, of the chocolate-box variety, as there an abundance of them and as you plough down the country lanes from Haras to Haras you become almost immune to their novel charm. Almost. It is the architecture of the studs themselves that amazes and enthrals and it is never a case of too much chocolate where they are concerned.

With the region’s renowned humidity holding back in honour of the occasion, the weekend unravelled perfectly for all concerned. Breeders, prospectors, fans and their children were in heavy attendance over the two days which were marked by generous hospitality and unflinching patience from the stallions themselves who remained “tres calme” despite the excessive pedometer levels they recorded for their relentless and appreciative audience. Driving from place to place with the daylight hours running away is akin to taking part in Le Mans itself, but thankfully this is rural France on the weekend and the traffic is virtually non-existent.

The Head family’s Haras du Quesnay is really something to behold, the place where Motivator (GB) (“old friend” applies here) shares his immaculate building with Anodin (Ire) (Anabaa), Attendu (Fr) (Acclamation {GB}) and Recoletos (Fr) (Whipper). Anodin, whose start at stud has been a revelation due largely to the exploits of the leading Classic prospect Anodor (Fr), has a full book according to Criquette Head who is on hand to hold court in her retirement from training.

“I miss it,” she tells me wistfully as I ask how she is taking to life away from handling the careers of the racers. But she is a positive force and she has nothing but praise to heap on the initiative of the RDE. “It is a very good thing,” she states. “We have had lots of people coming from lots of European countries, close to 500 people, from the likes of England, Germany, Ireland, Sweden and Belgium. Coolmore have been and Sheikh Al Thani and people from the Aga Khan’s Studs and the Niarchos stable.”

Head-Maarek describes Recoletos as “our new hope” as last year’s G1 Prix d’Ispahan and G1 Prix du Moulin hero is paraded. He has the ingredients to fit in perfectly to his exalted surroundings, while Anodin is described as having a “beautiful character” whose horses are very easy to train. Looking at his pedigree which sits next to his stable door, the legendary trainer basks in the success the members have given her own dynasty. Attendu’s virtues are his precocity, consistency and the fact that Northern Dancer is “very far off”. He has to have a shout with making a quick impact with his eventual first crop. Inside the stallion house, 43 plaques adorn the wall, which are 43 of the Head family’s success stories from Prince Taj in 1954 to Intello (Ger) in 2010. This is a place of glory, a temple of racehorse achievement but it is welcoming to all, professionals and fans alike.

Just up the lane is Guy Pariente’s Haras de Colleville, where the stallion parade features France’s very own working class hero, Kendargent (Fr) (Kendor {Fr}). In the building which is used to supply the obligatory caffeine and sugar rush to the crowds, the grey is immortalised laughing dead-centre in a mural on the wall. You have to love the “etalon ameliorateur” as he looks down on his latest clutch of admirers from the raised ground outside the stallion block. His son Goken (Fr), who you are reminded via a replay on the large screen inside was unlucky not to win the 2016 G1 King’s Stand S., has his first yearlings in 2019. He is described as being about “cent per-cent vitesse et precocite” and that just about sums him up. Galiway (GB) (Galileo {Ire}) is classically good-looking, or “impressionante” as he is labelled and it is easy to see why his first crop of yearlings sold for an average of around €33,000. Colleville is at its current position due to its grey headline act and perhaps the greatest compliment to Kendargent is the fact that as you visit each yard you are asking yourself “is this the new Kendargent?”

Al Shaqab’s Haras de Bouquetot is a stunning sight and it is here that you can feast on oysters for lunch before taking a stroll around the large yard where the likes of Brametot (Ire) (Rajsaman {Fr}), Al Wukair (Ire) (Dream Ahead), Toronado (Ire) (High Chaparral {Ire}), Olympic Glory (Ire) (Choisir {Aus}) and the immensely exciting Shalaa (Ire) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}) reside. Toronado is just a beautiful specimen and worth the effort alone, but with a hospitality tent to end them all there really is no hard work involved in coming to bear witness to Bouquetot. It stands tall among the region’s establishments and with the kind of firepower assembled there should significantly supplement Normandy’s formidable reputation as a source of great accomplishment.

Just over the way, the sires of Haras d’Annebault are on show, with commentary from the excellent Gunnar Nordqvist and he is in no doubt as to the effectiveness of the RDE.

“It is extremely important, a shop window,” he says. “The ones we meet here are grass-roots breeders and this is the only way to meet them.” As he reels through the positive points of Niccolo and Vita Riva’s stallions, the 3-year-old son of that couple who is apparently nicknamed “the king” amuses us all by losing his boot in a muddy puddle he just could not resist. Despite the cold, he is smiling, as of course all 3-year-old boys do in these circumstances. It is a reminder of the familial feel of such occasions and there is a real warmth to this initiative. Annebault’s Reliable Man (GB) (Dalakhani {Ire}) looks set to continue his sound start in Germany during his second season in France, while Pomellato (Ger) (Big Shuffle) is back in the country of his biggest success in the 2007 G2 Criterium de Maisons-Laffitte after a spell in Iran.

It is Annebault’s 2014 GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf runner-up Luck of the Kitten (Kitten’s Joy) who impresses all. A bold, strong chestnut, he draws the eye without trying. “Look at his size,” Nordqvist says. “It is a wonder he could do what he did at two. He is a wonderful-looking horse with lots of bone and a very good temperament who knows how to present himself.”

That sentiment applies in general to the Rivas, whose march to prominence should be watched closely. Their in-demand national hunt sire Spanish Moon (El Prado {Ire}) will see to that.

It is a longer drive down to Sylvain Vidal’s beautiful Haras de Montfort & Preaux, but it has to be done to pay homage to the country’s star in the ascendant, Le Havre (Ire) (Noverre). Becoming as important as the port itself, the sire of the likes of Suedois (Fr), Avenir Certain (Fr) and La Cressonniere (Fr) is described as an “etalon exceptionelle” by the Stud’s Relations Manager Mathieu Alex. It is hard to argue otherwise, with his upgrading record and witnessing at first hand his quality and his range is another pleasure to add to the list on the weekend. En route are the small villages that Gerard Augustin-Normand has used for some of his horse’s names, re-affirming the pride of this part of the country. Montfort & Preaux also house The Queen’s G3 Acomb S. winner Recorder (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}), who is held in high regard by the team and whose first foals arrive this year.

His Highness the Aga Khan’s Haras de Bonneval welcomed allcomers on the Saturday, where the star turn Siyouni (Fr) (Pivotal {Fr}) was shown off alongside newcomer Zarak (Fr), the G1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud-winning product of that match of all time, Dubawi (Ire) and Zarkava (Fr).

Haras d’Etreham welcomed guests to catch a long glimpse of Almanzor (Fr) and his sire Wootton Bassett (GB) (Iffraaj {GB}), with the former champion as exciting a prospect as Normandy has at present. At Haras de Grandcamp, Lawman (Fr) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}), Dream Ahead (Diktat {GB}) and leading light Dabirsim (Fr) (Hat Tick {Jpn}) do their bit for the weekend’s extravaganza which features far more than this article can discuss in depth.

Maybe a weekend is just not long enough to do the initiative justice, as you feel a personal loss for being unable to stop everywhere in the rush to get around. That just means that next year you have to explore in greater detail, but La Route des Etalons has what it takes to last. In its perfect setting among the plains and orchards, hills and meadows of this part of France, c’est un plaisir.

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