Ohlerweiherhof Living Derby Dream With Isfahan

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Isfahan and Timo Degel | Emma Berry

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SANKT WENDEL, Germany–Among the current batch of second-crop stallions in Europe, only two thus far have sired a Group 1 winner. The all-conquering Mehmas (Ire), last season's record-breaking champion freshman, has two, while the other name on the list may be less familiar to those outside Germany.

Isafahan (Ger) (Lord Of England {Ger}), bred by his trainer Andreas Wohler, won the G1 Deutsches Derby of 2016, and five years later his first-crop Sisfahan (Fr), also chestnut and bearing the same green and pink colours of Darius Racing, emulated his father by taking the country's most prized race. 

For Dr Stefan Oschmann of Darius Racing, it was the best possible start to his stallion's career, for the same owner also has Isfahan's first group winner and G1 Preis der Diana runner-up Isfahani (Ger). But it was also a wonderful boost for the young husband-and-wife team of Timo Degel and Nastasja Volz-Degel at Gestut Ohlerweiherhof, who not only stand the stallion but also broke in and pre-trained Sisfahan and Isfahani for Oschmann.

“For us this was the stuff of dreams,” says Timo Degel as he shows the imposing Isfahan and his stud-mate Tai Chi (Ger) (High Chaparral {Ire}) on a beautiful sunny morning at the stud just a handful of kilometres from the German border with France. Two hours to the south, Nastasja is already at BBAG Yearling Sale at Iffezheim to oversee Ohlerweierhof's draft of 14 youngsters raised both at their own farm and at another major German operation, Gestut Ebbesloh, which is one of their major clients, both for sales consignment and pre-training.

Like his wife, Degel is a former amateur rider, and he has taken to handling the stallions in their care with all the calm and patient assurance of a skilled horseman. In the surrounding 120 hectares of pasture graze mares and foals, while on a distant hillside above the rolling paddocks a small string of fledgling racehorses are put through their paces among the verdant peace and quiet afforded by the farm, which has been in Nastasja's family for generations.

“Some of the people from the village don't even realise we are here,” says Degel of the tucked-away operation. “They come out for a walk and suddenly realise there are horses everywhere.”

It hasn't always been Thoroughbreds on the Volz family farm. After the dairy cattle of Nastasja's grandfather came military and riding horses bred by her father, who later adopted a love of speedier equine genes and bought his first Thoroughbred mare in the 1980s. The farm continued as a private family concern until becoming a proper commercial entity and stallion farm under guidance of the current generation in 2017, the year that coincided with Isfahan's retirement to stud.

“Dr Oschmann bought around 30 mares for his stallion and that's when we stopped milking cows,” explains Degel, whose team broke in around 60 yearlings over the winter. “Both the stallions here are still owned by their racing owners but we look after them like they are our own.”

He continues, “My wife also has a training licence and so for our hobby we race four horses of our own, but our business is really the breeding and the pre-training. We do pre-training for a lot of big studs like Ebbesloh, Karlshof, and all the Darius Racing horses were here, so we had the Derby winner and the Oaks second here. You can see in both those horses a lot of their father–the same top line and good bone. We thought from the 19 by Isafahan we had in pre-training that they wouldn't be horses for the 2-year-old season but actually he had a good first season. From the last five or six years a lot of good horses have been in our hands so we are very proud.”

The sole yearling by Isfahan at the BBAG Sale on Friday has been withdrawn but Tai Chi is represented by four yearlings in the catalogue and had his name in lights recently when his 2-year-old son Arnis Master (Ger) won the valuable BBAG sales race at Cologne. Both Arnis Master and Sisfahan are out of mares by Kendargent (Fr), the latter having been bred by that Deauville-based stallion's owner and leading French breeder Guy Pariente.

Sisfahan's dam Kendalee (Fr) did not present the most promising page to promote her first offspring's merits on the Flat. She was herself a dual winner over hurdles in France, while her dam also won over jumps, as did her smart half-brother, the Grade 1-winning hurdler Beaumec De Houelle (Fr) (Martaline {GB}). Offered by Pariente's Haras de Colleville in Arqana's November Sale, the yearling colt who would become known as Sisfahan was bought by Oschmann's racing manager Holger Faust of HFTB Agency for €16,000.

Faust has an even closer link to Isfahani as she was bred by his parents Bruno and Michaela, the notably good breeders and owners of Gestut Karlshof. Moreover, he selected Isfahan for Darius Racing for €35,000 at the BBAG Yearling Sale of 2014, bringing his tally to two Derby winners bought for Oschmann for just €51,000.

This weekend, during the culmination of Baden-Baden's major racing festival, Isfahani and Sisfahan, both under the care of champion trainer Henk Grewe, will be given the chance to take another step forward from their Classic engagements. On Saturday, Isfahani lines up for the G2 T von Zastrow Stutenpreis, while Isfahan is entered for Sunday's G1 Grosser Preis von Baden.

“It's just perfect at the end of the day that he has had some success,” says Faust of Isfahan, who covered 92 mares in his first year but dropped to around 35 for his third crop, which are now yearlings. That number rose again in 2021 to 62.

“We bought mares for him, put them in foal and put them back in the sale to try to give people a chance, but nobody wanted Isfahan and lots of the mares were sold to go abroad. Not that many of Isfahan's first crop ended up in Germany–only about 22–but Isfahani, Sisfahan and Anoush (Ger) have ended up as really good horses.”

Looking ahead to the weekend, he added, “Sisfahan feels good and looks good and we are quite confident for Sunday, but he is taking on some very good horses. Isfahani has been quite unlucky, which sounds like a strange thing to say about a filly who won a group race in the stewards' room on debut. But when she went back to Italy for the Derby she lost a shoe at the start and was then struck into during the race but she still ran fourth.”

He continued, “In the Preis der Diana we were very happy with her second place. I think she will start favourite on Saturday and she should have a very good chance.

We go step by step. I hope Saturday and Sunday work out for us and then we may send them to England or France, but first we have to do our homework.”

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