Oysters, a Broken Ankle and Normandy's Finest: It Could Only be the Route des Etalons

Zarak draws a crowd at Haras de Bonneval | Zuzanna Lupa


Not even a blanket of snow and some icy country lanes could deter those on the annual Normandy bloodstock pilgrimage more formally known as the Route des Etalons.

With plenty of new sires to show off this year, many of France's major stallion studs welcomed in breeders and members of the public during the weekend showcase which is now in its 14th year. At Haras de Bonneval, the French home of the Aga Khan Studs stallions, more than 600 people turned out on Saturday to see the quartet of stallions neatly split into established stars and freshmen, with Vadeni (Fr) and Erevann (Fr) filling the role of the latter. 

“We had a large number of people. I don't know if it's the place where you do a huge amount of business as such, but you see a lot of people that you don't see through the year so it's a great time to catch up and talk about the horses,” said Georges Rimaud, manager of the Aga Khan Studs.

“The horses showed themselves well. Rather than people talk about them amongst themselves without seeing them, it's lovely to be able to show them to people and for them to make their own minds up. We were lucky to have very good weather – although it was very cold – but when you see a horse in the sun you can really appreciate them, so it was a very good day.”

Jean-Claude Rouget was the trainer responsible for both Vadeni and Erevann, and though he was required to be on duty in Cagnes, his assistant Jean-Bernard Roth was in attendance to reminisce about the racing careers of both horses with Pierrick Moreau, best known as one of Arqana's auctioneers, who was the MC for the day at Bonneval.

“We've already had a lot of bookings and when people are here to see the horses you can have a different discussion with the breeders about their mares and their matings,” Rimaud added. “It was great to have Jean-Bernard here, he's a well-known figure, and I think that added something special to the shows. At the end of the day I think we were all quite pleased but quite tired. It was very pleasant to see so many people.

“We see some people who are not horse people, for example our neighbours, who are farmers next door. They are busy most of the year but it is a good opportunity for them to come in and see what we do here.

“It's important to show what we do to a larger public, especially in these days when racing can sometimes be looked at unfavourably.”

Through the sale of caps and wrist-warmers, the shows at Haras de Bonneval also raised money for Au Dela des Pistes, France's organisation for the retraining of racehorses.

All in all I thought it was great, and I wonder, are we Brits being left behind by not having something similar? – Sara Cumani, breeder

Sumbe's Haras de Montfort et Préaux was open for both days of the Route des Etalons, with manager Tony Fry battling on despite recently breaking his ankle and requiring the surgical intervention of seven screws and a plate. While he wouldn't pass the trot-up at the moment, it takes more than mere broken bones to deter the hardy Fry, who was on parade along with the farm's five stallions, who certainly were moving with a lot more fluency.

“Yesterday, we had around 250 people and again today [Sunday] there has been a good steady stream of visitors,” reported Fry. “I think in a week's time we'll know how much business we have actually done but the horses seem to have been well received and it's just a wonderful opportunity to show them.”

Sumbe of course has three new recruits, Angel Bleu (Fr), Mishriff (Ire) and the homebred Belbek (Fr), who were the subject of a recent TDN feature. The latter, who won the G1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere in the colours of his owner-breeder Nurlan Bizakov, has a bonus incentive scheme to launch him on his stud career, with the breeder of Belbek's first maiden winner set to receive €10,000 and the breeder of his first group winner in line for a €50,000 bonus. 

Fry added, “There are a lot of people who come on the Route des Etalons just for a day out, but that's fine, you want to encourage people to get involved, and there have been a lot of young people coming through as well, which is great.”

Sara Cumani of Fittocks Stud was one of the English breeders to have travelled to France for the weekend and joined a united nations touring party which included Alix Choppin, Tina Rau and Marina Marinopoulos. It was the first time on the Route des Etalons for Cumani, who said that it had been a worthwhile weekend.

“It was lovely to see the studs, the horses, to meet the people and to put faces to names,” she said. “I had my list of horses I wanted to see and we managed to see them all, which was great.

“We had a really lovely time at Haras de la Hetraie. [Stud owner] Pascal Noue is a real character and I was so impressed with the horses, who looked amazing with fantastic coats. He gave us a lot of insight into stallion psychology, which was fascinating, and all his stallion handlers are women. The horses were so well behaved and Pascal said he'd always rather have women handlers over men.

The condition of the horses was what really stood out, but they also offered us some lovely oysters and crepes, so all in all it was a really good visit.”

The Cumanis own a mare in partnership with Henri Bozo's Ecurie des Monceaux who is heading to Galiway (GB) this year. The stallion's home, Haras de Colleville, was the final stop on the tour after two days on the road. 

Cumani continued, “Luca is a very big believer in knowing what a stallion does, rather than what they look like, but I think that if you spend a lot of time trying to get the physical aspects right then it is important to see them, especially when they first go to stud, rather than when they are more rounded and have let down. I certainly find it useful and I particularly wanted to see Zarak and Galiway as we are using them, and they didn't disappoint.”

She added, “It was very nice to go to Haras de Beaumont and to meet Pauline Chehboub. It's always nice when you go to a farm and the principal is there, and I was taken with Sealiway.

“It was also fantastic to see Haras d'Etreham, which is a beautiful farm, and I absolutely loved Hello Youmzain. He's got so much chunkiness and size, and he walks really well. I'll be very interested to follow him this year, and my fellow travellers very much liked Onesto, who is in a similar mould to Chaldean.”

Cumani's final thoughts on the Route des Etalons initiative are surely shared by others. She said, “It was an interesting trip, and of course it helps enormously when you get delicious French eats on the way. All in all I thought it was great, and I wonder, are we Brits being left behind by not having something similar?”


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