Siyouni: From Syndication To Stardom

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Siyouni parades during La Route des Etalons | Zuzanna Lupa

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Just as the illustrious Pivotal (GB) was retiring from stud duties at the age of 28, Siyouni (Fr), who can certainly now be regarded as his most significant sire son, was reaching the peak of his powers with his first French championship. He finished last season by adding a Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner to his burgeoning CV, and this year Siyouni is currently responsible for the joint-top-rated horse in the world in the dual French Classic and Eclipse S. winner St Mark's Basilica (Fr).

At the age of 14, Siyouni is riding the crest of a wave. For at least the last four seasons he has been the most expensive stallion in France by a wide margin, his 2021 fee rising to an all-time high of €140,000. And his popularity at the sales is undiminished–15 of his yearlings passed through the recent Arqana August Sale for an average price in excess of €300,000. Bahrain's KHK Racing bought the most expensive of these at €1.5 million and Coolmore, doubtless emboldened by their previous success with the stallion, gave €650,000 for a filly from Ecurie des Monceaux, birthplace of their young Arc-winning stallion Sottsass (Fr).

How much of a permanent mark Siyouni will make on the breed remains to be seen, but already he is the sire of not just an Arc winner but five individual Classic winners with 17 Group 1 victories to their credit, as well as the GI E P Taylor S. heroine Etoile (Fr). Things, however, could have been so different, with the horse's story reduced perhaps to a footnote in Thoroughbred history as the winner of the 2009 G1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere.

“It's not to our credit, but Siyouni wasn't very far from getting castrated and sent to Hong Kong,” says Georges Rimaud, manager of the Aga Khan Studs in France.

“He was certainly a very good racehorse, and at two in particular, but then at three, he unfortunately did not manage to win a race. He placed in several races, and was second in the Prix Jean Prat. But we were left wondering what we were going to do with him. Was it enough to stand him? Was he the type that people be looking for?”

It turns out that Siyouni was indeed the type that breeders were happy to take a chance on, though his appeal was broadened, and the risk shared, by the Aga Khan Studs taking the decision to syndicate him–a move not made by the operation since Darshaan (GB) retired to stud in 1985. A good omen, if one were needed.

“We syndicated him to bring in a bit of money for one thing, and then also I always feel that if you get more participants around something, whether it's a horse or something else, you dilute the risk a little bit. If you are successful you are going to probably dilute the revenue as well, but I thought it was worth the shot with that horse. So we agreed–all our team and His Highness–agreed to syndicate him at a small price of €28,000, and he would stand at €7,000 for the standard syndication.”

The gamble worked, at least in the initial sense of encouraging breeders to use the stallion. “He very quickly covered 150 mares or more,” Rimaud recalls. “He was always quite busy. We ended up with quite a few foals that looked very nice. And you know when you have good foals out there because people come back. We had the same demand the following year, and the following year.”

After that, it was up to Siyouni himself, or indeed his runners. With 14 first-crop winners in 2014, he was France's leading first-season sire and leading sire of 2-year-olds. That group included the G3 Prix de Cabourg winner Ervedya (Fr), who would reward the Aga Khan by becoming her sire's first Classic winner in the following year's Poule d'Essai des Pouliches before travelling to Ascot to win the G1 Coronation S.

“Every beginner was winning,” says Rimaud. “So we felt pretty good about it. And then we produced our first Group 1 winner by him, and then you don't have anything else to do. I mean, it all happens. The rest is, as some people say, it's history. But I am not sure the history is finished: it's ongoing. He has produced probably around 150 foals every year.”

There is no hiding the pleasure that Siyouni's success has brought the operation as Rimaud recounts his career to date. It is of course not the first time the Aga Khan Studs has retired a homebred to stand at one of its farms–far from it–but perhaps the somewhat unexpected nature of the steep upward rise, from a relatively lowly stud fee, echoing that of his own celebrated sire in England, makes it all the more satisfying.

“We're thrilled with it,” he says. “This is the horse who was born and raised on our farm. We bred the mare. Everything was homemade. He was born at Saint-Crespin and he was broken in at our breaking farm. From there, he was sent to Alain de Royer Dupre, who found him quite precocious. You know, this is not a trademark for us, to have precocious horses.”

Rimaud continues, “You don't expect to go from sort of low grade to elite. That was the way it went, starting at €7,000. I don't want to insult anyone who used him in the early years, but at €7,000, he improved the quality of the foals of those mares considerably. As we say in French, he's an améliorateur [enhancer], and he really does that.”

The motto of the Aga Khan Studs has long been 'success breeds success' and in this instance it has been doubly true for the breeders who not only sent their mares but also took a share in the young stallion at the outset. Rimaud is quick to acknowledge those who have helped to establish Siyouni at Haras de Bonneval.

He says, “The thing was that the Aga Khan Studs had not syndicated horses for a long time, so this was almost a new thing. People adhered to that syndication, and were very pleased to come in and do something with us.

“They've invested, they believed in the horse, they put their mares in. And some of them had to leave because of the pressure of selling their shares at higher prices and then not necessarily being able to go back to the horse, which is also a frustrating situation where you have people that have helped Siyouni make it with lower stud fees.”

In May it was announced that Siyouni, who is out of the Danehill mare Sichilla (Ire), whose offspring also include Group/Grade 1 winner Siyouma (Ire) (Medicean {GB}), would be available to cover to Southern Hemisphere time at a fee of €100,000. He has had scant representation in Australia thus far, but among his six runners there are four black-type performers, including the listed-winning juvenile See You In Spring (Aus). Her Darley-bred dam Spring Colours (GB) (Shamardal), who is out of a half-sister to the champion miler Goldikova (Ire), was exported to Australia in 2017.

“We were tempted to shuttle him several times,” Rimaud says. “When he was just about to make it and we felt that maybe it was the time to take that opportunity, we had some offers in Western Australia and different places, from Anthony Mithen. When we did the deal with the horse originally it wasn't even considered, but then we had real interest when he started to do well.”

Ultimately it was decided not to take the risk, and Siyouni has hardly been short of suitors in France in the intervening years. Indeed, he can be credited with playing a key role in the resurgence of the French bloodstock scene over the last decade, along with his fellow Normandy-based sires Le Havre (Ire) and Kendargent (Fr), who retired to stud the year before him and are both now recognised as internationally important stallions. At the time of Siyouni's retirement, the most expensive stallion in the country was Elusive City at €15,000.

“His success has undoubtedly helped us and it has helped the stallion stations around France,” says Rimaud. “It gave them confidence that it was possible to have a stallion of that calibre and sell the nominations and make it work. They have done a good job with Le Havre as well, and the stallion operations in France have all benefited from this. I don't think it's solely due to Siyouni, but it certainly reinforced the view that it is possible. France has actually become a sort of a platform where international investors can come in easily.”

The generally accepted rule is that only one in ten stallions retiring to stud really makes it. A grand racing career and the bluest of bloodlines offer no guaranteed path to success. Siyouni of course did not emanate from humble origins, but equally he was not initially afforded the calibre of mares of some of the other stallions he now tussles with in the tables.

Rimaud himself gives a nod to the hand fate plays in such developments. He says, “It's incredible really, that's exactly what it is. And you can't predict these things. It just happens.”

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