'State Man Must Win' – Q&A With Haras de Saint-Voir Boss Nicolas de Lageneste

Nicolas de Lageneste: says Il Est Francais could run in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham next year | Scoop Dyga

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There are few more respected figures in French National Hunt racing than Nicolas de Lageneste. 

It seems as though everything de Lageneste turns his hand to, be that breeding, training or simply owning racehorses, it is a success.

Last year he completed the rare achievement of being crowned champion National Hunt owner and breeder in the same season. Nobody has ever done that before. 

Fewer still would be capable of nurturing a horse like Il Est Francais (Fr) (Karaktar {Ire}). Not only did de Lageneste breed the superstar chaser, who could be on course for next year's Gold Cup, but he also sourced the stallion, Karaktar, who is tipped to be the next big thing in National Hunt racing in France. 

The cherry on top is the fact that Haras de Saint-Voir remain involved in the ownership of Il Est Francais, who de Lageneste compares favourably with former star graduate Vautour (Fr) (Robin Des Champs {Fr}).

De Lageneste has built up a particularly strong relationship with Champion National Hunt trainer in Ireland Willie Mullins in recent years and Tuesday's short-priced Champion Hurdle favourite State Man (Fr) (Doctor Dino {Fr}) will be bidding to fly the flag for Haras de Saint-Voir on the big stage again.

From breeding top-class National Hunt stallion Saint Des Saints (Fr), to his association with Mullins and his hopes for Cheltenham and beyond, de Lageneste makes for a fascinating Q&A.

State Man: will fly the flag for de Lageneste in the Champion Hurdle | Racingfotos.com

You became the first person in French National Hunt history to be crowned leading breeder and owner in 2023. What did that mean to you?

It gave me great satisfaction and in many ways it was a consecration of our breeding at Haras de Saint-Voir.

I can only imagine that Il Est Francais (Fr) (Karaktar {Ire}) was the highlight of last year for you. He was sublime at Kempton. How difficult of a decision was it to bypass Cheltenham with him or was the Grand Steeple Chase de Paris always Plan A?

For over two years now the plan has always been to run and try to win the Grand Steeple Chase de Paris. He has never had to fight in a race and we thought that he needed to be battle hardened in order to run in a Cheltenham Gold Cup. We have respected him since the beginning of his career, knowing that he was outstanding and a horse for the biggest challenges. Who knows what next year will bring. 

Assuming all goes well at Auteuil, what could be in store for the horse next year? I presume the King George and the Cheltenham Gold Cup will come under consideration?

Exactly. He will go back to Kempton in December and if everything keeps going well for him, we could think about that great expedition in March 2025. 

You are famous for taking a chance on little known sires and making them famous. Tell us a little bit more about why you decided to back Karaktar (Ire)?

I like to buy stallion shares when I am impressed by horses on the track. Karaktar had been so impressive at the beginning of his three-year-old career before running in the French Derby and showed great ability and fantastic movement. He got hurt in the French Derby but Alain de Royer Dupré, a great horseman, liked him so much and was still thinking about the Arc de Triomphe for him. Unfortunately, he met with another problem and his trainer never found a way to get him back. We bought him for €110,000 in a sale for horses-in-training and he has turned out to be a great success. I sent him some good mares for the first season and I am rewarded today. When you really believe in something, give it your all for the chance to be successful. That's my approach to breeding. Karaktar is for sure going to be the next top National Hunt stallion in Europe, as his book of mares has been improving a lot in only the last two seasons, and he covered 243 mares last year.

Most people will know you as the breeder of Saint Des Saints. He is making a pretty emphatic mark on the National Hunt breed. That must provide you with huge satisfaction?

Oh yes. That's another great satisfaction. I had bought the mare of Saint Des Saints for about €2,000 in a liquidation sale in a supplement of a catalogue at 9pm in Deauville. She was a Group 2 winner but was quite old and had a poor career as broodmare. She was a bad milker and, unfortunately, many of her foals died. However, she was from one of the great French thoroughbred families (highlighted by de Chambure's family). Saint Des Saints showed on the turf that he was the best four-year-old in France before getting a virus in May of that campaign and that probably weakened him. However, the genetic potential was there and we are delighted to see that he is today a successful sire of sires and probably the best National Hunt sire of broodmares.

Looking ahead to Cheltenham next week, what graduates of yours are you most looking forward to and why? State Man winning a Champion Hurdle would be very special.

State Man is a short-priced favourite in the Champion Hurdle and he must win. He is trained by the best National Hunt trainer in Europe and comes from the breeding of Guy Cherel who is a perfect horseman, breeder and trainer. Not to mention that State Man's dam was class at Auteuil, a tough mare, and his sire Doctor Dino is probably the best National Hunt stallion in France. Put the best with the best and you will have more chances to be among the best. Apart from State Man, I will not have a lot of runners at Cheltenham as my policy is now to try to keep my horses in France. French breeding will definitely be successful this year at Cheltenham, though. One of the reasons is that we breed horses more for the track than the sales ring. We use stallions with a National Hunt profile in the first choice and we are lucky to stand very good French stallions for that discipline. 

You must have many fond memories from Cheltenham? Would Vautour rank as the most spectacular horse you have bred? He was awesome when winning the Ryanair Chase.

Yes, Vautour really was a great horse, really impressive in all his Cheltenham victories. He was a potential Gold Cup winner and his premature end was very sad for everyone involved. He was an amazing jumper, such a natural, and it was a great thrill to see him flying over his fences. I have found some similarities in his own way of jumping with how Il Est Francais jumps as well.

Tell us a bit more about your relationship with Willie Mullins. He has trained a lot of excellent horses that you have bred. How has that relationship developed?

Willie is just the best. An amazing man. I am a long-time good friend of Pierre Boulard, who used to buy for Willie and when I have a horse who could be exported, Willie has the first preference. We have full confidence with Willie. I have visited him twice and was very impressed by the quality of his training, by his gallops and by his staff. I am drawn by his humanity and humility. 

I understand that Willie and Jackie Mullins have a few mares in partnership with you, including a half-sister to Benie Des Dieux (Fr) (Great Pretender {Ire}). That must be exciting.

I take care of a few mares owned by Jackie and when the owner of Grace Des Dieux (Fr) (Blek {Fr}) [a half-sister to Benie Des Dieux) asked me to buy her, as he knew that I loved the family, I thought that this mare might please Jackie. She immediately agreed and we bought the mare in partnership. The first produce is for Jackie, a very good colt by Great Pretender. She is in foal to Karaktar and is due on April 1. The second foal is mine and that is very exciting. I am very much enjoying this venture with Willie and Jackie. 

You have a soft spot for Ireland and have been there many times. What is it about Irish racing and bloodstock that you like so much?

I like the atmosphere in Ireland and love Irish people. I feel well over there with some good friends I like to meet. It's a country I would have loved to live in.

It's not all about National Hunt racing for you. You have also had some fun on the Flat and Knock On (Fr) (Zelzal {Fr}) won a Listed race for you last October. What are the plans for her this year?

I stand with only one Flat mare by Acclamation (GB) and I have a share in Zelzal (Fr) as well. So the cross is simple each year, and has been successful with J'Acclame (Fr) (Zelzal {Fr}) [five wins in Longchamp and Chantilly] and Knock On [Listed winner and Listed-placed]. Knock On could go for Listed races over less than a mile. She is very easy and quiet in the morning, but on the track she is a lion with a lot of speed.

Finally, despite your huge success, you have never forgotten your roots and you remain closely connected to the grassroots of your sport in France. What is your philosophy to racing and breeding and what advice would you impart on others?

When I took the management of the stud at the beginning of 1990s, we worked hard, standing stallions-usually four-and improved each year our genetics in broodmares. This period was difficult but we have learned our job as breeders. When I stopped standing stallions, I invested a lot to improve the land and select the mares, and today we are hopefully reaping the benefit of all these years of work. Nothing happens by itself. I can't pretend to teach others as I myself learn everyday something new about horses. My principal advice can be to always keep [one's] humility and stay observant.

 

 

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