Sunny Atmosphere During La Route des Etalons

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Siyouni displayed plenty of energy during the good weather on La Route des Etalons | Zuzanna Lupa

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Melting frost drips uniformly from the thatch at Haras de la Huderie. The January sun is a penetrating golden disc above the historic timbers of Haras du Quesnay. A broodmare rolls in one of Haras de Colleville’s open green spaces. Normandy’s tree-lined lanes bask in the generous light. Haras de Bonneval’s undulating pastures grace the eye, picture perfect. It is La Route des Etalons once again in all its glory, blessed by a rare weekend-long respite from winter’s most ruinous elements. The centrepiece of it, the stallion himself, struts his timeless strut for the gathered congregations. Shown off to all, his contained power is framed by genuine beauty all around.

Upper Normandy’s scattered assembly of studs open up for an initiative which grows in popularity year upon year. It helps if you are not of a nervous disposition as a driver, with the network of country roads connecting the establishments often calling on all your previous experience behind a wheel. The one essential is Satnav, but as that generally comes as standard there is nothing holding back anybody with a love of the Thoroughbred. Saturday and Sunday went without hitch as the crowds of breeders and enthusiasts hit the 25 studs and Deauville’s Pole International du Cheval to see the stars of yesterday’s racing papers up close.

Taking precedence in terms of prestige and gravitas is His Highness the Aga Khan’s Haras de Bonneval, with Siyouni (Fr) (Pivotal {Fr}) commanding a well-earned €100,000 fee as a result of outstanding work in the past few seasons. Long-serving stud manager Georges Rimaud has a warning for his competition.

“The best is yet to come,” he says of the area’s kingpin. “He has had huge opportunities and the 3-year-olds coming through this year could put him on another level.”

Siyouni is the sire of last year’s G1 Prix du Jockey Club hero Sottsass (Fr), who has now secured Coolmore’s interest as he is prepared for a potentially fruitful 2020 campaign, as well as star turns Ervedya (Fr), Laurens (Fr) and the newly-retired leading domestic sprinter City Light (Fr) who was shown off at Haras d’Etreham as the first of his sons to stand in France.

Away from Siyouni, Bonneval also have a precious commodity in Zarak (Fr) (Dubawi {Ire}), the G1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud-winning son of the operation’s prized Zarkava (Fr). Paraded under the loving eye of Alain de Royer-Dupre, the weekend’s pedigree prize-winner has an assortment of progeny here and elsewhere due to race in 2021.

Georges Rimaud is very keen on his chances of making it.

“His foals look great and it’s good to remind people about him,” he says. “It can be a difficult time going into the third year, but it’s rather easy with him as he has produced nice foals and people are coming back. They are strong with good bone he is stamping them, so I am pretty confident.”

Also on show is Dariyan (Fr) (Shamardal), the G1 Prix Ganay-winning son of the electric 2009 G1 Hong Kong Vase heroine Daryakana (Fr) (Selkirk) whose 2-year-olds race this term.

Rimaud said, “It’s his fourth year and with a bit of luck his 2-year-olds will turn out to be nice. He had that turn of foot that his dam had and that Alain [de Royer-Dupre] likes to work with. These stallions are here to stay and we are patient with them. His Highness is a breeder at heart and this [the Route des Etalons] is an opportunity to showcase the sires. They are all Group 1 winners with very clean pedigrees from nurtured families who retired sound.”

Ploughing South, the next destination is Julian Ince’s picturesque Haras du Logis which would be the envy of horse lovers everywhere. Contained within the “magic triangle” of success as he terms it, the stud “le plus charmant” boasts a line-up with real potential alongside the proven Manduro (Ger) (Monsun {Ger}). His son Ultra (Ire) is joined by new boy Cloth of Stars (Ire) (Sea the Stars {Ire}) (first foals this year) and they cut serious figures in the winter sunshine. The G1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere-winning Ultra has attracted much domestic interest already and has an athleticism which is undeniable.

Along “La Route”, there is also a reminder of how fickle the business can be, with the storied Haras du Mezeray left with just a trio of stallions following the departure of Myboycharlie (Ire) to Turkey. With the stud stalwart Muhtathir (GB) now 25 and limited to a 40-mare book, hopes are pinned on De Treville (GB) (Oasis Dream {GB}) who as a half-brother to Too Darn Hot (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) could prove a snip at €2,000, and also Taareef (Kitten’s Joy) who is available for €3,000. Kitten’s Joy’s influence is yet to grip French breeders, but it is surely a matter of time.

Al Shaqab’s hub at Haras de Bouquetot is another major draw of the weekend, with the likes of Shalaa (Ire) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}), Toronado (Ire) (High Chaparral {Ire}), Olympic Glory (Ire) (Choisir {Aus}) and Al Wukair (Ire) (Dream Ahead) paraded in the stunning yard. Shalaa boasts the most expensive fee of all at €25,000 and with his juveniles out in force in 2020, the dual-hemisphere prospect is as exciting as any newcomer in the country. Towards the coast is Haras de la Huderie, where Beranger Bussy shows Garswood (GB) (Dutch Art {GB}) and Birchwood (Ire) (Dark Angel {Ire}) to the interested parties at this glorious establishment. The former, whose Cala Tarida (GB) and Little Kim (GB) have made an early impact, is distinctly promising and has an elite pedigree with the likes of Mutakayyef (GB) (Sea the Stars {Ire}) and Veracious (GB) (Frankel {GB}) boosting his profile in recent seasons.

Elsewhere, there is the undiminished beauty of the Head family’s Haras du Quesnay where old-stager Motivator (GB) (Montjeu {Ire}) is neighboured by Anodin (Ire) (Anabaa), Attendu (Fr) (Acclamation {GB}), Intello (Ger) (Galileo {Ire}) and Recoletos (Fr) (Whipper); Sylvain Vidal’s Haras de Montfort & Preaux which houses the local sensation Le Havre (Ire) (Noverre); Haras d’Etreham with Wootton Bassett (GB) (Iffraaj {GB}) and his dual Champion S.-winning son Almanzor (Fr); Haras de Grandcamp where Lawman (Fr) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}), Dream Ahead (Diktat {GB}) and Dabirsim (Fr) (Hat Tick {Jpn}) can be found; and Haras de Colleville with the celebrated Kendargent (Fr) (Kendor {Fr}) enjoying deserved limelight.

As I depart on the Sunday afternoon, Deauville and its accompanying resorts are slowly letting go of a sun-powered warmth which at various spells has been spring-like in its intensity. The sun is setting on the Atlantic as it rubs the shoreline with its gentle caress. A perfect weekend? As close as it gets at this time of year I’m sure. “La prochaine fois”, as they say here.

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