The Enduring Influence Of Schlenderhan

Baron Georg vun Ullmann of Gestüt Schlenderhan |


The historic silks of Gestut Schlenderhan have been flying high again in recent seasons and their resurgence will have totemic resonance for devotees of the Thoroughbred breed, particularly in Europe.

In 2019, the stud, which is the oldest of its kind in Germany, celebrated its 150th anniversary. Since 1869, Schlenderhan has remained almost exclusively under the ownership of the same family, its current owner Baron Georg von Ullmann being the great great-grandson of the stud's founder Eduard von Oppenheim.

It was in von Ullmann's own colours that the stud's great flagbearer of the modern age, the legendary stallion Monsun (Ger), raced, as well as a number of his most successful offspring. Monsun was himself bred at Gestut Isarland, but the likes of his G1 Coronation Cup and GI Breeders' Cup Turf winner Shirocco (Ger), and Group 1 winners Getaway (Ger) and Guadalupe (Ger) were among those to have been bred by Ullmann during Monsun's long reign at Schlenderhan, which in turn played its part in bringing the stud to greater worldwide prominence. Its reputation does not lie solely with the dark brown son of Konigsstuhl (Ger), however. In fact, far from it.

As with all breeding operations, success depends on the depth, development and durability of the female lines. Schlenderhan's most prodigious family is that of the homebred German Derby and Oaks winner Asterblute (Ger) (Pharis {Fr}), which has had an incalculable influence on the modern-day breed via the great mare's fifth-generation descendant Allegretta, the dam of Urban Sea (Miswaki), Allez Les Trois (Riverman) and King's Best (Kingmambo).

This family is represented still in the paddocks at Bergheim, to the west of Cologne, though one particularly appealing member of the dynasty was lost recently just as it appeared that his star was very much in the ascendant. Germany's reigning champion stallion Adlerflug (Ger), a son of In The Wings (GB), died of an apparent heart attack not long after covering a mare in early April. The homebred Deutsches Derby winner was a grandson of Anatevka (Ger) (Espresso {GB}), who is also the dam of Allegretta. Last season he provided Schlenderhan with its 19th winner of the Deutsches Derby, In Swoop (Ire), who went on to run second in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

“We were very unlucky this year to lose Adlerflug, because in my opinion he was really one of the up-and-coming stallions,” says Baron von Ullmann.

“For the first time he had a very international book, so there was to a degree a fantasy looking forward, but unfortunately that was not to be. The same happened with Monsun. At the beginning, he covered only about 40 mares.”

Adlerflug was crowned champion for the first time in 2020, in the year in which he had covered just 39 mares. His book for this season was set to be larger, though still nowhere near the number that some stallions cover in Britain, Ireland and France.

The breeder adds, “We don't have the kind of stallions who cover big books. Firstly, we don't have the capacity, but second, I don't believe in IKEA, I believe in Faberge. In my opinion, if a stallion covers a smaller number of mares and then they really fire, then the value of their stock is much higher. It took Monsun a couple of years to get recognised, but he was one of the three stallions worldwide to be voted to the Hall of Fame while still alive. He was a darling really.”

Shirocco, Getaway, and former Horse of the Year Manduro (Ger) helped to bring  Monsun's name to greater international attention on the racecourse sporting the yellow-and-blue silks which have now been passed to the baron's son, Philip. In Swoop and recent G1 Prix Ganay winner Mare Australis (Ire) (Australia {GB}) race in the historic Schlenderhan colours inherited from their owner's mother, Baronin Karin von Ullmann, the breeder of Adlerflug, who died in 2009.

“Philip has a couple of horses in training in France with Francis Graffard and four in Germany,” explains his father. “He also has a couple of mares at Schlenderhan. He reads a lot and asks a lot of questions, some good, some stupid, but for my wife and I, it is nice to see that the future is safe. We are very thankful that Philip is really interested and we are very sure that at one point when our feet are not on the ground here any more that he will take over.”

It is indeed a reassuring position to be in as the fortunes of the Thoroughbred breeding industry worldwide wax and wane with the passing of some significant figures. Continuity has long been the watchword at Schlenderhan, with the development of the equine families being every bit as important as the extension of the human dynasty charged with their care.

“We really try to be very careful to our old bloodlines,” says Baron von Ullmann. “This is the essence of Schlenderhan. Of course sometimes you have to let go. Our 'P' family of Priamos (Ger) (Birkhahn {Ger}), from Palazzo (GB) (Dante {GB}), who we bought in Newmarket in the 60s, this is dead. We have nothing left. But I am a strong believer in taking care of families and giving them a chance. We try to have the minimum of three of their offspring on the racecourse to judge, and then if they have gone to good sires and they don't produce, then you have to say, 'okay, this isn't working'. But I am very much against this idea of commercial breeding. The words 'commercial breeding' in my opinion are false. Either you breed or you don't breed. Commercial breeding is neither fish nor meat. You have to give these animals a chance. If you are not willing to do so or you don't have the patience, then, in my opinion, you shouldn't breed. You need patience with the mares and with the sport. There are so many things that go wrong, but there is mostly a reason they went wrong and you have to give it a second chance.”

The baron's lessons have been long learned since his days of walking out to the paddocks as a toddler alongside his grandmother. “I grew up with it absolutely,” he says. “Though in the 50s and at the start of the 60s, children were not particularly popular at the racetracks, but that has changed.”

The stud is home to 27 active broodmares as well as some notable retirees.

He adds, “We always have one paddock for the old ladies and they are friends forever and get treated exactly like every other horse. Guadalupe is there at the moment along with Walzerkoenigin and they are very happy. They get a huge thank you and when they die they get a stone in our cemetery alongside the great horses like Schwarzgold, Oleander, and of course Tertullian, who died a few years ago.”

Ullmann takes deserved pride in the widespread influence of his family's breeding endeavours.

“If you look at the old studs and you go through the bloodlines, with at least 50 per cent you will find some Schlenderhan blood,” he says.

“[Ewald] Meyer zu Duete, the old manager in the 1950s and 60s with my grandmother, when there was still the Iron Curtain, organised the swap of Birkhahn with a stallion from here. And without Birkhahn coming here, there wouldn't be a Surumu (Ger), there wouldn't be a Galileo (Ire). If Meyer hadn't done this then worldwide breeding would have a huge gap.”

Indeed, just a cursory glance at the potential field for this year's Derby shows the extent of the sprawl of this influence, with eight of the first 10 in the betting being sired either by Galileo, his half-brother Sea The Stars (Ire), or his sons Frankel (GB) and New Approach (Ire).

The loss of Galileo's close relative Adlerflug means that the Schlenderhan sire ranks are reduced to two, standing just down the road in the stallion wing of Gestut Erftmuhle. The 10-year-olds Ito (Ger) and Guiliani (Ger) both provide memories of formers residents, with the former being a son of Adlerflug out of the G1 Preis der Diana winner Iota (Ger) (Tiger Hill {Ire}) and thus a brother to In Swoop, while Guiliani is by Tertullian out of Monsun's aforementioned Classic-winning daughter Guadalupe.

Both were trained by Schlenderhan's former retained trainer Jean-Pierre Carvalho but the stud's private training centre was sold several years ago, with the racehorses now being trained by Markus Klug and Andreas Wohler in Germany as well as Andre Fabre, Francis Graffard and Gavin Hernon in Chantilly. Graffard and Fabre have provided the owner/breeder with his two most recent Group 1 winners, In Swoop and Mare Australis, and the relationship with Fabre stretches back almost two decades.

“The first horse I had with Fabre was Shirocco and I told him at Belmont [at the Breeders' Cup] that it was the beginning of a new friendship,” Von Ullmann recalls.

“Fabre just really has this feeling. He was very happy when Mare Australis came to him as a 2-year-old, then he called me up and said, 'You will be surprised, but I will give him a rest and he will say thank you'. After the Prix Ganay, he called me again and I said, 'I have one question: from what star are you coming?'”

“He is different from the others. They are top trainers, no doubt, but he is in a completely different league. He is a gifted horseman. And I think what he likes with us is that we are patient. There is no rushing a horse to this race or that, everything is step by step.”

He continues, “We give Fabre later [-maturing] horses, as we know that he likes to take his time, and we give him the horses that–as far as we can see it–have the most potential. But that doesn't mean anything, because if you had asked me last year in March to judge In Swoop, I wouldn't have said that he would come second in the Arc. And if you had asked me three years ago to judge Well Timed, who won the German Oaks, I would have said she was a nice filly that I thought would get black-type. But sometimes in March, April and May they can make a huge jump.”

The leap made by In Swoop last year was perhaps helped by there being no racing until mid-May. But he was ready to go when racing resumed, breaking his maiden on debut three days after the resumption before running third in the G2 Prix Greffulhe and then heading straight to Hamburg for the German Derby. His success will no doubt have helped confirm von Ullmann's favourable impression of his trainer Francis Graffard, who recently saddled the 4-year-old to win the G3 Prix d'Hedouville.

He says, “In my opinion, Graffard is the future. Of course he has to learn, he is young, but he is absolutely perfect.”

The trainer's stock will surely rise yet higher if Martial Eagle (Ire), another son of Adlerflug, can convert his own recent third-place finish in the Greffulhe to bring Schlenderhan a 20th victory in Germany's most important race. Along with In Swoop and Mare Australis, he has also been given an Arc entry.

The breeder is still clearly supportive of the German racing and breeding industry while acknowledging that it is in decline. The country's Thoroughbred bloodlines, however, with many of them etched deep in the fabric of Schlenderhan, continue to have an impact on top-class racing the world over.

“Germany has its problems, there is no doubt about it,” says von Ullmann. “With betting, with the racecourses, which, bar one or two, all need a facelift. We are fortunate that in Schlenderhan we have extremely good land and we don't have to add anything to it for the mares or the young horses. Then we have the bloodlines and through that, the sport is fundable. It would be nice if Germany was in better shape,  but there is nothing stopping us racing elsewhere–in France or Ireland or Australia. The only place I would not have a horse is in America with all its problems. But from Cologne to Paris is not much farther than Cologne to Hoppegarten or Munich, so it's no problem for us. I had horses in England with Geoff Wragg and Henry Cecil and it was a delight to be in Newmarket. It is the same delight to be in Chantilly.”

No doubt the French experience will be sweetened still if, come October, Schlenderhan can add a homebred Arc winner to its list of achievements. To have three potential chances from a broodmare band of less than 30 throws into sharp relief the stud whose influence runs deep through the breed as we have come to know it.

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