Wednesday, February 06, 2013

En vacances - or a labour of love

I could either tell you that I've been on holiday (which would be true) or I could tell you that I've been hard at work overseeing the overseas part of the operation and engaged in research and reporting (which would also be true).  But I'll settle for the holiday option, as it feels good to have been on holiday.  So what was the holiday?  Well, it was two days in Normandy for La Route des Etalons, in which approximately 30 studs hold open house over the weekend.  Emma and I went over and managed to see 10 of the studs, which were all lovely and interesting - but primus inter pares had, from my point of view anyway, to be the first we visited, Haras de la Cauviniere.

This stud has been the home of my broodmare Minnie's Mystery (pictured above on Saturday) since she headed over there, in foal to Largesse, in the autumn of 2007.  Since then she has foaled Grey Panel (the Largesse, born in 2008), Dream Walker (by Gold Away, born '09) and Roy Rocket (by Layman, born '10) as well as two youngsters who have never (yet) raced - one of whom, tragically, never will race: her yearling last year (a daughter of Gold Away, born '11 obviously) was injured in a paddock accident which led to her being put down three months or so later when it became evident that she would never properly recover.

Anyway, God willing her current yearling (ie So Much Water, a daughter of Le Havre pictured above on Saturday on, I'm ashamed to say, the first time that I'd ever seen her) will race in the fullness of time - and race well if we're lucky.  There's no reason not to hope so, as she looks a lovely youngster (says her totally subjective breeder and benefactor).  Le Havre stands at the stud so that made life easy for Minnie's Mystery two years ago as she didn't have to travel far to be covered - and this year she can have a short journey too as I've booked her into the stud's new stallion Rajsaman (pictured) whom she can visit sometime after foaling to Youmzain in, roughly, mid-March.

So that was lovely.  I'm ashamed at how rarely I see Minnie's - but c'est la vie.  It's lovely when I do see her; and of course with little Roy I see plenty of him now that he lives here.  Anyway, after seeing Rajsaman, Le Havre and Air Chief Marshall at la Cauviniere, we went to Haras de Mezeray, where we saw Naaqoos, Myboycharlie, Muhtathir, and Whipper (and the retired 29-year-old Trempolino); and then Haras de Grandcamp, home of the magnificent Vision D'Etat (pictured), Linda's Lad, Evasive, Sunday Break and Tin Horse.

Then it was on to Haras du Logis, which used to be the home of Roy's sire Layman (who has more recently been banished to Sweden) and now has a roster which comprises the current French champion sire Slickly as well as Creachadoir, Alexandros, Rio De La Plata and Manduro. Slickly (pictured) is a lovely horse whom I've seen a few times and whom I've long admired (and who, like Rajsaman, is a son of the great Linamix) but if one were to grade them solely on appearance, one would put Creachadoir (Youmzain's half-brother) at the top of the stud's pecking order and Rio De La Plata at the bottom - but the latter hasn't been there long, and I'd say that once he's had a few more months of Julian Ince's husbandry, he'll be looking grand.

Next up was a real treat: the Niarchos family's Haras de Fresnay le Buffard, owned by the late Marcel Boussac for much of the 20th century before being bought by the late Stavros Niarchos in the late '70s.  As the Boussac HQ and now the Niarchos HQ, it obviously has been and remains a hugely influential property; and it is as magnificent as one would expect.  There is only one stallion there (the 1998 Prix du Jockey-Club and Irish Derby winner Dream Well, pictured) and it was lovely to see him - but it would have been a pleasure and privilege to visit even if there had been no sires at all.  It was one of the less frequented venues, which was all the better for us as we were the only visitors there at the time, and stud manager Tim Richardson was really kind in giving us plenty of time and a great welcome.

Our sixth and final call of the day was another lovely propery, Haras du Petit Tellier, which Tim Richardson had suggested we visit.  Two of its five stallions (Denon and Way Of Light, who stand alongside Meshaheer, Zafeen and Linngari) are Niarchos-bred, and Tim had particularly suggested that Denon would be worthy of inspection.  Studmaster Patrick Chedeville is a great character - and another string of brahmas awaited us on the first of our four venues on the Sunday, Haras de la Croix Sonnet.  You'll have noticed that stallions whom we inspected on the Saturday were disciplined enough to stand to attention - not so the two here, Astarabad and Diamond Boy (no, I hadn't heard of him either - in fact, I wasn't totally convinced that he actually existed until I saw him, as he has the sort of name which might be running around Steeple Downs or Portman Park) who were rather more feral, particularly Astarabad (pictured).

However, Astarabad, winner of the Prix Ganay in 1998 after having finished third to Peintre Celebre and Oscar in the previous year's Prix du Jockey-Club, is not only one of the most feral stallions on la Route; he's also one of the best, having from what were probably very limited opportunities come up with the Cheltenham Festival winners Cheltenian and lovely little Gaspara, as well as one of the very best jumpers in France of the current century, the ill-fated Questarabad.  Our next stop also saw another of the best sires: Kendargent (pictured at Haras de Colleville on Sunday) who has effectively come out of nowhere to post astonishingly good results from his first two crops.

Best of Kendargent's offspring so far has been Restiadargent, a member of his first crop who finished a long neck behind Black Caviar at Royal Ascot last year.  She turned out to be the surprise bonus of the visit to Colleville as she's been having a winter spell there and was just getting ready to go back into training - and the really nice stud manager Guillaume Vitse was kind enough to show her to us and to let us make a fuss of her, as you can see here.  She looks grand and is ready to start out on what I hope will be a productive four-year-old campaign.

Virtually next door to Haras de Colleville is Haras de Thenney, home of a good line-up consisting of Orpen, Cima De Triomphe (pictured), Gentlewave and Dr Fong.  I'd regard the first two of that quartet as particularly good, and I'd think that, were Minnie's not going to Rajsaman, Cima De Triomphe (pictured) might well have been her mate for 2013.  And he might well find himself the recipient of that honour at some stage in the future.  So that was very nice, both from the point of view of the horses and the property - which as you can see is very colour-co-ordinated, at least with Cima De Triomphe.

The final destination was a particular highlight, as the Aga Khan's Haras de Bonneval is currently the home of the former dual Australian champion sire Redoute's Choice, who is on his first visit to Europe as a reverse shuttler and has thus become, possibly for one season only, easily France's most expensive stallion: his fee is 70,000 euros, while otherwise there is no stallion the country standing for more than 15,000 euros.  This was actually the third time that we'd seen him (pictured) as we'd seen him on two occasions at Arrowfield Stud in NSW, and I'd have to say that he was looking his best as he's lost a bit of weight and is now demonstrably a thoroughbred, rather than just a very heavy, very strong horse.

Redoute's Choice is sure to do well here as he's being favoured with a terrific book of mares, headed by the Aga Khan's great filly Zarkava.  So he's head of the rank - and that's saying something as the rank also contains the mighty Sinndar, a great racehorse who has become a very good stallion and who was looking the best I've ever seen him (pictured).  Which really is saying something.  The third sire there is also a lovely horse, too: Siyouni (pictured below) who is a beautiful animal and was a Group One winner as a two-year-old (even if his stablemate and the supposed second string Rajsaman did beat him at three).

So that took us up to Sunday afternoon - when it was time to head for home.  So that was a lovely two-day holiday.  Plenty of travelling, but time and distance very well spent.  We went to 10 studs, saw some lovely horses, and the trip would have been the poorer if any one of the studs had been omitted from our itinerary.  And, of course, driving around the countryside in Normandy and enjoying the lovely landscapes and architecture (with thousands of lovely touches like the cat and pigeons decorating the Thenney roof, below) is a pleasure, even without stopping off at the studs.

So, holiday or work?  Well, I'd say holiday - but as I'm, in theory anyway, a bloodstock journalist as well as a trainer (and it's just as well that I am because, although I only devote a small part of my labours to my journalistic role, it means that I run at a small profit instead of a small loss) so it was, of course, a working trip - and you'll read the proof this week if you read any or all of my columns on/in, Winning Post or Al Adiyat.  You'll see that the Racing Post team of three who did the tour have covered it in today's paper - and I'm sure that they'll have put it down as a working assignment.  So there you have it - and, gosh, wasn't it hard work!

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