Racing is a business built on optimism, so it wasn’t too surprising that as many as 506 individual horses, making a total of 703 entries, were nominated to France’s first four Classics of 2015 when they closed on February 18.
That said, I find it just about understandable that the Prix du Jockey-Club, which takes place on May 30, drew 206 entries and that the Prix de Diane, which is contested on June 14, attracted 193 entries. After all, many of the potential runners in these middle-distance Classics have yet to be tested beyond a mile.
But surely it is a little strange that Classic aspirations were held for as many as 157 fillies in the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches and 147 colts in the Poulains, even though these mile Classics take place less than three months after the initial entry stage. This situation highlights how difficult it can be for even the most experienced trainers to gauge the potential of well-bred, lightly raced three-year-olds. Even Andre Fabre, with well over 20 trainers’ championships to his credit, must find it hard to sort the wheat from the chaff – no fewer than 89 of his three-year-olds feature among the entries.
If last year is anything to go by, roughly 90% of these horses won’t meet their French Classic engagements, but even so it makes an interesting exercise to analyse the entries by their sires.
Perhaps the motivation for entering many of these three-year-olds in the Classics stems from the fact that they were expensively produced. The highest-priced stallions of 2011 inevitably feature very prominently, none more so than the extraordinary Galileo, whose French Classic team stands at an enormous 34, including 12 trained by Aidan O’Brien.
Galileo’s half-brother Sea The Stars, who was the second-highest priced stallion in Ireland in 2011, has 14 nominees. This represents a potentially excellent effort, as the 14 come from a second crop numbering only 66 (compared to Galileo’s 2012 crop of 192).
Others which emerge with plenty of credit from this exercise are Green Desert’s sons Invincible Spirit and Oasis Dream. Nineteen of Invincible Spirit’s 119 three-year-olds were considered worthy of entry. As they include Alea Iacta, Territories, High Celebrity and Local Time, this is a powerful team. Oasis Dream has a 16-strong contingent from a crop of 107 three-year-olds, including Charming Thought, Muhaarar and Dar Re Mi’s promising son De Treville. A few stallions merit closer inspection.
As Makfi had been the highest-priced new stallion of 2011, there were high expectations of his first two-year-old runners. To be frank, their achievements were somewhat underwhelming, to the extent that his yearling average for his second crop stood at 30,388gns, compared to his first crop’s 65,699gns. The median also fell by more than 50%.
However, I would advise against a knee-jerk reaction. It is worth remembering that the two-year-old Makfi was considered surplus to requirements by the Shadwell team, which sold him unraced for 26,000gns at the Autumn Sales. Although he went on to win his only juvenile start for his new connections, his victory came on very soft ground in a Class F newcomers’ race at Fontainebleau in November.
So perhaps we shouldn’t be too disappointed that his first runners managed nothing better than a single Listed race victory, something he had in common with one of 2005’s first-crop stallions – a certain Galileo.
Makfi has, of course, now been transferred from Tweenhills Stud to the Aga Khan’s Haras de Bonneval, where he is standing alongside the very promising Siyouni. There are sound reasons for thinking that this move will play to Makfi’s strengths. Although he won the 2,000 Guineas, his other wins were gained in France, and he accounted for Goldikova when he emulated the Prix Jacques le Marois victories of his sire Dubawi and grandsire Dubai Millennium. In gaining his French successes Makfi showed his appreciation of soft ground – something he shares with many of Dubawi’s other progeny.
If Makfi’s offspring inherit this penchant, France could be the ideal base for him, as soft ground is very common across the Channel.
The early signs are that Makfi is set to shine with his French-trained offspring. Nine of his ten nominees in the French Classics are trained there, the one exception being Marco Botti’s tough and useful filly Astrelle. There is plenty to like about Makfi’s French collection, which is made up mainly of fillies. There are a couple of interesting colts, though, especially Prince Faisal’s Make Believe. Trained by Andre Fabre, he put in two appearances late in the season and emerged victorious each time. Having taken a newcomers’ race at Deauville in late-October, Make Believe didn’t have to extend himself to land a conditions event on heavy ground at Saint-Cloud in November. His dam Rosie’s Posy produced the American Grade 1 winner Dubawi Heights to Makfi’s sire, so there’s cause for optimism here.
The other Classic-engaged colt, Cornwallville, proved his toughness during a long two-year old campaign which began in the Brocklesby Stakes in March and ended with a Listed victory at Toulouse in November. Altogether he won four of his 14 starts, with one of his wins coming on heavy.
The Makfi fillies worth keeping an eye on include Stars And Clouds, Harpy and Daramakfi. Stars And Clouds’s yearling price of €360,000 reflected the stellar achievements of her exceptional half-sister Moonlight Cloud, and she went some way towards justifying the investment when she landed a newcomers’ event on soft ground at Chantilly in October.
Harpy was another who displayed plenty of potential during an unbeaten first season. Her narrow success in a Maisons-Laffitte newcomers’ race in July was followed by a victory over a Dubawi filly in a conditions race at Deauville on heavy ground. The ground was also very soft when Daramakfi ended her brief first season with a win over Deauville’s mile in August.
Lope De Vega
As Lope De Vega was trained in France but stands in Ireland, the possibility existed that it wouldn’t be easy to appreciate the full extent of his first crop’s achievements. In reality, there was no escaping the scale of his success, which featured three Group winners in Britain, another in Italy and an impressive total of 25 individual winners. These results were made all the more eye-catching by the fact that Lope De Vega had started out at no more than €15,000.
As many as ten of Lope De Vega’s 25 winners were trained in France and ten of his 16 entries in the French Classics are French-based, including five trained by Andre Fabre for his breeder and owner Gestut Ammerland. Among them are the potentially smart filly Baltic Comtesse and the stylish Deauville maiden race winner Burma Sea.
There is also an impressive Anglo-Irish team among Lope De Vega’s 16, with the Dewhurst winner Belardo being the one with proven Group 1 ability. Watch out, though, for the strapping Endless Drama and Flaming Spear, as these once-raced maiden winners could be very exciting if they have no soundness issues.
Lope De Vega, of course, is standing the 2015 season at the substantially bigger fee of €40,000, but he is still cheaper than his sire Shamardal, whose fee has risen to a new high of €70,000.
Shamardal’s popularity reflects his tremendously successful 2014 season, which saw him finish third behind Galileo and Invincible Spirit on the leading sires’ list. His 2014 juveniles were also very successful, so it is hardly surprising that Shamardal ranks second only to Galileo by number of French Classic entries, with 21 contenders. If this optimism isn’t totally misplaced, Shamardal looks to have plenty of ammunition for another vintage year.
With the 2014 exploits of Le Havre and Siyouni propelling each of their fees from €7,000 to €20,000, it is only natural that they should lead the French-based stallions in order of Classic entrants. Le Havre, who pulled off a notable Classic double last year with Avenir Certain, leads the way with a team of 13, the majority owned by Gerard Augustin-Normand.
Siyouni has a team of ten, which is exactly an eighth of his first crop. Ervedya, Lady Sybil, Svoul and Passiflore all showed above-average ability at two.
One name which took me a little by surprise was that of Fuisse, who – like Siyouni – has his first three-year-olds this year. He has only 45 in this first crop but five of them are Classically- engaged, including three trained by Criquette Head-Maarek, who sent out Fuisse to win the Prix du Moulin in 2010.
Fuisse has had only a few winners so far, but this 16.3hh horse improved with age, so his progeny are entitled to a bit of patience. The Head trio are all fillies and all are unraced at the time of writing, but it could be worth monitoring the progress of these fillies – Gallice, Souveraine and Toride – especially as Toride is a half-sister to none other than Treve.
In last month’s column I was looking for American stallions with the potential to succeed in Europe. The French Classic entries confirm what we already knew – that European owners and breeders still have some faith in the likes of Giant’s Causeway, Smart Strike and Speightstown, all of whom have four representatives. Then there are Kitten’s Joy, Medaglia d’Oro and More Than Ready, with three each.
The most interesting aspect concerns Tapit and War Front, the highest-priced stallions in Kentucky. Tapit is still something of an unknown quantity in Europe, despite his dominance in the US, so it is to be expected that he doesn’t feature prominently among the French Classic entries. There are two, though – the Wertheimer brothers’ once-raced colt Ecureuil and the talented filly Rosey De Geneve, who won her first two starts at Chantilly before finishing fifth at Listed level.
War Front, on the other hand, has a potentially strong hand with a team of eight, featuring the Aidan O’Brien colts War Envoy, Royal Navy Ship and Cenotaph. Then there’s John Gosden’s pair of Faydhan and Lady Correspondent, and Jean-Claude Rouget’s War Dispatch, who has already won five of his six starts. Hamdan Al Maktoum’s English-trained Hakam, only narrowly beaten on debut in March, has also been entered, so this $450,000 yearling could be a name to remember.