For Dietrich von Boetticher, it is almost as if the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was run yesterday. The man who owns and bred Waldgeist in partnership with Newsells Park Stud relives the moment with raw excitement even though the race is more than one month distant.
“I cannot stop thinking about it,” he says. “We thought the horse ran well in the previous two Arcs but he was denied the opportunity to show how good he really was. This time he came round the corner [into the straight] and showed how he could accelerate. To me, the Arc is the ultimate. It was unbelievable.”
Except that von Boetticher had been there before. In 2005 he watched transfixed as Hurricane Run, bred by his Gestut Ammerland, came through to capture Europe’s signature race. The difference was that Hurricane Run prevailed in the silks of Michael Tabor, who’d bought the colt three months earlier.
“Yes, they were not my colours, but it didn’t really make much of a difference to me,” he says. “We bred Hurricane Run, and we were made the kind of offer which sometimes you have to take because breeding horses is so expensive. My wife [Annabel] keeps reminding me about that all the time.”
His wife’s sense of perspective is probably just as well. An entrepreneurial lawyer whose Munich-based practice advises high-worth clients across a broad range of platforms, von Boetticher is so consumed by the sport that it might easily run away with him.
“To me, the Arc is the ultimate. It was unbelievable”
He claims not to know exactly how many horses he has in training. “I guess more than 20,” he says, perhaps mindful that Annabel might read this.
But the salient point about von Boetticher’s boutique bloodstock holding is that he has been consistently successful in the face of intense competition. Over the last three decdes he has owned and/or bred the winners of 20 Group 1 races, many of them in France.
It has been that way from the beginning, which doubtless explains von Boeticher’s passion. The first horse he bought was Luigi, who was foaled in 1985 and who’d failed to sell when offered at Baden-Baden the following year.
“I was on business, staying in a little hotel in Cologne and I had the catalogue with me,” he recalls. “I came across a filly by Surumu and after the sale I called her breeder, Dr Christoph Burmester, who told me that she hadn’t sold. So I went to see her.
“After we had agreed a price Dr Burmester then said he had a colt by Home Guard that had also not sold, so we went to see him. He was a tall colt with a beautiful dark coat, and I liked the way he galloped.
“I can’t remember exactly how much I paid for the two of them but it was nothing; somewhere between DM10,000 and DM20,000 [£3,000-£6,000].”
An ulterior motive
What von Boetticher didn’t tell the breeder was that he had an ulterior motive where the colt was concerned. He rode dressage horses to a high standard and felt the Home Guard yearling might excel in that domain should he prove incapable of raising a gallop.
But gallop he certainly could – to the extent that he won the 1988 Deutsches Derby by a neck from Alte Zeit, whom von Boetticher subsequently purchased.
Luigi’s story is remarkable for other reasons. As a two-year-old a roving eye for fillies prompted his trainer, Uwe Ostmann, to recommend he should be gelded.
Not for the first time, von Boetticher spurned professional advice. He gravitated towards his own hunch and Luigi retained his manhood.
Come Deutsches Derby day and Luigi was the last horse to be allocated a place in the oversubscribed field. His achievements were so inauspicious that the racecourse commentator forgot his name during the pre-race parade.
He also had a new jockey in Walter Swinburn after regular pilot Olaf Schick was ditched for his part in a drink- fuelled prank that saw a band of jockeys steal several legs of ham from a van after the pre-race party.
For von Boetticher, however, it was a dream start – not least because in that year he also had a three-year-old filly, Britannia, who chased home Alte Zeit in the Preis der Diana (German Oaks).
So there he was, a newcomer to the German turf who happened to own the Derby winner and the two best fillies in training. He was on his way.
“I always thought Britannia was a better filly than Alte Zeit”
Von Boetticher has always had an affection for horses, in particular the pony that pulled a trap bearing him to safety, together with his mother and brother, from advancing Russian troops towards the end of the war. He was just three years old.
The family has already been displaced from modern-day Latvia at the start of the war. They settled in the industrial Polish city of Poznan, where von Boetticher was born. This time they made their home in unspoilt German countryside north of Hannover, where von Boetticher spent the rest of his childhood on horseback.
Even now, with Ammerland a thriving concern, von Boetticher still maintains a stable of dressage horses and showjumpers on the property.
Yearlings are kept at Ammerland itself, which was bought in 1989, while the stallions, mares and their foals reside at Bernried, which von Boetticher acquired later. Both land tracts are located on the fringes of Lake Starnberg, in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps in southern Germany.
Burmester’s helpful role
Ammerland was purchased with the help of Luigi’s breeder, who knew von Boetticher was looking for suitable breeding pasture.
“Dr Burmester saw the advert, which for some reason was placed in a newspaper in Hamburg, near where he lived,” von Boetticher relates. “Nobody looking [to buy land] in Bavaria would have seen it. I moved quickly and was able to buy it on a handshake.”
Ammerland dates back to the time of Ludwig I, the King of Bavaria in the early 19th century. Among other architectural splendours Ludwig built a castle on the edge of Lake Starnberg, which he subsequently gave, together with surrounding acres, to Franz Graf von Pocci, one of his servants at the Royal court. As the years unfurled grassland that came with the castle was sold off by Pocci’s children and grandchildren.
Some of those grasslands are now grazed by 25 Ammerland mares. Five of them descend directly from Britannia. By contrast Alte Zeit, who’d beaten Britannia in that 1988 Preis der Diana, proved a profound disappointment at stud and left no legacy.
“When they were in training I always thought Britannia was a better filly than Alte Zeit,” von Boetticher reflects. “She was definitely the better broodmare.”
From Britannia von Boetticher would breed a horse whose exploits took his passion to a higher plane. He had long admired Walther Jacobs’ international approach to racing and breeding, which mirrored his own.
Jacobs, who founded Gestut Fahrhof, campaigned his multiple champion, Acatenango, outside Germany to gauge his true worth. The horse showed his mettle in winning the 1986 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud among other significant races.
Von Boetticher thought Acatenango a suitable mate for Britannia, and the consequence was Borgia. The champion three-year-old filly in Germany and France in 1997, Borgia was a formidable international competitor.
In addition to winning the Grosser Preis von Baden and the Deutsches Derby, she won the Hong Kong Vase, finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf and third behind Peintre Celebre in the Arc.
Although her half-brother, Boreal, would also win the Deutsches Derby, together with the Coronation Cup, Borgia was of greater long-term significance to von Boetticher.
“Waldgeist will have the best chance to succeed by attracting top mares at Ballylinch”
She has three daughters at Ammerland in Bahama Bay, Biscaya Bay and Borgia’s Best, but if the litany of big-race successes suggests von Boetticher has always been blessed by good fortune, the fates have been cruel of late.
In a debilitating sequence of events this year, he lost Borgia’s daughter Born Wild and her daughter, the Prix Vermeille winner Baltic Baroness.
Two more to perish were a full-sister to Baltic Baroness and a Sea The Stars yearling out of Baltic Baroness. All this came on top of the loss three years earlier of a full-sister to another stellar von Boetticher runner, Lope De Vega.
The Ballylinch connection
The fact that Ammerland has three half-sisters to Lope De Vega in the paddocks affords some consolation, especially since Lope De Vega continues to go from strength to strength.
His fee at Ballylinch Stud has advanced once again, this time to €100,000 for 2020, when he will be joined on the Ballylinch roster by Waldgeist.
“I am very pleased Waldgeist is going there because John O’Connor and his team did a great job with Lope De Vega from day one,” von Boetticher says. “Yes, I could have stood Waldgeist at Ammerland. All men are vain, aren’t they?
“But while it would have been nice to show him off at home, he will have the best chance to succeed by attracting top mares at Ballylinch. He was such a tough guy. Running in the Arc three times is quite unusual.”
Waldgeist was originally owned in a partnership comprising Coolmore (50 per cent), von Boetticher (25 per cent) and Andreas Jacobs’ Newsells Park Stud (25 per cent).
However, with von Boetticher unwilling to accept a big offer from Hong Kong when Waldgeist was three, he was obliged to buy out Coolmore’s share to keep the horse with Andre Fabre. It was another example of von Boetticher following his gut instinct when those around him favoured Waldgeist’s sale.
Von Boetticher recruited Fabre to his trainers’ rota by taking the bull by the horns. “I had heard it was difficult to persuade him to take on more owners but I wanted access to the best trainers for my horses,” he says.
“I was racing in France one day in 1997 and I just walked up to Andre and asked whether he would train a horse for me. He smiled and said yes he would, and we have been smiling ever since. It has been a wonderful experience. Without a good trainer, nobody can succeed.”
It doubtless helped that Fabre is an admirer of German-bred horses. “He thinks they are strong and not too hot temperamentally,” von Boetticher says.
“He also likes horses to race over Classic distances, which the German breed is designed for.”
With John Gosden also training for him, and with Lope De Vega firmly established among Europe’s leading sires, von Boetticher has all the ingredients in place to extend Ammerland’s prominent position. It is now down to Waldgeist to write the next chapter at Ballylinch.