Expectation has surrounded Shalaa ever since he took up stallion duties at Haras de Bouquetot in France three years ago. Long before that covering season of 2017 began, Shalaa was fully booked as breeders flocked to use his services. Now, they await the debuts of his first crop of two-year-olds.
Introduced at a fee of €27,500 – the most expensive new stallion in Europe of 2017 – Al Shaqab Racing’s Shalaa had demonstrated his ability as a top-class sprinter when he captured two Group 1 contests, the Prix Morny and Middle Park Stakes, during his juvenile season.
While injury disrupted his three-year-old campaign, the son of Invincible Spirit returned to winning ways in the Group 3 Bengough Stakes at Ascot in 2016.
It was under the care of John Gosden that Shalaa excelled and the Newmarket handler fondly recalls the qualities that the stallion showcased on the racetrack.
He said: “Shalaa was a very strong, powerful sprinter and he had a very positive mind. He had blazing speed for a two-year-old and there’s not many that win two Group 1s as he did.
“He was a pleasure to be around, a very nice character and just quick from the gate. An American would say he had quarter-horse speed.”
“There’s so much anticipation to perform well”
An illustration of the high regard in which Shalaa is held by Al Shaqab Racing was their decision to send two-time Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe heroine Treve his way.
Other blue-chip mares from Al Shaqab’s private broodmare band that Shalaa covered in his first book included Shotgun Gulch, winner of the Grade 1 Vinery Madison Stakes, and Al Anqa, a Galileo half-sister to Breeder’s Cup Filly & Mare Turf scorer Zagora.
Last autumn saw Shalaa’s first yearlings go under the hammer and market confidence was evident at a number of auctions including Arqana’s August Sale, when Narvick International parted with €600,000 for a half-brother to multiple winner Penglai Pavilion.
Benoit Jeffroy, Stud Manager of Haras de Bouquetot, is all too aware of the significance the next few months hold for Shalaa and how they could not only be instrumental to the stallion, but to Al Shaqab’s operation as a whole.
He explained: “It’s a very important year because he was a champion and we’ve supported him with some nice mares – we have a lot of hope for him. It’s exciting and worrying at the same time because there’s so much anticipation to perform well.
“A stallion can make or break a farm. We’ve sent a lot of our nice mares to our stallion and it’s a big support for the horse. You can have the best book in the world but if the stallion is ordinary, he’s not going to make it.
“If Shalaa makes it and shows he’s able to sire some very good runners, that will help. The bigger picture of course is not only just this year but the next 15 years – if he becomes the next big sire then we would be on another level on the breeding side.”
Shalaa boasts the distinction of being a member of one of the hottest sire-lines in the world as a son of the Irish National Stud’s stalwart Invincible Spirit, whose stock rose even higher last year thanks to the exploits of Kingman at stud.
Invincible Spirit’s dynasty is growing and has added to the exploits of his own sire Green Desert and grandsire Danzig, both of whom were highly influential stallions that helped to ensure the legacy of the great Northern Dancer.
Jeffroy added: “They’re champions. Lawman was a very good racehorse and has some nice performers. Then you have Kingman and I Am Invincible out in Australia.
“It’s hard to say if the sire of sires will work with every sire by Invincible Spirit – I’ll tell you in six months’ time. I don’t have a crystal ball but I wish I had one! Shalaa’s a pretty horse, by the right sire, was popular at the sales with the first foals and yearlings, and his stock have gone to good trainers.
“He’s like Invincible Spirit in that he stamps his stock and puts a lot of quality into them. They have great skin, they move well, have good backs and all look like racehorses now. It’s now on the track that we judge him.
“If Shalaa makes it and shows he’s able to sire some very good runners, that will help”
“He was very popular in his first year of covering and the second year, we supported him with 40 of our own mares. The second year is always harder as people haven’t seen a foal yet. We have a lot of yearlings by him and he has plenty of foals by nice mares to come through as well. We’re taking a big gamble on him with our own stock.
“Everything is going in the right way for him and if they can run, they will have all the chance to make it. As the highest fee first-season sire, highest average of foals, highest average of yearlings and them going to nice trainers, of course you can only expect high quality racehorses.”
Jeffroy and his team at Bouquetot have been scouring the France Galop website in anticipation of the first runners by Shalaa hitting the track.
They were due to get their first glimpse of a Shalaa runner on Thursday when Cherie Amour, a daughter of Kingmambo, was due to make her debut at Longchamp for trainer Andre Fabre and owner Lady Bamford.
However, with the French government reversing a decision to allow all tracks to resume racing and prohibiting action taking pace at Paris racecourses, the meeting was switched to Deauville. Cherie Amour was beaten by the Andrea Marcialis-trained Feelie Win, a daughter of Holy Roman Emperor.
Fabre is also the trainer of Paris, the Shalaa filly out of the aforementioned Treve, and Jeffroy added: “He’s very happy with her – she’s probably more for later in the year. She won’t have as much speed as some of the others and will need more time.”