Lots has been written about Native Trail, last year’s leading European two-year-old and winner of the Irish 2,000 Guineas. But if the story of this colt is nothing less than extraordinary, his breeder is all but unknown outside of France. José Delmotte’s journey as a breeder and as an entrepreneur is quite exceptional. He also pinhooked Coeursamba, winner of the French 1,000 Guineas, and bred on behalf of clients Group winners such as Tokyo Gold, who landed the Italian Derby, and the Grade 1-winning hurdler Jonbon.
With Galaxie Gold finishing runner-up in the Prix Hocquart in Delmotte’s own colours in late May, he has yet another Group 1 prospect for 2022.
Delmotte was born in the north of France in an area that could be considered the French equivalent of Sheffield. His father was a coal miner and he is the antepenultimate child from a family of 13. Given that background, university was not an option so as a young man he began working before the end of his teenage years. Gifted with drawing skills, he started as an apprentice with an estate development company, and that’s where the story really begins. A few years later, Delmotte was hired by the young Bernard Arnault, who is now known as one of France’s wealthiest individuals. Just one year after they met, Delmotte became the CEO of Arnault’s building company. Later he was chosen to be the head of the building branch of Bouygues group for the Paris region. He went on to found two successful companies that he sold on for a substantial profit.
Horses entered his life quite late when his daughter Sandra started to compete in dressage and eventing. Around 25 years ago, Delmotte discovered the horseracing world by accident when a business contact suggested he join him for a morning on the gallops – he was hooked and soon became an owner. Then, with two low-calibre fillies, he started breeding, but unsurprisingly didn’t achieve much from this first attempt. This negative initial experience could have discouraged him but Delmotte is a tough character and he admits to having learned a lot from these failures.
Fifteen years ago, with his fortune made, Delmotte decided to invest in something he truly cared about. The options were a vineyard and a stud. Sharing the same passion as his daughter and her husband, he finally started to look for a place to establish their own breeding operation. Before being called Haras d’Haspel, the Normandy farm was owned by Italian trotting breeders.
But once you build a stud, you have to buy stock and hire staff, which is easier said than done, as Delmotte explains. “The first four years were a disaster,” he says. “The person in charge had a perfect resume but he also had a drinking problem. Once a week, we travelled from Paris and he managed to remain sober on these occasions. I remember vividly the Sunday night when, driving back to Paris, my daughter announced to me she had discovered the problem. I stopped the car. We came back, let him go and the very same night she decided to quit her job to work at the stud with her husband.”
The Delmotte family are very much hands on and that’s perhaps one of the reasons behind the improvement in the stud’s results.
“I have been an estate developer for 40 years but my enjoyment for that has declined,” says Delmotte. “The more my knowledge of breeding improves, the more I enjoy it. I could spend my money on boats or travels. But my goal is to create a stud that I could leave to my daughter and my two granddaughters. Don’t get me wrong, horses and breeding are a real passion for me. But the opportunity to pass something on makes my motivation even bigger. And after a life of work, I can’t see myself being lazy on a boat. Having said that, the investment required to build something close to a competitive commercial breeding operation is massive.”
The first good Flat horse bred by the Delmotte family was Elysea’s World, winner of three Grade 3 races in America and more than $700,000 in prize-money. She was sold for €25,000 as a yearling at Arqana.
Then came the marvellous The Stomp. Jean-Claude Rouget discovered him at Osarus and for little money bought an athlete with an unflattering pedigree. Rouget sometimes sends horses to other trainers that he races under his own colours. Trained by the talented Didier Guillemin – perhaps the best kept secret of the French training ranks – The Stomp raced eight times at two.
The son of Layman won his maiden but progressively showed he would not be a black-type prospect. Rouget decided to send him to his friend, the leading French National Hunt trainer François Nicolle. The Stomp became a little superstar of consistency over the jumps, winning 20 races including three Grade 3s and finished his career with more than €900.000 in his bank account – not bad for a horse who cost only €8,000 as a yearling.
Reflecting on his early breeding days, Delmotte says: “In the past you could breed racehorses in France with €1,000 nominations and a mare you found in a field. That is no longer possible because French buyers for this category have disappeared. Now quality is not an option as French breeders have to sell on the international market and it’s more and more expensive to reach that level. Having said that, I think only 15 of my 48 broodmares really deserve what we invest in time and money on them.
“With the help of [agent] Marc-Antoine Berghgracht I have learned more about what’s important to make it happen, although that does not mean we agree all the time! I have met fascinating people in this business, like Julian Ince [of Haras du Logis].”
Among the first good horses Delmotte owned was the Listed-placed Galaxie Des Sables. At stud, she has already given her breeder three good horses, including Bobbymurphy, a Classic prospect for Frédéric Rossi before being injured, as well as Galaxie Gold.
When it comes to choosing stallions or trainers, Delmotte is not afraid to eschew fashion. Galaxie Gold is trained by Damien de Watrigant, a successful trainer, especially with purebred Arabians, but a man who has rarely been given a proper chance with well-bred thoroughbreds. Delmotte is a free spirit and is never afraid to speak out. On a few occasions he has publicly expressed his dissatisfaction with the French sales companies and France Galop, and he is also a well known advocate for artificial insemination in the racing world.
When you ask him what could be changed to attract more investors, he says: “A part of the racing world lives in its own bubble. You need to have a certain pedigree or a certain look to be accepted, and snobbery has terrible consequences when it comes to recruiting people from outside of this small racing bubble. I was sometimes really badly treated when I first arrived in racing.
“Our industry can’t rely exclusively on the sons and grandsons of prominent racing figures to survive. If you want to attract newcomers, just like me, to buy racehorses and broodmares then you have to be welcoming and communicative.
“There are a lot of rich people in France but racing does not understand how to attract them. Another problem is that when you send horses to some trainers, they act just as if they are the real owners of your animals! You don’t get any news but at the same time you are asked to pay a monthly fee superior to the income of most working people in this country. This is not acceptable and I don’t have any more horses with trainers that don’t communicate. Things have started to evolve on this particular subject but there is still a lot to be done.”
Buying from the best
“For a long time everybody told me that Juddmonte is the best breeding operation in the world,” he says. “Why should I buy mares from a failing operation when I can purchase one from the finest stud? So every single year Marc-Antoine travels with me to Newmarket and we wait until the end of the sale for the Juddmonte mares. I’ve already purchased a dozen of them.”
The most exciting pedigrees among Delmotte’s broodmare band arguably belong to Koala, a Kodiac half-sister to St Mark’s Basilica, and Tarentaise, dam of the Group 1-placed sprinter Equilateral. The latter is a Juddmonte-bred, just like Needleleaf, the dam of Native Trail.
On the purchase of Needleleaf, an Observatory sister to Group 1 winner African Rose bought for 60,000gns in 2015, he says: “She was in the Juddmonte draft and being an outcross was a real plus, that’s so much easier for matings. The filly was unraced but a sister to two Group winners and from a beautiful family.”
In the racing world it can be easy to lose perspective on the real value of money. Delmotte responds by saying: “I don’t like it when people say she was inexpensive. Of course I already have bought mares for more than three or four times that sum. But that’s still a lot of money when you compare it to the real income of working people of this industry. Not many of them earn €60,000 a year. From that perspective, saying 60,000gns is cheap appears to me as not respectful for the working man and woman that you find in yards and studs. And I’m fortunate enough to work with a marvellous team full of real characters – that’s why I try to pay them correctly.”
Needleleaf’s record as a broodmare looks impeccable as the dam of a Classic winner and a €950,000 Kingman yearling filly who sold at Arqana last August to Godolphin. The beginning of the story is a little darker, however, as Delmotte explains.
“She delivered a splendid Siyouni filly that really looked exceptional but we sadly had to put the newborn down,” he says. “This situation was such a misfortune that I even considered selling the mare. Eventually I didn’t and Native Trail is the result of this decision. He was so big that he almost looked like a National Hunt horse, that’s why we sold him as a foal. Thank god, how wrong were we! Seeing him winning the National Stakes in Ireland against the Ballydoyle team was some spectacle. I believe Mr [Charlie] Appleby is an amazing trainer.”
Haras d’Haspel is the first French breeder to produce a winner of the National Stakes. “You need both luck and money in this game,” says Delmotte. “I now own 48 mares, including some jumping ones as I want to develop a National Hunt section. We board only two mares at the stud. One is for Mr Yoshida – she’s the dam of Tokyo Gold, winner of the Italian Derby. And one for a Tunisian friend of mine, and she’s the dam of the outstanding Jonbon, a Grade 1 winner at Aintree.”
“We’ve never had such a quality roster – they are exceptional yearlings”
There are only five yearlings but it’s a line-up of real quality for Haras d’Haspel at this month’s Arqana August Sale in Deauville.
“We’ve never had such a quality roster of yearlings,” says Sandra Delmotte, who runs the operation. “I must admit I am excited to go to the sales – they are quite exceptional!”
The star of the show is Lot 62, a Siyouni half-sister to Native Trail.
“She’s really stamped by Siyouni,” says Delmotte. “And probably less so by her dam’s side. This filly isn’t as big as her famous brother, but she’s an extremely nice individual and we are quite confident with her. Sadly, the dam is not in foal of Dubawi. But she gave us a nice Cracksman.”
Lot 17 is a Sea The Stars filly out of Koala, a Kodiac half-sister to St Mark’s Basilica and Magna Grecia. “When we bought her dam Koala, Magna Grecia was already on the page,” says Delmotte. “And then St Mark’s Basilica came along. So now the pedigree has a completely different dimension. The yearling is very well made and clearly the type of filly with a lot of margins to progress. We all know how good Sea The Stars is, and this filly is inbred twice to Urban Sea.”
Lot 204 is a Mastercraftsman brother to dual Group 1 winner A Raving Beauty, now a broodmare in Japan, and belongs to Xavier Marie, a new name in French breeding who is selling for the first time. The creator of the furniture brand Maisons du Monde, he is now involved in fashion among various activities.
Marie also created Haras de Hus, near Nantes, from scratch to cater for the 200 horses of his showjumping and dressage programmes, and is now developing a racing branch in his breeding operation; in December, he paid €2.5 million for Group 1 winner Grand Glory.
“This is a very masculine colt,” says Delmotte. “But he is exceptionally good looking. It’s great to have him.”
Lot 127 is a Le Havre colt out of a Galileo mare; from 32 runners, the cross has produced 15 winners, including four black-type winners led by the Classic filly La Cressonniere.
“This is one of the last generations of Le Havre and he is a good type,” says Delmotte. “We have been quite successful with the stallion. The second dam, Regal Rose, is a Cheveley Park Stakes winner.”
Finally, Lot 278 is a daughter of Oasis Dream belonging to a line developed by the Delmotte family for two generations.
“The dam, Galaxie, was Listed-placed and has given us two good horses in Champagne Piaff, who has a 95 Flat rating, and God Blessing, a very progressive colt who is going to run in black-type races in Deauville – he already has shown a lot of class and is unbeaten in two starts,” says Delmotte.
“It is a family that throws horses that work very well but need more time than you think. When you don’t rush them, they really deliver.”