Hosting two of Europe’s most popular stallions is an enviable place to be in under any circumstances. But when the horses in question have made their name by rising through the ranks, having initially been the result of years of cultivation, then such success is all the more sweeter.
The Aga Khan Studs has housed various leading stallions over the years, ranging more recently from Darshaan and Dalakhani to Sea The Stars in his current position at its Gilltown Stud in Ireland. Much of its weight, however, currently rests in the hands of its Normandy arm Haras de Bonneval, which is doing plenty to help drive forward the French industry as home to Siyouni and Zarak, two leading lights of the European stallion scene.
Neither began their stud careers at an exorbitant level, despite both being Group 1 winners with fine pedigrees. In that respect, they have both assisted smaller breeders; in the case of Zarak, his current crop of yearlings were bred when the sire stood for €12,000.
Today both operate very much at the higher end of the market, with Siyouni’s profile boosted by a relentless stream of top-level performers and Zarak’s fledgling reputation highlighted by some eye- watering statistics.
Siyouni’s rapid ascendancy marks him down as one of the best stallions to stand in France for many years. Such excellent fillies as Laurens, a six-time Group 1 winner for Karl Burke, and the Aga Khan’s homebred Poule d’Essai des Pouliches and Coronation Stakes heroine Ervedya provided early examples of his capabilities.
Both were bred when he stood for just €7,000. Needless to say, his fee has increased many times over since then but in return, his results have kept pace with expectations, with Arc hero Sottsass, Poule d’Essai des Pouliches winner Dream And Do and St Mark’s Basilica, successful in the Dewhurst Stakes, Poule d’Essai des Poulains, Prix du Jockey Club, Eclipse Stakes and Irish Champion Stakes, among those to promote the sire in recent seasons.
“Siyouni has been good to everyone,”
However, this year has arguably taken the son of Pivotal to a new high, one which currently sees second to only Frankel as Europe’s leading sire.
In May, he joined Galileo and Danehill Dancer as one of only three stallions within the past 60 years to provide the winners of both the Irish 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas. The horses in question, the Aidan O’Brien-trained Paddington and the Aga Khan’s champion two-year-old filly Tahiyra, have both further enhanced their reputations since, with Paddington landing the St James’s Palace and Eclipse Stakes and Tahiyra running out the impressive winner of the Coronation Stakes.
They’re fitting results given that the pair hail from Siyouni’s first €100,000 crop.
“Siyouni has been good to everyone,” says Georges Rimaud, manager of Haras de Bonneval. “He was a champion two- year-old in France, when he won the Lagardere. So he was a fast horse.
“We decided to retire him after his three-year-old year as although he had been placed in a couple of good races, including over a mile which may have stretched him a bit, he hadn’t won. We thought it would be a good idea to syndicate him to help get support from breeders. And we did get a lot of outside support, for which we are thankful because without those breeders it might have been different.”
Siyouni’s family joined the Aga Khan fold with the lock, stock and barrel purchase of 222 horses belonging to the Jean-Luc Lagardere estate in early 2005. Several months later, the Lagardere-bred Sichilla won the Listed Prix Amandine at Longchamp and is that Danehill mare who would go on to produce Siyouni to the cover of Pivotal.
To this day, Siyouni remains one of the most precocious runners ever produced by the Aga Khan Studs, one who was forward enough to make a winning debut for Alain de Royer-Dupre in early May of his juvenile campaign. It is that ability to impart a measure of precocity that has gone on to stand him in good stead at stud.
“He tends to produce very good-looking horses – he’s a very good looking horse himself,” says Rimaud. “Even when he was a cheaper stallion, he got good sales results – I think the first yearlings sold for around five times the stud fee. Then the quality increased and the prices went up and up. And the publicity he made for himself when they sold well helped.”
He continues: “He had 14 two-year-old winners in his first crop, which was impressive, and then Ervedya came up and put him up to a different level.
“He passes down his looks and soundness, and they are reasonably precocious. But it his acceleration, the capacity to quicken off a very good pace, that really is his trademark. They have won all the Classic races in France as well as the Irish 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas, and then Sottsass won the Arc – they are able to use that turn of foot over all sorts of distances.”
Zarkava is back in foal to him. Tarnawa is also in foal.
The buzz surrounding Siyouni in recent years has been relentless to the extent that shares in the horse have sold publicly for up to €960,000, meaning that a melting pot of leading international breeders are now invested in him. He was also responsible for last year’s €2.1 million Arqana August top lot, a brother to Sottsass knocked down to Japanese trainer Yoshito
An immediate ability to click with Galileo mares, highlighted by St Mark’s Basilica and Sottsass, has also been a major feather in his cap and ensured that a good chunk of his 2023 book, covered at a career high of €150,000, are daughters of the former Coolmore titan.
“He’s covered an average of 130 to 135 mares every season in recent years” says Rimaud. “The quality has improved and with that, the quality of his runners has also improved. And the rest he has done himself – he’s a very good stallion.
“He covered 135 mares this year. Zarkava is back in foal to him. Tarnawa is also in foal. 40% of his book were either Group 1 winners or Group 1 producers. And a quarter of his book were Galileo mares. Obviously Galileo mares are very good broodmares anyway, but they have a wonderful relationship with Siyouni.
“Having said that, he produces 23% stakes winners to runners out of Shamardal mares and Cape Cross also the damsire of Laurens and Tahiyra.”
Siyouni is already a two-time French champion sire and it doesn’t take too much imagination to envisage further titles coming his way, especially with the quality of crops to come. At the same time, more of his sons are retiring to stud each year – one of the first, Group 1 sprinter City Light, has already sired several first-crop winners – while his daughters, the oldest of which are 11, are showing encouraging signs as broodmares. He is, after all, a son of an outstanding broodmare sire in Pivotal.
“It’s early days but he’s had five stakes winners as a broodmare sire, three of whom are Group 1-placed [Erevann, Times Square and Dr Zempf],” says Rimaud. “So fillies from his earlier crops are already producing well and we can be very hopeful that it will continue, especially with the quality of fillies that he’s producing now.”
Both Siyouni and Zarak are available to southern hemisphere breeders this year. Siyouni has already made his presence felt in Australia with four stakes winners batting for him from under 40 runners. They include Peter Walsh’s brilliant filly Amelia’s Jewel, winner of last season’s Group 1 Northerly Stakes.
“Siyouni will be as busy to southern hemisphere time as we will allow him to be,” says Rimaud. “People might have been a bit concerned at first that he was by Pivotal but the dam being by Danehill resonated with them, and physically he’s quite in line with what Australian breeders and trainers are looking for in a horse. He’s done very well in Australia, Amelia’s Jewel is obviously a very good filly, and there’s more to come.
“Things are only going to get better with Zarak from now on, it’s all in front of him,”
“We have accepted 20 mares to him. Bumbasina, the dam of Amelia’s Jewel is in foal to him and coming back. There are a few others coming from Australia as well.”
If the level of demand from European breeders is anything to go by, then Zarak will not be resting on his laurels either. A beautifully-bred Dubawi son of Zarkava and a Group 1 winner to go with it, Zarak possessed plenty of the attributes to help him be successful at stud. Still, he had to do it the hard way off an opening fee of €12,000, making his bright start, highlighted by Group 1 performers such as La Parisienne, Zagrey and Times Square and underlined by some statistics that place him within Europe’s elite, all the more notable.
“Things are only going to get better with Zarak from now on, it’s all in front of him,” says Rimaud of the stallion, who stood for €60,000 this year. “It’s very satisfying as we’ve worked with that family for a long time. Zarkava did what she did, which was a very important stage in that family, and then she produces a horse like Zarak, a decent racehorse who turns out to be a good stallion. His Highness has been operating his broodmare band with great wisdom and continuity for so long, and a horse like Zarak shows that it does pay off in the end. It’s very rewarding for the whole operation.”
It is worth reiterating that Zarkava, who capped her incredible unbeaten career with a win in the Arc, wasn’t the only outstanding filly to emerge from her family since she descends directly from Prince Aly Khan’s 1959 1,000 Guineas and Oaks heroine Petite Etoile, regarded by Lester Piggott as one of the best fillies he ever rode. A direct descendant herself of Aga Khan III’s flying filly Mumtaz Mahal, Petite Etoile left behind only one filly at stud, Zahra. Yet despite such a fragile thread, the family has blossomed over time into what it is today.
“Zarak is taller than one would suspect when you come to see a son of Dubawi,” says Rimaud. “He’s an impressive horse himself who produces size and scope – he’s a very interesting horse for that.”
Indeed, Zarak’s first crop of four-year-olds also includes the Grade 1 jumpers Bo Zenith and Zarak The Brave, produced out of mares by Presenting and Boris De Deauville.
“He doesn’t carry Sadler’s Wells and Danzig blood and that makes him very easy to use,” continues Rimaud. “He’s also very popular with French breeders because of Zarkava. That all helped when it came to syndicating him at the start.
“Another thing he passes on is the capacity to accelerate, something that Zarkava had as well. Two of his Group winners [Baiykara and Lavello] are out of Montjeu mares and one could think that such a cross could produce a real middledistance, staying horse, but we’ve seen that there’s actually still a lot of natural speed in there.
“We had crazy demand for him for this season. He’s unbelievably popular. We had to limit him to 130 mares, which unfortunately meant turning away people. His results were so good last year that people were very keen to use him. And his statistics are unbelievable – he has very high strike-rates for winners to runners [46% at the time of writing, second to only Wootton Bassett in Europe] and stakes winners to runners – which suggests that he could become a very important sire of the future.”
With the early crops still filtering through, Zarak is doing his bit to reward those who supported him at a cheaper figure. A share in the horse sold for 350,000gns to Andrew Black’s Chasemore Farm in January while last year, 30 yearlings realised an average six times his 2020 fee of €12,000.
“Siyouni and Zarak are on a real upward trajectory and it’s very exciting time for us,” says Rimaud. “But it’s important to recognise the role that breeders have played in both horses. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without them and we are very thankful for their support.
Galiway another star for Haras de Colleville
The days when the French stallion scene was topped by Elusive City at €20,000 are long gone. The deaths and retirements of Linamix, Bering, Highest Honor and Anabaa had left a massive void and with various stallions still to come through, the late noughties were something of a bleak time for any breeder looking to invest in France.
How times have changed. And nor is it all about Siyouni and Zarak.
Haras de Colleville have been one of the driving forces in the renaissance of French breeding, initially as the home of Kendargent who rose from an obscure €1,000 stallion to Group 1 producer. Kendargent’s success can be largely attributed to the belief and support of his owner Guy Pariente and now a similar scenario is playing out in Colleville’s latest rising star, Galiway. The Listed-winning son of Galileo started out at a fee of €3,000, the fee at which he sired Champion Stakes winner Sealiway (himself one of the most popular stallions in France this year at Haras de Beaumont) as well as top hurdler Vauban.
In all, Galiway is the sire of 13 stakes winners in five crops and as befits his connections, has forged a fine relationship with Kendargent mares along the way, as illustrated by the stakes winners Sealiway, Rubis Vendome, Kenway, Gregolimo and Galik. And perhaps there is another star waiting in the wings in Sealiway’s brother Sunway, another Pariente homebred who made a striking impression when winning his debut at Sandown Park for David Menuisier in June.
Galiway has stood the past two seasons at €30,000 but such a rise hasn’t deterred breeders, as a book of around 150 mares this year shows.
Colleville’s other inmate, Kendargent’s Group 3- winning son Goken, also covered a three-figure book, in his case at a fee of €15,000. A reliable source of speed, his seven stakes winners are headed by the Group 3 scorers Fang, Go Athletico and Livachope.
The Scat Daddy stallion Seabhac, meanwhile, might be on the verge of receiving an uptick in popularity in light of a first crop that includes German 2,000 Guineas winner Angers and recent Group 2 Prix de Malleret heroine Rue Boissande.
They were bred off a lowly fee of €5,000, which has since dropped even lower to €3,000 at his new home of Haras du Taillis. The sadness is that Larissa Kneip, who imported Seabhac from the US to stand at her Haras de Saint Arnoult, passed away before she could witness his success.
Seabhac covered around 50 mares this year, approximately half that of fellow Scat Daddy stallion Seahenge, whose first crop includes Listed scorer Winter Pudding. The Champagne Stakes winner stands for €3,500 at Haras de la Haie Neuve.
While Haras de Bouquetot’s impressive roster includes several proven sires in Galileo Gold, Olympic Glory and Zelzal, it also has a number of Group 1-winning young stallions coming through to place them in a strong position going forward.
Waiting in the wings with first yearlings is top sprinter Wooded, a well-bred son of Wootton Bassett, and Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Romanised. Both are represented in this month’s Arqana August Sale.
Great hopes are also pinned on the Haras d’Etreham duo of Persian King and Hello Youmzain. Persian King, by Kingman from a fine Wildenstein family, captured the Poule d’Essai des Poulains, Prix d’Ispahan and Prix du Moulin for Andre Fabre and has been well supported at €30,000 by some of Europe’s leading breeders as a result. He has 19 entries in the Arqana August Sale while Hello Youmzain, a son of Kodiac who won the Betfred Sprint Cup and Diamond Jubilee Stakes for Kevin Ryan, has 21 entries bred off €25,000.
The Arqana August Sale will also offer an early opportunity to gauge the first crop by another former top British sprinter, Golden Horde. A member of the Acclamation sire line, the Commonwealth Cup winner has been well supported by his Sumbe connections at Monfort et Preaux.