Tuesday, February 04, 2014

En Route

For the last five years I've spent the first weekend of February in Normandy for the French stallion showcase known as La Route des Etalons. Having kept a mare in France for seven years, John and I have a perfect excuse to tag along and look at the many different stallions in the region – 98 were on show this year – plus it gives us the chance to visit Minnie's Mystery and her offspring at Haras de la Cauivinière.

Our yearling colt by Youmzain ex Minnie's Mystery
Minnie has lived at Sylvain and Elisabeth Vidal's stud throughout her breeding career and the team there, which in the last few years has been augmented by the excellent Mathieu Alex, does a great job in looking after her and her young stock. She won't foal this year until April (she is carrying to Cauvinière's first-season sire Rajsaman) but she has a lovely strong yearling colt by Youmzain whom I was very pleased to see.

With John having been declared a non-runner on veterinary grounds and William Huntingdon a late scratching, it was left to Liam Norris to navigate our way to France (and moan about how cold my car was thanks to a broken heater). Liam is, however, a good wingman when it comes to enjoying a little of the local hospitality and we made sure that Normandy's wine supplies were somewhat depleted by the time we left for the ferry on Sunday.

Liam, Alix and Coralie with Hubert Honoré at Haras du Logis
But between refreshments we did get to see plenty of fine farms and stallions along the way. Alix Choppin, who lives in Chantilly but we wish would come back to Newmarket, was our tour guide for the cross-country trek, which was just as well as they're not big on road signs in Normandy. Alix's friend Coralie from Paris also joined us and we were all really impressed with how well the stallions looked at Haras de Grandcamp, our first stop on Saturday.

Liam was keen to see Tin Horse, whose first foals are about to be born, as he and William bought a nice mare in foal to him at Arqana's December Sale. Even though they usually don't end up being the most fashionable, I've a particular soft spot for stallions who have been in training for a number of seasons and have proved to be very tough and very sound racehorses. For this reason, I really enjoyed seeing Vision d'Etat, the winner of seven stakes races, including three Group 1s, during his honourable career, and who is about to have his first runners on the track.

Youmzain very much fits into this category, too, and the Quesnay stallions also looked in tiptop condition. Youmzain seems to have a wonderful disposition, as well as being a good-looking horse, so hopefully he will impart this trait, along with his talent, to his offspring. He also has his first runners in 2014.

Haras de Victot
Another thing the four of us agreed on was how special it was to visit Haras de Victot, a place steeped in history with its neighbouring chateau dating back to 1524. It was both stunning and peaceful and I only hope that if it is about to change hands, as is rumoured, that its new owners do everything they can to retain its unique charm.

The organisers of La Route des Etalons have done a great job in attracting visitors from overseas and also put on a party on the Saturday night, which seems to get bigger and bigger. We managed to catch the second half of the rugby in Le Brok before heading to Arqana for the festivities, but this was painful for England fans – of which I seemed to be the only one in the bar. A few of Le Brok's famous mojitos eased the pain a little but also made me rash enough to strike a bet with Liam that England would beat Ireland later in the Six Nations. Here's hopin'.

I had an extra reason to join 'La Route' this year as I'd been asked to write a feature for the TDN. If you'd like to read it, please click here.

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