Sunday, January 17, 2010

Prix d'Amerique

The Prix d'Amerique will race in a couple of weeks time. The starters are not known yet but here is an interesting article from the Prix site about last year's race. I have translated from French but hopefully it reads correctly. I have inserted a few comments in italics.

It’s afternoon at Vincennes, for the greatest race program of the year and Rainer Engelke is the breeder of two horses racing today, Othello Bourbon, and in particular, Qualita Bourbon, in the Prix d”Amerique Marionnaud. Although Rainer Engelke sold his interest in the racemare to Jean-Pierre Dubois last year, the mother of Qualita remains his at his farm in Saint Martin. She is one of only four broodmares there and they are in foal to the likes of Love You, Cezio Josselyn or Goetmals Wood. We met up with Rainer Engelke at Petit Riche, the restaurant located at Drouot Auctioneers, two hours before a major auction of equestrian art. But we were there not to speak about equestrian art, but rather, with twenty fours hours to go till the Prix d’Amerique, to talk about the history of his farm, his business philosophy and methods, and perhaps his secrets.

JDT – How did you get into the breeding business?

Nicolas Roussel said to me one day, “All breeding farms are built upon just one mare.” He made sense. With one mare you can build a great breeding operation. It is rare to have two great mares to start, unless you are Jean-Pierre Dubois, who did have two. As for me, I had Etta Extra by Florestan who has had four major stakes winners. That’s not too bad, is it ?

What was the first mare that you bought ?

My first filly was called Star de Corneville. She was by Jorky. At the time, I knew nothing other than names like Nordin, Verroken and Gougeaon, all top trainers. I watched the first foals of Jorky go through the yearling sales. Ulf Nordin bought lots of Jorkys, and since I knew nothing and thought a lot of Ulf Nordin, I said to my business partner “Lets buy a Jorky”. As a result we bought Star de Corneville for $30,000. We gave her to Ulf to train and he won with her at Vincennes. Afterwards, however, he told us that her racing future was limited. He offered the following advice “I know a man in France. Give her to him and he may be able to do something with her.” That man was Jean-Pierre Dubois. He trained her for two months and then told me “ You will have to make a broodmare out of her, she cannot go enough” I was cheap, you can write it, stingy. I said to my partner I would agree to breed her but not if the cost was expensive. He called me several days later to tell me that there was a stallion that had won the Prix d’Amerique, High Echelon, whose stud fee was $1,600. I said OK, that was not too expensive. The breeding of Star de Corneville to High Echelon produced Best Bourbon (5,1:58.2) in 1989, and he won six stakes events, three in harness and three under saddle. That’s a unique record. But I did not have a farm at the time. I had no intentions at that time of being a breeder.

What was the first broodmare that you bought specifically for breeding?

Her name was Sabriza, a half sister to Passionnant. She was a catastrophe. She produced nothing but donkeys. She was by Tabriz. I didn’t have a chance. Another half sister to Passionnant, Josubie, produced Vikings Way (sire of Jag de Bellouet)! After that I bought a half sister to Uno Atout, by Hadol du Vivier. No good either. Then I bought Ankylotie, a Chambon P mare. That was a good one. She had won both in the sulky and under saddle and made over $160,000. I bought her for $64,000, the sales topper. She gave me five winners then her sixth foal, Roc Bourbon by Love You, he was a major stakes winner at four. She also foaled a filly by Workaholic called My Lady Bourbon, who raced and has produced Showtime Bourbon. Now we have a filly by Love You.

How did you choose your mares?

I did not choose them. I took what was for sale. In France you cannot buy what you want to have. People don’t sell broodmares. In the United States, if you have the money, you can buy anything. In Normandy it is difficult to buy broodmares. You just have to be ready when the opportunity arises.

Tell us the story of Etta Extra.

You want stories ? I went to the farm where she was raised. She was bred by someone from Sweden. The farm was located at Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives and was run by a Swede, Davidsson. I went to see the mare with my wife and while we were walking through the field we found a five cent coin dated 1910. Right there on the ground. I said to my wife “This good luck - We can’t stop now” Actually since I had received the catalogue and saw she was for sale I was not about to wait. I wanted her. I had spent $500,000 to buy my farm and build a house and I didn’t have any horses to put on it. I told myself if I spent $500,000 on the property I would have to spend at least $150,000 on horses to get established.

Thierry Vilault, the day of that same sale at Deauville, bought Enfilade, the dam of Offshore Dream. He said that the reason you did not buy Enfilade was that you had already bought Etta Extra.

That’s true. But things happened a little differently from that. If I had not bought Etta Extra I might have settled for Enfilade. But I did not like Tarass Boulba, sire of Enfilade. To me Florestan against Tarass Boulba was like a Rolls Royce against a bicycle. I did not want a bicycle. For Etta Extra I had a price in mind of $50,000. At $50,500 I began to shake. At $55,000 I kept going and I had her at $70,000. Jean-Pierre Dubois and Pierre-Desire Allaire were the under bidders. She did not go higher because she was not in the best of shape, ugly in fact.

Ugly ? What do you mean. She stood badly, she had a big head ?

What can I say ? She was not pretty. She was not well prepared for sale. They had done nothing to her to get her ready. I knew why because I had been to the farm to see her. It was just the way she was. Anyway the press came to see me to get a picture. I refused. “You paid a lot for that mare” they said. I was so pissed off I told them I would have gone to $170,000 to buy her. That shut them up. And then along came Enfilade who sold for $75,000. She was the sale topper.

Do you regret not having bought both mares ?

If I had bought Enfilade France would never have had Offshore Dream. I would never have bred Enfilade to Reve d’Udon. No, I do not regret it. My mare was twice as good, in my opinion. With the pedigree she had ! Jean-Pierre Dubois always told me : “Florestan as a broodmare sire, just like gold.” As a racehorse he was not that great but I watched the mare Roquepine in New York and never forgot that. At the time you would never have thought that Florestan would become such a great sire. Today he is the best. You have to inbreed to Florestan 3x3. Showtime Bourbon is bred that way. Believe me, in the years to come, you will see many successful horses inbred to Florestan.

Is that what you look for then ?

At every opportunity I try to create that in my breedings. I can’t find it anywhere, it does not exist. Now that I have had several years of breeding experience I can tell you what to do. It is very simple. You have to double up on the best American blood with the best French blood. That is to say double up on Florestan, double up on Speedy Crown, as well as Fandango and Chambon P. Double up in the mare and also with the stallion. If you do that you have a chance to have, from time to time, a good horse. Trotters are hybrids and Mendel, before anyone else, recognized the effect of skip-generation as one of the basic laws of genetics.

That is the accepted path for excellence : the best to the best. But you have preferences, particular things you look for.

As for myself I always liked stallions that won under saddle. I find that is a plus. I always liked Kaisy Dream for that reason.

But Florestan never raced under saddle.

No, he didn’t, but he was a Stars Pride, the Tallyrand of America. There were none better. What I find interesting with Etta Extra is that her fifth dam is Anna Maloney (actually eighth dam), an American mare bought in Belgium and imported to France. She produced Amazone B, a winner of the Prix d’Amerique. Anna Maloney’s second dam (actually third dam) is Nancy Hanks, one of the greatest race mares in North America in the 1890’s with world records pulling big wheeled sulkies and wagons. She was by Peter The Great (actually by Happy Medium). That is a bit like Fandango and Roquepine. But then we are talking about the ninth generation. (Ed. Note - I’m not sure what the connection is here – certainly not to Nancy Hanks. Interestingly Anna Maloney’s dam is inbred 3x2 maternally to Nancy Hanks. Fandango and Roquepine are in fact inbred maternally to the French equivalent to Miss Russell, a mare called Belle Poule. Roquepine’s dam is similarily inbred to Belle Poule).

Do you always go back that far ?

Myself, I believe it is necessary to look at the sixth – seventh generation. Jean-Pierre Dubois says you have to stop at the third. But for me I don’t think that is enough. If the pedigree is well filled throughout, you increase your chances. If there is a hole you take the risk of falling through it.

What was it that attracted you to Etta Extra ?

The pedigree. I ignore the individual, the way it looks, the way it moves, all of that is totally unimportant to me. I will buy a good pedigree even if the horse has only three legs.

What pedigree are you looking for?

In plain English, I look for waterproof pedigrees. No holes. If there is one on the maternal side I am not interested.

Does the mare have to be a race winner?

No. If she is just a sister to a major stakes winner that is fine with me.

Black type in all generations ?

That increases your chances. But it is important to look at what the black type means. If the black type is for racing at Vincennes for instance it could be for finishing fifth in any stakes race with seven starters and two of them disqualified. That has no value. You have to be there to see it.

Etta Extra, is that the perfect cross?

It was the best available on the market for several reasons. She was by Florestan. At the time you got a breeding to that stallion through the National Stud by luck of the draw. There were ten thousand requests for sixty four breedings (slight exaggeration no doubt). Levesque got $15,000 for each breeding he sold himself and he had ten of his own. The mother of Etta Extra was by Speedy Crown. The stud fee for Speedy Crown was $30,000 in the United States. I could have that for $70,000 with Etta Extra or for the same breeding I would have to go to the United States, buy the breeding to Speedy Crown, have a filly and then breed her to Florestan. And then the second dam of Etta is Dimitria, one of the greatest European Champions. Etta Extra’s owner was Swedish and that is why she never raced in France. Her pedigree appeared weak as seen here in France but I knew there was a sister, Ma Crown, that had raced well and was by a grandson of Florestan. With Jazz Bourbon and Sam Bourbon I have created the best performing lines in Europe (another slight exaggeration, one is now a gelding, the other has yet to race.) It is important to create a line. If you cannot buy them you have to create them, but it takes twenty years.

What mare would you like to have today ?

In my opinion you cannot have a good pedigree without Speedy Somolli. I’m interested in mares that have Speedy Somolli in both the sire and the dam. But it seems there are none for sale. So that is just a dream. Jean-Pierre Dubois told me one day “We are dream merchants” He is right because we sell horses based on dreams with the hope of reality – a horse that makes money. It makes me think of Stendhal “After all, the only truly passionate things in life are dreams.”

It looks like the dreams of Rainer Engelke with respect to the future of Florestan’s impact on the maternal lines in France are coming to pass. The top three finishers in the 2009 Prix d’Amerique are all out of mares by Florestan, son of Roquepine, a mare inbred maternally to Belle Poule, from a dam also inbred maternally to Belle Poule. Qualita Borbon, daughter of Etta Extra finished third. She is inbred maternally to Speedy Crown and Volomite. Her dam goes back to Nancy Hanks. Her sire, Love You, is from the maternal family of another famous American mare, Jenny Lind. ---------

It will be interesting to see if Florestan will again dominate the pedigrees of the best horses in the 2010 race

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