DISCOVERING THE HARAS DU BERLAIS IN AN AREA STEEPED IN HORSEMEN

26.04.2018

DISCOVERING THE HARAS DU BERLAIS IN AN AREA STEEPED IN HORSEMEN

Which stud farm can lay claim to having been the nursery for Group one winners on the flat, over jumps and Purebred Arabian races over the course of six seasons? We are, of course, referring to the Haras du Berlais, of Jean-Marc and Cécile Lucas, who kindly opened their doors to this equine centre which exudes versatility and demanding standards.

The discerning feature of the Haras du Berlais is that, alongside its Purebred Arabian broodmare band grouping several big owners, it has also become a haven for the mares owned by trainers which have proven themselves at the highest level in the Thoroughbred world; and for this read François Rohaut, Robert Collet and Xavier Thomas-Demeaulte. The confidence of these horsemen is a reflection of the reputation of the stud’s long-standing reputation. This evolution owes nothing to chance as the Lucas name is synonymous with the word ‘horseman’, and one which is capable of breeding winners in all disciplines…

DID YOU MENTION VERSATILITY?

In order to be completely fair, one most point out that the versatility of the stud traces back to well beyond the confines of the Thoroughbred world. Situated to the south of Poitiers, it was the birthplace of international winning showjumpers… and an important hub as regards the breeding of mules!

The Ceaux-en-Couhé area was a notable for its mule production until the disappearance of this activity over 50 years ago. It’s difficult to evaluate the real impact of this locally but it was an important source of income for a fair number of local people, who were involved in breeding, commerce and dressage. Harping back to a bygone era which was far less mechanised, the Poitou mule was synonymous with excellence.

Exported to the four corners of the globe, they were handled with veritable savoir faire for they had real market value. The grandfather of Jean-Marc Lucas, also considered a real horseman, was a major player in the mule trade. His son, an agricultural engineer, didn’t wish to follow in his footsteps. This explains why the lands were instead used for important cultivation.

SEEKING OUT WHAT IS ORGANIC….FOR IT CAN BRING ITS REWARDS

Sometimes passion can skip a generation. That is until Jean-Marc Lucas decided to gradually reintroduce the equine component to Berlais. From the end of the war to the beginning of the 1980s, the Poitiers region was the domain of two great French horsemen which had a profound effect on the equine history of the country: André Mage and Jean de Laurière. These two class acts were veritable spotters of equine talent in all its forms. They specialised in scouring the French countryside in search of that rare pearl: that is to say the foal who would one day either be an Olympic-class performer or a great stallion. Their influence and list of achievements which extends to the stud books is still tangible. These two men were the founding fathers of the Poitiers sales, which were the first public auction sales for saddle horses in France. They were the only ones capable of rivalling the legendary Alfred Lefevre. The latter, from his Normandy fiefdom, earned the reputation as 'the man of a thousand horses'. He was the dominant figure in the European equine commercial world with the ability to buy and sell horses from the Soviet Union to North Africa.  It was during his time with such specialists of the equine physique, with their ability to assess and sell all types of horses, that Jean-Marc Lucas learned his trade. Jean de Laurière would nourish his vocation of wanting to become a breeder which had been dormant until then. André Mage would sell him his first broodmare, the renowned Nefta (Saint Laurent). It was to be a fruitful decision.

THE HIGH POINT OF VERSATILITY

She was to prove a superlative broodmare and, from a versatility perspective, without equal. Her ability to produce all sorts of different performers set a precedent for the future and helped shape the multi-directional approach of Berlais… a few decades later. Nefta was responsible for generating flat race winners in Purebred Arabian flat races as well two stallions who continue to remain influential to this day. Njewman (Djourman and Nefta) is responsible for numerous winners of Group one races for Purebred Arabians, both as a sire and as a broodmare sire. Nuits St Georges (Dunixi) is the sire of the dam of the crack stroke sire Al Mourtajez (Dahess). Nefta is descended from Adhiana (Adieu au Roi), who won 23 races on the Anglo-Arabian circuit. Certain stallions from her line such as Nuit St Georges, Newday (Djelfor) or Jaman
(Dormane) have all produced quality endurance winners.  Finally, Nefta is related to some very good jumping winners – four of which won at professional or international level: Noble Mer (Veloce de Favi) ISO [editor's note: French rating for jumping] 152, Nuance de Rêve (Fol Avril) ISO 141, Pak du Berlais (Kashtan) ISO 149 and Mack du Berlais (Greyhound) ISO 152. Jean-Marc Lucas remembers: “Nefta wasn’t big. However, she was a compact sort and cylindrical in shape – like her son Njewman. She was a chestnut with a lot of presence: the real embodiment of the French Purebred Arabian. I sold her when I went abroad and she went on to form part of the Pompadour broodmare band. The Group one wins (Purebred Arabians) of Macaste (Munjiz) and the protégé of the Royal Stables of Oman Nafees (Azadi) are just as memorable as they were ‘Berlais’ homebreds whose dams were by Njewman."

PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT AND BROADENING ONE’S HORIZONS

From the moment of his entry into the breeding world, whether in the domain of Anglo-Arabians (such as the Grand Prix des Anglos winner Albert du Berlais at Longchamp), or with the Selle Français breed in equestrian sports, Jean-Marc Lucas has obtained good results. However, he was soon to make career decisions in the 1980s, which were to impact positively on his career. These included a trip to the US to learn English where he came into contact with a different modus operandi. On his return to France, his own broodmare band were adapted to the demands of the jumping scene. Purebred Arabians returned in force to Berlais in 2010 after an absence spanning three decades.

THE RETURN OF THE ARABIAN PUREBREDS

Jean-Marc Lucas told us: "At the moment when VAT increased, certain owners decided to stop their breeding operating operations. I had to therefore replenish my stocks. From then on, returning to Purebred Arabian scene was self-evident but also a little challenging. It is via Jean-Pierre Deroubaix that the Oman Royal Stables started to breed at Berlais. Valentin Bukhtoyarov and Al Shaqab Racing were next on the scene. At the same time, my friend Martial Boisseuil, the bible of the Arabian Purebred stud-book, made me buy a couple of mares. In a way, he made me go back the drawing board so that I could re-engage with this sector. I’ve known him a long time. At the time when he was a trainer, I had horses in training with him and his protégés, including a certain Arnaud Chaillé-Chaillé! Martial Boisseul is still a good advisor when I need information on a pedigree. In total we currently board around 30 Arabian mares. These three owners entrust us with some very good mares and they produce winners. Having such pedigrees is very stimulating as it gives us grounds for hope that they will win some nice races for their owners in the future. So it's up to us to make sure that we operate in the best possible fashion. At Berlais, as is the case elsewhere in the south-west, the Purebred Arabians occupy an important place on a sporting and economic level. These races are necessary for the French racing network. Many professional breeders and trainers owe them a lot. It’s a breed which has gained added kudos in France and which must be respected. Seen from the outside, it is difficult to weigh-up the competitiveness of the breed’s racing programme. However, in reality, the competition is extremely fierce among the top stables. Today there are many good horses which are very well bred and breeders who invest a lot. It’s also a gateway to international racing for trainers who otherwise would never have raced outside France if were not for the Purebred Arabians. The horizons for these type of horses never cease to increase. Perhaps one day, Russian races will be open to foreign-trained horses? Our opportunity is that the whole world wishes to breed and race in France which is deserving of respect."

INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION

"One of the great things with Purebred Arabians is that they reflect what is going on in the world. For they race in all parts of the globe. That is what encouraged Berend Van Dalfsen to take the plunge by investing in Arabian mares, while at the same time having horses in training. He is a person who certainly isn’t blinkered and loves racing abroad. He has enjoyed great success in the domain of the Thoroughbreds with Berlais-breds. I’m referring to Turtle Bowl (Prix Jean Prat, Gr. I), Bannaby (Prix du Cadran, Gr. I), Irish Wells (Grand Prix de Deauville, Gr. II, twice), Finsbury Square (Prix de Meautry and Prix de Saint-Georges, Gr. III), Age of Aquarius (Derby Trial, Gr. I), Bal de la Rose (Prix André Baboin, Gr. III)… Without it being intentional, his two best standard-bearers have shone in Russia! Avonmouth (Cambrydge) won seven Group races in that county, including several Group Is PA.. Furthermore, Mascate (Munjiz), of which I am co-breeder and is out of a Njewman mare, was victorious in the Great Moscow Cup (Gr. I PA). We are therefore going to travel to Russia and take-in the big races there as a result of these positive results. The interests of Valentin Bukhtoyarov, a Russian client, are looked after by Jean-Pierre Deroubaix and Eugene Kappushev. His decision to join forces with us was never motivated by the wins of Mascate and Avonmouth. However, they did reassure him in his decision to entrust us with his mares. That is globalisation for you."

AN EXCEPTIONAL BROODMARE BAND

No less than eighteen Arabian mares which are Group winners or have generated Group winners are based at the Haras du Berlais. Al Shaqab Racing boards eight mares there, including some younger elements such as Al Fahda (Qatar Arabian Trophy des Pouliches, Gr. 1 PA), Bint Jakkaarta (Al Rayyan Cup - Prix Kesberoy, Gr. I PA), Jeyoosh (Grand Prix de S.A.R. le Prince Héritier Moulay El Hassan, Gr. III PA)… The Royal Stables of Oman have seventeen mares stationed at Berlais, including Samima (Qatar Cup - Prix Dragon & Qatar Total Arabian Trophy des Juments, (Gr. I PA), Maxensse (Qatar Oaks, Gr. II PA), Djebelia Al Mels (Prix Nefta, Gr. II PA), Sahlambo (Critérium des Pouliches, Gr. II PA), Starmania (the dam of Worood), Vivamaria (the dam of Nafees), Worood (Prix Nevadour, Gr. IIII, PA), Vahess du Croate (Prix de l’Élevage and Prix Nevada II, Gr. II PA), Karimah (French Arabian Breeders Challenge Pouliches - H.H. Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Cup, Gr. II PA), Rhoda du Paon (Prix Al Sakbe, Gr. III PA), and the champion Sylvine Al Maury (the winner of eight group races including four at Group I PA level).

Valentin Buktoyarov has entrusted Jean-Marc and Cécile Lucas with two mares which have produced Group I PA winners Mendra (the dam of Manark) and Mlaika (the dam of Radames). Berend Van Dalfsen is also represented by two mares which have generated two Group I PA winners, namely Mhaya (the dam of Mascate) and Anastasya (the dam of Dubai Heros and Avonmouth).

ACCENT ON THE BREEDING OPERATION

“In time, I realise that we were spreading ourselves too thinly regarding the stallion operation. Several hundred mares were visiting the stud to be bred, and this activity wasn’t allowing us to keep tabs on the broodmare side of the business as well as we would have liked. We had to make a choice and, taking into account the way the business was developing, we decided to concentrate on the breeding side of the operation: that it to say our broodmares and those of our clients. By abandoning the stallion side, it enabled us to focus cent per cent on the mares and their progeny. It meant that we had to travel in order to breed our mares. However, we’re equipped to deal with that and the mares can make the return trip in a day. The Purebred Arabians mares often undergo artificial insemination and we are well equipped in that sector. My wife manages the artificial insemination and gynaecological side, as well as overseeing the foals’, which is a huge undertaking in the context of the season. I take over when the foals become yearlings. I’m also involved in the management of the stud and client liaison.”

ESTABLISHING A RELATIONSHIP OF TRUST

“Whatever we do, my wish is that it should be done well. It’s also the reason why I seek to work with clients with whom one can strike a long term rapport, as affinities are created. When horses are in residence for a long time, and for several generations, it allows you to become more observant, as well as understanding and knowing the horses better. It’s a way of improving the quality of service as it allows for constructive suggestions. Furthermore, we don’t have an excessive amount of clients. This is an advantage as they are reassured as we are dealing with a small amount of horses. Furthermore, a clubhouse spirits sets-in which is a means to an end in with the clients acting as a conduit to other upstanding clients who wish to board their mares with us. It’s how Xavier Thomas-Demeaulte and Roberto Cocheteux became part of our clientèle. As for the Purebred Arabians, we are in contact with the racing managers such as Nicolas de Watrigant [Al Shaqab Racing] and Jean-Pierre Deroubaix [Royal Cavalry of Oman and Valentin Bukhtoyarov]. You can have a professional to professional dialogue with such people. They are aware of what it is like to work day in and day out with horses. They know that, even if you work well, there can be drawbacks. The fact that professionals such as Robert Collet, or those referred to previously, trust us to rear their horses is gratifying. We’re only a link in the chain which leads to the winner’s circle although each stage is an important one. At our stud, tracking the progress of our young stock is de rigueur. We have a blacksmith who visits every morning, and the stud is equipped for blood testing. Furthermore, we don’t employ inexperienced assistants as the staff are both able and in it for the long haul. Many of the staff are sourced from equestrian sports and are appreciative of being able to work in good conditions, and in a context which enables them to do their job w