MAGAZINE - Adi de Saint Lon and the Moroccan success story of Michel Poydenot
Having proved himself the standout performer in Morocco this season, an accolade which transcends all breeds, Adi de Saint Lon goes from strength to strength. Having snared his fourth PA Listed success on May 13th, he is the pride and joy of his connections and notably his breeder Michel Poydenot. The latter has retraced the story of a horse who is clearly not like the rest.
At the age of six, Adi de Saint Lon (Al Saoudi) continues to cultivate a winning habit in the kingdom of Morocco, and he has perhaps yet to achieve his full potential. Michel Poydenot said: "It’s been a considerable stroke of luck. The horse would have been roughed off after six months had he been campaigned in France. However, in a Moroccan context, and it speaks volumes for the Zaki Semlali stable, they have allowed the horse the necessary time to mature. Very much a late developer, the horse only rose to prominence as a five-year-old. His sire, Al Saoudi (Nuits St Georges), reached the winner’s circle as a four-year-old and not a moment sooner. He then continued his career, at the age of five, in the United Arab Emirates. If you aren’t blessed with limitless amounts of cash in France, it can prove to be a tough market if one is unable to produce PA Group class performers from the outset. Morocco, therefore, represents an interesting alternative. The offspring of Aqaba (Djel Bon), the dam of Adi de Saint Lon, have won no less than thirty races in the kingdom. There are many racing opportunities in Morocco although less so for imported horses. A horse of a certain standard, even if he isn’t top class, can pay his way."
An Eldorado of opportunity? The evolution of racing in Morocco has proved to be a boon for the small breeder and he added: "It’s proved to be a good opportunity and, were this market not available to us, it is my belief that I would cease breeding from my mares. Apart from my Moroccan clientele, I don’t have any other buyers." It has proved to be a godsend.
“For they are obliged to continue importing horses. The only thing lacking in Morocco are the conditions which we have for breeding horses in France such as the pastures and the undulations that go with the landscape. These are important factors when it comes to breeding horses. The Moroccans are conscious of the problem. On the other hand, their genetic pool of horses will soon prove to be every bit as good as in France. Moroccan breeders can avail themselves to buying stallion nominations which are subsidised to the tune of 75 per cent. It’s great! The racing industry is flush with cash and the Moroccans have built some magnificent training centres as denoted by the examples of Bouznika and Bouskoura. They are making huge efforts and are rightly intent on maintaining their reputation as a country with a tradition of the horse." Adi de Saint Lon flies the flag for the Zakaria Semlali stable and the latter is also the horse’s trainer and owner. "The horse came to the stable relatively late and namely during January of his three-year-old career. Campaigned at the backend, it was as a four-year-old that he opened his account, but the horse has only fully matured at the age of six. His team have had to take their time with him but his Moroccan entourage have always believed in him. Monsieur Semlali was already aware of his horse’s potential as a four-year-old. Moroccans certainly know their horses." His wins have elevated him to the position of Morocco’s best horse. "He’s a very brave horse and is one that amazes his team by virtue of his energy levels and courage."
How it all began. When tracing the history of his breeding operation, Michel Poydenot said: "We owned land in the countryside. We knew nothing about breeding but bought two broodmares from the line of Madou (Norniz), that is say from the lineage of Saint Laurent (Baroud II), but weren’t aware of what their breeding page truly represented. During a best in show event for particular breeds, Martial Boisseuil approached us with a view to finding out more about us. I managed to blurt out three phrases and he advised me to breed the mares to PA racing stallions before adding: ‘When the mares have foaled call me – and here is my business card’. “That is how we started up in the 1980s. It proved to be something of an eye opener as, at that time, the only way we related to this ‘line’ was via the racing performances. In the preceding generation, and notably that of Annabelle d’Avril (Djouras Tu), we produced Aladin La Nuit (Nuits St Georges), a winner at Pompadour [editor's note: for trainer Arnaud Chaillé-Chaillé and owner Faiz Al Elweet]. When I started to dabble in breeding it was without a precise sense of where it was all heading. However, since those initial steps, we are ‘discerning’ in our approach and our aim is to produce PA racehorses. However, small scale operations are by their nature not awash with cash, and with all the difficulties that entails. There are very few small breeders like us still around."
Autza: the Moroccan trailblazer. Based at Saint-Lon-les-Mines in the Landes region, the breeding operation of Michel and Xavier Poydenot is very much a small scale one. "We board Aqaba, the dam of Adi de Saint Lon, and she’s a remarkable broodmare. She invariably produces a foal each year. I’m waiting for her to give birth to a foal by Al Jakbar (Al Sakbe). She has produced a colt by Assy (Amer) and a two-year-old by Al Mamun Monlau (Munjiz) who has the hallmarks of being an interesting prospect. ‘Adi’ is the first of her offspring to have distinguished themselves at a certain level." Among her numerous progeny, all of which have won, the breeder added: "Autza (Jaman) didn’t win a dime at either three or four. We had an agreement on a lease/sale basis with her trainer but that didn’t necessarily make for a happy outcome. During the month of June of her four-year-old campaign, the trainer said that he no longer wished to race her. So I got in touch with Monsieur Semlali as he had been keen to acquire Autza in the preceding months. So she headed to Morocco, and my only previous contact with the owner had been over the phone.
It proved a stroke of good luck as, from that moment onwards, we were regular visitors to Morocco and developed a good rapport with the stable. Monsieur Semlali knows how to get the best out of his horses and he respects them. Autza is a very attractive mare and numbers ten wins. She was also second in The President of the UAE Cup (L PA) in 2016. Her sire, Jaman (Dormane), has few takers. However, he boasts a superb French pedigree. He raced very little and landed a solitary win before getting injured." The mare [Autza] helped forge a good relationship with Zakaria Semlali which is underscored at this point in time by Adi de Saint Lon. His breeder added: "He’s a magnificent horse and one still on the upgrade at the age of six. He is referred to as ‘Adi the sculpted one’ by the local race commentator."
The breeders of Azadi. One of the standout features among the ‘graduates’ of the Saint Lon ‘academy’ is the prevalence of "French or Franco-Tunisian bloodlines. We adhere to this policy as, in the future, there will be a lot of products by Amer (Wafi) and his descendants around. I’m perhaps making a mistake, and notably at a commercial level, but it’s the gamble that one takes – rightly or wrongly." Concerning the choice of Al Saoudi, the sire of Adi de Saint Lon, he said: "Martial Boisseuil was instrumental in us buying Fatzica (Fatzour): the dam of Al Saoudi and Azadi. The mare boarded with us for a period of five to six years before she was acquired by Hassan Mousli in 1999 – at a time when I went to work in South America. The mare was barren at the time but Monsieur Mousli bred her to Nuits St Georges (Dunixi). That is how Al Saoudi came into the world in 2000. The mare has proved a source of very high level performers. Monsieur Mousli has always been grateful to us for selling the mare to him." After injuring himself on his second career start, it should be recalled that he was beaten the minimum distance in the Coupe d'Europe et des Émirats Arabes Unis (Gr1 PA) by the very high class Djavius des Landes (Octavius) on that occasion. Having subsequently taken up stallion duties at the Haras de Thouars, Azadi went on to become a top notch PA stallion. His breeder added a touch humorously: "We missed the boat by letting go of Fatzica. So we are trying to make amends by getting back on board by breeding our mares to her sons, Al Saoudi and Azadi (Darike)." The cooperation didn’t end there and he added: "Monsieur Mousli gifted us an ageing broodmare, Nasma Al Chame (Kesberoy), herself a full sister to Saklawi Jardane (Kesberoy) who proved himself to be a quality performer in the decade which began in the year 2000. She already has a product by Azadi and, as have luck would have it, the mare is again in-foal to the same stallion. We have these two broodmares and a daughter of Aqaba, Aida de Saint Lon (Azadi), who has tested in-foal for the very first time and notably to Handassa (Madjani). Even allowing for the evolution of the breed, many PA horses are backward. It was the case with Adi de Saint Lon and Autza. That also applies to Ayane (Parador) – herself by a stallion in little demand. She has turned four and is already a dual winner in Morocco. She has yet to peak but that will come. I’m convinced of that. We have also bred Alize (Azadi): the winner of the Prix Étienne Camentron when beating the unraced Al Mourtajez (Dahess) no less at Bordeaux-Le Bouscat! He was then bought by Faisal Al Rahmani and exported to the United Arab Emirates."
Still quite not 100 per cent. The Khemisset race meeting on May 13th took place on a very hot day, but that failed to prevent Adi de Saint Lon from successfully defending his title in the Prix Jawahir (L PA, 2.100m). To crown a great day, he initiated a 1-2 for the stable at the main expense of Djarabb des Forges (Sarrab) who is in the same ownership as the winner. Only a neck separated the pair. Trainer Zakaria Semlali said: "It was boiling hot and that’s even more meritorious as ‘Adi’ doesn’t particularly care for the heat. However, his jockey told me that the horse won with something in hand. It must also be said that Djarabb is also improving. He staged a magnificent finish from off the pace." Returning to the day when Adi de Saint Lon first arrived in the yard, the Moroccan professional added: "You could tell that he needed time. So we decided to leave him alone. The plusses are that he is in good health, straight forward and has a cast iron temperament. He’s also very tough and we undoubtedly haven’t fully got to the bottom of him. He’s also a good yardstick for the stable as we are able to work him with other horses – particularly as 98 per cent of my horses are Purebred Arabians. It explains why Djarabb des Forges has also improved. They’ve been working together for four to five months and both are on the upgrade."
Believing in one’s horses. Even still, granted the horse’s lack of meaningful form in the early part of his career, a healthy dose of optimism and a steely confidence was needed in order to pursue the dream: "As a three-year-old he was a big, gross horse. He needed to develop and was huge. We couldn’t bring down his weight. He was a horse who needed to eat a lot. On the other hand, racing doesn’t take much out of him. Granted a good preparation, he can be expected to perform very well in a big race – even on turf…" So it is possible to imagine that he will one day race in France. "If we raced in Europe, it would be for the prestige of it. However, in purely financial terms, we’re better off in Morocco and particularly as we don’t have the drawback of quarantine. A solution needs to be found regarding reducing the time scale of this process as it tends to penalise us." A multiple winner at PA Listed level, Adi de Saint Lon contested the Grand Prix de Sa Majesté le Roi Mohammed VI (Gr3 PA) at the end of last season at Casablanca. "On that occasion, he got trapped on the rails and was hampered, but we decided not to object. He would have had a chance of winning without this drawback. I believe that he is equally effective on grass and on a heavy track. We are mulling the matter over."
Morocco takes a step forward. Zakaria Semlali is the driving force behind the surge
taken by Moroccan racing and he is aware of this on a daily basis. "There is a hard core of owners and breeders which have invested and have taken plenty of risks. SOREC (Société Royale d’Encouragement du Cheval) are also putting in the work, and it should all pay off in the end. Granted the rise in standards, there will be many Moroccan horses heading towards Europe. Furthermore, the trend has already started as I have friends which will be having runners in Spain." However, this isn’t devoid of risk. "People are investing but, above all, they are continuing to lose money. I genuinely believe that no Moroccan stable is profitable. This is exacerbated by the presence of administrative barriers when it comes to travelling horses. Failing this, it would have been possible to have run our horses in Listed or Gr3 PA races abroad. Many owners and trainers aren’t in a position to wait for cost reasons. However, we are passionate about the sport and, when you succeed on the racecourse, as is the case with ‘Adi’, it makes you forget about the cost aspect. However, I’m a great believer in the progress of Moroccan racing, but on condition that SOREC continues to encourage the six or seven stables which are doing a great job. I believe that the organisation are aware of what needs to be done." Furthermore, huge efforts continue to be made and the process is an ongoing one. "The Casablanca training centre is a case in point. The project has taken foot ‘root and branch’ as the track has been widened considerably and there are almost 700 boxes on site! It’s enormous and there can’t be many facilities of this size in Europe. Yet there’s no escaping that the problems faced by Moroccan stables are the same ones as in France. Even allowing for the passion element, the costs associated with are invariably expensive, and deep pockets are needed when it comes to competing at the top level." Zakaria Semlali stable said of the stable’s location: "Bouznika is a small town which nestles between Rabat and Casablanca. There are 100 boxes on site and the facility is well served by a training track which exudes quality. Conditions are ideal and our French ‘friends’ have been amazed by the quality of the infrastructure during their visits to the training centre. We endeavour to set our standards very high when it comes to the training and the recovery process. There is scope for improvement on the veterinary side of things in the form of specialist care. It’s a small 'divide' which separates us from the US, British and French stables. However, we are progressing in areas of recovery, physiotherapy, the use of vitamins, and when it comes to the horse’s general well-being."
A story of friendship. Regarding stable numbers, Zakaria Semlali said: "I have around 25 horses in training. I also have my own breeding operation which contains mares which are sisters of ‘Adi.’ It’s a line which I believed in from a very early stage, even if it was largely unproven at the time. Michel Poydenot is a conscientious type and a man of real depth. He was the instigator behind the genesis of Al Saoudi, thanks to Fatzica, and the latter is also the grandam of Al Mourtajez. In Purebred Arabian terms, it’s a reference point. He’s a very dear friend and we work together to achieve the same ends. We started out from scratch but have really put in the time and the effort…The hardest part is adopting a waiting brief as horses need time. You need to be patient as each horse develops in his own way time wise. For example, Djarabb used to thrash ‘Adi’ by ten lengths on the training grounds, but each and every horse has a different pathway. Djarabb was then afflicted by problems with ulcers and Adi started to make progress. Djarabb is on the comeback trail. You must create the conditions whereby each horse is able to give the best of himself." Zakaria Semlali is aware of the value of this relationship which is forged on trust. "It’s a great friendship and I must say that Michel is practically considered as part of the family. We’ve gone through a lot together… We’ve shared a common experience regarding Autza, the sister of Adi, whose pedigree was considered insignificant, and who was snubbed by potential buyers. I think that she could have achieved as much as with ‘Adi’ at the time – granted the experience which I have now. A few small mistakes were made regarding her training regime but she was a super filly. She went on to win ten races but her sights could have been set even higher. She was runner up to Al Nashmi despite having a less than ideal preparation. I’ve no regrets as to what happened at the time but she was largely on a par with Adi ability wise, and perhaps even better."
The trainer’s parting shot was: "I share the same outlook on matters as Michel. It’s a friendship which has its roots in horses. In today’s context, it is something which has acquired much greater value. Michel has provided great support to me personally, and notably in a year when we were having a few problems. He was patient and we have been rewarded."
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