THE BIG INTERVIEW - Mouna Bengeloun: « Breeding is a lesson of life and humility »


THE BIG INTERVIEW - Mouna Bengeloun: « Breeding is a lesson of life and humility »

Zakaria Hakam, the former top Moroccan owner-breeder, passed away in 2009. His wife, Mouna Bengeloun, with the support of her children, subsequently took the decision to take over the running of the family’s racing interests. Consequently, Zak Bloodstock, and the Zakaria Hakam estate, have continued to flourish in terms of results, and Al Noury, in particular, highlighted this during the international meeting at Casablanca.

The French Purebred Arabian. – What is your take on the success that you enjoyed during the 2019 edition of the international meeting?

Mouna Bengeloun. – The whole team was over the moon, and those were my sentiments too. On the Saturday card, which was the reserved for English thoroughbreds, we experienced a slight disappointment due to Meliodas (Due Diligence) completely missing the break in the Critérium des 2ans (1,750m), although he finished strongly into third. It was only his third racecourse appearance, having won on two prior occasions. Miss Sloane (Kidnapping) was third in the Prix des Éleveurs (3ans - 1,750m) over an unsuitable trip. So it has to rank as a good performance. Regarding the Sunday card for Purebred Arabians (PA), Al Noury (No Risk Al Maury) certainly matched expectations following his win in the Grand Prix de Son Altesse Royale le Prince Moulay Rachid (L PA - 3-year-olds - 1,750m). His trainer, Thomas Fourcy, had told us that the colt had come on for his Saint-Cloud run. So we were anticipating a good display. Lastly, the performance of our old stager, the eight-year-old Kerchera (Kerbella), greatly surprised us as he finished strongly into second in the Grand Prix de Son Altesse Royale le Prince Héritier Moulay El Hassan (Gr3 PA, 3-year-olds and up - 1,900m). We were thrilled.

Where will be Al Noury heading next? 

I don’t know at this point in time. I’ve decided to keep him here in Morocco during the winter, and after that we will play it by ear. I had originally toyed with the idea of sending him to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). However, I later changed my mind because of the extensive travelling involved, and he is a small horse to boot. It wasn’t an obvious move, as we would have had to leave him there for the duration of the winter, and so, finally, we opted to keep him here.

Is Al Noury the first PA horse you have had in France?

No, as there have been others and I’m referring to Kerchera. He made his racecourse debut at

Bordeaux-Le Bouscat, in the same race as Mister Ginoux (Amer), and finished third. He then suffered a series of minor setbacks and so it was necessary to bring him back to Morocco for treatment. It proved to be nothing serious and his career record speaks for itself, as he has won four PA Listed races. Prior to that, we sent Tamar Thabeth (Dormane). Although he wasn’t one of our homebreds, he proved to be a top notch performer as underscored by his two successes at Moroccan Gr3 PA level, the Prix Moulay Rachid and the Prix de Sa Majesté le Roi Mohammed VI. As in the case of Al Noury, we were dogged by bad luck [editor's note: Al Noury never went into the starting gates on his intended French debut, when no effort was made to use a hood]. Consequently, he was pitched straight into Gr1 PA class at Saint-Cloud [he was sixth in the Qatar Total French Arabian Breeders’ Challenge for 3-year-old colts] without a prior prep race.

Did this act as a deterrent?

No, as we have other horses. They include a two-year-old in training with Thomas Fourcy, Mister Winsee (Mister Ginoux ex Win and See), whereas another of our horses has left training, having been put out to grass as he needs time to grow into his frame. I can also cite the example of a yearling filly who appeals as an interesting prospect, Mamina (No Risk Al Maury & Rawassy). We also have a good-looking foal El Mauro (No Risk Al Maury ex Eauverdose). They all board at the Haras du Grand Courgeon in common with another foal,

Nahim (Dahess ex Nayima Thabeth). They were all born and bred in France. This is additional, of course, to the fifteen juveniles, ten yearlings and eleven foals which we have in Morocco. After this, we will see which ones rise to the top of the pile.

However, you have always entertained international ambitions…

When I took over the running of the stable, we were already internationally ambitious in terms of our English thoroughbreds, and we obtained good results in this sector. I’m referring to Bubble Chic (Chichicastenango): one of our homebreds and second in the 2011 edition of the Prix du Jockey Club (Gr1). Other examples on the French circuit include Zack Hall (Muhtathir), a multiple L PA winner and PA Group placed performer, and Zack Hope (Araafa).

Which professionals do you work with in France?

At present, Mikel Delzangles oversees our English thoroughbreds although we don’t have an enormous amount of horses, whereas Thomas Fourcy fills a similar role as regards training our PA horses.

Why did you choose Thomas Fourcy?

He’s obviously a great trainer. However, we asked ourselves whether he would have the required patience when it came to overseeing our horses – fully aware that he trains a string of considerable quality, and horses from bigger stables with than ourselves?

However, we developed a very good rapport with him at a personal level, and now work with his vet, Richard Corveller. The latter also acts as our advisor in Morocco. That’s how the relationship started.

Can you expand further on your French breeding operation?

All our PA horses are based at the Haras du Grand Courgeon, whereas the Haras de Maulepaire acts in a similar capacity for our English thoroughbreds. I haven’t done anything new. In simple terms, I’m merely overseeing a structure that was already in place after taking over at the helm.

How did the transition process go?

I took over the running of the stable on the death of my husband. In Morocco, the racing side of the operation is overseen by Éric Legrix. He takes cares of the pre-training and training. I also recruited someone less than a year ago for our Moroccan breeding operation. Our training and breeding heartlands are on a 25 hectare site which is a few kilometres from Casablanca: or at Bir Jdid to be precise. We have decided to invest in and improve our current infrastructures, and the example of our pastures springs to mind. As you can imagine, they aren’t part of the natural environment in Morocco. Consequently, we have to facilitate their growth.

How many PA mares do you own?

Nine in Morocco and two in France. In general terms, we have around fourty English thoroughbred, PA racing and Anglo-Arabian mares in Morocco. On the subject of Anglo-Arabians, we also have international ambitions and have sent a mare to the Haras du Pécos. Christened Zaza (Monzack), she proved herself to be a veritable champion on the Moroccan circuit, having amassed 25 wins during a 36 race career! She was Moroccan born and bred. The grandam was an English thoroughbred mare by Darshaan (Shirley Heights). We are hoping for a French-bred, as we are aware that this particular lineage is prized in our country. The sire of Zaza, Monzak (Zack Dancer), is a grandson of Groom Dancer (Blushing Groom). She is currently in-foal to one our stallions, Aegon (Teofilo). This sire hails from the renowned line of La Louvière [the dam is a sister of Phocéenne and this line of the US stallion Stormy Atlantic].

Can you elaborate on your two French-based mares?

One is called Eauverdose (Amer) and she’s a full sister to Khataab (Amer). Her first foal is by the stallion No Risk Al Maury (Kesberoy). Rawassy (Akbar), our second mare, is a daughter of Magadir and she, too, was bought in France, having been acquired at the Saint-Cloud sales. Our PA broodmare band currently numbers 11 and I believe that it’s quite a lot. I prefer to tap into better bloodlines and am in favour of a small reduction in the number of horses we have, and so we are on the case. All this has been done with the optic of upgrading the quality of our stock. We also need to take into account, above all, of the fact that artificial insemination and embryo transfer is legal. Regarding the Moroccan context, artificial insemination is very practical – granted that the required stallions are far away. It’s a far more practical scenario compared to what exists in the world of English thoroughbreds; the travel factor regarding mares is a complex, and it’s all the more frustrating if they aren’t certified in-foal on their return (laughing). Regarding embryo transfers, the procedure isn’t currently practiced in Morocco, but is so in France where the Haras du Grand Courgeon team provides the necessary technical expertise.

Do you stand any PA stallions?

It’s not necessary due to the availability of artificial insemination but we do stand Sidi Thabeth (Dormane), a full brother of Nayima Thabeth. He is bred to Anglo-Arabian mares. On the hand, Kerchera will have a future as a stallion here, as he is very well bred and granted his quality. He hails from an acclaimed female bloodline of the de Watrigant family, as the dam Cherazade (Dormane) is a daughter of Cherifa (Chéri Bibi). » 

How many PA horses do you own in total?

I’m unsure of the exact figure but would say around 80 – split between Morocco and France. That includes many young horses. I certainly wouldn’t want to have around a hundred horses. At the outset of when I took over the running of the stable, the English thoroughbreds were in the majority, and the PA side had yet to take off – save for the presence of daughters by Win and See (Tidjani). We also had a few Egyptian and Tunisian lines in our midst but it was rather overshadowed by the English thoroughbred presence. Since then, the number of English thoroughbreds we have in Morocco is counterbalanced by an equal amount of PA horses.

So the decision to focus on PA horses is a deliberate policy choice?

The observation is a simple one. It’s far easier to breed PA horses in Morocco than English thoroughbreds. Everything is more complicated in Morocco. The feed, for one, comes from Ireland. All the horses are fed "Red Mills" and this applies equally to breeding and racing stock. It’s far easier to breed good PA horses rather than English thoroughbreds, although it’s not impossible. We’ve never been able to breed an English thoroughbred in Morocco who is proven at international level. The selectivity involved is considerable and the level is a very high one. The PA horse is a hardier breed compared to the English thoroughbred, and it adapts more readily to the Moroccan environment. Not that we are giving up by any means...

Of course, as you are regularly among the top ten stables in Morocco…

The results were slow in coming as we had several age groups of PA horses in our midst which had done very little racing, and whose training regimes had sometimes been too rushed.

So I’m happy with the performances of Al Noury as he has really taken a long time to come to himself. When it comes to breeding, it represents a number of years in terms of effort. 

However, the victory of Al Noury is something to savour is it not?

It’s, of course, the culmination of a lot of effort. Some of the more backward three-year-old types, and a certain number of juveniles, all by first rate stallions, have yet to be seen in public. We will see where that all leads. It’s quicker to ascertain how good an English thoroughbred is as their campaigns begin at two. We seek to diversify our bloodlines by using surrogate mares. Even if Win and See and Nayima Thabet are in retirement, we still have the descendants of these two mares. Al Noury is a grandson of Win and See, but is out of the Moroccan born and bred mare Nouraya (Nour Thabeth). »

Which PA stallions do you use?

We have a penchant for the sons of Amer (Wafi) such as General, Dahess, Af Albahar and Nizam. We also prize the French bloodlines of No Risk Al Maury, stallions such as Munjiz and Mahabb, plus the Burning Sand lineage of TM Fred Texas.

We don’t hear enough about the influence of your trainer in Morocco, Éric Legrix, has had?

He’s been training our horses for two years. He’s a consummate professional and one who knows the time of day. A former top rate jockey, he is very much a ‘horseman’ and one steeped in the equine tradition. He’s an important cog in the wheel as he dispenses a lot of good advice, and particularly in breeding matters.

Do you seek advice from other quarters?

Of course and particularly as we are bereft of farriery skills in Morocco. I really struggled to find the right person. That is before I came across a top rate individual, the Shadwell farrier. He has been teaching a local man, who is illiterate, the ropes. Other English advisors also visit regularly, with a view to boosting the standards of our breeding operation. The effort that goes into achieving results is huge, and I’m not sure that people always realise this.

Is there a particular race you dream of winning?

All PA Gr1 races enter this category of course! Although chief amongst them are the PA Gr1 prize at Saint-Cloud for 3-year-olds, and the big PA race on the Arc de Triomphe card. There are some top notch prizes dotted around everywhere, including the UAE and Qatar… 

What is your parting shot?

I would like to give heartfelt thanks to all our teams which tend to our horses on a daily basis.

You need a good team and real professionals. Nothing is down to chance. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by myself that that the top breeding operations, and those with access to the best bloodlines, have in place staff which are dedicated and know their jobs. The savoir faire when it comes to taking care of horses is needed, and this is applicable in the pre-natal stages, as it is said that the three final months of the mare’s gestation period are the most important ones in a horse’s life. A multitude of tasks need to be completed in the post-natal period, and with particular regard to a horse’s balance. We missed a fair amount in this department a few years ago as we weren’t attentive enough. Consequently, we have become far more vigilant in the way in which we travel our horses and feed them. We also ensure that the younger stock are exercised in such a way as their muscles are able to cope with the pre-training stage. You learn from your mistakes and it’s a lesson of life and humility.