ÉLISABETH BERNARD, PHILIP SOGORB, THOMAS FOURCY, DAMIEN AND ANTOINE DE WATRIGANT, CHARLES GOURDAIN, DIDIER GUILLEMIN... INTERVIEWS OF SEVERAL OF THE BEST PUREBRED ARABIAN TRAINERS IN FRANCE
It is time for the last arrangements before the start of the nice French season. The French Purebred Arabian met with several of the great French trainers, who talked to us about their experiences, hopes and objectives.
Top Purebred Arabian French trainer in 2015 and 2016, Thomas Fourcy improved his number of successes (20 against 18) and prize money (€ 960,250 against € 936,450) in France last year. A great accomplishment for the one who is in charge of the Al Shaqab Racing horses and Hassan Mousli’s bloodstock, symbolized by the crack Al Mourtajez.
The French Purebred Arabian. – How would you sum up this last year?
Thomas Fourcy. – A good season! I did not have any 3yo fillies. Al Mourtajez has a lot to do with this success but overall it is positive. I had a few late horses last year so we won a lot of races at the end of the season, especially in the Total Arabian Trophy des Poulains (Gr. I PA) [editor's note: breaking the record] with Motrag (Amer) and Zikreet (Dahess). They are very tough horses. I already had in my stables horses like Al Mouwaffak and Mister Ginoux and I think they were better in quality even though they did not break a track record. Last year they went fast in this race in Saint-Cloud and you needed tough horses to win. But they are good. Zikreet confirmed this winter in Qatar by finishing third in the Derby behind Ebraz (Amer), who won the Emir’s Sword just afterwards and came second in the Qatar International Cup (Gr. I PA), defeated by TM Thunder Struck (Majd Al Arab). Al Mourtajez (Dahess) was also very regular last year, winning Group I PAs. In the Emir’s Sword (Gr. I PA), he was tired
How do you see this new season?
Just like the others. I am not in a hurry with the 3yo horses. Only the ones with a little quality will start but I have a nice lot of colts and fillies. The colts seem better, but they will come later. I have about ten colts I like the most.
I have a full brother of Al Mouhannad, Al Battar (Nizam) [who should change name]. I have Karar (Amer) who is a very nice horse, Majnon (Azadi) that I also like and another "Azadi" Jethjath. There is Al Moujjalli (Akim de Ducor) who seems good and is a good-looking horse. Amongst the fillies I have a little filly, Rkaya (Burning Sand), Anouf (Nizam), Athwa (Dahess).
What about the 4yos?
I have Al Walid (Dahess) who started successfully last year in front of a few good elements including the winner of the French Arabian Breeders’ Challenge des Poulains (Gr. II PA). Almaa (Amer) started well in Toulouse on the 28th March. She had a really good race.
Do you consider working with Al Shaqab is a kind of luxury?
It is true that they try and build a very nice bloodstock. They have good mares, do a bit of selection and give me the means to do the same. But amongst my owners, I don’t forget about the Hassan Mousli bloodstock, which is on the front stage. I actually have a few good elements this year like the full sister to Al Fahda (Azadi). I have nice pedigrees in my stables with twenty 3yos colts and as many fillies. So we should have good chances in Group I PAs at the end of the year.
Impossible to finish this interview without taking news of your big champion Al Mourtajez…
He is having a rest at the haras du Grand Courgeon. He is growing hair, eating grass, he is happy. The horse seems to enjoy his holidays. He will stay there as long as he needs to, he will tell us. His objective is to win a third time the Qatar Arabian World Cup (Gr. I PA). Anyway everybody dreams of having a horse like him. I am only the trainer and we will see what the decision is. If we are on our way to try and win the race at the end of the year, I will do my best to bring him back to his top level. And next year he will start his stallion career.
Second top trainer after the 2016 season (like in 2015), Élisabeth Bernard proved she could brilliantly succeed at the head of her late husband Jean-François’ stables.
The French Purebred Arabian. – How would you sum up this last year?
Élisabeth Bernard. – I am satisfied because it was the first year under my name and not the one of the succession. I was fortunate enough to win races during the main international Purebred Arabian racing days. I am thinking of the day sponsored by Sheikh Hamdan in Newbury where Sylvine Al Maury (Munjiz) won the Dubai Duty Free Hatta International Stakes (Gr. I PA), the success of Alsaker (Af Albahar), the day of the Prix de Diane, in the Qatar Derby des Pur-Sang Arabes de 4 ans (Gr. I PA), the one of Sir Bani Yas (Amer) in Sandown for the President of the Emirates' day and, cherry on the cake, with the success of Naziq (Mahabb) in The Qatar Total Arabian Trophy des Juments (Gr. I PA). I also won in Italy and Morrocco. We were present in all the big dates. It also means popular races with a lot of spectators and passionates. I was also personally satisfied with the wins of Aïcha de Monlau (No Risk Al Maury) and Al Mounteze Monlau (Nashwan Al Khalidiah) in two important maidens in Toulouse. Showing we know how to win with young horses is important. And I am saying it again, I had to prove I could work like Jean-François always did, with results for important and extraordinary owners who trust me and my team. I was also very pleased with selling three horses at the Purebred Arabian Sales organized by Arqana last October [Caïd de l’Ardus was sold for € 150,000]. Encourage people to buy well-presented horses is something important for me.
How do you see this new season?
Seeing my stables fill themselves is very encouraging and I also have four new owners. Without any material you cannot work and without a number of horses, it is difficult to have some that stick out of the lot. I am happy to have fifty horses in training this year. I have to say that the Qatar Total Arabian Trophy des Juments (Gr. I PA), a race we won several times with Jean-François, is a bit of an objective. I like this challenge.
Who do you think are your future stars?
I have a lot of fillies this year. I think it is an exceptional lot but it is still too early in the season to say more. Amongst the colts, I only have three; but two of which I like a lot, including one bred and owned by Robert and Marie-Ange Bourdette. It is Amir de Monlau (Munjiz). He is beautiful and Jean-François always said that if the mare, Manzana (Guytou de Carrère) had a colt one day, he would be ‛extra’. She had produced good fillies like Myra de Monlau (Munjiz), who was extraordinary, but small and a little fragile. Here it is a male, he is very good-looking and we like him very much. He won’t be an early runner, but his owners are patient. I have good hopes for him.
There is also Jiniz (Munjiz), owned by a Lybian who lives in Dubai and another nice colt of Marcel Mézy, Amziz de Piboul (Munjiz). I also like him very much even though he arrived here only ten days ago.
Amongst the 4yos, I count on the filly I bought through the Royal Cavalry of Oman, Djaikiri Safinat (Dahess), who was trained by Didier Guillemin last year. And I have Naziq (Mahabb) a difficult 5yo but a quality mare.
DAMIEN DE WATRIGANT
Based in Artassenx, close to Mont-de-Marsan, Damien de Watrigant developed the training center of the Haras de Mandore and highlights the Purebred Arabian bloodstock in the long family tradition.
In order to reach his objectives, he benefits from the trust of great owners like Dr Mohammed Al-Nujaifi of which the Iraqi origins keep confirming themselves. With more than € 200,000 prize money in 2016, Damien de Watrigant did a superior season to 2015.
The French Purebred Arabian. – On which confirmed elements can you count for this upcoming year?
Damien de Watrigant. – First of all, I think of Valentin (Amer), fifth of the Qatar Arabian World Cup (Gr. I PA). He is a late horse but showed quite some potential. He seems in great form this year and we will be able to attack the nice races with him, despite his age [8yos]. He hasn’t been used too much and he is in good health. He will come back on the 21st April in Toulouse in the Prix Carthage-Hannibal - Cheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Cup (Gr. II PA).
Ghazwa (Zawam) has had a lot of health issues and did not do the year she could have done. She is full of Hilal Al Zaman IRQ (Mencour) and will stay in competition until the deadline. She should aim for Listed or Group PA races, over distances around 1,400m. She could also travel to England. Until then, she should return on the 23rd April in Mont-de-Marsan in the Prix Djouras Tu. Sahabba (Nizam) has had a few issues, but was invited to Abu Dhabi in the richest race in the world for Purebred Arabians and came fourth. She is now a broodmare.
What about the 4yos?
Ahzar (Munjiz) is one of our big hopes for this year. I think that last year in the Al Rayyan - Prix Kesberoy and the Qatar Total Arabian Trophy des Poulains (Gr. I PAs), we weren’t very lucky. Maybe he was still a little immature, a bit too nice. But he has had a very good winter and I think it will be his year! He will make his seasonal comeback on the 28th of April in La Teste in the Prix Dormane (Gr. III PA). Diva du Paon (Munjiz) is a mare with a lot of qualities and Christophe Soumillon had not ridden her for nothing at the end of the year. He always thought she had a lot of potential, but she is very complicated. I hope the winter will have made her mature. She is still maiden. I also have great hopes for Muneera (Dormane) who returned very well. She should run the Qatar Prix de l’Élevage (Gr. II PA) on the 29th of April in Toulouse.
There is also Jamaheer (Mahabb), a Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum owned filly, whose dam is Ziva (Dormane). She was a bit fragile in her head last year, but she started with a second place in the Shadwell - Prix Ourour (L PA), proof of her quality. I hope she will have climbed a step this year because she really has a good change of speed when she is relaxed. I have Zeina (Munjiz) a filly that ran in Spain and who was still a little fresh the other day in Toulouse in the Prix Magic de Piboul [3rd]. She is worth better because she really has a nice action. She is ‛homemade’ and should get better after a few races in order to become a chic mare.
Amongst your 4yo newcomers?
I have Mont d’Or (Mahabb), full brother to Mestor and Manark, but does not have the same action. Like all his family, he does not like soft grounds and sand. He did well when the track was light. I also have the sister of Valentin, Lou Lou, by Munjiz, but who is quite late.
And what about the 3yos?
The first who will start is a filly owned by Mr. Akel, named Pashwana (Nashwan Al Khalidiah and Princess des Cèdres). I also have Cleopathre (Nizam), the sister of Zeina. I like her very much. We had presented her at the sales but we finally kept her. We will see her this summer. Amongst the fillies, I also like Djelilla (Munjiz).
With the colts, there is Rodess du Loup, by Dahess, owned by Gérard Larrieu. He is the full brother of Photon du Loup, but Rodess du Loup really pleased me when I saw him at the Haras de Saint-Faust. Mr. Larrieu could not sell him at the price he wanted, but he believes in him and I do to. He will be a good battler for this summer. Zawani Star, another ‛Dahess’ we bred at the Haras de Mandore for M. Mehdi Benmessaoud, is a nice colt that works well. We also have Badir Al Zaman (Hilal Al Zaman), 100% Iraqi, but bred at the Haras de Mandore for Mr. Al Nujaifi. He is Ghazwa’s brother. He has an incredible model, he is really beautiful: very big, very strong and with a very nice action. And to finish, Lekhraib QA (Af Albahar) who was bought at the Arqana sales. A son of Af Albahar UAE (Amer), a trendy stallion. He is a chic colt and works well in the morning. He is a serious contender. And we need to think about Nizora (Nizam), a colt bred by Mr. Bruno Bellaud. He has the dam of the colt, Adora (Dormane), who he likes a lot. I got a magnificent colt and I hope he will go as fast as he is good-looking.
Do you have clear objectives for 2017?
Of course, I am thinking of the nice races in France, but we will also go abroad. The 3yos will be kept more in France. Purebred Arabian races are being developed in Spain and you have to go and race there to support them. And The more races there are for this breed, the better it will be.
ANTOINE DE WATRIGANT
Antoine de Watrigant is a trainer since 2005. From a big family of breeders and trainers of the South-West, he won his first Group I for Thoroughbreds with Gailo Chop in 2015. He currently has eleven Purebred Arabians in his stables.
The French Purebred Arabian. – You have been training Purebred Arabians for two years. Is it a return to your roots?
Antoine de Watrigant. – When I was a kid, I took care of Kesberoy (Saint Laurent), bred by my father, who became a great stallion. After the successes of Gailo Chop (Deportivo), Martial Boisseuil asked me if I was interested by training Purebred Arabians. He is H.H. Sheikh Mansoor Bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s racing manager. I accepted. At first I received Ziyadd (Bibi de Carrère) who was well trained by his previous trainer Thomas Fourcy. The objective was to win the European Triple Crown during H.H. Sheikh Mansoor’s International Festival. The horse won this challenge which is very important for them.
He won a Listed race in Rome and placed second three times at the Group level. This year, I have three colts out of H.H. Sheikh Mansoor’s stables. His Highness Sheikh Abdullah Bin Khalifa Al Thani gave me seven Purebred Arabians, all newcomers. The good ones will go to Qatar at the end of the year. I didn’t think I’d get to train Arabian horses again. But I have two important owners who breed the elite. Whatever the breed, running in this category is very interesting.
You started with Anglo-Arabians. Do you still train some?
I still have several Anglo-Arabians. I really like Emedji Pontadour (Benevolo de Paban) which is out of a good Taragon origin. He is still not tough enough, but has qualities. He will run the good races. If he is not good enough in flat he will go on the jumps because he is good for the discipline. My father won all the races reserved for Anglo-Arabians. He had trained the crack Dionysos II (Samaritain). With Thouroughbreds he had won all the nice race of the region. I actually started an Anglo who was one of the best of her generation. This Catidja (Tidjani), out of our family bloodstock, was a ‛50%’ capable of finishing second of the Grand National against the best ‛25%’. I then had several thoroughbreds that went well. So I became a racehorse trainer and it was not my first idea for my future job.
How did you become a racehorse trainer?
I worked with spirits and wine. But the passion for horses was there. During ten years with my brother, I managed an equestrian tourism centre. Besides, the two horses I trained went well. So I decided to change. I do not regret this choice. But it is a difficult job. And I learnt by doing without going through big stables beforehand. When my father trained, I was not his assistant and I had seen the difficulties at the end of his career, after being one of the best trainers of the region. Finally, I learnt more by watching my best colleagues. My children like races. They follow careful the results of the stables and if Music Lover runs the ‛Diane’, they have planned on inviting all their friends!
In France and abroad, Charles Gourdain did another nice season with the Purebred Arabians. He was able to count on valuable elements from the Royal Cavalry of Oman. Winner of the first Listed PA in the history of Italian races with Vulcain du Clos last year, he starts this new season with ambitions.
The French Purebred Arabian. – How would you sum up this last year?
Charles Gourdain. – I am quite satisfied. Vulcain du Clos (Monsieur Al Maury) always appeared in the finish of good races, even in Turkey (3rd of the International Ifhar Trophy – Gr. II PA). He went to Oman to become a stallion. He stopped his career at the end of the season. Worood (Akbar) won the Prix Nevadour (Gr. III PA). I had a hard time having this filly well at the start of the season. She disappointed us a little but she has qualities even though she stays sensible. Nafees (Azadi) kept progressing all year and ran very well in the French Arabian Breeders’ Challenge pour Poulains (Gr. II PA). He is a very courageous horse, who has kept progressing. So we were overall glad with our 2016 season.
How do you see this new season?
We kept Worood in training. She will run the good races and should return in Toulouse at the end of April in the Prix Carthage-Hannibal - Cheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Cup (Gr. II PA, 2,000m) before going to the summer meeting of Sheikh Hamdan in Newbury. Nafees will aim for the good 4yo races, in France and abroad. We will have several interesting possibilities open to him.
Do you have other 4yos in your stables to follow this year?
I have Abudhabi Princess (Munjiz), who won last year. She should be back in my stables in two weeks’ time after a rest. I put her out in a field so she could profit from a good spring because they don’t profit from anything at the stud in winter. She should do well because she needed time. Her family was better at 4yos than 3yos, however it did not stop her from winning last year. It was a little race, but she did it well. It was more complicated than at the end of the year. I think she will be operational this season. We can also point out Dupleix (Madjani) will be back in training. He had started off well in Agen last year.
And amongst your hopes for this year?
We received a few interesting 3yos. I have two colts by Munjiz for Sheail Al Kuwairi. Starboy Dibos is a nice horse with a dam by Kerbella, Starbella d’Ibos. It is a quality horse that we will see more in the second half of the season. The second is called Odale, with a dam by Dormane. He is out of the Watrigant family bloodstock. These two horses are quite heavy and need to develop themselves, but they are very good-looking. I also have the sister of Vulcain du Clos, Ezzahra du Breuil (Munjiz) who is quite late. By Shart Al Khalidiah, I have a filly called La Vande, bred by Mr Wiljan Poel, the breeder of Vulcain du Clos. I have another filly by Munjiz, Essaouira du Breuil, also bred by Wiljan Poels. The dam, Tequila du Breuil, is by Dormane. She is quite good. And finally, I have an owner that trusted me with a filly I like very much, Djalmessa (Dahess). She is nice and has a great model. Her dam, Djalmina (Dormane), already produced well. And then I have a brother of Nafees, Haramil (Amer).
Philippe Sogorb knows how to deal with Purebred Arabians. After being a very efficient jockey, he is now one of the best Purebred Arabian trainer in France. He can count on several good elements and particularly his great hope, Mehdaaf Athbah, second of the last Qatar Arabian World Cup (Gr. I PA).
The French Purebred Arabian. – What are your hopes for Mehdaaf Athbah this year?
Philippe Sogorb. – Mehdaaf Athbah is my very good horse in the stables and maybe my horse for the Purebred Arabian Arc this year. It is really an objective I keep in mind with him this year.
What will be his program up to the D-day?
He stayed with me during the winter and was slowed down in his training. He is now back in training and pleases me. He will return on the 21st April in Toulouse in the Prix Carthage-Hannibal - Cheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Cup (Gr. II PA, 2,000 m) and then certainly go to Goodwood (the Qatar International Stakes, Gr. I PA, 1,600m) before running the Arc. If everything goes well, he could well do the winter season in Qatar. He is a true 2,000m horse. I saved him as much as possible and I can remember his debuts at 4yo, I thought he was an Arc horse. He had shown a good start of the season before leaving me wanting more, but gave me reason in the Arc. I always wanted him to become more mature. His preparation will be based on this challenge at the end of the year.
And amongst the 3yos?
I don’t really like comment on the 3yos. It is still too early. I have the confidence of owners that worked with Robert Litt, from whom I took over. I have two colts owned by Yves Plantin, Amalgham (Njewman) and Splasch (Njewman) that I like. I also have others for His Highness Sheikh Mansoor, Pierre-Yves Juillard… I have nine 3yos in total. I limit myself in the number of Purebred Arabians and work with the clients I have since the start of my activity.
Who will be your first 3yo to begin?
We have had a difficult winter at Mont-de-Marsan, regarding the tracks. The horses are not very advanced. I will started Rawdah (Dahess) in the Prix Massoud in Bordeaux-Le Bouscat. If I ran him this early, because he pleases me. He shows a bit of speed and precocity… I like him.
Well-known in the Purebred Arabian world as a jockey, Didier Guillemin also forged himself a name as a trainer since several years. He illustrated himself last year in France and abroad with two horses out of the stallion Mahabb, wearing His Highness Sheikh Mansoor bin Zayed Al Nahyan silks, Mabrooka and Dahham.
The French Purebred Arabian. – How would you sum up your 2016 Purebred Arabian season?
Didier Guillemin. – Generally speaking, I think we did a very good season. Dahham started off well after a less good end of year. He is also quite hot and early... He had a rest this winter and comes back to my stables in a week. We will slowly get him back to work. I was also pleased with the performances of Mabrooka even though he had to run twice over the distance of 1,900m, a bit long for his capacities. She was very keen and was beaten twice by a short head. I think she never really forgot it and went through a bad period over the spring and summer. She finally came back at her best at the end of the season, when taking the second place of the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Jewel Crown [editor's note: Group I PA, the richest race in the world].
What are your hopes for your 3yos?
I don’t have much 3yos this year. I have two for Sheikh Mansoor. I am thinking of the sister of Mabrooka, Joudh (Mahabb) who will start in the Prix Djebella II on the 21st April in Toulouse. She is still quite green and has less speed than Mabrooka. She works well. There is also Harrab (Mahabb), a colt that does a good job and should start on the 21st April in the Prix Denouste, also in Toulouse. We can notice that Céleste de Ghazal (Madjani) started well in Bordeaux-Le Bouscat on the 31st March. She finished second of Al Moujjalli (Akim de Ducor) in a good lot. She confirmed her good work of the morning. She will also run the Prix Djebella II.
And amongst your 4yos?
I have Rmmas (Mahabb), a colt just under the best ones. He had won well in Mont-de-Marsan last year. We hope he will climb a step this year. He is a good looking horse and full brother to Mabrooka.
Will Dahham be seen this year?
Yes, we will get him back to work gently. The problem is the French program for 4yos. He is a true 1,400-1,600 metres horse and there are mainly races over 1,900 and 2,000 metres. It is a little problem, and especially with Purebred Arabians. You need a horse with a capacity to hold the trip and not a horse with speed. It is 600 metres too long and it is enormous for an Arabian horse.
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