EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH MOHAMED ESSAIED - The victory of Hajres is the culmination of discussions dating back four years
The easy winner of the Prix Dormane (Gr. III PA) after beating some of the best that France has to offer, Hajres earned rave reviews at La Teste racecourse by becoming the first Tunisian-born and bred to win at this level on our soil. Trained by Élisabeth Bernard, he gave connections and his breeder, the Haras Ahmed Essaied, a big shot in the arm. We later caught up with Mohamed Essaied.
The French Purebred Arabian. – The win of Hajres was a historic one for Tunisian horses, was it not?
Mohamed Essaied. – It’s true that we had already tasted success in Group PA races in France but never with a horse born and bred in Tunisia. Certain of our mares, bought by foreign clients, were successful. However, it’s the first time that a Tunisian-homebred has managed to win a French group race.
What does this mean to you?
It’s, of course, a huge source of pride.
Did you manage to see the race?
I watched it live on Equidia as I was unable to make the trip because of a prior commitment. Previously, I was there in person when the horse raced in Bordeaux, Toulouse and Casablanca.
Why did you send him to France?
He’s a colt, who after being broken in, proved himself vastly superior to his contemporaries, and one must emphasise that the 2014 generation was a vintage one. We had the three best Tunisian colts at the time – so his absence wasn’t really felt in our stable. I asked Mme Bernard to come and take a look at him and she did so when he was still a juvenile in November 2016. He was having his first canters and I wanted to seek the professional opinion of a foreign trainer. She was very surprised by his precocity and physique. She said: ‘Mr Essaied, at this point in time, we have no colt in France which can match him physically’. That was a big factor in my decision to send him to France, although it was always on the cards that he would begin his racing career in Tunisia. It’s great to be able to look the part and show a certain superiority on the training grounds, but it’s the races themselves which are the real acid test.
This was a successful blueprint as he won everything?
He made his debut in a quality field of unraced horses. I booked Émilien Révolte, the French jockey, who frequently rides for me in Tunisia. I wanted him to be on board the colt on his introduction so that I could get his feedback. He was really taken by him and opined that he had a lot of quality. It proved to be a formality and he was upped to Group PA class for his second start. Up against some of the best of his generation in the Prix Ibn (Gr. II PA local), he again trotted up.
There was then a seven week gap prior to the Poule d’Essai des Poulains - le Prix Godolphin Arabian [editor's note: 1,600m] – the Group I PA race which determines the generation leader. We saw a different side to his style of racing, as he found himself in front from where he controlled the race in a good time. That made up our minds to race him in France.
Why did you chose the stable of Mrs Bernard?
She’s very familiar with Tunisia and has often gone racing at Kassar Said. She clearly likes our country and horse scene a lot. On each of my French visits, I’ve been able to meet up with her. During an evening out at a restaurant, I showed her a few videos of my horses. She told me that she would be delighted to train some of them so as to be able to test the French waters. She believed in their qualities. The victory of Hajres is the culmination of discussions between us dating back four years. This joint venture with Elisabeth Bernard has been rewarded, and I couldn’t imagine having horses in training with anyone else.
However, we’ve noticed that Hajres carries the colours of Emadadein Alhtoushi?
I came to an arrangement with him but I still own shares in the horse. Mr Alhtoushi is my associate, and he has already bought horses in France. I therefore pointed him in the direction of Mme Bernard. This was first venture as an owner-breeder but I’m planning to continue the venture by sending one or two colts to be trained in Europe on a yearly basis.
Explain how the breeding operation started?
It runs in the family and is something that has been handed down from father to son. The Essaied family’s links with the horse world began in the 1930s, and it was my grandfather which founded the stud in the 1940s. The stud has been located at Sidi Thabit since 1962. We are the most prestigious stud in the region known as ‘Grand’ Maghreb [editor's note: Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Libya] in terms of successful broodmares, as our bloodlines have impacted everywhere. For example, Salamah (Sibawaih), the dam of Madjani (Tidjani) is one of our homebreds. Our bloodlines are a great source of satisfaction. The dam of Darike (Dormane), Malika Fontenay (Medicq Allah), hails from another of our bloodlines via the sire of the dam, Besbes (Esmet Ali).
You must have had many good horses?
Lots of them. The reference point as regards Tunisian racing is the Grand Prix du Président de la République (Gr. I PA local - 2,000m), which is the country’s richest race. We are the record holders in terms of number of wins in this race which, until 1965, was the domain of English thoroughbreds. That is until it became the big event for pure-bred Arabians in 1966. We won the race for the first time in 1967 and, since then, the victories have continued to flow. G’Daa (Tidjam Lotois) (2017), Fawzi (Darman) (2016) and Enta Horr (Hajjam) (2015) all successfully represented the latest generation. We also hopeful of further success at the end of May as we have two very good horses earmarked for the race.
Please elaborate on your broodmare band?
Our 60 mares produce around 50 foals annually. After the breaking-in process, we select the best prospects as our sole aim is to win the Tunisian classics. We then sell the rest.
Do you have any English Thoroughbreds?
My grandfather was opposed to the idea of the English Thoroughbred in the Maghreb. He was convinced that the breeding of a good purebred Arabian was the conduit to international success, and he was, of course, right (laughing). Regarding the English thoroughbred, he always maintained that our climate was never conducive to breeding them. At best, they would flourish at a local level in the Maghreb but not on the wider stage. He was therefore always opposed to the English thoroughbred and a defender of the purebred Arabian. He also cited climatic factors for this and it’s true. The nature of English Thoroughbred emphasises the need for pastures and grazing facilities throughout the year, which is something that we don’t have. On the other hand, the purebred Arabian is tough and adapts well to warm climates. I’ve had purebred Arabian colts come from France and join my stable. They weren’t as good looking or as precocious as their stablemates. This confirms that the purebred Arabian is well adapted to the climate and the local breeding environment, although from a means’ perspective we are talking different ball game. We aren’t at the same level in the domain of nutrition (our fodder is of poorer quality), but in the coming years the competition among the Tunisian breeding fraternity will be even fiercer.
Since when have you been using foreign stallions?
In the years preceding the year 2,000 decade we were quite insular as regards our Tunisian bloodlines. We had to too much in-breeding. However, during the last ten years or so, all that has changed and our horses, as well our breeding, has evolved for the introduction of new bloodlines. It must be stressed that that in-breeding resulted in fragility of the breed and a lot of horses breaking down.
Why did Tunisia become inward looking?
Our racing programme was very much a year round affair and comprised two to three meetings for Purebred Arabians per week. We were self-sufficient and, besides, the French purebred Arabian racing scene was far less appealing in the 1990s.
Today everything has changed has it not?
Thanks to the Dormane (Manganate) bloodline, which proved successful in the Tunisian context, and now that of Amer (Wafi), we noticed a positive impact in terms of horses as better physical specimens. They were also less susceptible to bone and ligament problems. Furthermore, Tunisian breeding has never been afraid to fly its own flag by facing foreign competition. This has been the case the Italian track of Grosseto where each year the best pure-bred Arabians take each other on. We had a notable win at the Tuscany venue with Daawa (Hosni).
My hope is that the success of Hajres will encourage other Tunisian owners and breeders to broaden their horizons by racing abroad. I think that it will act as a spur for many. Furthermore, Halima (Munjiz) broke new ground by becoming the first Tunisian filly to win in France last year. She was bred by Fares Torgemane who belongs to a historic family of breeders who are horsemen through and through.
Explain Nizam as the choice of stallion for the dam of Hajres?
We are aware that crossing the Dormane and Amer bloodlines works well. The dam of Hajres is by Vent Dredy (Dormane). We didn’t have a huge amount of choice in our choice of the Amer ‘cross’ in view of his dominant position. Furthermore, the outcross of Amer’s stallion son Dahess hasn’t worked well when bred to our Tunisian mares. We have managed to obtain some semen samples of this stallion who was bought by the Tunisian Slim Sliboub, but we haven’t been very successful. We are in the process of choosing new stallions for our mares and notably Azadi, Nizam and No Risk Al Maury.
Can you elaborate regarding the distaff side of Hajres?
It’s one of the best Tunisian bloodlines and it’s a family which has generated numerous champions. The last three winners of the Grand Prix du Président de la République (Gr. I PA local) all hail from this Ghadouia (Raoui) line. She has been a dominant influence for a long time and we have stallions descended from this line such as Dammar (Darike).
I believe that Dammar will be standing at the Haras de Thouars this year?
Of course. Initially, we sent to France as there had been some interest in using his semen samples. However, when the local breeders cast eyes on him they were impressed by his physique. After discussions with Emmanuel Cessac it was agreed that Dammar should be given the opportunity of being introduced to the French breeding scene. His distaff side, physique and race record make for a very good sire.
Please elaborate regarding the sire of Hajres: Vent Dredy?
He was one of the first western sires to stand in Tunisia. He was imported during the first decade after the turn of the century and hails from a very good female line. His dam generated many good horses and his sire, Dormane, was much sought after. However, he was hardly noted as quality sire in terms of performance on the track. His progeny, however, tended to be too big and, at this time, our trainers were used to the sleeker ‘Oriental’ type of horses: light-framed and precocious. The progeny of this sire were also very injury prone and, from this angle, he was hardly a success. We simply weren’t use to these physical specimens during this transitory phase. He had no luck. However, as a broodmare sire it’s a recurring theme that his daughters have started to get good results. The dam of Hajres isn’t a unique case.
How have French bloodlines impacted on Tunisian-breeding?
Yes, on the paternal side. They have been responsible for generating many good performers, and I quote the examples of Dormane, Darike, plus the sons and grandsons of Tidjani. However, the core strengths of our breeding are our mares, and the pure-bred Arabian has been very well looked after in our country. In the days pre-ceding DNA and microchip, it was obligatory to send your mares to one of the national studs (NS) to be bred. They also had to foal in-situ. If the mare foaled outside the confines of the NS, the resulting offspring wasn’t assimilated to the stud book. In this way, we have been able to maintain pure bloodlines which haven’t been contaminated by certain stallions which I won’t mention…Tunisia is one of the rare countries to have looked after its breeds in common with Syria and Iraq, with the horses of Mr Al Nujaifi also reflecting best practice.
Define your breeding policy?
It’s the same as that of my grandfather and we never sell our broodmares in Tunisia. He developed certain bloodlines which are exclusive to us, and all our stock which has been earmarked for sale is for the export market. Our core markets are Libya, Morocco and the Gulf states. Some of the stock is sold to the US, Switzerland and Belgium, and many end up in France. The Sultanate of Oman ‘market’ has particularly developed in the last few years. Our 2015 champion, Enta Horr, raced there and won a domestic Group I PA there.
He beat numerous foreign horses at the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016. Following his success, the Omanis became very interested in our broodmares. They acquired Fetat Koraich (Rafii) who was a high quality Tunisian performer. We’ve been visited by the big Qatari stables and they have inspected our broodmares, which has opened the doors to a potential collaboration. We usually sell 30 to 40 horses on an annual basis, and above all our male stock plus five-year-old and six-year-old mares. The younger stock are kept aside for breeding purposes.
A TUNISIAN HORSE RACING UNDER LIBYAN COLOURS
Hajres carries the colours of a Libyan owner, Emadadein Alhtoushi, who extended his racing interests to France two years ago. Hajres aside, he is also the owner of an English Thoroughbred, Baron (Myboycharlie), who won two races when variously under the aegis of Mrs Élisabeth Bernard and Henri-Alex Pantall. Prior to that his Majd du Loup (Majd Al Arab) triumphed on the sand track at Seville when trained by Élisabeth Bernard. He was later exported to Oman.
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