Gérard Larrieu: "The Purebred Arabian has proved to be my best trump card"

01.10.2020

Gérard Larrieu: "The Purebred Arabian has proved to be my best trump card"

A very colourful character, Gérard Larrieu is one of the most experienced bloodstock agents on the international circuit. The breeder's son, born at the foothills of the Pyrénées, has enabled his clients to scale the heights of the racing game, both on the flat and over jumps... and with Purebred Arabians and English thoroughbreds in equal measure!

The Chantilly Bloodstock supremo is enjoying a purple patch which is down to the high class PA distaffer Lady Princess (General), and the achievements of Sacred Life (a Listed winner in the US), Skyward (Prix de Reux, Gr3), Gold Trip (the winner of the Gr2 Prix Greffulhe winner and third in the Grand Prix de Paris, Gr1), Dream Works (Prix Ridgway, L); without forgetting several promising juveniles (Golden Boy, Darkness, Saqr…) which are expected to make their mark at black type level. During the month of August, and in between his stud visits, he provided us with the answers to our questions.

The French Purebred Arabian.Two of your purchases, Master of Reality and Skyward, are due to tackle the Melbourne Cup (Gr1). The latter is owned by John Messara. How did you come to meet this leader of the Australian breeding world?

Gérard Larrieu. – At that time, John Messara was THE media star in the racing world. It’s a name that resonated far beyond the confines of distant Australia. Although from a French perspective, he came across as a totally inaccessible character. At the end of the 1980s, he was about to float his breeding operation business on the stock market. Returning from a trip to the US, and in my late twenties at time, I was ignorant of the fact that BBA England had tried to buy Kenmare (Kalamoun) on his behalf. The latter was the top French stallion at the time. The sire belonged to a syndicate in which Guy de Rothschild was the majority stakeholder. I happened to know his lad, and he told me that the Baron had regretted rejecting this offer.

So I entrusted my sole Australian contact with the task of telling John Messara that if he really wished to buy the Kenmare this could only be done through me. I threw this idea to him on a whim... like throwing a bottle into the sea!

How was this deal completed?

After a period of time, and having equipped my car with a Radiocom 2000, the forerunner of the mobile phone, I received a call from someone who introduced himself as John Messara's lawyer. Dismissing it as a joke, I hung up. The phone rang again. It proved to be the same caller and the message was the invariably the same, and so I hung up a second time. On the third phone call, I picked up the receiver and John Messara – speaking French – was at the end of the line!

So I found myself at the very foot of the mountain, and on the day of the Arc sale, I introduced myself to the Baron... and he hadn’t a clue of who I was. Guy de Rothschild subsequently made it known that Kenmare wasn’t for sale. However, he was the consignor of a daughter of Kenmare at the sale which I bought for another client. The Baron then got back to me and suggested that I should follow him to his residence in my car. Driving my Peugeot 204, I drove across Paris, having tailed his chauffeur-driven car very closely so as not to lose him along the way. We arrived at the Lambert Hotel at around midnight. I got off to the worst possible start, as, on entering the living room, I stepped on his little dog! Eventually, late into the night and having put all my points across, we called Australia from the Baron's living room. Consequently, John Messara and Guy de Rothschild ended up talking for two hours on the phone. The deal was finally agreed at 2.30 am!

You also sold Kendor to John Messara?

Kendor (Kenmare) was ridden in his races by Maurice Philipperon and was equipped with a breastplate. He was temperamental and his jockey wasn’t in control. Kendor was good… when it came to getting his own way. After his victory in the Poule d'Essai des Poulains (Gr1), John Messara enquired if the horse was for sale. So I made contact with his owner Adolphe Bader.  Consequently, John Messara, accompanied by his lawyer, hastily made arrangements to fly-in from Australia. After they touched down in France, we all made our way to the stable of the horse’s trainer, Raymond Touflan, at Maisons-Laffitte. Once on site, the horse showed the very difficult side of his nature. Approaching him proved all but impossible. He was also aggressive towards stable staff. Raymond Touflan's son, a bear of a man, was the only one who could really saddle him. We then went to see the horse exercise on the training grounds and he was wasn’t very supple. We later realised that he had chipped a bone in his knee. He never raced again after his ‘Poule’ [editor's note: French 2,000 Guineas] win. Granted all these calamities, I could hardly see the sale coming to fruition. However, my troubles were far from over. On the return journey, and somewhere between the gallops and the Touflan stable, we found ourselves heading our way down one of the Maisons-Laffitte streets. Clocking a speed of 50kms per hour, I caught sight of a grey horse in my rear-view mirror... riderless and by now on the road! John Messara, a passenger in the car, then spotted Kendor, whom he intended to buy, hurtling past the car at full speed on the tarmac surface. The horse continued on his merry way and, quick as a flash, he made a beeline for his trainer’s yard, and ended up in the hen house, which was surrounded by other forms of poultry which the Touflan family kept. I can still recall the bewildered look on John Messara’s face. As after a 30 hour flight, he was confronted by the sight of Kendor, his future stallion prospect, with a hen on his back. Despite this, the deal was done!

Alas, the horse didn’t prove successful at stud in Australia. Consequently, I later acquired him and he went on to become a great French stallion.

Kendor didn't have a great pedigree. Is it possible to source a good PA horse from pedigrees which are modest ones?

Arawak d'Aroco (Manganate), whose dam was by Fawzan (Tuhotmos), is just one such example. As the dam hails from a line of endurance horses. From humble beginnings, the family rose to prominence over time. Arawak d'Aroco was the first decent performer from this line. I acquired him on the day that he made his racecourse debut. He got loose... and proved to be a rather difficult sort. Despite hailing from a modest female line, he became a champion. Arawak d'Aroco was born in 1992 – the year I went to Qatar for the first time. I was invited by His Highness

Sheikh Mohamed Al Thani. I sold this particular horse to him a few years later.

You also bought Djainka des Forges, the winner of the Qatar Arabian World Cup (Gr1 PA), for the same owner….

Initially, I bought Djamour des Forges (Tidjani), together with her foal Djainka des Forges (Kerbella), on my own behalf. Sheikh Mohamed Al Thani then asked me to source female stock by Tidjani (Flipper). So I suggested that he should either acquire Djamour des Forges – stipulating that I had to wait until the weaning – or buy the pair. I favoured the second option and ended up by selling him mother and daughter. Djainka des Forges was raised at the Haras de Saint-Faust when she was a foal. She then transferred to Britain where she boarded at the stud of her owner's brother.

You have the reputation of being a purist…

Jean-Marc de Watrigant is a genuine purist. Much of the success we associate with the French PA horse can be attributed to him. Even when the PA horses were deemed worthless, as there was no financial return at the time, he bred them with the same care which we associate with the top English thoroughbreds. He never skimped on anything. He invariably invested much passion in the selection process. On the off chance, do you happen to know who he did his military service with? It was François Boutin! You couldn't make it up. Here were two men firmly driven by the selection process, they aspired to be at the top. They were hardly make-up artists. I relate to them as regards their quest for quality. If racing in France was to revolve solely around second-division handicaps... I would start raising geese. The only reason which explains my early arrival at the Deauville Meeting is to observe the outcome of the Prix de Tancarville, and the other quality 2-year-old races.

How was your vocation for the racing game born?

My parents were breeders. My first purchase, made at the age of 14, was an Arabian mare. Going by the name of Medica (Ourour), her name still crops up in the pedigrees of some useful winning performers. The family involvement continued, in partnership with my brothers, at the Haras de Saint-Faust. You can compete with the best when it comes to Arabian horses. The number of horses we are involved with has since increased considerably. At this moment in time, we have around 20 Arabian mares. We are also involved with English thoroughbred jump racing mares. Statistically, it isn’t impossible to fashion a crack performer in these two disciplines. It’s more difficult on the flat scene when it comes to English thoroughbreds. Even if I’ve already managed to manufacture one, having sold Morning Light (Law Society) with Brametot (Rajsaman) in utero.

I’ve dabbled in many facets of the sport, from training to foaling, and been involved in mating plans... However, my passport, and the one that opened all the doors, proved to be the Arabian horse. Without the breed, I would never have been able to grow professionally. I would certainly have gravitated towards another job in the horse industry. Compared to the French, the English often have a superiority complex at a racing level. However, we need to make the most of our assets... such as the Arabian horse.

Is France a good country to set up shop?

We see a lot of young breeders starting out from scratch, and yet manage to make ends meet in our country. I don't think there are as many doing likewise across the English Channel. Even if it's tough in France, it's still easier than in England. Currently topping the French breeders’ list are Messieurs Pariente (Haras de Colleville) and Waugh (Jedburgh Stud)... and neither are multi-millionaires. I won't even broach the subject of the training profession. It’s even worse for the younger generation trainers in Britain. However, for those based in South-West France, PA horses thoroughbreds present an exceptional opportunity. I’m alluding to the examples of Charles Gourdain and Élisabeth Bernard. Olivier Trigodet is also making it pay thanks to the breed.

You’ve also enjoyed great success over jumps thanks to the likes of Burning Victory (Triumph Hurdle, Gr1) or Messagère (Prix Sagan, Gr3).

Jump racing is a magnificent sport. I started out in the discipline. Before hooking up with François Boutin, I was with Jean Couétil for three years. It was a big jumping operation at the time. I was in charge of running the Maisons-Laffitte end of things. However, it’s a very difficult, demanding and formative discipline. Jean-Claude Rouget, Aidan O'Brien and André Fabre were all jumping trainers before branching out on the flat. At François Boutin's yard I got a taste for the very good horses…the high quality ones. He was surrounded by the very best people, the crème de la crème. The best of the best... and I yearned to become a trainer!

Yet you became a bloodstock agent…

Before setting up shop, I yearned to discover the US racing scene. François Boutin told me that he had a friend in New York. So I was hired as an assistant to Mack Miller. He, too, was only interested in the crème de la crème.

It was here that I met my first client, who was to give me a $1 million budget to buy horses in France. This entailed me acquiring Sifounas (Secretariat), Negundo (Tyrant) and Interco (Intrepid Hero) for the US market. Naturally, the trio were sourced from François Boutin, and I knew them like the back of my hand! Interco developed into a crack US performer, and he was a quadruple Gr1 winner as a 4-year-old. Thanks to him, I was able to buy numerous other horses-in-training, in addition to well-bred fillies by Lyphard (Northern Dancer) and Riverman (Never Bend) because they were much cheaper to buy on the other side of the Atlantic. One thing led to another and I became a bloodstock agent and not a trainer.

What advice do you give to prospective clients?

The first mistake would be to dress up a purchase as an investment. Especially, if the client is unfamiliar with racing. When someone buys a yacht you don't portray it as an investment. You have to do for your client what you would do for yourself. Jean-Louis Bouchard, for example, knows the racing game inside out. He employs a number of different trainers and is familiar with the different ways of doing things. I can't teach him anything, as he was on the ParisLongchamp scene before me. However, thanks to him and his financial muscle, I'm doing what I would have liked to do for myself. Of course, he makes the decisions. To be a bloodstock agent you need to acquire experience. That counts for a lot. Knowledge of the horse is, of course, important, but, above all, you need to be familiar with pedigrees, the various family lines, and the relevant races.

Trêve features among your very best purchases…

The preceding year I had sold Rjwa (Muhtathir) to Saeed Nasser Al Romaithi in whose colours she finished second in the Prix Saint-Alary (Gr1). Following on from this, His Excellency Sheikh Joaan Al Thani bought her [Trêve] through me and went on finish third in the Prix de Diane. He then asked me to source an Arc de Triomphe contender. I replied that this was an almost impossible task. This was the year when everyone was raving about Intello (Galileo). He was the horse of the moment. However, over the same and course and distance as the Prix du Jockey Club, and under identical conditions, Trêve (Motivator) clocked the trip in a time that was five seconds superior to Intello. From then on, Trêve appealed as an obvious Arc contender so Sheikh Joaan acquired an eventual dual winner of the Arc…and, the week after the big race, he founded Al Shaqab Racing in tandem with other family members.

You also purchased Hadi de Carrère, currently the best PA 3-year-old in France. What did you like about him?

Beaten on his debut, he appealed as being physically more powerful than his rivals, and the young horses from the Éric Dell'Ova yard tend to have a lot of scope for improvement. The winner of this race is also highly regarded by Thomas Fourcy. A good horse, owned by one of my clients, also contested the same race. The fact that an immature horse was capable of making a race of it with the best that the Fourcy yard had to offer, was the signal that you could make this purchase even with your eyes shut. Lady Princess (General), blessed with an extraordinary action, was another case in point. Manark (Mahabb) was recommended to me by Damien de Watrigant. After his victorious debut, he went on to race in the colours of Hamdan Al Maktoum. His first products are exceptional. I have been working for this owner for almost four decades. Jean-Louis Bouchard and Sheail Bin Khalifa Al Kuwari have been with me for almost as long!