Renée-Laure Koch: the reflections of a great horsewoman


Renée-Laure Koch: the reflections of a great horsewoman

Thanks to Natalma Al Maury, the owner-breeder upset calculations in the AFAC French Arabian Breeders' Challenge Sprint (Gr2 PA). From her Haras du Maury base, she elaborates on the genesis process behind this success.                                                             

The French Purebred Arabian. - Natalma Al Maury was an outsider in this Group race. What prompted you to run her?

Renée-Laure Koch. – We’ve been toying with the idea of stepping the filly back in trip for some time now. No Risk Al Maury (Kesberoy), the full brother of the grandam, raced over a myriad of different distances. However, he got beaten each time he raced over trips in excess  of 1,600m (1m). Natalma Al Maury bears the clear imprint of her sire Dahess (Amer). To my way of thinking, this stallion has the physique of a horse built for speed. Even if he managed to win over all manner of distances. In common with his progeny of this stallion, and in line with her sire, Natalma Al Maury is made for short distances. Furthermore, when we raced her over distances of 1,900m (9 1/2f) or greater, I noticed that she was unable to deliver her ‘finishing ‘kick’ at the business end. Since then, we have decided to drop her back in trip.

At San Sebastian, she contested a race totally devoid of pace. As they crawled along in the 1,500m (7 1/2f) heat. So we learned nothing at the end of the day. Alas, we also tied Alexandre Gavilan down to specific riding instructions and he rode to orders. This meant mounting a challenge from off the pace. The filly gave a good account of herself and, in a race lacking in pace, she got beaten.

Natalma Al Maury had two options on September 22nd: the AFAC French Arabian Breeders' Challenge Sprint (Gr2 PA) over 1,400m (7f), and a much easier ‘entry’, but over the distance of 1,900m (9 1/2f), the Prix Nedjari - Wathba Stallions Cup. I discussed the matter at length with Olivier Trigodet. We finally gave more weight to the distance factor. We did this knowing that we had decided to instruct the jockey to ride the filly in a manner which best suited her – namely by not worrying about the opposition, and despite the high quality field. I say this bearing in mind the presence of a very good horse, Deryan (Mahabb): as, had we raced in his slipstream, and taking into account his turn of foot, he would have been impossible to beat…Alexandre Gavilan rode a perfect race in the Group contest. He threaded his mount through a very narrow gap just at the right moment, and, consequently, the filly had enough left in the locker to repel Deryan [editor's note: the winner of the President of the UAE Cup - Coupe d'Europe des Chevaux Arabes (Gr1 PA]. You need to be patient when it comes to horses and appreciate the victories!

What does the future hold in store for her?

She’s not a precocious filly. Now in full bloom, she should return to training next year. She’s a 4-year-old and yet has only raced six times.

Alexandre Gavilan thinks that the filly can be stepped up in trip as she’s a straight forward ride that can be held up for her run. However, for the time being, we want to race her over trips in the 1,400m (7f) to 1,600m (1m) range.

This Group victory is that of the team. The feedback provided by the trainer and the jockey is vital. It's key when it comes to improving the breed.

Why did you choose Dahess as the stallion for No Worry Al Maury, the dam of Natalma Al Maury?

Everyone has their own ideas about breeding. For my part, I attach a lot of importance to the pedigree page. As the union between Dahess and No Worry Al Maury means that the filly is inbred 4 x 4 to Nevadour (Ourour).

Dahess is a horse with a very strong back, a quality he has inherited from his maternal line. I vividly recall the example of Rubis de Carrère (Elaborat and Nevadour), as the morphology of his back is identical to that of Dahess.

When horse has a good back, it’s a sign that the front end and the hind quarters of the horse are working in harmony.

We live in a changing world. This extends to the way horses are trained. Trainers have less time on their hands, and horses need to conform to certain moulds. So those horses whose confirmation is of the straight forward variety are at a considerable advantage in this context.

Some of the horses classed as "slightly lengthy types”, but with less strength in their backs, are really very good... but that doesn't make the trainer's job any easier.

So I endeavour to produce horses that are tend to be straight forward both physically and mentally. I used to have horses with extensive bloodlines. However, I realised, too, that you mustn’t over egg the pudding.

The market place has evolved in such a way that the more precocious horses are particularly prized. This is something to be taken into account when breeding plans are hatched. As waiting for the late developers to bloom can prove expensive. I even thought that it would be very difficult to win with previously unraced 4-year-olds. Although Olivier Trigodet proved me wrong with Natalma Al Maury! The filly exuded quality, while, at the same time, making us understand that we needed to take our time with her...

Traditionally, the selection process of PA horses in France revolves around the 3-year-old generation. Is this a decisive factor in the success of French breeding?

I don’t know. PA horses often tend to be backward types and, of those of which race at 3, some are never seen again on the racecourse. However, this is also linked to genetics. As you come across bloodlines which produce good 3-year-olds. The Bergeronnette (Djouran) line springs to mind. From a stallions’ viewpoint, Mister Ginoux (Amer) is a good example. This sire is out of Nacrée Al Maury (Kesberoy), a mare which I bred. Precocity isn’t the prime quality associated with my breeding operation. Although there are a few exceptions as denoted by Sylvine Al Maury (Munjiz), although she bore the strong imprint of her sire. In the case of Mister Ginoux there are two possible explanations. As Amer (Wafi) could have been responsible for this precocity. Failing that, it’s down to my breeding methodology although it isn’t noted for producing precocious types.

It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for several years. No detail is overlooked when it comes to breeding. Since then, I’ve entrusted some of the younger stock to the care of Thierry Dalla Longa of Haras de Saint-Vincent fame. We’re talking about different settings in terms of land [this was where the mighty Djerba Oua (Dragon), a quadruple winner as a 3-year-old, was born in the 1940s]. Furthermore, he has also worked for me. I know that we share the same vision. A batch of young colts, which have since left so as to undergo the breaking-in process, were based at Saint-Vincent since they were weaned. Once they reach the racecourse, we can then compare the precocity of the horses reared at the Haras du Maury with those at the Haras de Saint-Vincent.

From a commercial viewpoint, precocity is a quality. However, it isn’t a sure fire method of ensuring quality. On the other hand, I’m certain that two factors have enabled the French to make their mark: professionalism allied to knowledge of the breed. I realise that the training fraternity are becoming increasingly more professional.

 The great grandam of Natalma Al Maury is Nectarine Al Maury whose descendants have enjoyed remarkable success. As two of her daughters have produced Gr1 PA winners: Mister Ginoux, Lady Princess and No Problem Al Maury.

Absolutely. However, the fly in this particular ‘breeding’ ointment is that Nectarine Al Maury (Baroud III) had several sisters, and that they didn’t all enjoy the same degree of success at stud. Perhaps, those that were unsuccessful at a first generation level will go on to feature as the grandams of some good horses? I’m convinced of it. Nectarine Al Maury was a little bit apart as a physical specimen. She was more light-framed, but she was very expressive… and she had a lot of presence, qualities which have all been passed on.

The Nectarine Al Maury line has also proved a hit with other breeders. This is very

important. As the people which either buy a racehorse or a broodmare from you must, in turn, go on to enjoy success. My clientele is my best advertisement. Furthermore, ours is a difficult job. When I come across a good horse I’m invariably happy for the breeder. The implications for the Dell’Ovas regarding Hadi de Carrère (Nieshan) are great. As they have the reputation of being grafters.

The name Natalma Al Maury is a reference to the great US mare who gave birth to the legendary sire Northern Dancer. Why did you christen her in this way?

Every time that I name a PA horse after an illustrious English thoroughbred... I spare a thought for Jean-François Bernard. He was the one who advised me to do this, as they often turn out to be good horses! I often broached this subject with him and it made us smile. Horses are synonymous with the spirit of human adventure. Natalma Al Maury is not big, but she is very attractive, very upright in her stance, and has four good feet.

One can imagine that it’s hard to resist these offers for such a mare?

Yes. As the ‘Covid-19’ situation makes it difficult to see the path which lies ahead in 2021. Above all this relates to the ability to travel, which would otherwise enable us to chart her race programme in the event that we weren’t able to sell the filly. Breeding is a business and, like all businesses, you need income streams. I would like to keep her and to eventually breed from her as a broodmare, but it's not set in stone. Her dam No Worry Al Maury (Dormane) was in training with Jean-François Bernard. She, too, was backward. Although I can't say that I won’t sell the daughter, I will hang on to her dam for sure. The fact remains that I’ve already had many offers for No Worry Al Maury. However, if I sell my good broodmares, will I still be able to call myself a breeder? The crown jewels of the stud, they’re not for sale – irrespective of the price offered.

Would your best PA racehorses have been equally as effective as endurance performers?

I’m convinced of this. It’s been a long-standing conviction. I was among the first people that embraced the transition from PA to endurance racing. The results have since followed. Racing is a very good way of ensuring the ‘selection’ process, and the resulting bloodlines are excellent. A good PA racehorse has a good heart and good limbs. Yet it doesn’t always follow that they have good feet. However, this boils down to how the rider in the saddle and the blacksmith manage the situation. During the Uzès final for young endurance horses, my two representatives were fitted with ‘duplo’ horseshoes [Mistral Al Maury (No Risk Al Maury) and Fuego Al Maury (Zippy Al Maury]. Plastic is a remarkable shock absorber when it comes to galloping on hard ground or road surfaces. You can clearly tell the difference on the joints after 160 kms. Returning to the Uzès final, the horses were equipped with duplo shoes on all four feet 15 days before the competition. There was an adaptation process. However, it worked. As the horses earned the accolade of being elite performers [the highest category]

I’ve learned a lot from endurance racing and with particular regard as to what you can ask of a horse. This sport, when practiced correctly, is truly wonderful. It’s a milieu in which a lot of thought goes into shoeing process of horses, training and the harnessing of effort… it’s  absorbing.

Sometimes you seem intent on taking a punt on broodmares that aren’t above average on paper. I’m thinking in terms of Si Cruelle Al Maury (Djou Said) and Melody Al Maury (Way to Go). Why use these type of mares which lack commercial appeal?

By working with Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum or Alfred Lefèvre, I was lucky enough to come across a very large number of Arabian horses. I’ve stored up a lot of memories and sometimes a mare can evoke a memory of something. It’s something that can’t be described. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. In any case, you need to follow through your idea right to the very end, and both in the breeding and competitive spheres. Even if it may sound a little crazy. The Anglo-Arab Vite et Beau (Khanjerlion) had run three times on the flat. He was tense when it came to endurance racing at the beginning. I was told that he was destined to fail. However, in time, and particularly when Sheikh Mohammed was in the plate, he became a champion. My perseverance with Vite et Beau is precisely because I didn't want to give up on my idea in the wake of his first race: we took the time to understand why he was tense [by ensuring that he gets used to the particular conditions in which endurance races are started].