Buoyant Bozo prepares for another August Sale showstopper
James Thomas catches up with the manager of leading vendor Ecurie des Monceaux
Ecurie des Monceaux sold all five of the highest priced lots at the Arqana August Yearling Sale last year and four of the top five in 2015, including €2.6 million record-breaker Parabellum. Forget the boutiques in Deauville that bear the name of Dior, Hermes and Yves St Laurent; Monceaux is the most exclusive designer label in town.
High stakes thoroughbred breeding can often take itself as seriously as high fashion, but Monceaux manager Henri Bozo heads to the seaside sales ring in buoyant mood.
"We've got exactly the same size draft as last year, and all the yearlings we're selling, bar one, are bred and raised here," says Bozo as he oversees a batch of the operation's homebreds being led around the picturesque stud's tree-shaded quadrangles. "I'm excited to go to Deauville with this draft, every year the competition gets stronger and stronger, but we're confident."
Bozo has every reason to be confident, as the celebrated nursery, which has quickly established itself as the perennial leading vendor at the August Sale, will offer 34 yearlings in Deauville – including a generous helping of lots by the world's best stallions, and from the most in-vogue female lines.
"As much as possible we try to go to the best proven stallion we can; Galileo, Dubawi and so on," he says of the process of breeding such coveted yearlings.
"And we're also excited to have a War Front colt this year," he adds, before going on to explain how a son of the Kentucky kingpin found his way to rural Normandy. "We bought the mare in foal to War Front at Keeneland in partnership with Newsells Park. The foal was born in Europe and we keep the mare over here. Last year we bought another mare in America, in foal to Uncle Mo this time, and she is at Newsells Park."
The colt (Lot 27), who is built very much in the image of his celebrated sire, is out of the Galileo mare Meandering, a sister to the Group 2-winning and Group 3-placed Up and a half-sister to Middle Park and Prix Morny winner Dutch Art. The cross of War Front over Galileo has already been well advertised of late, with Roly Poly landing both the Falmouth Stakes and the Prix Rothschid.
Bozo goes on to explain some of the founding principles that have shaped the Monceaux mating plans. "Most of our female pedigrees are based on middle distances, so when possible I try to bring a bit of speed into those mares in the hope that maybe she will produce a more precocious type," he says.
"We’ve used Kingman, Oasis Dream – who's still a very good horse – Siyouni, and we've also used Muhaarar and Dark Angel quite a lot," he says, before highlighting his affection for a stallion that has clicked to great effect with the Monceaux mares. "We've also been very fortunate with Invincible Spirit. We bred his Group 1-winning sons Charm Spirit and National Defense and have five to sell by him at Arqana this year. I'm a great fan of the sire and every year he has some really exciting horses."
"We like to go to horses with pedigree, both sire-line and maternal line," Bozo continues. "They have to be Group 1 winners, and it's also important to use stallions in good hands who will have a real chance to perform and the chance to cover good mares. We think it's sensible of stallion owners to limit books of mares: that makes sense now, and I think it will make even more sense in the future."
Of course, no matter how significant a sire is, he will only ever comprise one half of a pedigree, and ultimately it is the success of the likes of famed foundation mare Platonic and her daughters Pacifique and Prudenzia that have helped to propel Monceaux to the head of a highly competitive league of boutique breeders.
But it rarely pays to rest on one's laurels in any walk of life, let alone the relentlessly rotating worlds of breeding and racing. So while Prudenzia bids for her fifth consecutive seven-figure yearling with a brother to last year's August Sale-topper (51), Bozo and the team at Monceaux already have one eye on the future of the broodmare band.
That filly is, of course, not the first that Monceaux have been keen to keep among their future broodmare prospects, having also gone to €1m to retain the Dubawi half-sister to Falmouth winner Giofra during last year's Arqana sale. Bozo explains that putting the Haras de la Perelle-bred filly on the market was something of a foolproof experiment for Monceaux, albeit one that's unlikely to be repeated.
"She's in training with Jean-Claude Rouget and is going well," he says of the filly who has since been named Gratefully. "That was investment in new blood. We bought her as a foal and thought we'd see if we had a good offer for her as a yearling. But I think in people's minds [our intention] wasn't very clear, so we kept her. That confirmed our view that we have to stick to what we know. Having a clear policy is important: we're breeders, we try to improve the quality of our stock every year, and we sell our yearlings. That's what we do.
"What we're looking for with the mares is a foundation family - those genes that can come back and produce proper Group 1 horses. Mares of that quality are hard to find, so we go in partnership and buy four, five, six every year. If they have the family and the performance that's even better, but this market is so competitive - with big players from everywhere in the world coming to the same place to buy the same mares - sometimes you have to take a chance on the performance side."
Partnerships have become the norm among the premier league bloodstock operations. But it is not only other behemoths of the breeding world with which Monceaux has joined forces; such is Bozo's passion for the industry that he is encouraging participation from more up-and-coming entities as well.
"We tend to have 50 per cent of the mares we're buying, but I'm also looking to develop partnerships with new, young French investors to promote our business and to promote horseracing," he says. "There are young people willing to invest, and we're having fun and they seem to enjoy it - we need new, young, enthusiastic owners in France. I'm pretty sure with the new Longchamp and the new team at the head of France Galop it's going to go the right way. Hopefully the new government will help the business to become a little more dynamic, too."
Seeing the yearlings swagger around the stud during their preparation, and studying their catalogue pages, you cannot help but wonder whether future sale-toppers or Group 1 winners might be in front of your eyes. But perhaps the single most impressive element of the operation at Monceaux is the passion emanating from the man at the helm.
Bozo talks about each mare, mating, foal and yearling with an exuberance that seems to have permeated the very fabric of the property that has stood on the site since 1925, when American industrialist Ralph Beaver Strassburger first established Monceaux.
"We keep developing the farm, we're very attached to this area. It's very good land, there is no industry around so no pollution, it's close to Deauville, it's close to Paris, it's close to England! I'm most definitely enjoying it," he beams. "But for me, what is most important is the horses that race every year, I think that they are the best guarantee of long-term success."