Buveur D'Air part of AQPS breeding History
Scott Burton talks to Gerard Ferte, breeder of the champion hurdler
Conventional wisdom in racing and breeding can be a double-edged sword. Some "universal" truths, to be sure, reflect hard-earned evidence. Yet to run continually with the crowd means that, sooner or later, you might end up on the wrong side of history - or, in this instance, History, the dam of Buveur D'Air.
The impact of AQPS imports in Britain and Ireland over the last 20 or so years is hard to overstate, though few buyers came back from France believing they had invested in speed, so much as raw jumping ability and stamina.
Then up pops Buveur D'Air - a son of Haras de la Baie stallion Crillon - who bridged a gap of 15 years back to the last AQPS-bred Champion Hurdler, Hors La Loi.
Gerard Ferte is among hundreds of small breeders spread across the central regions of France attracted to the "French chaser" as a way of indulging a passion - while arable farming paid the bills.
"Everything started with History’s granddam, Lili Dancer," says Ferte. "She came about as a result of a mating between a little thoroughbred mare by Native Dancer and and a very good half-bred jumps stallion, Evainquer. It turned out to be a good idea because she became cross-country champion of France and also went on to become a good broodmare.
"In particular she produced Darjeeling, who won the Grand Steeplechase at Pau as well as Fujiyama, who was twice successful in the Grand Cross de Craon. It was her aptitude for jumping which dominated and I have always loved cross-country."
The only produce out of Lili Dancer's daughter Clair Deux Lune, History was by a little-remembered son of Alleged, Alesso, who nonetheless also sired the mighty Baracouda.
And while Ferte is first to admit that History was far from prolific as a broodmare, the fact that she also gave birth to Punchestowns means that what she lacked in numbers she amply redressed in quality.
"History was a mare who wasn’t the easiest to get in foal," says Ferte. "But in any case it is never my aim to have each broodmare covered every year. I am only a small breeder with a small number of horses and I don’t aim to have a lot of foals on the ground.
"My trainer, Philippe Chemin, suggested Crillon because he was a stallion renowned for being a good match for difficult mares. On top of that he was a super racehorse and was very tough, good looking and got good stock."
The family's stamina shone through in Punchestowns, a Grade 1 winner over hurdles at three miles. But from the moment he finished fourth in the red-hot Supreme Novices' Hurdle of 2016, it seemed obvious that Buveur D'Air had more boot than his brother. Was his breeder surprised ?
"I suppose so," Ferte says. "But the family had already thrown up a horse called Imlight, who won on the Flat at Longchamp. That said, it was a surprise because of all that cross-country blood. I would say he could certainly win a Stayers’ Hurdle because his brother, Punchestowns, was a very narrow second in that race to Big Buck’s, an absolute racing phenomenon."
Ferte keeps "about 20 hectares" in the Allier region where he began more than 50 years ago, while the family farming business is now in younger hands.
Born in 2011, Buveur D'Air is the most recent of History's sparse production to reach the course, while the family's future lies in her daughters kept by Ferte.
"History unfortunately died due to complications when foaling a colt by Coastal Path, who only survived a few days himself," he says. "On the ground I have one yearling colt by Rail Link out of a Turgeon granddaughter of History.
"That ability to jump is what I am trying for, above all else, and I like to try and use jumping stallions. That is why the two mares that I have currently have this year visited Cocoriko, who is a real jumping influence."
And jumping, of course, remains ever part of the package. But if you can get a bonus of speed and brilliance, so much the better.