Cheltenham hopes run from Alpha to Omega for Obeaux clan
Scott Burton speaks to Jerome Devilder, whose family owns the Haras de la Benauderie, famous for the 'Obeaux' dynasty of jumpers
Given the raft of horses heading to the spring festivals carrying the "Des Obeaux" label, you could be forgiven for thinking that there is some great swathe of the French countryside given over to a sizeable breeding operation of the same name.
The truth is that the Devilder family run on a far more boutique scale than that, with their Haras de la Benauderie near Angers home to just 15 broodmares as well as around 25 horses in training.
Nicolas Devilder made his money as the owner of textile factories in the industrial Pas de Calais region in the north and, having been a decent eventer in his day, always kept "two or three" horses around the place.
His son Jerome takes up the story: "When he was younger my father bought an event horse that he then tried to train for racing. He didn’t really know a lot about racing but he thought it would be fun to train. While he was still running the textile business it was really a hobby.
"Once the factories were sold, he decided to get into it properly. It wasn’t easy to begin with as there was a lot to learn but he was fascinated by the origins and bloodlines and that helped him acquire the right material in terms of good horses, which of course are easier to train."
The decision to make his passion a full-time pursuit led Nicolas Devilder to the jumping heartlands of the west in 2002, first in the Mayenne before settling in his current location, three hours drive from Paris.
Now Devilder splits his time between training the homebreds and planning the breeding operation, while Jerome concentrates his time on the stud.
And both sides of the operation - which covers around 100 hectares and boasts a six furlong uphill gallop, something of a rarity in France - have been enjoying plenty of high-profile success.
"We have had a great year on both fronts because, on the training side, my father has won five or six races at Auteuil, which is always satisfying," says Jerome Devilder. "And then in England and Ireland there are five or six "Obeaux" that are going well, and who represent different bloodlines."
5 OF THE BEST "OBEAUX" EXPORTS
Houblon Des Obeaux 10yo g Panoramic - Harkosa (Nikos)
Career highlight has arguably been winning G2 Denman Chase but has also been placed in multiple Graded events for Venetia Williams. Randox Health Grand National could be his main spring target
Alpha Des Obeaux 7yo g Saddler Maker - Omega Des Obeaux (Saint Preuil)
Another with a string of placed efforts in Graded company, notably when second to Thistlecrack in the 2016 World Hurdle for Mouse Morris and Gigginstown. Leading player in next month's RSA Chase.
Messire Des Obeaux 5yo g Saddler Maker - Madame Lys (Sheryann)
Highly tried at Auteuil before winning Grade 2 novice hurdle at Sandown and Grade 1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury for Alan King. Full brother Bouvreuil is a high-class handicap chaser with Paul Nicholls.
Clan Des Obeaux 5yo g Kapgarde - Nausicaa Des Obeaux (April Night)
6th in the 2016 Triumph Hurdle and already a better chaser, having scored at Grade 2 level for Paul Nicholls. Entered in the JLT Novices' Chase
Dinaria Des Obeaux 4yo f Saddler Maker - Indiana Jaune (Le Nain Jaune)
AQPS Bumper winner at Fougeres who won novice hurdle on debut for Gordon Elliott by 29 lengths. Third in Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown, and awarded the Grade 3 juvenile hurdle at Fairyhouse on Saturday. She is a leading fancy for Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.
"In the early years my father invested heavily in some good mares, mostly buying privately," says Devilder. "Alpha Des Obeaux is out of Omega and the grand dam is called Alpaga, who is 32 years old and who is still on the farm, enjoying her retirement. We have kept three or four of her daughters and that is a really good line.
"He bought several mares from a good family at the Haras d’Estruval, - which is close to where we grew up - producing the likes of Kali Des Obeaux and Tali Des Obeaux, who won races at Auteuil and was bought by Simon Munir. I also love the family of Houblon Des Obeaux, who is out of Harkosa, who we bought as a yearling in Deauville.
"The other bloodline I should mention is that of Clan Des Obeaux, who is with Paul Nicholls. That is a real AQPS family because we bought the grandam, who was a cross between a thoroughbred sire and a trotting mare. To start with it was a line which was very close to trotting. Kapgarde was a good choice for her daughter [Nausicaa Des Obeaux] because he puts a lot of thoroughbred into his APQS stock.
"We no longer buy broodmares and we are quite selective about the mares we keep. They have to either have produced a Group winner or be the sister of of a Group winner. That’s how we keep the numbers down to around 15."
As much as the consistently strong output from La Benauderie is a testament to the Devilders' judicious acquisition of good broodmares, it speaks almost as strongly of their faith in Saddler Maker, who they stood on behalf of owner Pierre Coveliers between 2008 and his departure for the Haras de Cercy in 2013.
"We covered nearly all of our mares with him because we love Sadler’s Wells and Alleged," says Devilder. "Some of our acquaintances and fellow breeders in the area supported him as well. He probably got about 40 covers the first year, between us and them. To begin with he had no reputation because he had such small early crops and it is difficult to attract breeders when there are no great results to speak of, while there are plenty of other stallions in the region. But gradually he took off as some of those horses bred here began to get results."
Almost as soon as the wider world began to learn of Saddler Maker, the Wertheimer-bred stallion died in 2016.
Following the departure of Saddler Maker to Cercy the Devilders have succumbed to another coup de coeur in Spanish Moon.
"As far as stallions go the one we have really fallen for is Spanish Moon," says Devilder. "We already have 23 of his stock at home. The first of his produce for us was Cosmos Des Obeaux, who won at Auteuil last November and who recently left for Britain. The dams of Houblon, Messire and Alpha have all visited Spanish Moon and we hope that the ones that follow along can be just as good as Cosmos!"
Arguably the one thing missing from the resume is a Cheltenham Festival winner, though Alpha Des Obeaux certainly led the team of five graduates with distinction in 2016.
"It was incredible," says Devilder. "The reception that Alpha Des Obeaux got after finishing second to Thistlecrack was better than he would have got for winning the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris at Auteuil."