Crillon firing on all cylinders despite few soldiers on the ground
Buveur D'Air became the first horse since Hardy Eustace to win back-to-back Champion Hurdles on Tuesday - here Nancy Sexton examines the rapid ascent of his sire Crillon. First published on February 18.
It wasn't until the 2015-16 season that we came to be more acquainted with the stock of the little known French stallion Crillon. Small crops had naturally limited his exposure outside his native country but by early 2015, a handful had made it across the Channel, one of whom turned out to be none other than Buveur D'Air.
Crillon's rise to notoriety follows the same path as a number of his contemporaries; barely does a jumps season go by when some insight isn't offered into a little used French stallion. In Crillon's instance, success has come as a result of the faith and support shown by his owner Andre-Jean Belloir of Haras de la Baie, which is situated near Le Mont Saint Michel in Normandy.
Such notoriety also comes to a stallion who has just entered his 22nd year. That in itself suggests Crillon has been a slow burner but the facts show that the son of Saumarez simply hasn't had the soldiers on the ground. All of which makes his recent results, which include the impressive win of Gordon Elliott's Diamond Cauchois in Sunday's Boyne Hurdle at Navan, particularly creditable.
Diamond Cauchois belongs to the same 2011 crop of foals as Buveur D'Air. There have been other highlights along the way as well, notably the dual Grand Prix d'Automne Hurdle winner Alex De Larredya, the 2016 Prix Troytown winner Jemy Baie and Ena Baie, who was sold to JP McManus after winning a Grade 3 bumper at Le Lion d'Angers. The latter, who ran fourth for Harry Fry in the Listed bumper on Cheltenham's New Year's Day card, is one of just five registered foals from Crillon's 2014 crop.
As a result, Crillon now stands for €6,000, having been available for as little as €2,000 back in 2015.
Read more from Nancy Sexton
Crillon joined Haras de la Baie in 2004 following a lengthy and relatively successful career on the track. Trained for much of his 34-start career by Elie Lellouche, the progressive Crillon won the Listed Prix Denisy at Saint-Cloud in November 2001, although perhaps his best performance came when he ran second to Montjeu in the Prix Foy. Marin Belloir takes up the story.
"15 years ago, the French trainer Yannick Fertillet had Crillon in his yard," says Belloir. "He had had a good Flat career and he tried to school him but with no success. It was then that we bought him as an eight-year-old.
"He is very good looking, was a good racehorse and ran over six years with no injuries."
By the time of his retirement, Crillon's sire Saumarez was long ensconced in South Africa, having sold at the 1999 Tattersalls December Sale for 160,000gns. It was an undignified turn of events for an Arc winner once deemed a leading three-year-old of his generation but also a reflection of a disappointing stud career. One of the first really good colts sired by Rainbow Quest, the former Haras du Quesnay stallion is best remembered today in these parts as the damsire of Authorized. Suffice to say that asides from Crillon, his line lives on through a tiny, nondescript collection of sons.
Belloir and Fertillet threw their weight behind Crillon. Belloir had a hand in breeding four of the stallion's first-crop winners while it was under Fertillet's tutelage that his first good horse, Kadyphard, won the 2009 Prix Gaston Branere at Auteuil. In later years, Belloir also bred the talented pair Jemy Baie and Ena Baie.
"My father, André-Jean Belloir, initially created Haras de la Baie for show jumping but about 15 years ago, decided to breed thoroughbreds," says Marin Belloir. "Now we have 120 hectares of grass for 40 mares, 20 of which we own. We try to sell the foals but if we can't, we break and pre-train them to send to different trainers.
"In Crillon's first year, he sired six really good horses out of 24 foals. Later, we sent him to another stud in the middle of France for two seasons, but he only covered ten mares in both years. Everybody forgot him.
"After that, he came home and over the next eight years, he had 15 to 20 mares each season - just our own or those belonging to our neighbours.
"Then in 2015, Jemy Baie, Alex De Larredya and Buveur D'Air all won big races. All of a sudden, Crillon's progeny were winning all over France."
It was in the aftermath of Crillon's first wave of good results that Gerard Ferte sent his accomplished Alesso mare History, the dam of Nicky Henderson's Long Walk Hurdle winner Punchestowns, to Crillon. The resulting foal was the exceptional Buveur D'Air.
"Now Crillon is very popular in France," says Belloir, "and the British and Irish are also interested - they bought foals, horses in training and they send mares to be covered. He's had a lot of good mares in the past two years, and for me he should be in the top ten French stallions in three to four years."
An upturn in popularity also seems to be in store for his studmate Tiger Groom. A Grade 3-winning jumper himself who made 73 starts, the son of Arazi is best known in Britain as the sire of 2015 Henry VIII Novices' Chase winner Ar Mad.
"Tiger Groom was in England for a year and then some French breeders decided to buy him and bring him back to France," says Belloir. "We love him because he looks like Crillon and has sired some good horses from a few average mares."
While Haras de la Baie has something to look forward to in Tiger Groom, the attention for now remains very much on Crillon ahead of Buveur D'Air's defence of his title in the Unibet Champion Hurdle.
However, Crillon's latest celebrity, Diamond Cauchois, is seemingly most effective on soft ground and therefore not so certain to make the trip to Prestbury Park. Yet the way in which he forged clear of Lieutenant Colonel to win the Boyne Hurdle by nine lengths suggests that this progressive type will be a force to be reckoned with wherever he turns up next.
The gelding was bred by Antoinette Ouvry and Benoit Grosfils out of Diamond Turtle, a half-sister to the dam of Prix Corrida winner Siljan's Saga. He is also the only runner of any note under either code out of a mare by the 1998 Prix Foy winner Limnos, another horse who operated best in testing conditions.
CRILLON (96 Saumarez - Shangrila by Riverman), won 6 races in France including Prix Denisy - Listed, and placed 20 times including 2nd in Prix Foy - Gr.2 and Prix Jean de Chaudenay - Gr.2.
Retired to stud in 2004 and sire of:
ALEX DE LARREDYA (10 g ex Kin D'Estruval by Panoramic) won Grand Prix d'Automne Hurdle - Gr.1 (twice), Prix de Compiegne Hurdle - Gr.3, Grande Course de Haies de Printemps Hurdle - Gr.3, Prix Gaston Branere Hurdle - Listed. Bred by Mme C Terrenegre-Laval, JL Laval & MA Letchimy
BUVEUR D'AIR (11 g ex History by Alesso) won Champion Hurdle - Gr.1, Aintree Hurdle- Gr.1, Christmas Hurdle - Gr.1, Fighting Fifth Hurdle - Gr.1, Top Novices' Hurdle - Gr.1, Contenders Hurdle - Listed (twice). Bred by Gerard Ferte
DIAMOND CAUCHOIS (11 g ex Diamond Turtle by Limnos) won Boyne Hurdle - Gr.2. Bred by Mme Antoinette Ouvry & Benoit Grosfils
JEMY BAIE (09 g ex Jemycienne by Mansonnien) won Prix Troytown - Gr.3, Prix Richard et Robert Hennessy - Listed, Grande Course de Haies de Pau Hurdle - Listed. Bred by AJ Belloir
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