Half a dozen hidden gems worth unearthing on tour
Martin Stevens selects six less heralded French stallions to see
Pedigree 10yo ch Carlotamix-Ges (Hours After)
Stands Haras de Victot
Haras de Victot is one of many studs in Normandy that are as worthy of visiting for its architecture as for its equine incumbents.
The historic property - the birthplace of Sea-Bird, no less - boasts sun-dappled yards with timber-framed stabling and even an adjoining chateau with a moat.
And the stallions within are not too shabby either. They include the great French hurdler Gemix, a dual winner of the prestigious Grande Course de Haies d'Auteuil who gets to pass on his jumping talent as he was left ungelded.
The son of Carlotamix has his first two-year-olds on the ground, although obviously as embryonic jumps stars we should not expect to see them on the racecourse for a little while yet.
Pedigree 19yo b King's Theatre-Settler (Darshaan)
Stands Haras de la Hetraie
This rare son of the late multiple champion jumps sire King's Theatre has assembled a long list of talents on both sides of the English Chanel and National Hunt fans in particular will be well acquainted with his sons Great Field, Ptit Zig and Mr Mole.
The stallion has some serious new talents emerging too. Claimantakinforgan, winner of a Grade 2 contest at Ascot for Nicky Henderson over the festive period, is among the favourites for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham, while Cracking Smart was a length second to Next Destination in the Grade 1 Lawlor's of Naas Novice Hurdle this month.
Another for the sire - as short as 3-1 for the OLBG Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham - is Benie Des Dieux, the easy winner of a Listed mares' chase at Carlisle for Willie Mullins recently.
Great Pretender's studmates at Hetraie, including the stalwart Kapgarde and newcomer Pastorius, make this stud a required rendezvous for jumps fans on the Route.
Pedigree 13yo b Danetime-Dulceata (Rousillon)
Stands Haras du Mezeray
Myboycharlie must count as one of Europe's most underrated sires, having supplied top-level winners Euro Charline, Jameka and Peggy Jean, along with last year's Prix de Diane runner-up Sistercharlie, with little fanfare.
Still, that means his fans are able to use him at a fee of just €5,000, making him a considerable bargain.
It should be no surprise Myboycharlie is able to throw a top-class performer, considering he beat Natagora to win the Prix Morny by two lengths and finished third behind New Approach and Rio De La Plata in a hot National Stakes.
A trip to see him at Haras du Mezeray also gives the opportunity to see Muhtathir, sire of Doctor Dino and Pacha Du Polder, and perhaps even a glimpse of the 1987 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Trempolino, just turned 34 and whose well earned curmudgeonliness has become a notorious talking point for visitors.
Pedigree 11yo b Danehill Dancer-Plante Rare (Giant's Causeway)
Stands Haras de Bouquetot
At Shaqab Racing's stallion roster at Bouquetot boasts no fewer than five fresh faces in 2018 - Group/Grade 1 winners Al Wukair, Brametot, Ectot, Toronado and Zelzal - but don't disregard one of the stud's longest-serving residents, Planteur, on your trip there.
Planteur was a decent two-year-old himself but, considering he eventually excelled over ten furlongs and he hails from the stout family of Peintre Celebre, it was expected his stock might take time to come to hand. However, his first crop of two-year-olds in 2017 threw up 13 winners including three stakes performers.
Planteur deserves his share of attention, as an admirable performer who raced from two to six for Elie Lellouche and later Marco Botti. He won the Prix Ganay, finished second in the Prix du Jockey Club and Grand Prix de Paris and ran third in the Dubai World Cup - twice.
All that, and he stands at just €4,000.
Pedigree 10yo gr Dalakhani-On Fair Stage (Sadler's Wells)
Stands Haras du Thenney
French breeders can consider themselves very fortunate to not only have the choice of a host of high-achieving colts retiring to stud in Normandy this year, but also some noteworthy gains in the transfer market.
One such established sire who is making his debut in the region is Reliable Man, winner of the Prix du Jockey Club who shuttled between Germany and New Zealand and off to a conspicuously strong start with his first European two-year-old runners last year.
He supplied the winners of two of the four Group races for two-year-olds held in Germany, Erasmus and Narella, and has also impressed with his early southern-hemisphere representatives.
Haras du Thenney has three new recruits for 2018. Besides Reliable Man, they are German and Australian Group 1 hero Our Ivanhowe and De Treville, a Group 3-placed son of Oasis Dream and Dar Re Mi.
Pedigree 7yo b Exceed And Excel-Dextrous (Quest For Fame)
Stands Haras du Logis
This shuttler between Darley's stallion bases in Australia and France was the talk of last year's Route des Etalons, with many pilgrims on the trail won over by his stunning looks.
Sidestep was among the best of his generation at two down under, winning the Pago Pago Stakes and finding only Overreach too good in the Golden Slipper, and later in his career he beat the champion New Zealand filly Bounding to take a Group 2 over six furlongs.
He has a fantastic pedigree, too, as a half-brother to the top-class pair Ambidexter and Skilled out of a Group 2 winner from the family of champion Emancipation and Caulfield Cup scorer Railings.
Sidestep is another who delivers more than his fee suggests, available at Haras du Logis for just €4,000.