He shoots! He scores one of the best fillies in training in Europe
Martin Stevens speaks to the former footballer behind Spectre
Because Spectre has demonstrated her exceptional talent by finishing upsides the elite milers in Europe with placed efforts in Group 1 company, rather than through flashy wide-margin victories, one of the more surprising stories of the Flat season has perhaps been overlooked.
That is, that the former footballer Markus Münch – who played alongside the likes of Jürgen Klinsmann and Lothar Matthäus and won two Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich – bred, owns and trains one of the very best older fillies or mares to have raced anywhere in Europe this season.
The four-year-old Siyouni filly Spectre was a surprise winner of the Prix Imprudence, a traditional trial for the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches, last year and proved that no fluke with a close fifth to La Cressonniere in the French Classic before finishing third to Zelzal in the Prix Jean Prat, fourth to Ribchester in the Prix Jacques le Marois and second to Vadamos in the Prix du Moulin.
After a few disappointing runs this season, she last month earned her highest Racing Post Rating of 116 for finishing fourth, hot on the heels of Ribchester, Mutakayyef and Deauville, in the Queen Anne Stakes. That ranks her as the equal of more celebrated colts such as Le Brivido, My Dream Boat and Waldgeist and has made her one of the most coveted broodmare prospects still in the ownership of a smaller, independent entity.
Spectre was meant to run in the Prix Rothschild on Sunday but injured a ligament during a canter in preparation for the race, and will be out for a couple of weeks.
“I had a plan all figured out for the season but, as is always the case in this sport, that is now changing daily,” says Münch, 44. “The idea was to retire her to become a broodmare at the end of a successful season this year, but now with the injury we will have to re-evaluate the situation and see how fast she recovers.
“The decision has yet to be made if she is going to run again in 2018 or if she’s going to stud at the end of this year.”
Many former footballers turn to coaching the next generation when they hang up their boots, and Münch explains the journey that took him to nurturing four-footed rather than two-footed athletes.
“While I was still playing football for Borussia Mönchen Gladbach I owned two horses in training, as I was living next door to the Düsseldorf racetrack,” he says. “After my career as a player I had a lot of spare time and was very keen to enter the racing business, so started by completing the trainer's course.
“Fortunately I started out with a couple of very nice horses and with great success in my first training year, with a lot of support from the famous Gestüt Schlenderhan.”
Some of the early stars sent out by Münch from his former base of Frankfurt were the stakes performers Bartlett Ruby, Intarsia and Margarita, although none had the ability of Spectre, who has emerged since the trainer moved his string to Chantilly last year.
“I always had, and continue to have, around ten to 12 horses of my own, some of them homebred and the others bought at foal and yearling sales,” says Münch. “I've also had some success with pinhooking.
“I moved last year as the conditions and infrastructure for training and racing in France – especially in Chantilly – are much more professional than in Germany. I currently have 12 horses in, five of them two-year-olds and two broodmares.”
Münch is by no means just a famous name on his stables' headed notepaper, a dilettante dipping his toe into racing. His role as trainer involves “all the early starts and a lot of patience and motivation”.
“I'm very involved in all aspects of the horses' training, feeding and race management – all the usual jobs of any other trainer,” Germany's answer to Mick Channon says.
Spectre has not only illustrated the former defender's ability in the training department, but also as a breeder with an expert eye. To produce her, he sent Inez, a winning Dai Jin half-sister to the Group 1-placed pair Ibicenco and Irian, to Siyouni, now feted as one of Europe's best young sires with a €45,000 fee to prove it, when he was standing his second season at Haras de Bonneval for just €7,000.
“I acquired Inez as a yearling from Gestüt Schlenderhan; she wasn’t a precocious horse and not what Schlenderhan was looking for at that moment,” says Münch. “She ran only twice for me. She was very talented, winning her maiden first time out but unfortunately injuring herself in her preparation for the German Oaks.
“I kept her as a broodmare as I was convinced of the greatness of her famous 'I' Schlenderhan family, and I knew she had plenty of talent and character.
“I chose Siyouni for her as he was an up-and-coming Aga Khan stallion and he brought a lot of speed to the mating. Plus, I liked the fact that he is by Pivotal.”
Spectre was sent to the Arqana Breeze-up Sale at Saint-Cloud in the spring of her two-year-old season but buyers missed their chance of a Group 1 filly as bidding reached only €40,000: not enough to meet her reserve.
“Spectre breezed really spectacularly that day, but she scratched her leg while doing so and that became inflamed over night, and she didn’t present herself as well as she could have the next day,” Münch explains. “As I truly believed in her and knew that she had some class, I didn’t let her go for that price.
"She wasn’t the easiest horse to break in and train, so by that point I'd already spent a lot of time with her and grown quite attached.”
Now that he has a filly rated inferior to only Minding, Marsha and Seventh Heaven among the older fillies and mares to have raced in Europe this season, how does that rank with his greatest achievements on the pitch – those two German titles with Bayern in 1994 and 1997, the later one part of a league cup double; a Greek championship as part of the Panathinaikos squad in 2004; or, most spectacularly, an 11th hour equaliser for Bayer Leverkusen on the last day of the German season in 1996 that saved his team from relegation?
Münch says with justifiable pride: “Spectre is much more important to me, as it's happening right now and because it’s not every day that someone comes from a totally different background from racing with only a small string and is able to compete at the highest level with the greatest names in the sport.”
And for a footballer familiar with the business of multi-million transfer fees for star players, the crucial question: will he allow a larger club – or stud, in this case – to snap up the talented filly he has developed from humble beginnings for big money that he can re-invest in new signings, or keep her to enhance his own brand?
“Indeed, there have been offers for her from the States, Japan and Europe,” Münch says. “Every horse is buyable. The next months will show if I’ll sell her or if she’ll stay with me and join my own string of broodmares.
“I’m convinced that Spectre, with her huge heart and strong character, will be the best mama in the world.”
From Bundesliga to bloodstock
Everyone knows the strong links between football and racing in Britain, from Mick Channon's renaissance as a premier-league trainer to Sir Alex Ferguson and Michael Owen owning Classic winners Rock Of Gibraltar and Brown Panther.
But German footballers also enjoy their horses.
Retired star striker Klaus Allofs - who won the 1980 European Championship and finished runner-up in the 1986 World Cup with West Germany - owns many good horses, often with his friend Andreas Jacobs of Gestut Fahrhof, including Sunday's Group 1 Grosser Dallmayr-Preis third Potemkin and this season's German Derby trial winner Langtang.
Adored by Liverpool fans for being instrumental in their team's historic victory over AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League Final, Didi Hamann was also part of the syndicate that raced the 1999 German Derby winner Belenus.
Peruvian footballer Claudio Pizarro, one of the most prolific goalscorers in Bundesliga history, is a keen horseman. He campaigned the smart filly Crying Lightening with Joey Barton and also German Derby fifth Black Arrow with former Werder Bremen teammate Tim Borowski.
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