Air De Valse breathes new life into the story of Cirrus Des Aigles
Tom Peacock speaks to Corine Barande-Barbe about a proud new uncle
There is a question Corine Barande-Barbe was asked to ponder so many times during Cirrus Des Aigles’ miraculous career that she brings it up unbidden.
A particular missing part of his anatomy which would not only have otherwise allowed him to compete in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, but could have provided a very different retirement option to the one he now enjoys at the trainer’s idyllic Chantilly yard.
"It’s always the same story. During all of his career, everybody said if he was a male he could be a stallion," she says.
"I’ve known that for a long time, because I had a champion two-year-old called Deep Roots 40 years ago and when we tried to make him a stallion it was very hard. Nobody helped and you can see people want only very commercial pedigrees for stallions."
She adds with a laugh: "That’s why as soon as I see a colt suffering from this part of the body, I geld them because I know it’s so hard to make it."
There was a solution, of sorts. At around the time at the turn of the decade when Cirrus Des Aigles was ascending to the summit, his half-brother Mesnil Des Aigles was winding down as a respectable-level sprint handicapper.
Both were bred by Barande-Barbe's late friend Yvon Lelimouzin, a supervisor on the Chantilly gallops, out of a mare, Taille de Guepe, who had been given away by Elie Lellouche.
Their sire lines were unrefined too; Cirrus being by the unsuccessful Guineas runner-up Even Top and his sibling by the little-known Nureyev stallion Neverneyev.
Only one, though, had the essential equipment and it was appropriate at Deauville this month that Barande-Barbe trained, owned and bred Mesnil Des Aigles’ first stakes winner when consistent four-year-old filly Air De Valse made her breakthrough in the Listed Prix du Cercle.
"She was from his last crop - she was born in spring 2016 and he died in August the same year so she’ll probably be the only one," she says. "But you never know.
"I owned him in partnership with Jean-Claude-Alain Dupouy, who bought Cirrus because he was happy with Mesnil Des Aigles, and so I tried [to stand him] with a few friends. First he was at a little stud and in the last year he was near Deauville. In all I think he has a total of 16 daughters and sons, it’s not a lot.
"Cirrus Des Aigles was a long-legged horse and quite light, being a gelding, and Mesnil was smaller, tougher, and more masculine, but he was very nice. He didn’t know he was a boy, you could do everything with him, and we loved him a lot, even before we knew he was Cirrus’s brother.
"It’s always the same commercial problems. With Cirrus it wasn’t possible, but it will always be a question. If he was a colt, would he have been as good? And would he have had a lot of mares? I don’t think so."
Barande-Barbe has long defied convention. She won a French Oaks with the similarly humbly-related Carling in 1995 and, after Cirrus was retired, she added a fourth Prix Dollar with the equally hard-knocking Garlingari, whom she bred herself. So it would be dangerous to disregard her high hopes for Air De Valse, who has now recorded six victories from 15 starts.
"I’ve still got her dam Air Bag, and it was very hard to find a stallion for her," she explains.
"She was big, she had speed and had won a Listed race over seven furlongs, so I wanted to give her more distance.
"I went three times to Sinndar, who has been a bit disappointing for her and I didn’t get a winner, so I decided to go to Mesnil Des Aigles, who has no pedigree but I knew him, he was very genuine, and we’ve had a Listed winner. The next year I went to Zanzibari, so Air De Valse has a filly half-sister.
"It’s always like this with me, little stories."
She continues: "I think she can stay in training for at least one or two more years. Probably she can run in the Prix de Meautry on August 30 and then after can go back to five furlongs, with the Prix du Petit Couvert. You never know, if things go very well she can try the Prix de l’Abbaye, or sprints in England or wherever. You never know. I’m always optimistic."
Although Air De Valse is extending a legacy of sorts for Cirrus Des Aigles, she might struggle to rival him in Barande-Barbe’s affections. Indeed it is difficult to recall a trainer and horse as synonymous - and inseparable - as this gently eccentric pair.
She dedicated the time and effort many others wouldn’t have done to refine an intractable two-year-old into one of the sport’s most authentic heroes.
He was the winner of seven Group 1s and more than £6 million, including a Coronation Cup, Champion Stakes and three Prix Ganays, despite Barande-Barbe having nothing good enough to work with the horse on the Les Aigles gallops which gave him his name.
Now 14, he can be regularly seen crunching carrots on the stable’s social media pages, and appears to have taken well to the role of doting uncle.
"I keep him and he goes to Christophe Soumillon’s on holidays," she says. "He’ll probably end his life there - in case his life lasts longer than mine!
"When he comes back from the paddock at lunchtime he gives kisses to all the others, and especially Air De Valse. You won’t see that everywhere!"
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