Good Morning Bloodstock

The bizarre tale of the Dutch riding horse who became dam of an exciting Listed winner

Martin Stevens with the lowdown on Prix Montenica winner Skylight Brochard in Good Morning Bloodstock

Jill (centre) and Desmond Brochard
Jill (left) and Desmond Brochard: the key players in a most curious breeding story

Good Morning Bloodstock is the Racing Post's daily morning email and presented online as a sample. 

Here, Martin Stevens chats to Desmond Brochard, the very unlikely breeder of a recent Listed winner. Subscribers can get more great insight every Monday to Friday.

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The HOL suffix belonging to Skylight Brochard, a three-year-old gelding sent out by Tim Donworth to win the Listed Prix Montenica at Chantilly last month, is unusual enough but it doesn’t tell half the story of a downright bizarre feat of breeding.

Skylight Brochard is not only one of just five thoroughbreds whose births were registered in the Netherlands in 2021, but his very existence is also a complete accident. His breeders and owners, the Brochard family of Rotterdam, had neither any knowledge of, nor interest in, horseracing before he turned up in their lives, totally out of the blue.

This strange story begins with Desmond Brochard, who ran a gym until he had to sell up due to Covid-19 and now works in construction, looking to find a riding horse for his then 14-year-old daughter Jill.

“Jill was learning to ride, so I went to a dealer here in Holland looking for a cheap horse for her to get started on,” says Brochard. 

“She tried out two or three but she ended up falling in love with an 11-year-old mare as she was so sweet and friendly. The dealer didn’t know much about her, as she was part of a truck of ten or 15 horses he had bought blind out of Ireland, as he does every week or so.

“I bought the mare for very little money and Jill rode her for two months, but she was getting bigger and bigger, and eventually she got a wound on her leg that we needed to call the vet for. The vet said she thought the mare might be pregnant, and they could confirm it with a scan, so I said, ‘Okay, you do that’, and ten minutes later it was confirmed to be true.

“My first reaction was, ‘Oh God, that’s going to cost a lot of money’, but Jill was very excited and said, ‘Can we keep it, can we keep it?’”

The unexpected pregnancy made Brochard consult the passport for the mare who had been christened Sky by her new owners. They found, much to their surprise, that she was a thoroughbred named Fonseca.

The Red Clubs half-sister to the tough and top-class miler Gabrial had finished well beaten on all her three starts for Andrew Balding and Kennet Valley Thoroughbreds, but was still bought by Tally-Ho Stud and Geoffrey Howson Bloodstock for 8,000gns at the end of her three-year-old season.

The purchasers no doubt hoped that a well bred mare by the sadly short-lived source of numerous crack sprinters and Classic heroine Sky Lantern might throw some fast, useful performers.

However, her first three offspring to hit the track – Setting Sun (by Kodiac), Vino Rosso (by Zebedee) and Strawberry Hind (by Kodiac), bred by PJB O’Callaghan and Randolf Stevens Ltd – failed to win from 29 starts collectively and her fourth foal, The Covex Kid (by Mehmas), showed zilch on his three starts at two for Paul Midgley.

It was no surprise, then, that her services were dispensed with.

“I saw the name Weatherbys in the passport, so contacted them, and they told me the mare had come from Tally-Ho Stud,” continues Brochard. “I got in touch with Tally-Ho and they told me that she had been covered by Mehmas, and the pregnancy must have been missed in scans as she suffers from cysts in her womb. 

“The year before she hadn’t got pregnant to Kodiac, and that must have been why she had been taken to auction, where an Irish dealer bought her as part of a job lot of horses to send to Holland and resell for leisure purposes.”

Skylight Brochard: rare carrier of the HOL suffix on the big stage
Skylight Brochard: rare carrier of the HOL suffix on the big stage

He adds: “Tally-Ho gave us some options, including kindly offering to take the mare back and replace her with a horse who was more suitable to be ridden, but by that point the foal had been born and we had all fallen in love with him, so we kept both of them.

“I didn’t know anything about horses, even less racehorses. I had no idea who Mehmas was, or what to do with a foal. I asked the instructors at the stable where Jill rides if they knew of anyone with the knowledge to help, and they didn’t, but after a bit of searching online and a few phone calls I was put in touch with Renate van der Kraats.

“I got in contact with Renate and she knew exactly who Mehmas was as soon as I mentioned his name. She knows everything about racing, and bloodlines, and that was really the beginning of our adventure.”

Van der Kraats, an accomplished horsewoman who has ridden competitively, couldn’t believe her ears when she received the call.

“Mr Brochard rang me out of the blue around two years ago, and he told me he had a horse and a foal,” she recalls. “I said, ‘Okay’, and then he added that he had found out that she’s a thoroughbred. ‘Right,’ I said, and then he told me that the foal was a Mehmas colt.

“‘Mehmas?!’ I said in total shock. I couldn’t understand how a Mehmas foal had turned up in Holland. He told me the full story and I still didn’t believe it. I'd never heard of such a thing happening.”

Desmond and Jill Brochard decided they would race the now three-month-old Mehmas colt, in spite of being a working family without deep pockets, and they placed their fate in the hands of Van der Kraats, who faced a race against time to get the youngster registered for racing.

“I warned Mr Brochard that it would cost a lot of money, but he wanted to give the foal every chance of becoming a good racehorse,” says Van der Kraats. “The first thing I had to do was negotiate with Tally-Ho to get a covering certificate for the mare, and to get her export certificates in order too.

“By now the foal was about five months old, and I wanted to get him and the mare out of Holland as soon as possible, as it’s not a good country to bring up a foal like him – it’s too wet and windy, and there isn’t the knowledge of raising and handling thoroughbreds. 

“Ideally he would have gone to France or Germany within six months, so that he would be eligible for either country’s premiums, but in the end time ran out and I had no other option than to put him in the Dutch stud book.”

A Mehmas colt in the scarcely used Dutch stud book stuck out like a sore thumb. The other four foals registered in 2021 were a colt and a filly by the veteran Dutch Derby winner Volfonic, a filly by El Honor and a colt by Xi. None of those have made the track.

Jill Brochard with Skylight Brochard after his first success at Dieppe
Jill Brochard with Skylight Brochard after his first success at Dieppe

Finally a home in France was found for Skylight Brochard, as the colt was monikered in honour of his dam’s stable name and his breeders.

“We wanted someone in France who spoke English, as we can’t speak French, and in the end we found Haras des Dorrells in Normandy, which is run by an Englishwoman, Jane Philo, and has raised some very good trotters and sport horses as well as thoroughbreds,” says Van der Kraats.

“We went to visit the mare and foal every two months. Jane and her team did a great job with the colt, doing all the basic work with him, loading him onto the horse walker, getting him used to going on a lorry and so on. He became exceptionally well mannered in his time there.

“He wasn’t big, but he was well built and a lovely character. He was always a bit of a standout. He went to Ecurie de la Dentelle for pre-training in December, where he had a shoulder injury which required some stitches, so we gave him more time there to recover and by the middle of March he was ready to go into training. 

“Again, we wanted a trainer in France who could speak English, to make communication easier, and so we approached Tim Donworth in Chantilly and he looked at the colt and was very happy to take him.

“We’ve been to see him in training a few times. It’s very strange seeing our little Dutch horse working alongside all those expensive progeny of Kingman and Siyouni.”

Skylight Brochard's own pedigree actually took a sudden turn for the better as he entered training. His full-brother The Covex Kid, who had been so disappointing at two, found a new lease of life with Amy Murphy, winning five of his seven starts at three.

He was sold to race in Bahrain for 160,000gns at the end of that season, and has since finished first pas the post in five of his ten starts in his new home.

Skylight Brochard’s racing career didn’t get off to the most auspicious start either. He travelled to Le Lion d’Angers for his first outing, the Brochards making the long journey from Rotterdam to support him, but he refused to enter the stalls in an uncharacteristic display of obstinance.

Putting so much effort, not to mention money, into getting the Brochards' unintentionally bred colt to the races suddenly felt like a stupid mistake.

Not for long, though. Donworth sent the family videos of the colt entering stalls at home perfectly happily the next day. His antics at Le Lion d’Angers had been a one-off, and the accidental owner-breeders’ dreams were still alive.

Skylight Brochard duly lost his maiden tag on his debut at Dieppe a fortnight later, by three and a half lengths, and in no Mickey Mouse race either.

The runner-up was De Sica, a son of Demarchelier who represented time honoured owner-breeder Peter Brant and was rumoured to be one of Jean-Claude Rouget’s best two-year-olds. He might not have lived up to that billing, but he did win a Clairefontaine maiden next time out and finished second in a Chantilly Group 3 after that.

Jill Brochard on Fonseca in October 2020
Jill Brochard on Fonseca in October 2020

Skylight Brochard didn’t immediately uphold the form himself, finishing sixth and fifth in his next two starts, but he got back on the winning trail at Deauville in November, and after finishing second on his three-year-old bow in February, defeated the Archie Watson-trained favourite Action Point to win the Listed Prix Montenica last month.

He holds entries for the Prix Djebel at Deauville a week today – where he could take on Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Unquestionable – and the Prix Sigy at Chantilly six days later.

Skylight Brochard's value has soared, which admittedly wasn't hard when his dam was bought for such a pittance, but the Brochards aren’t considering selling him unless they receive an enormous offer. 

“We spend a lot of money on the horses now, but it’s so exciting to see what it will bring, and where it will take us,” says Desmond.

“We want to go from A to Z on this adventure, and we’ve formed a real emotional attachment to the horse. I’ve made an agreement with Jill that we’ll sell him only if we’re offered a life-changing sum. We’d be fools not to consider it in that case.”

Desmond Brochard, who confesses that he didn’t even realise thoroughbred racing was a big deal in France until he had a horse of his own enter training there, is unsurprisingly now a bit of a racing nut.

“We go as a family to watch the races in France, and I look up all the horses we’re running against to analyse our chances,” he says. “I’m learning about all the stallions and pedigrees too now. I find it all very enjoyable. It’s become a big hobby for me."

He’s not even ruling out buying more horses and having a string.

“If Skylight Brochard continues to run well, and earns more money, we want to buy another mare, and maybe some land in France to be a breeder there,” he adds. “That’s how much we’re enjoying it now.”

The Brochards do have another potential racehorse on their hands, as they chose not to retire Fonseca, aka Sky, after her miracle foal. A year after he was born, they mated her again.

“The family decided they would like to cover the mare, but it had to be a stallion at a very low price, as they were already spending a lot of money on Skylight Brochard,” says Van der Kraats. 

Skylight Brochard in Holland
Skylight Brochard in Holland

“Also, don’t forget, at this point The Covex Kid had been well beaten in three starts, and so the mare had no good runners from four foals. 

“I chose a lovely German stallion, Dschingis Secret, who was located only ten miles away from Haras des Dorrells. My friend Adrie de Vries rode him and told me he was a very easy character, and we went to visit him at Haras de Montaigu and he looked like a nice model. Somehow, in spite of her previous problems, she got in foal on the first cover.

“She produced a French-bred yearling filly by Dschingis Secret, who is quite big, unlike Skylight Brochard, and dark like her mother and The Covex Kid. Because of her size she’s not going to be early. It’s a shame she isn’t by a more commercial sire, but this was before any of her progeny had won a race.”

Sights were set a little higher after The Covex Kid’s glow-up, and so Fonseca visited Golden Horde at Montfort et Preaux last year. She is due to foal in ten days’ time, and if all goes well with the delivery, she will then head to Haras de Bouquetot to be covered by Lusail, who this year has become the first son of The Covex Kid and Skylight Brochard’s sire Mehmas to stand in France.

“It’s an extraordinary story,” reflects Van der Kraats. “All this has happened from a cheap riding horse purchase. I’ve never known anything like it. I hope it inspires other people to consider a first investment in breeding or racing.

A proud as punch Brochard sums up: “It’s changed our lives. I never dreamed that this could happen to people like us. Racehorses are usually for rich people.”

No doubt about it, this is one of the most curious breeding stories behind a stakes winner to have appeared in Good Morning Bloodstock.

Oh, and don’t worry: Jill Brochard, a budding dressage competitor and eventer, got another riding horse in the end.

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 "I'll be at the coming breeze-up sales in Newmarket, but I've still shares in some horses to sell, so can hopefully put the word out,” says new trainer Edward Smyth-Osbourne as he saddles his first winner.

Pedigree pick

Marhaba Million, a Galileo half-brother to flying filly Tiggy Wiggy, catches the eye on his debut for Owen Burrows in the nine and a half-furlong maiden at Wolverhampton on Tuesday (6.00), but the fact that he made only €82,000 as a yearling – not much at all for one by his sire – is a bit of a put-off.

Instead the vote goes to the John and Thady Gosden-trained fellow newcomer Roland Garros – by Nathaniel out of the winning Cadeaux Genereux mare Robema, who has produced the smart types Atlantic Sun and Connect when mated with a lesser son of Galileo than Nathaniel in Roderic O’Connor.

Roland Garros was purchased on behalf of Godolphin for 200,000gns from Book 2 of the Tattersalls October Yearling Sale, making him the second most expensive horse of his age by the sire that year, which suggests he is a superior physical specimen.

Martin StevensBloodstock journalist

Published on 2 April 2024inGood Morning Bloodstock

Last updated 10:16, 2 April 2024