Six stallions you must see on the French stallion trail
Martin Stevens with his pick of the unmissable names in Normandy
Pedigree 5yo b Wootton Bassett-Darkova (Maria's Mon)
Stands Haras d'Etreham
Driving into Etreham has always felt like you are entering a royal park, with grand, tree-line avenues and sweeping vistas of parkland surrounding the stud. The analogy has never been so apt, as the property is now home to a true king in Almanzor, who ruled the 2016 Flat season to be crowned champion in Europe.
The five-year-old defeated Zarak by clear water to land the Prix du Jockey Club and remained unbeaten for the rest of his Classic season, taking in victories in the Prix Guillaume d'Ornano, Irish Champion Stakes and British Champion Stakes.
That Irish Champion Stakes will live long in the memory, as Almanzor flew past a stellar field that included Group 1 winners Found, Minding, New Bay, My Dream Boat, Highland Reel, Harzand and Hawkbill.
Visitors to Etreham can also see Almanzor's exciting young sire Wootton Bassett, who stands alongside him, as well as Australian shuttler Scissor Kick and the excellent jumps sire Saint Des Saints among the seven-strong roster.
Pedigree 9yo b Hat Trick-Rumored (Royal Academy)
Stands Haras de Grandcamp
Dabirsim was the revelation among last year's class of first-season sires, with his first crop conceived in Germany at a fee of €9,000 yielding 19 winners including Albany Stakes winner and Cheveley Park Stakes runner-up Different League.
The reputation of the son of the Sunday Silence stallion Hat Trick has unsurprisingly soared, with his fee at Haras de Grandcamp - where he has stood since 2016 - increased more than threefold to €30,000 for 2018, and two of his yearlings having commanded €500,000 each at last autumn's sales.
Dabirsim is not the only Sunday Silence-line stallion at the stud, as he stands alongside Deep Impact's son Martinborough. A Grade 3 winner in his native Japan and new to France last year, it will be intriguing to see if he picks up more support from those breeders frozen out of Dabirsim's more expensive price.
Shamalgan, a high-class son of Shamardal who formerly stood in central Europe, was bought by Dabirsim's owner Simon Springer at Arqana last month and has been installed at Grandcamp. He, too, should pique breeders' interests on the stallion tour.
Pedigree 12yo b Noverre-Marie Rheinberg (Surako)
Stands Montfort et Preaux
Thanks to unwavering support from his owner Gerard Augustin-Normand and the team at Montfort et Preaux, in terms of quality and quantity of mares sent to him as well as purchasing his young stock and racing them, Le Havre has risen to become one of the most expensive sires in France, standing at a fee of €60,000 this year.
The Prix du Jockey Club hero is sire of seven individual Pattern winners and five of them have either been bred or raced by Augustin-Normand and Montfort et Preaux, including all his three runners to have struck at the highest level - the dual Classic winners Avenir Certain and La Cressonniere and David O'Meara's Grade 1 scorer Suedois.
Le Havre is not the only attraction at Montfort et Preaux, which changed its name from Haras de la Cauviniere last year.
He is joined by Rajsaman, the source of last year's Poule d'Essai des Poulains and Prix du Jockey Club winner Brametot, and new recruit Recorder, a Group 3 winner bred and raced by the Queen.
Pedigree 11yo b Pivotal-Sichilla (Danehill)
Stands Haras de Bonneval
Head to the Aga Khan's picturesque Haras de Bonneval, with its unusual semi-circular main yard, for a glimpse of a horse who can be regarded as not only one of the most exciting stallions in France, but in Europe and indeed the world.
The first four crops by Siyouni - conceived at a fee of just €7,000 - have yielded numerous stars, with Classic heroine Ervedya emerging from his debut runners and last year's Fillies' Mile winner Laurens and unbeaten, wide-margin Prix Thomas Bryon scorer Sacred Life among his last inexpensively bred juveniles.
In more recent years Siyouni has commanded much larger fees, and he has covered many of Europe's leading ladies, including the Aga's exceptional racemare Zarkava in 2016.
Vying with Siyouni to be centre of attention at Bonneval on the Route des Etalons will be Zarak, the Group 1-winning son of Dubawi and Zarkava who has been retired to stand at the stud this year.
The Grey Gatsby
Pedigree 7yo gr Mastercraftsman-Marie Vison (Entrepreneur)
Stands Haras du Petit Tellier
Enjoying the first few months of a well earned retirement is The Grey Gatsby, who contested no fewer than 18 Group/Grade 1s among 28 races over five seasons for trainers Kevin Ryan and Dermot Weld and owner Frank Gillespie.
Not only was the son of Mastercraftsman an admirable performer, but he was also quite brilliant in his heyday, which he illustrated best when taking the scalp of Australia to take the Irish Champion Stakes.
The Grey Gatsby was a natural fit to start his second career in France, as he was sold twice in Deauville - first as a yearling for €24,000 and then as a two-year-old for €120,000 - and he stormed to a three-length victory in the Prix du Jockey Club.
There is also a Gallic flavour to his pedigree, as he is a half-brother to Dream Land, a prolific winner in France, out of a mare who was Listed-placed at Saint-Cloud and is a granddaughter of Prix de la Salamandre winner Maximova.
Wings Of Eagles
Pedigree 4yo b Pour Moi-Ysoldina (Wings Of Eagles)
Stands Haras de Montaigu
Expect Montaigu to be as busy as the Gare du Nord during the Route des Etalons, as breeders and enthusiasts flock to see the first French-bred Derby hero in more than half a century back at his birthplace - also becoming an exceedingly rare winner of the Epsom Classic to start his stallion career in France in the process.
Wings Of Eagles won only two races in a career abbreviated by injury, but no matter as one of those was the most important Flat race of all; and his storming late run to deny stablemate Cliffs Of Moher, with Cracksman and Capri in behind, under the unheralded jockey Padraig Beggy made it a Derby for the ages.
Wings Of Eagles was noted for his outstanding looks and it will be intriguing to see how he has let down, having been retired from racing since finishing a valiant third in the Irish Derby last July.
He is not the only draw at Montaigu, either, as the stud is also home to fellow Group 1 winner Prince Gibraltar and the champion jumps sire Martaline among others.