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Why the Aga Khan Studs owe so much to one Lagardere-bred mare

Martin Stevens looks at the record of Sichilla, the influential dam of Siyouni

Sichilla pictured with her Listed-winning daughter Sayana as a foal
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While the Aga Khan continues to enjoy success with homebreds whose maternal lines trace back to foundation mares bought by his grandfather in the 1920s – last week's closely related three-year-old winners Kasaman and Kastasa, for example, are descendants of 1929 Queen Mary Stakes winner Qurrat-Al-Ain – he has over the years reinvigorated his herd with judicious injections of fresh blood.

Purchases of the entire stock of Madame Dupre and Marcel Boussac were made in the 1970s, followed by a select group of Major Lionel Holliday's mares in the 1980s. Another deal that brought rich rewards was the lock, stock and barrel acquisition of the late Jean-Luc Lagardere's equine interests in 2005, which included the multiple champion French breeder's totemic stallion Linamix, 62 mares, 74 horses in training, 42 yearlings and 43 foals.

Among the Lagardere-bred racehorses who carried the Aga's exalted green silks to Group 1 victory were Montmartre, Sageburg and Valixir, while the mares in the package included Visorama, dam of star stayer Vazirabad, and Valima, who went on to produce the ill-fated Prix de Diane winner Valyra. Both Visorama and Valima are, typically, by Linamix, an unfashionably bred stallion who Lagardere built almost single-handedly into a champion at stud.


SICHILLA FACTFILE

Pedigree 17yo bay mare Danehill-Slipstream Queen (Conquistador Cielo)

Breeder Lagardere Elevage

Owner the Aga Khan

Race record won two of three starts inc Prix Amandine-LR

Progeny record dam of five winners inc Siyouni (Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere-G1), Siyouma (Sun Chariot S-G1 EP Taylor S-G1), Siyenica (Prix de Bagatelle-LR) and Sayana (Prix Maurice Zilber-LR)


The Lagardere influence is seen in many other modern-day winners nurtured by the Aga Khan Studs but the one horse among the 222 contained in the dispersal who stands out as a chief contributor to the operation's present good health – besides Linamix – is the mare Sichilla.

Sichilla has no Linamix in her background although her pedigree does bear another hallmark of Lagardere breeding: a predilection for American bloodlines. She is out of the Conquistador Cielo mare Slipstream Queen, who won three of her 16 starts and was stakes-placed before being sold to Lagardere as a broodmare prospect for $110,000 at the 1995 Keeneland January Sale.

Slipstream Queen was shipped straight to France for a liaison with Linamix and the result was the champion miler Slickly, later a useful sire for Darley as the source of high-class performers Meandre and Gris De Gris. Repeat visits to Linamix produced the Group-placed Slipstream King and Streamix, while matings with Exit To Nowhere and Rock Of Gibraltar came up with Oak Tree Derby winner No Slip and Prix Greffulhe runner-up Ripple.

Sichilla, in turn, is the product of Slipstream Queen being covered by the great Danehill in 2001 and thus was a three-year-old, under the tutelage of Andre Fabre but as yet unraced, when she came into the Aga's ownership.

Her whole racing career played out in just three starts within four months of her changing hands in March 2005: fourth on debut at Saint-Cloud in May; maiden broken on her next start at Longchamp in June; and a Listed victory in the Prix Amandine back at that track in July.

Sichilla was promptly retired to paddocks and she and Rosawa, another three-year-old of 2005 who was bred by Lagardere but earned Listed laurels on the track for the Aga, managed to produce two-year-old Group 1 winners at the Arc meeting of 2009 from their first matings masterminded by the Aga Khan Studs.

Siyouni: commanding a fee of ?100,000 at Haras de Bonneval in 2019

Rosawa's debut foal, a filly by Sinndar, was the Prix Marcel Boussac victress Rosanara, while Sichilla's initial offering, the Pivotal colt Siyouni, notched a serendipitous score in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere.

Siyouni didn't manage to make it into a winner's enclosure after that day at Longchamp. He finished second in the Prix Jean Prat, third in the Prix du Moulin and fourth in the St James's Palace Stakes at three, though, and in the following season he was retired to the Aga's Haras de Bonneval in Normandy with a fee of €7,000.

That price has since rocketed to €100,000, believed to be a record for a stallion based in France, on the back of his first five crops yielding 27 stakes winners including the Classic-winning fillies Ervedya – bred and raced by the Aga – and Laurens. A measure of the high esteem in which he is held is the arrival of a filly by him out of dual Arc heroine Treve for owners Al Shaqab Racing this month.

Siyouni has sired several useful runners for the Aga besides Ervedya, notably recent promising Navan maiden winner Sherkali, and he will no doubt be generating valuable income that will be ploughed back into the Aga Khan Studs.

Sichilla's second foal, a daughter of Medicean named Siyouma, won a Longchamp maiden at three from just two starts for the Aga but found herself culled at the end of the season, sold to Francois Doumen at Arqana for €220,000. That was a rare misstep by the owner, as the filly went on to win the Sun Chariot and EP Taylor Stakes and was sold privately as a broodmare prospect to the Yoshida family in Japan.

Sichilla's fourth foal, Siyenica, could potentially be of monumental importance to the Aga's breeding programme. After winning the Listed Prix de Bagatelle and finishing third in the Prix Daniel Wildenstein, the daughter of Azamour has produced two foals, the second of whom – Siyarafina – has dropped clues she might be very special indeed.

Siyarafina carried home colours to a cosy success on debut at Saint-Cloud earlier this month and did a fair impression of her predecessor in Alain de Royer-Dupre's yard, Zarkava, when storming home on the wide outside to register a cheeky victory under Christophe Soumillon in a competitive condititons race at Longchamp on Monday.

The filly by Pivotal, thus closely related to Siyouni, holds entries for the Prix Saint-Alary and Prix de Diane and could now be supplemented for the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches.

Siyenica has a two-year-old filly by Invincible Spirit named Syrdarya with Royer-Dupre and a yearling colt by Golden Horn.

Siyenica's two-years younger half-sister by Galileo, Sayana, also gained Listed honours for the Aga/Royer Dupre axis in 2016 and her first foal is a Dubawi yearling filly.

Sichilla's last recorded foal, meanwhile, is the five-year-old Sea The Stars gelding Sikandari, who was sold cheaply after failing to win for the Aga and has recorded a bread-and-butter handicap win for her new owners.

The mare, now aged 17, failed to produce a foal between 2016 and 2018 after covers by Dubawi and Pivotal and was sent to Harzand last year.

Her effect on the fortunes of the Aga Khan Studs in less than 15 years since her acquisition have been quite extraordinary, primarily through a prolific and profitable stallion son and now with a granddaughter who holds significant promise on the track.

Extraordinary but not unpredictable; for Sichilla has fulfilled the intentions of the Aga when he bought up Lagardere's stock, knowing well how his thoroughbred families had already been refreshed and sometimes improved by combining their blood with that of the mares from his earlier procurements of the Dupre and Boussac dynasties.

Indeed, the Aga's daughter Princess Zahra reflected on the Lagardere purchase with remarkable prescience in 2010, when Siyouni was only three.

"It was very interesting to fold these families into ours," she said. "It brings in entirely fresh bloodlines. My father often says that it's all about trying new things with each family to see what works best.

"If we can produce a stallion out of the Lagardere stock, he [will be] unrelated to the Aga Khan mares. You hope to get a cross-pollination of strengths."

Siyouni and Siyarafina are certainly illustrating the benefits of that cross-pollination.


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Sichilla's whole racing career played out in just three starts within four months of her changing hands in March 2005
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