The Grey Panel


Spirit won

Even though the changes to the French Classic programme in 2005 meant that it is now correct to view the Grand Prix de Paris, rather than the Prix du Jockey-Club, as France’s equivalent of the Derby, Prix du Jockey-Club Day at Chantilly still ranks as one of the great days in the French racing and social calendar. It was thus very fitting that this year’s Prix du Jockey-Club Day should have seen two feature races won by horses descending in the male-line from , most obviously with Anabaa’s Group Two-winning son siring the Grand Prix de Chantilly winner . Anabaa, who still stands as an icon of French breeding four years after his death, was a champion sprinter so a Prix du Jockey-Club challenge never featured on his radar. However, his son won that race in 2001 – and now Anabaa Blue’s best son has announced himself as an up-and-coming young sire, courtesy of the victory of his first-crop daughter on Prix du Jockey-Club Day at Chantilly in the Group Three Prix du Royaumont over 2400m, writes John Berry.

Anabaa’s two careers, as a racehorse and as a stallion, were both magnificent. His status has continued to grow posthumously, but he had already established himself as a great horse well in advance of his death in 2009, as was shown by this site’s obituary of him. (http://www.thoroughbredinternet.com/newsmore.html?Id=17191). With the members of Anabaa’s last crop (which includes this year’s Poule d’Essai des Poulains winner ) still only being aged three, the former Haras du Quesnay stalwart is obviously going to be represented by more winners over the next few years. However, increasingly he will be making his mark through the offspring of his sons and grandsons, and one of his most distinguished sons remains the Haras du Grand Chesnaie incumbent Anabaa Blue.

The mighty racemare (whose 14 Group/Grade One victories included an unprecedented hat-track of Breeders’ Cup Mile victories between 2008 and ’10) is, of course, indisputably Anabaa’s finest creation. His other very good fillies included the Australian sprinter , the 2010 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud winner and the former top NZ-based juvenile , but his list of good colts is equally impressive. Style Vendome ranks high, obviously, as does the 2006 AJC Derby winner , the former Australian champion sprinter , the Group One-winning three-year-olds , and , and the former HK-based champion . However, Anabaa Blue remains arguably his most distinguished son.

Coming from the family which has produced the likes of as well as the 1993 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe heroine and her Derby-winning sons and , Anabaa Blue was entitled to be very good. He didn’t live up to his lineage as a two-year-old in 2000, but in the spring of 2001 he really hit his straps. Turned over by at odds-on in the Prix Lupin (with the subsequent St Leger winner back in third), Anabaa Blue got his revenge on his conqueror in the Prix du Jockey-Club, with the subsequent top-class weight-for-age performer taking third place. That victory remained Anabaa Blue’ finest hour, but he continued to race very well in the highest class for the rest of that season and as a four-year-old in 2002, when his season was highlighted by his victory over in the Grand Prix de Chantilly.

Anabaa Blue was understandably popular when he retired to Haras d’Etreham in 2003 at the appealing low fee of 8,000 euros. He duly made a great start to his stud career by coming up with Spirit One in his first crop. That colt’s successful juvenile campaign in 2006 was largely responsible for Anabaa Blue’s fee rising to 12,000 euros in 2007. However, disappointingly Anabaa Blue has yet to come up with another son of the calibre of Spirit One, although his second crop did contain the dual Group Two-winning gelding . He has consequently fallen dramatically from favour and was removed from the Etreham roster in advance of the 2012 stud season, being relocated to Haras du Grand Chesnaie, where he now commands a fee of 2,500 euros. That is surely a terrific bargain – but that’s another story, as we continue to focus on his best son Spirit One.

Spirit One started life as an extremely promising prospect. Not only was he a member of the first crop of a regally-bred Prix du Jockey-Club-winning son of Anabaa, but he also came from a good mare. His dam-line is exclusively French for many generations and, although it has not been a regular supplier of stakes-class horses, Spirit One’s dam (a daughter of who, like Anabaa, was a good sprinter for the Head family, winning in Group company at both two and three) proved to be a very good mare. In addition to producing Spirit One, she has bred Listed winners by Kingsalsa and Fly To The Stars ( and ) and a Listed place-getter (). It is worth noting that when she visited an established world-class stallion (Galileo), the resultant offspring (Spirit Of Queen) was nowhere near this good – but that’s an illustration of the uncertainty of the breeding game for you!

Spirit One would almost certainly have fetched a good price if offered at the Deauville Yearling Sale in August 2005, but that didn’t happen. Instead, his breeder Kamel Chehboub retained him to race himself, putting him into training with Philippe Demercastel. It didn’t take long before it was apparent that this had been a good decision.

Spirit One made his debut in the Prix d’Halatte for two-year-old colts and geldings over 1200m at Chantilly in June 2006. He ran well to finish second, beaten only a short head by Adelphos. It was slightly disappointing that he couldn’t get off the mark second up at Clairefontaine the following month when only third, but he put that setback behind him at the Deauville August Carnival, winning the Prix Irish River over 1400m by two and a half lengths from . His next run was even better: he won Deauville’s Criterium du Fonds Europeen d’Elevage (a Listed race over 1600m) by eight lengths. Back at Longchamp in the autumn, he won the Group Three Prix de Chenes over 1600m, beating by six lengths.

By this stage, Spirit One had clearly established himself as France’s pre-eminent juvenile. Under the circumstances, it was slightly disappointing that he was a beaten favourite in the two Group One races which he contested that year (second to the Aidan O’Brien-trained in the Criterium International over 1600m, beaten only a head, and fourth behind the Henry Cecil-trained and the Aidan O’Brien-trained in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud over 2000m). However, he had developed headstrong habits by this stage and, racing too freely under Dominique Boeuf in the lead in early stages of both races, each time he gave the impression that he would have done better had he been more tractable. This impatient tendency did not bode particularly well for his future, but of his ability there clearly was no doubt.

Just as Spirit One’s two-year-old campaign had ended on a frustrating note, so did his three-year-old season proceed in similar vein. He ran some good races (including when third to the subsequent outstanding hurdler and the subsequent Champion Stakes winner in the Prix Omnium II over 1600m, second to subsequent Irish Derby winner Soldier Of Fortune in the Prix Noailles over 2100m, and second to Literato in the Prix Guillaume d’Ornano over 2000m) but nevertheless he went winless all season, usually giving the impression that he would fare better if he could only learn to relax.

Happily, all fell into place for Spirit One as a four-year-old in 2008. His connections decided to dispense with the services of Dominique Boeuf and, ridden variously by Christophe Soumillon, Olivier Peslier and Ioritz Mendizabal, he enjoyed an excellent campaign. He got off the mark first-up under Soumillon in the Prix Exbury over 2000m at Saint-Cloud, accepting restraint in the early stages of the race before scooting clear at the end to win by three lengths from , subsequently a feature-race winner in both Dubai and Turkey. He proved less tractable under Peslier in the Prix Ganay when only fourth (although not beaten far) behind over 2100m at Longchamp, but his finest hour came across the Atlantic later in the season. Rated beautifully by Ioritz Mendizabal, he loafed along in front in the Grade One Arlington Million in Chicago, making all the running for a magnificently brave victory over and Mount Nelson. His swansong in the Grade One Goodwood Stakes over nine furlongs at Santa Anita, although less rewarding, was still a very good run when he finished fourth behind the following year‘s Dubai World Cup winner .

In three years of racing, Spirit One, who won five of his 19 races, thus proved himself a very good horse, a very tough one and a very genuine one. His racing record was tremendous – and would almost certainly have been even better had he been a little more amenable to restraint. His sire had won the Prix du Jockey-Club and his grandsire was the mighty Anabaa so, coming from a prolific winner-producing French family, he was clearly an exciting stud prospect. One might have expected him to have retired to one of Normandy’s most fashionable properties at a high fee – but the breeding world is an odd one. His credentials were hard to fault, but bizarrely he didn’t appear to be at the top of anyone’s most-wanted list – probably not helped by the fact that the market-place was already washing its hands of his sire by this time. He duly retired to Haras du Lonray, a stud which stands good stallions but generally gets neither publicity nor profit for its pains. The stud previously had received precious little thanks for bringing the excellent Japanese Sunday Silence stallion to Europe (where he sired the champion filly from very limited opportunities). Its new recruits in 2009 were Spirit One and the Japanese pair and – and, of course, the trio arrived with minimal fanfare.

Spirit One has never yet commanded a fee higher than 4,000 euros, and it is doubtful whether many breeders would have paid even that much for his services. His first crop contained 35 inexpensively-produced foals (hardly enough to give him any realistic chance of attracting much attention in the current environment). 21 of these have so far run, with and boasting solid stakes-placed form and (a close relation of the high-class staying hurdler , bred and trained by her sire’s former mentor Philipe Demercastel) now being a Group-winning three-year-old.

Spirit One is no longer at Haras du Lonray, having moved to Haras des Sablonnets at a fee of 2,500 euros in advance of the 2013 season. He had ended 2012 having had a solid boost from his first crop of juveniles, of which six of his 18 individual runners had won, amassing collectively the impressive earnings of nearly 240,000 euros. He is still owned by Kamel Chahboub, who must currently be looking at the future with renewed hope, his lovely horse now having proved to the wider world what his owner/breeder has known all along: that he has the potential to be a very good stallion.

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