shalanaya aga khan studs
shalanaya aga khan studs

Shalanaya (Lomitas - Shalamantika)

(Photo : Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe)

“Please click photo to enlarge…”


We love these stories, especially when they apply to the underdog. In this case, though, the story belongs to the history of a very rich man. We wrote briefly last week about the origins of the Aga Khan’s success as a breeder, and the contributing sources of the excellence which manifested itself in seven Group winners at the two day Arc meeting in Paris last weekend, five of them at the highest level.

Remember, the “old” Aga bypassed the current Aga’s father in annointing his grandson Karim, as his heir, not only for the disposition of his worldly assets, but also as his successor as the spiritual leader of the Nizari Muslims.

In the process, as far as our interest stretches, he entrusted his own bloodstock, one of the finest collection the world has known, to the present Aga, reinforced with the broodmares of the Dupre family one of the most successful French studs of its time.

Some years after, when the Murty brothers, a couple of Americans of apparently dubious repute, launched a bid for the remnants of what was arguably the most successful breeding venture in French history, that of Marcel Boussac, “this” Aga solicited the intervention of the French government in thwarting the deal, and at £4,7 million, he “saved” these “gems” for the French bloodstock industry in general, and of course, for his own holdings in particular.

In 2005, on the premature demise of yet another legend of the French bloodstock scene, Jean-Luc Lagardere, by some distance their most successful breeder of the modern era, the Aga stepped up with a bid approaching €50,000,000, to secure what’s looking increasingly like the most successful lock-stock-and-barrel purchase in bloodstock in history.

In a sense, the purchase by Graham Beck successively of the stock of the late Archie Dell, the Scott Brothers, Highland Farms, the old Maine Chance and Noreen Stud, has its parallels in our own bloodstock lore, yet the outcomes that have accrued from The Aga’s seemingly limitless resources, might indeed (no, have indeed) been breed-shaping.

If you’re intrigued, read the next piece, an irresistible extract from an article entitled “The Aga and the Lagardere Legacy”, which while it takes a bit of reading, is a fascinating account of what led to the Aga’s celebratory weekend. We doubt this has ever been achieved in prior history, and while “never” is a big statement, we have doubts that anyone, including the Aga Khan, will ever aspire to the same again. Put this into the modern context, and the fact that racing has never been more competitive than it is right now, and you begin to get an idea of what happened at Longchamp last Saturday and Sunday.


The 2009 Arc weekend will inevitably be remembered first of all for Sea the Stars thrilling performance in the main event. Chased home by six other Group 1 winners, the son of Cape Cross became the new template for the ideal modern Thoroughbred : handsome and extremely sound, Sea the Stars is also blessed with an admirable temperament and truly extraordinary talent. He combines Classic speed with enough stamina to make him unbeatable over a mile and a half, and it has been a privilege to watch him develop into one of the all-time greats.

The other lasting memory of the Arc weekend must be the extraordinary sequence of success which saw the Aga Khan’s colors carried to victory in SEVEN group races, including five Group 1 contests.

The Aga has always been keen to introduce fresh blood into his studs, and he has reaped long-lasting rewards from his purchases in the late 1970’s of the sizeable racing and breeding empires owned by Madame Dupre‚ and Marcel Boussac. For example, he owed the success of Daryakana in the G2 Prix de Royallieu to a Boussac family.

The families originally founded by the Aga’s grandfather in the 1920’s also played their part in the weekend’s bombardment. Shalanaya, who sprang a surprise in the G1 Prix de l’Opera, comes from a female line which traces all the way back to the legendary Mumtaz Mahal, while Alandi, winner of the G1 Prix du Cadran comes from another branch of the same famous family.

However, the other four winners - Manighar (G2 Prix Chaudenay), Varenar(G1 Prix de la Foret), Rosanara (G1 Prix Marcel Boussac) and Siyouni(G1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere) - all underlined the wisdom of the Aga’s purchase of the Lagardere horses and breeding stock in March 2005.

Jean-Luc Lagardere became the dominant force in French breeding, topping the breeders’ table no fewer than 10 times in the 11 years from 1995 to 2005.

Lagardere unfortunately died in March 2003 and his horses, including 62 broodmares and 74 horses in training, eventually passed into the ownership of the Aga. It didn’t take long for the Aga’s investment to start paying rich dividends, with Vadawina, Valixir and Carlotamix all becoming Group 1 winners in his colors in 2005.

That was also the year that two other Lagardere-bred horses became stakes winners for him. One, the Danehill filly Sichilla, won the Listed Prix Amandine over seven furlongs, and the other, the Linamix filly Rosawa, collected listed victories over a mile and 13 miles, having won her only start at two in 2004 for Lagardere’s successors. Sichilla and Rosawa have now hit the Group 1 jackpot at the first attempt, as the dams of Siyouni and Rosanara.

The purchase of the Lagardere stock got off to such a good start in 2005 that I wrote an article in the June 2006 edition of the British magazine Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder. In the process I interviewed Eric Puerari, whose father Claude bought one of Lagardere’s original foundation mares, Reine des Sables. It was one of this mare’s descendants, Resless Kara, which provided Lagardere with his first Classic success, in the 1988 Prix de Diane. Another Classic winner followed in 1990, when Linamix triumphed in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains. This grey son of Mendez later confirmed his talent when narrowly beaten in the Prix Jacques le Marois and Prix du Moulin, before retiring to Haras du Val Henry at a fee of FF100,000 in 1991.

Linamix’s pedigree did little to encourage outside support. His sire Mendez had sired nothing else of similar quality in two seasons in France, before being sold to Japan, and Linamix’s broodmare sire Breton wasn’t exactly a household name either.

If Linamix was going to make the grade as a stallion, it was going to be with the help of Lagardere’s broodmares, and this meant that Lagardere was going to have to buy quite a few mares. Linamix, of course, went on to become the best stallion in France, helped tremendously by Lagardere, who bred 14 of the 15 group winners in Linamix’s first five crops. Among them were five Group 1 winners, including Sagamix (Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe), Fragrant Mix (Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud), Amilynx (Prix Royal Oak) and Slickly (Prix du Moulin and Grand Prix de Paris).

Lagardere’s success with Linamix was based substantially on mares bought at the sales, often for relatively modest amounts in the U.S. His main ally at the sales was Eric Puerari, and I asked him to explain the system which helped them buy so many good mares: “We looked for mares which were well-made, strong and muscular, which weren’t too big,” Puerari explained, having pointed out that Linamix was quite a lean individual.

“M. Lagardere would make his own choices at the sales,” Puerari added. “He knew pretty much what he wanted. I started going round the sales with him, but then he couldn’t come all the time. Year after year he was coming less, so he would give me the list of mares and fillies whose pedigrees he liked, and we would then talk about the conformation and make a decision.

“He would follow his own rules all the time and he wouldn’t overpay. He would always prefer to buy four or five fillies or mares that he liked, than to overpay for a very special mare. He would play the numbers. Every year he would cull six or seven mares that were either disappointing or getting old, and buy six or seven new ones. He would always renew his blood, every year.

“M. Lagardere especially liked American blood because of the speed and of the bloodlines. He loved the Mr. Prospector bloodline, especially to mate with Linamix. He had a format for the type of a mare he would like to buy. The sire of the filly was important and so was the broodmare sire. The family was important too, but it could be a bit far back - it wouldn’t bother him too much if the other signs were right. He also liked a daughter of a good racemare, even if she was a bit disappointing herself.

He preferred a mare with useful form. In America he would look for performance but not on the grass, only on the dirt. And, with very few exceptions, he preferred unproven mares which had not been tried at stud.

“You can see from the mares we bought that he had a good memory for Classic bloodlines, which he learnt from going around the sales with Francois Boutin. For example, he liked the fact that Saganeca, dam of Sagamix, descended from La Mirambule. He also liked the Bayrose family.

“He wouldn’t mind a mare which had a little bit of a gap under the first or second dam, if she was by the right stallion. That’s how we bought quite a few of those mares cheaply. If he liked a filly physically - if she had some strength and looked athletic, with the head of a racehorse - he was prepared to compromise a bit on some limb defects. When I went to Keeneland without him, I was trying to buy him correct horses, but he was not very, very strict on conformation. He liked a good-looking mare with scope, and that was more important.”

Puerari later added that all the mares bought would be bred to Linamix in at least her first three years.

“He didn’t like to overspend on stud fees. He would use proven stallions more than young stallions, but wouldn’t pay crazy prices. He wasn’t influenced by fashion or using the most fashionable stallions.”

The purchases certainly made their mark at the Arc weekend. Manighar - a son of Linamix - is out of Mintly Fresh, a Mr. Prospector-line mare bought for $60,000 in 2001. Mintly Fresh’s Linamix filly Minatlya, was also a group winner and has now joined her dam in the Aga’s broodmare band.

Varenar, who sprang a 20-1 surpise in the Prix de la Foret, is out of Visor. This Turfway Park winner by Mr. Prospector cost $65,000 in 1992. She had five foals by Linamix, all winners, including a Group 3 winner and two Classic-placed performers.

Visor’s three winning daughters are now all members of the broodmare band.

Moving on to Rosanara, her second dam Rose Quartz was bought by Puerari for 42,000gns as a three-year-old in 2000.

This daughter of the remarkable Lammtarra had won a maiden race over 13 furlongs for Sheikh Mohammed and was very well-connected. Her dam, the Mr. Prospector mare Graphite, was a sister to the GI Hollywood Starlet Stakes winner Cuddles and Rosanara’s fourth dam Stellarette was a smart half-sister to those notable broodmares Love Smitten and Kamar. Rose Quartz has three foals by Linamix, the first being Rosanara’s talented dam Rosawa.

And Siyouni’s dam Sichilla is out of the tough American mare Slipstream Queen.

This daughter of Conquistador Cielo cost $110,000 at the 1995 Keeneland January Sale. Transferred immediately to France to visit Linamix, she produced the highly talented Slickly as her first foal, and later produced two group-placed colts to the same stallion, plus No Slip, a Grade II winner in California, and the listed winner Sichilla.

Artistique, another Linamix mare out of a Puerari purchase, is the dam of Montmartre, who looked such an exciting prospect when he won the 2008 Grand Prix de Paris. It’s a similar story with Sagamix’s good sister Sage et Jolie, whose son Sageburg won the G1 Prix d’Ispahan last year.

Expect to see many more examples in the coming years, as the Lagardere bloodstock, with their diverse bloodlines, helps strengthen an already highly powerful operation.

Extract from Thoroughbred Daily News