Prix d'Amerique 2017: Bold Eagle Rules The Trotting World
As North American trotters have grown increasingly inbred, I have concluded that we would benefit from "outcrossing" our mares to European stallions. Hanover Shoe Farms has taken a great step forward by offering World Champion Sebastian K 1:49f ($2,973,252) to US breeders. Ready Cash is undoubtedly the #1 trotting sire in Europe. His sons are completely dominating racing in France, led by the great Bold Eagle. I visited France to see Bold Eagle win the Prix d'Amerique, and to tour a number of stallion farms in Normandy.
From left to right in the photo above, our travel group included Ragnhild Diesen, Siv Marie Kittelsen, Nils Bergslien, myself, Erik Samuelsen, Dr. Hanne Lynne, Tore Borgersen and Per Erik Hagen. Per Erik was our knowledgeable tour organizer and guide, resident gourmet, and wine authority. Erik was our capable driver and hotel expert. Nils kept everyone's glasses filled with champagne as we motored around Normandy.
Notre Dame Café Procope Eiffel Tower
Our first days were spent in Paris. A trip to Notre Dame, a lunch at Café Procope (the oldest café in Paris, and the site of discussions among the principals of the French Revolution), and a visit to the bookstore Shakespeare and Company were highlights of our sightseeing tower. Our busy schedule prevented a more extensive tour of Paris. We managed to see the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Champs-Elysees from the van during a rainy evening drive.
Chateau Museum Grosbois Training Reden Press Conference
Our priorities made horses the main focus of our trip. We visited Chateau de Grobois, a castle and estate near Vincennes dating to the 1600s. Grosbois was confiscated during the French Revolution and was later owned by Napoleon. Now the French government operates Grosbois as a magnificent training and boarding facility for trotters, and maintains a lovely trotting museum in the Chateau. A USTA video of Grosbois is posted on youtube here. We visited the stables of Jorgen Westholm and Daniel Reden. Daniel's four entries in the Prix d'Amerique (Lionel, Propulsion, Call Me Keeper, and Wild Honey) kept him busy with reporters and well-wishers.
Per Erik, Ourasi Arqana Auction
We attended the Expo at Vincennes Hippodrome featuring many stallions and farms. The great Ourasi is honored at Vincennes with statues and paintings. We met our friend French bloodstock agent Christian Le Barbey at the Expo. Christian arranged for tours of major stallion farms after the Prix d'Amerique. We also attended the Arqana auction of mixed Horses at Vincennes Hippodrome. The pace of the auction was far slower than at Harrisburg, but clearly there was great interest and enthusiasm among the bidders.
Flag Display Timoko Fans Bold Eagle Hat
Next was the Prix d'Amerique! I don't even know where to begin, except to say that the Prix d'Amerique is surely the premier trotting race in the world. The Prix d'Amerique commemorates the contributions of the US military to the defense of France in World War 1. American and French flags were everywhere. In fact, the American flag was even featured over the French flag in a unique display of honor and friendship. 40,000 spectators packed the Hippodrome, all waving flags. The grandstand held individual cheering sections for fans of the most favorite horses. If fan enthusiasm would determine the winner, Timoko would have won hands down. Bold Eagle of course had his own cheering section. Many of his fans bought souvenir scarves, waved special flags, and wore elaborate homemade hats.
Families at Prix d'Amerique Drill Team Post Parade
No one can equal the French in creating a sense of excitement and grandeur at public events. Race day entertainment included videos about the horses and their connections, enthusiastic narration by the track announcer, and lively music tracks. Not a single minute was silent the entire day. Harley Davidson was a major sponsor, and conducted a motorcycle parade on the track. A fantastic equine drill team performed between races. A colorful on-track ensemble accompanied the entries during the official post parade.
Victory Parade Victory Parade Podium
Then the Prix d'Amerique! You can watch all the excitement on youtube here (race begins around 9:15). Several restarts were necessary when #9 Anna Mix stopped and refused to move. Finally the race began. Timoko took over the lead and held it for most of the race, while Bold Eagle appeared buried far behind the leaders. However, driver Franck Nivard patiently and masterfully took advantage of every opportunity to ease Bold Eagle out of traffic to get clear by the head of the stretch. The conclusion was inevitable as Bold Eagle overwhelmed all opposition to win easily by 2 ˝ lengths in a new race and World Record. Immediately the celebration began with a massive parade and the positioning of the winners' podium for interviews and the presentation of trophies.
Bold Eagle Victorious Victory Podium
Finally Bold Eagle was escorted to the Winner's area by a horse draped in the American flag. While other exciting races followed, none would come close to the Prix d'Amerique.
Omaha Beach Normandy American Cemetery Bayeux Tapestry
Next on our itinerary was a trip to Normandy to visit a number of stallion farms, many with kind assistance and knowledgeable commentary from Christian Le Barbey. First however we visited Omaha Beach and the Normandy American Cemetery to honor the sacrifice of American soldiers on D-Day. Our tour of the museum and cemetery was both sobering and awe inspiring. I am amazed by the heroism of ordinary people placed in terrifying circumstances. We also viewed the intricate 230 foot long Bayeux Tapestry, which chronicles in pictorial form the victory of William the Conqueror over King Harold of England at the Battle of Hastings.
Per Erik and Coktail Jet Tore and Defi D'Aunou
We started our stallion tour at Haras de la Perriere to pay tribute to the great Coktail Jet, who is still servicing 100 mares a year even at his advanced age. Per Erik Hagen is the world's #1 Coktail Jet fan, and even wrote a song about Coktail Jet. There is little question that Coktail Jet has been the most influential stallion in promulgating US blood to French trotters. In the next paddock was the almost as illustrious Defi d'Aunou. Both deserved our attention and honor before we visited other stallions.
Allaire Home Charly du Noyer Django Riff
We visited the beautiful showplace Haras de Bouttemont (website here), home of Phillipe and Gitte Allaire, as well as Ready Cash and his sons Bird Parker, Django Riff, Brillantissime, Charly du Noyer, Traders, and Atlas de Joudes. Ready Cash had been sent to a "spa" for swimming and massages to get ready for the breeding season. Instead we reviewed his immaculately groomed sons. All appeared physically compatible with US mares, with less of the robust, massive appearance typical of French stallions. It was difficult to choose a personal favorite, but mine was Charly du Noyer with his flashy coloring, long racing stride, and prominent lines of US blood in his pedigree. Many of my group preferred Django Riff. Any of these stallions would be a great choice for breeders.
Prodigious Uniclove Royal Dream
We drove quite a long way to admire the home museum of the owner of the immortal Une De Mai. He still has the winner's blankets from her victories in the International Trot races. We also toured the DuBois farms Haras de Fresneaux (website here), and Haras de la Brosse (youtube video here) under the guidance of farm manager Fabrice Simon; Thierry Duvaldestin's Haras de la Sauvagere (youtube video here); and Sebastien and Anne Guarato's Haras de la Meslerie (website here). We also visited Haras de Sou, now home of Global Farms AB in France and the site of some very interesting crossbreeding experiments with mares by Somebeachsomewhere and S J's Caviar. Once again all the stallions were all extremely impressive, and it is almost impossible to choose personal favorites.
Bold Eagle in Paddock Bold Eagle Bath
The #1 highlight of my Normandy visit was the opportunity kindly offered by Anne Guarato to visit with Bold Eagle. When we arrived, Bold Eagle was munching hay peacefully in his paddock, blanket on his back against the cold rain, with little to indicate his status as the best trotter in the world. He didn't have much initial interest in us. We reviewed the other fine Guarato stallions before Bold Eagle was brought inside for his bath. Bold Eagle was extremely calm and easy to bathe. He stood patiently while we all took photos with him. He was every bit the gentleman.
I hope that someday I will have the opportunity to breed a mare to Bold Eagle. I can't imagine a better, easier to understand French stallion pedigree than that of Bold Eagle. Clearly his racing dominance has proven that Bold Eagle is a very special horse. We hope that the opportunity to breed to Bold Eagle, and Ready Cash and his other sons, will be presented to US farms in the future.
Many thanks to everyone who made this trip so successful! Per Erik Hagen, Erik Samuelsen, Christian Le Barbey, Gitte Allaire, Thierry Duvaldstin, Fabrice Simon, and Anne Gurato especially were instrumental to making my first visit to France very memorable and rewarding.