Jim Bolger has helped to promote the careers of numerous stallions. In recent years, he has played a massive part in helping firstly Galileo and then that horse’s sons Teofilo and New Approach to get their stud careers off the ground. Bolger’s faith in Galileo led to him sending the 2001 Derby winner plenty of good mares from the start, thus producing some of the brightest stars of the horse’s early crops, such as Teofilo and Soldier Of Fortune. Having trained Teofilo to win two Group One races and then New Approach to win five, Bolger is now assisting those two horses at stud, having bred and trained a star two-year-old from the first crop of each of them (Parish Hall and Dawn Approach). However, the genius of Jim Bolger has also worked at various times with considerably less obvious raw material – and right now Bolger is giving a mighty boost to the profile of the Haras de Bernesq-based Hannouma, the star of whose first crop is the Bolger-trained juvenile Grafelli, recently the winner of two Group races within a week, writes John Berry.
Grafelli’s owner/breeders, the Benillouche family, are to be congratulated on their colt’s two recent Group race victories (in the Anglesey Stakes at the Curragh and the Tyros Stakes at Leopardstown). They are also to be congratulated on getting him into Bolger’s stable in the first place. There are many established trainers who would not be particularly interested in a son of an obscure stallion whose only visit to an auction ring had seen him led out unsold at 5,000 euros – but Jim Bolger has always been happy to swim against the tide, and he now has another top juvenile on his hands as a result. Grafelli was unsold at 5,000 euros at Arqana’s Deauville October Yearling Sale last year, and then his second engagement in a sale (in a breeze-up in Germany this May) was also unproductive as he was withdrawn from the sale. Instead the French-bred colt headed west to join Bolger’s stable, and the wisdom of that recruitment is now plain for all to see, with his record reading three victories from four starts.
While Hannouma would not have been on the radar for many Irish trainers prior to the emergence of Grafelli as a star, the seven-year-old stallion hails from a family which has enjoyed great success in Ireland over the years. Hannouma’s sixth dam Astrid Wood was a half-sister to the 1945 Irish 1,000 Guineas winner Panastrid, herself the dam of the 1955 Irish Derby winner Panaslipper. Hannouma’s fifth dam was Astrid Wood’s best daughter Feevagh, who recorded her best victory in England (in the 1954 Yorkshire Oaks) but then produced Hannouma’s fourth dam Feemoss, winner of the Blandford Stakes at the Curragh. Feemoss in turn took the family to an even higher level, breeding the full-siblings Levmoss, Sweet Mimosa and Le Moss.
Levmoss and Sweet Mimosa were both owned and trained at the Curragh by Seamus McGrath. Levmoss (born in 1965) was two years older than his younger full-sister. He was a good horse aged two and three, but as a four-year-old in 1969 he was magnificent, winning the best staying race in France (the Prix du Cadran, at the expense of the subsequent champion NZ-based sire Zamazaan) and the best staying race in England (the Ascot Gold Cup) before succeeding where the likes of the outstanding stayers Ardross and Westerner would subsequently fail, dropping back in distance by a mile to take the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in the autumn, beating the champion English mare Park Top (whom he had previously also beaten in the Oxfordshire Stakes at Newbury). Sweet Mimosa couldn’t quite match that level of dominance, but she still proved herself a champion as a three-year-old, beating the subsequent Prix Vermeille winner Highest Hopes to land the Prix de Diane at Chantilly, ridden as Levmoss had been by the great Australian jockey Bill Williamson. Le Moss was born 10 years after Levmoss and, remarkably, won the Ascot Gold Cup 10 years after his elder brother had won it, taking it in 1979 – before winning it again the following year, when he completed Britain’s staying Triple Crown by landing both the Goodwood Cup and Doncaster Cup.
Runner-up to Le Moss in those three famous long-distance races in 1980 was Ardross, who went on to prove himself a truly great stayer with facile Ascot Gold Cup victories in each of the next two years preceding a gallant second place in the 1982 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Ardross’ merit, incidentally, can also be (partially) attributed to this excellent family: his dam Le Melody, winner of the Suir Stakes at the Curragh as a two-year-old in 1973, was a member of the first crop of Levmoss, conceived at the McGrath family’s Brownstown Stud at the Curragh. Sweet Mimosa also bred some good horses in her stud career, headed by the 1986 Irish Oaks runner-up Fleur Royale. In time she became ancestress of such high-class middle-distance or staying performers as Dilshaan, Oiseau Rare, Casey Tibbs, Steel Princess, Nomrood and Alleging.
Hannouma’s third dam December Blossom was one of Feemoss’ least distinguished offspring (she never ran after suffering an accident as a youngster) but she too became a good broodmare. Her best produce was the Irish Group Three winner Lomond Blossom, but she also bred Snow Quill who, having been exported to New Zealand, bred the 2003 Queensland Oaks winner Zagalia from her mating in 1998 with Zabeel. December Blossom also bred the Listed-placed stayer Miss Mistletoes, who bred the stakes winners Governor Brown and Hataab as well as Hannouma’s dam Red Blossom. As a daughter of the 1982 2,000 Guineas and Derby place-getter Silver Hawk (who became a very good stallion and even greater broodmare sire, being currently in vogue in that respect thanks primarily to the exploits of the Group One-winning full-siblings Nathaniel and Great Heavens) Red Blossom was clearly entitled to be a good broodmare, even though she was only placed once (and never won) during her racing career.
It has to be said that Red Blossom, compared to many of the great broodmares in her family, has not made a great show of her breeding career: she is now aged 13 and Hannouma is her only notable child to date. However, most mares never breed a horse of the calibre of Hannouma, so that observation is purely relative. Coming from a family which has almost exclusively specialized in producing middle-distance and staying horses, Red Blossom has produced her best horse by the sprinter Anabaa (who made such a success of his stud career mostly by breeding horses who stayed considerably better than he himself had ever done). One can make of that what one choses, but the fact is that, from visits to a wide variety of sires including the sprinters Anabaa and Elusive City, the brilliant but unsound miler King's Best and the middle-distance champion Hurricane Run, it has been her mating with Anabaa which has yielded easily the greatest dividend.
To produce Hannouma, Red Blossom was covered by Anabaa at Haras du Quesnay in 2004. Hannouma was born in Ireland because Red Blossom visited Elusive City (then at Huma Park Stud, but subsequently at the Irish National Stud and now at Haras d’Etreham in Normandy) in the spring of 2005, but the young Hannouma then accompanied his mother on her return journey to France, and he has stayed there ever since. He made his first public appearance towards the end of that year when his breeder Scea de la Poterie offered him as a foal at Arqana’s December Sale in Deauville. He was pin-hooked there by the FIPS agency for 50,000 euros – and, while his purchasers were subsequently shown to have identified a good horse, they were unfortunately unable to profit from their foresight because he only fetched 5,000 euros more when re-offered as a yearling in the same arena in August 2006.
Hannouma’s purchaser on the second occasion was the Chantilly trainer David Smaga, under whose care the colt showed himself to be a very smart two-year-old the following year. Raced by Malcolm Parrish, Hannouma made his debut in July 2007. He was unplaced first time out, but won (over 1400m at Clairefontaine in the first week of August) on his second appearance. He continued to show good form as the summer progressed, finishing second at Deauville and winning (over 1600m) in Paris at Maisons-Laffitte. During the autumn he was raised in both class and distance, finishing second in both the Group Three Prix de Conde over 1800m (beaten a length by High Rock) and the Group One Criterium de Saint-Cloud over 2000m (beaten two lengths by Full Of Gold).
Having shown such good form over what are, relatively speaking, marathon distances for juveniles, Hannouma was clearly shaping as if he was going to develop into yet another high-class stayer from this good stamina-laden family. However, that was not to be: his career was presumably restricted by injury because he only ever ran once more, finishing a moderate third of four finishers over 2100m in the Prix Sea Bird at Maisons-Laffitte the following June in a race in which two of the six runners failed to complete the course.
By conventional British standards, Hannouma had not done enough to justify a place at stud. However, French breeders tend to be more open-minded than their counterparts in many other countries, with the result that a far greater variety of stallions are given a chance there than is the case in, say, the British Isles. Common sense says that this scenario has to be better for the breed as a whole than a situation whereby a tiny nucleus of stallions collectively cover the vast majority of the mare population. Furthermore, the early signs are that the few breeders who have been using Hannouma at Haras de Bernesq since he retired there in advance of the 2009 breeding season have chosen wisely. He has produced the dual Group winner Grafelli from a mare who wouldn’t have been an obvious candidate at all to breed a top two-year-old, while he has another good juvenile representing him in France: Wine Market, owned and bred by Malcolm Parrish and a winner at Maisons-Laffitte in July.
Grafelli, who has now raced four times in Ireland for three victories, so far ranks as Hannouma’s only runner outside France. The early evidence, though, is that the stallion deserves to be patronised and to compile an international profile; and it seems that he could end up confirming himself to be yet another distinguished horse from a very distinguished family.