The likely presence of Chopin (picture) in the field for the Derby is throwing a spotlight on German horses, it being believed that the son of Santiago is set to be the first German-trained horse to contest the world’s most famous race. However, German horses have been making their mark on the world’s greatest races for many, many years. In 2008 a German colt (Frozen Fire) won the Irish Derby after having finished unplaced at Epsom behind New New Approach, while in 2002 a German filly (Kazzia) won the Oaks. In 2006 Shirocco added the Coronation Cup to his Breeders’ Cup Turf triumph, while the best horse to race in Europe the following year was arguably Manduro. Shirocco and Manduro are both sons of Monsun, who proved himself to be the most successful German stallion of the modern era. The cross (Konigsstuhl over a Surumu mare) which yielded Monsun also produced two more very good German stallions, the full-brothers Lavirco and Laveron, each of whom was a high-class racehorse before thriving at stud. Sadly, only Laveron is still alive. Lavirco, though, continues to make headlines posthumously, most recently when his son Bel La Vie won France’s premier steeplechase, the Grand Prix de Paris, writes John Berry.
For many years, German racing and breeding was something of a closed book to those outside Germany. The victory of Star Appeal in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 1975 thus came as rather a shock to many, although whether the Theo Greiper-trained five-year-old ought to have been as long as 117/1 (bearing in mind that he had already that year landed Group One weight-for-age victories in the Eclipse Stakes in England and the Gran Premio di Milano in Italy) is debatable. Six years later another German-trained five-year-old landed a big race overseas, Konigsstuhl taking the Gran Premio del Jockey Club E Coppa D’Oro. While Star Appeal’s Arc victory had led to him being snapped up for stud duties in England at the National Stud (where he sired many good horses including the 1981 Prix de Diane winner Madam Gay as well as her Royal Ascot-winning stablemate Star Way, who ended up a champion stallion in New Zealand), Konigsstuhl went on to spend his successful stud career in his homeland.
Konigsstuhl’s success at stud (most particularly by siring Monsun) has ensured the survival of the sire-line descending from Persian Gulf, winner in England of a war-time Coronation Cup before excelling as a stallion at Someries Stud, the property owned by his owner/breeder Sir Harold Wernher on the southern outskirts of Newmarket. A son of the Aga Khan’s 1935 Triple Crown winner Bahram (who was exported to America while still a young horse but who sired some good horses before he went, including the King’s 1942 2,000 Guineas winner Big Game), Persian Gulf was an impeccably bred stallion. When he stood at Someries, he shared the roster with his top-class half-brothers Precipitation and Casanova, winners of the Ascot Gold Cup and Dewhurst Stakes respectively. Further glory was eventually earned for the family through Persian Gulf’s unraced full-sister Doubleton, grand-dam of the mighty Meld, who won the 1,000 Guineas, Oaks and St Leger in 1955 before breeding the 1966 Derby winner Charlottown.
Persian Gulf sired numerous top-class horses, including the 1959 Derby winner Parthia, the Classic-winning fillies Zabara and Queen Of Sheba, the Irish Derby and Ascot Gold Cup winner Zarathustra and the 1955 St. James’s Palace Stakes winner Tamerlane. Understandably, Parthia was an excellent stallion, leaving the top-class fillies Sleeping Partner (winner of the Oaks in 1969), Parsimony and Parthian Glance before his sale to Japan; while the 1965 Chester Vase winner Gulf Pearl enjoyed plenty of success at stud, his sons including the champion sprinter Deep Diver and the 1980 Coronation Cup winner Sea Chimes. The most successful son of Persian Gulf at stud, though, was Persian Wonder, a 9-times winner in England before becoming champion sire six times in South Africa in the 1970s.
It transpired, though, that long-term Tamerlane proved to have been the most influential of Persian Gulf’s sons. He sired plenty of winners from Wood Park Stud in Co. Meath in Ireland, but three of his sons stand out: Alpenkonig, Cagliostro and Dschingis Khan. All three raced with distinction on the continent, with Alpenkonig winning the Deutsches Derby in 1970 and Dschingis Khan showing high-class form in France. All three enjoyed successful stud careers in Germany, with Dschingis Khan topping the General Sires’ Table there three times in the ‘80s. Dschingis Khan’s best sons were Orofino and Konigsstuhl, each a German Derby-winning Horse of the Year. Of this pair, Konigsstuhl proved the more influential long-term by siring the top-class racehorse and stallion Monsun. Rivalling Monsun, though, for the title of Konigsstuhl’s best son was the 1996 Deutsches Derby winner Lavirco. Although nowhere near as influential as Monsun at stud, both Lavirco and his Deutsches St. Leger-winning full-brother Laveron turned into very decent stallions.
It speaks volumes for the status of Konigsstuhl that La Virginia, dam of Lavirco and Laveron, visited him twice in the early ‘90s to breed these two horses (who were born in 1993 and ’95 respectively). The winner of two minor races in Germany, La Virginia was impeccably bred, and her owners Gestut Fahrhof were very happy to send her abroad to visit such high-class stallions as Danehill, Green Desert, Giant’s Causeway and King’s Best. Interestingly, her visits to Konigsstuhl yielded the best horses, although her Green Desert cold (Lyonels Glory) did win a Group Three race over 2000m in Germany as a three-year-old in 2004.
Decent filly though La Virginia had been, she was less talented than her Group Three-winning full-sister La Colorada, who became the dam of the top-class Lomitas, arguably the most talented horse ever raced by Fahrhof and eventually an excellent stallion, responsible for the likes of the outstanding international campaigner Silvano, the Aga Khan’s Group One-winning filly Shalanaya, and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes heroine Danedream. Another top-class horse from the family had been Lirung, winner of 12 races for Fahrhof including the Group One Prix Jacques le Marois in France in 1986.
Lavirco and Laveron both conformed to the stereotype of German horses by being very tough and genuine. Laveron’s demonstration of toughness was remarkable: he raced every season from ages two to eight inclusive, winning nine of his 34 starts. His first four seasons were spent racing on the Flat, with his three-year-old season in 1998 seeing him win the German St Leger after having finished third to Robertico in the German Derby. His four-year-old season was similarly rewarding as he won two races in 1999 including a Group Three contest over 2400m at Dusseldorf. Group Two-placed on the Flat as a five-year-old, he went over jumps aged six for French trainer Francois Doumen before enjoying an outstanding spree in France at Auteuil as a seven-year-old in 2002, winning five races, two of them Grade Ones including the French equivalent of the Champion Hurdle, the Grande Course de Haies d’Auteuil over 5100m. He was recruited for stud duties in the British Isles by Scarvagh House Stud in 2003, but was poorly patronized there and brought back to France in 2005, since when he has thrown a stream of good jumpers, initially from Haras des Chartreux and now (since 2011) from Haras de Saint Voir, headed by Katenko (a Grade Three winner on both sides of the English Channel).
Lavirco, though, was the better racehorse of the pair of brothers, as well as the older. Trained (as was Laveron throughout his Flat career) by Peter Rau, Lavirco developed into Germany’s top three-year-old of 1996, when he enjoyed a perfect preparation for the German Derby. Having won a Group Three race over 1600m at Cologne in May and a Group Two race over 2200m at the same track in June, he had an obvious favourite’s chance in the Deutsches Derby over 2400m at Hamburg in July. He didn’t let his supporters down: ridden, as usual, by Torsten Mundry, he hit the front 400m from home before storming clear, winning by four lengths from Surako (another son of Konigsstuhl).
Lavirco was surprisingly beaten by Bad Bertrich Again in the Group Two BMW Europachampionat at theHoppegarten in Berlin the following month, but he confirmed his ability in the autumn when he graduated to weight-for-age company. One of only two three-year-olds in the Group One Europa-Preis over 2400m at Cologne, Lavirco won by three and a half lengths from Protektor and Hollywood Dream, with the sole English challenger Luso (winner of two Coronation Cups and bang in form in 1996, in which year he won four races including a Group One contest in Germany, the Hong Kong International Vase, a Group Two race in Italy and the Group Three Earl Of Sefton Stakes in England) only fourth.
Lavirco moved around a bit during his stud career. Having been bred and raced by Gestut Fahrhof, he spent several seasons at his home, but was also made available to French breeders on different occasions. He initially stood there at one outpost of the French National Stud (Haras du Pin in Normandy) but his final year at stud was at another branch (Haras de Cercy la Tour). Sadly he died that year, aged 16 – and the continued success of his progeny has subsequently made it plain what a loss he was.
In his early days at stud in Germany, Lavirco was used mainly to try to breed Flat horses, and he proved very useful in this respect. Two of his progeny from this stage of his career stand out: Fight Club and Lolita. Both were Group-winning three-year-olds, with Lolita’s two-length victory in Germany’s equivalent of the 1,000 Guineas in 2006 being particularly good. Fight Club was probably at his peak as a four-year-old, when he landed a Group Two race (the Euro-Cup over 2000m at Frankfurt) in 2005. Soterio too proved a good tough horse, his long career including three Listed victories; while Delora also scored at Listed level.
Lavirco, though, was given much better chances – not least numerically – during his stints at the French National Stud. Breeding jumpers is a long-term project, and what has been sad is that it has only become apparent since Lavirco’s death in 2009 just how much he had to offer. Lavirco’s first jumps stakes victory as a stallion came in 2008 when his French-bred four-year-old daughter Line Clara won a Listed steeplechase at Pau early in the year, but it was the following winter that saw the emergence of Lavirco’s first true star, Mikael D'haguenet.
Mikael D’Haguenet was the best Irish-trained novice hurdler of the 2008/’09 season, towards the end of which he completed a Grade One double at the Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals. Mikael D’Haguenet’s trainer Willie Mullins has imported a vast number of French horses into Ireland over the last few years, and Mikael D’Haguenet’s success understandably prompted him to track down a few more of Lavirco’s progeny. Tarla, a Graded winner for his stable over both hurdles and fences, is one; and So Young, a Grade Two winner over hurdles, is another. Another Irish trainer to have imported a good Lavirco to Ireland is Gordon Elliott, whose Lavirco gelding Roi Du Mee has won five graded steeplechases in Ireland, including two at Grade Two level. Probably the best son of Lavirco to have moved to England is Majala, winner of a Grade Two novices’ steeplechase at Warwick earlier this year.
Lavirco’s graded stakes winners over jumps in France include Quarouso and Gastibellzza, but the true star is Bel La Vie, who now ranks as a Grade One winner over both hurdles and fences. He is clearly a top-class steeplechaser; and he acts as a reminder that, while Monsun might have been the public face of the German stallion ranks of the past few years, the German Classic-winning full-brothers Lavirco and Laveron (bred, of course, on very similar lines to Monsun) have both made useful contributions.