Profile of Le Quesnay

Filed on 26 Jul 2006 @ 10:33

When establishing Haras du Quesnay, the Head family created a dynasty in French racing and breeding which endures to this day. Sue Cameron takes a look at the evolution of this remarkable stud.

The very name of Haras du Quesnay, or, more familiarly, Le Quesnay, conjures up a whole picture for those involved in breeding and, indeed, for many who are not.

The estate, situated in the heart of the Normandy countryside, four miles from Deauville, was converted into a stud in 1907 when it was acquired by Mr.K Vanderbilt. Sadly abandoned before the war, it changed hands in 1958 when Alec Head decided it was time to diversify into breeding. He spent two years restoring the buildings and paddocks before the first foals were born.

The first stallion to stand at Le Quesnay was Lucky Dip, who arrived in 1959 for one season. He was succeeded by Fast Fox and Damasco in 1960, with the latter being replaced with Prince Taj the following year. Since then, over 30 stallions have stood there, including some of the great names in pedigrees today, both as sires and broodmare sires. Dancer's Image, Green Dancer, Sir Gaylord, Le Fabuleux, Riverman, Arctic Tern and Gay Mecene were all Quesnay stallions, to name but a few.

The current generation

The present incumbents include Anabaa, the champion sprinter originally diagnosed as a wobbler but saved by the Heads to become one of the world's leading racehorses and sires, and Highest Honor, champion sire in France on no less than six occasions to date, three-time leading French-based sire and leading first-season sire in 1991. Gold Away, Bering and Numerous complete the roster.

Anabaa, the leading sire of juveniles in France in 2004 and 2005, has functioned just as well in Australia, his most recent successes coming courtesy of his Group One winning two-year-old daughter Virage De Fortune doing it again at three when taking the Australia Stakes at Moonee Valley, and Headturner winning the Group One AJC Australian Derby at Randwick.

The Wertheimers' Gold Away is, of course, sire of the great racemare Alexander Goldrun, who recently added a second Pretty Polly Stakes to her tally of Group One victories.

Bering, a son of Arctic Tern and bred at Quesnay, has also done sterling work for the stud and his progeny are still prominent on the track.

The newest arrival is the beautifully bred Numerous, a son of Mr. Prospector. His first northern hemisphere-bred two-year-olds are running this year and among those already showing great promise are Numerieus, Bomber Pilot, Special Key and Searay. So far Numerous has sired the winners of 28 Group One races in the USA and Argentina.

Crucial contribution to the breed

The stallions are under the care of Franck Lethuillier and Denis Thomas and their condition speaks volumes about the duo's skills.

However, the present day success has been built on the solid foundations laid so long ago.

In 1961, the very first Group One winner bred at Le Quesnay emerged. His name, fittingly, was Le Fabuleux.

In subsequent years, Alec Head made regular forays abroad to secure the best quality bloodstock in America and Europe and, due to his policies, few establishments can claim to have contributed more intensely in the improvement of the thoroughbred breed.

The stud and its owners have been among the leading breeders in France for many years and a long list of outstanding thoroughbreds owe their existence to Quesnay. Just a few of the famous names will bring back great memories to those who love good racing and breeding: three French Derby winners - Le Fabuleux, Astec and Bering - two Arc winners in Bon Mot and Detroit, and countless other scorers at the highest level. Matiara, Marotta, Harbour, Ravinella, Durtal, Riverqueen, Ma Biche and Silvermine come to mind among the fillies, while Tennyson, Saint Cyrien, Sillery, Esso and Cariellor figure among the colts.

Superb facilities

However, success on the track does not only stem from good breeding. The environment in which young thoroughbreds are reared is of the utmost importance to their ultimate capabilities, and Quesnay has been built up to provide facilities second to none, with manager Martine Head and stud manager Vincent Rimaud keeping Alec's traditions alive.

The paddocks are among the largest in France, but they are never crowded. Young horses need room to exercise at whatever speed they choose to develop their lungs and limbs, and broodmares like their own space. The whole area of the stud covers 300 hectares, laid out in five units. This kind of plan allows for separate quarantine areas for incoming horses.

The grass is kept in good condition and parasite-free by grazing cattle, of which more later, after the horses.

The stables have high ceilings, providing plenty of ventilation, and they are bedded with organic long straw specially grown for the stud. Most of the hay supply is home grown, while the black oats used in the feed are also specially grown for Quesnay. Such traditional feeding methods, with the addition of only perhaps carrots or minerals, ensures that horses remain toxin free with their organs functioning as nature intended.

The permanent staff of 48 live mainly on the property with their families, something which creates a very special environment for the horses, allowing them to be supervised at all times, even after working hours, while resident vet Dr. Rozenn Le Moan ensures that all the horses receive immediate attention if required.

There are more than 60 mares resident on the stud, some belonging to clients. These are under the care of Benoit Lucas and Philippe Houssange, while Herve Desmos and Olivier Le Moal are in charge of the yearlings.

That's an unusual looking horse...

Not surprisingly, Quesnay is one of the foremost sales consignors, but any youngsters not destined for the sale ring are broken at home with a dedicated team headed by Richard Touron. This breaking unit has 40 boxes and two seven-furlong gallops - one turf and one sand.

The 'natural' way is also pursued here, as, after their hour of exercise each day, the yearlings are turned out in small fields, making the transition period as pleasant and gradual as possible.

The same training facilities are also used for the two and three-year-olds and occasionally for the four-year-old fillies who are to be covered but kept in training.

Some years ago, Alec Head decided to keep homebred cattle on the farm to assist with parasite control. He selected the Saler breed. Very imposing but quiet, this mountain cow has adapted extremely well to the rich soil.

Their relaxed natures makes Salers ideal to have around horses. They are very easy to calve and are thus perfect to breed for people who are not professional farmers.

Moreover, their meat is becoming widely appreciated, being very low in fat, while they are champion milk producers. They are all registered to the Salers Herd Book, so now Quesnay can sell not only good horses but good cattle too!

Filed on 26 Jul 2006 @ 10:33