Boussac

Discussion in 'Horse Racing' started by Bustino74, Oct 28, 2015.

  1. Bustino74

    Bustino74 Thouroughbred Breed Enthusiast

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    Today, those who have a passable knowledge of the European pattern (the classics & Group 1s) will envisage that next year that Coolmore will probably have a set of winners, that Juddmonte will likely win a few and that a resurgent Hamdan may take his share. Of course the Aga Khan will likely throw up a horse or two to be considered. All these names are the owner-breeders of our age and we’d probably wager that it won’t be significantly different in 5 or 10 years time.

    Go back 75 years and the same kind of person would be thinking the same kind of thing. Except he would be thinking of different owner-breeders (an Aga Khan is the exception and of whom I’ll say more in a possible future thread), and his thoughts would have at the top of his list the name Boussac. Marcel Boussac, a dapper 61 year old had just won the last three English classics of the 1950 season, in addition to the French 1000G and Oaks. It wasn’t a surprise, he was a formidable owner breeder. In fact the talk was that Boussac had created a ‘breed within the breed’. Today the name Marcel Boussac means little to most people interested in racing other than it is the name of a Group 1 2yo race on Arc day.

    Boussac had begun to amass the fortune which underpinned his horseracing ambitions (which in turn underpinned his breeding operation) before the 1st World War when he set up a number of textile factories. The war turned out to be to his advantage when his factories supplied the French army. At the end of the war he had a further dividend when he bought up the army surplus fabrics such as silk.. By then he’d set up his own stud at Fresnay le Buffard in Normandy. It became the byword for class, eventually a byword for style rather like the other house he helped set up, Dior.

    By then he’d cleverly purchased a set of mares from breeders struggling nearby or breeders who were selling up. He enrolled the help of a gentleman called Rene Romanet who helped him and advised him to purchase more mares and rigorously weed out the weaker ones of those he had. The purchases were not generally expensive but always into families that had classic connections. He came to England and attended sales buying yearlings and mares: again not expensive but from good families. This foundation was to eventually give him 12 French Derby winners, 5 French Oaks winners, 6 Arc winners and 9 Grand Criterium (then the supreme French 2yo race) winners in addition to his English classics.

    Fresney le Buffard bloomed and by the mid-20s he had a band of about 55 broodmares and both Romanet and he seemed set to maintain numbers at that level. After that he rarely brought any mare from outside unless a special situation presented itself. At the same time he culled mares unlikely to add to his idea of the breed to keep numbers fairly constant. He also started standing his own-bred stallions and a yearling colt he bought called Asterus, who won the French 2000G, the Royal Hunt Cup and the Champion Stakes, became his first important stallion.. He was a leading sire of racehorses but it was as a broodmare sire he excelled being the French leading broodmare sire 6 years in succession from 1943 to 1948.

    Most people agree the best horse Boussache bred was the unbeaten Pharis II, a colt by Nearco’s sire Pharos, who won both the Grand Prix de Paris (then the most important 3yo race in France) and the French Derby of 1939 in a dramatic fashion. It was the year of Blue Peter, who had won the first two English Classics and was set on claiming the Triple Crown at Doncaster. Standing in his way was Pharis II but a bigger obstacle was the Fuehrer and the match of the century did not take place as the St Leger that year was cancelled. A year later Pharis was requisitioned by the Germans and sent to stand at their National Stud. He returned to France in 1945 and went on to be leading French sire 4 times.

    By then Boussac had won 5 of his 12 French Derbies. The second of his winners of that race was a colt called Tourbillon who won the Prix Greffulhe, Prix Lupin, Prix Hocquart and French Derby in quick succession as a 3yo. He never won again but still started favourite for the Arc in which he broke down. Boussac sent him to stud and he was to be champion sire 4 times. From 1940 to 1955 a 'Boussac 'sire was French leading sire 11 times.

    A year younger than Pharis was Djebel who won the 1939 Middle Park Stakes, the French 2000G and the English 2000G. Later he also won the Arc. Djebel was by Tourbillon and became nearly as important a sire as his sire was. In 1949 Boussac won the Arc with a filly called Coronation V. This filly had announced her class with a victory in the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot. She followed that up by winning the Prix Robert Papin against the colts and as a 3yo won the French 1000G. She was by his Djebel (by Tourbillon) out of his mare Esmeralda (by Tourbillon) who herself was out of a Boussac mare by Boussac’s sire Asterus. She was beaten narrowly by Musidora in the Oaks but rounded things off when she won the Arc. A worrying feature was that she was barren for her whole breeding career.

    The war was not particularly hard on the breeding aspirations of Boussac despite losing Pharis to the Germans for 4 years. Racing continued in France at a practical level unlike the skeleton programme that continued in England, much to the detriment of English breeding. Perhaps we never factor that in, but English racing was hugely affected by the war and though all the classics were run there was little else. The Germans encouraged racing to continue in France to the benefit of French owner-breeders. Boussac even purchased a few mares post-war from hard-up British breeders.

    When the war ended Boussac was able to show his strength. The real glory years for French racing were from 1945-1955 and Boussac was at the forefront of this assault on European Racing. Even a 2nd tier horse from his stable, Priam, was sent over to be Boussac’s first English runner after the end of the War in the Champion Stakes. He was not considered to have a chance against the ‘unbeatable’ Court Martial (at 8-10f). As it was Priam couldn’t handle the open spaces of Newmarket and instead of testing Court Martial’s stamina (he’d not lasted home in the Derby against Dante) as he was meant to do and only started to run properly in the final quarter of the race. He then gave Court Martial the shock of his life and was only beaten a nose by the British champion. English racing enthusiasts knew their horses were up against it and soon they saw the onslaught. One comment made about Boussac horses was that they were sleek, well-made athletic individuals, not the muscled giants you sometimes get today.

    So where did it all go wrong? There is the famous saying that those the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. A number of things came together to destroy this monolith of excellence. One thing was the death of Romanet in 1945 which reduced the rigour in selection. But at the heart of it was the belief that in-breeding could only benefit the breed: we hadn’t he proved that? And yes it can, but it cannot be taken to the extremes that Boussac took it.

    A number of other things happened. His businesses began to struggle (It was the start of clothing being made in the Far-East) and Boussac, being a proud and principled man, used his own fortune to keep his factories running as margins slipped. He also became a bit precious about the health of his mares and was wary of allowing outside mares onto his studs. This upset other owner-breeders who kept stallions, as they reacted by not allowing Boussac nominations to their stallions. This in turn meant he used his own stallions even more. Numbers of his mares increased to 105 at the end of the war and to 150 by 1955, and increasingly they were bred and in-bred to the same stallions. When Asterus died instead of getting in a sire from a fresh line he used his best son, which he’d bred anyway!

    All this was self-reinforcing and as the quality needle dropped so did the quality of the sires he kept and used. The first sign that all was not well was the 1957 season. Boussac had finished 1956 as leading French owner but there was the disturbing statistic of no 2yo winners that season. In 1957 he barely got into the top 10 of French owners: he would never scale the previous heights again. It happened that quickly. His French Oaks winner of 1956 illustrates what 'Boussac-bred' meant. Apollonia was by Djebel (by Tourbillon) out of a mare by Pharis II out of a mare by Tourbillon out of a mare by Asterus. This potent mix had sent Boussac to the heights but his breed had been crying out for out-crosses and he was too late in applying them. He still had the odd success in the next 20 years (Crepellana and Dankaro may be remembered) and many may recall his last French Derby winner Acamas, coming 2nd to Ile de Bourbon at Ascot in 1978. But by then all his horses were sold, even Acamas, and he only raced in Boussac-colours that day out of respect for this once great but now broken man. The method he'd used to develop his equine super athletes eventually became the method that destroyed their potency.

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  2. Bustino74

    Bustino74 Thouroughbred Breed Enthusiast

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    Is there a lesson for today’s owner-breeders (or in fact breeders)? There must be: there are 2 simple lessons with the first being to be careful of in-breeding too much and the second is to weed out weak un-sound mares even if they do have decent racing records. Boussac used 3-4 sires consistently in different permutations. His first important sire was Asterus. He then used Tourbillon (his most influential sire) who was champion sire 4 times. He also used his son Djebel. The soup was finally completed with the use of the sire Pharis. He used them in permutations again and again.. At the moment the fashion is to send Galileo mares to Danzig line-sires (and vice versa). This gives many foals that are in-bred to Northern Dancer which doesn't seem a bad thing.. But Danzig has two sons who are themselves successful sires of sires (Green Desert and Danehill). So you are now seeing something like Cape Cross (Green Desert line) sent to a mare who is by Galileo but comes from another Danehill line mare. There might be a touch of Mr Prospector in there, as often an outcross is to send one of these mares to something from the Mr Prospector line. The way it is going it will be impossible soon to send a mare to anything that is not choc-full of Danzig blood. It hasn’t got anywhere near Boussac levels. But he didn’t stop doing that until it had gone too far and it was too late when he did start to introduce different outside sire lines. Modern breeders must not do the same.

    Where Boussac aggravated things for himself was where he did not cull his mares as ruthlessly as he did pre-1945. Weaknesses crept in and were exacerbated by the in-breeding he claimed was giving him his special horses. The Aga Khan bought about 40 mares from a dispersal of Boussac’s mares in the mid-70s but half of them were either unraced or maidens (so horses not proven equal to the racecourse test). Breeders today will hopefully not make the same mistakes: too many unraced mares are a concern and an unraced or non-winning mare out of an unraced mare should signal something. (Obviously unraced mares are not in themselves bad mares but there is generally a reason they do not race and being unable to stand the rigours of training should be unacceptable).

    What of Boussac’s legacy? His sire-lines did not sustain, which is a great shame. The Tourbillon/Djebel line died out with Blakeney really. It may have sustained for longer if his sire Hethersett (by Djebel’s son Hugh Lupus) had not died after 3 successful crops. Hugh Lupus was considered a brilliant horse but often unsound and he was not the most fertile of stallions. Another son of Djebel was Klairon, who was well used by British breeders in the ‘60s and produced Lorenzaccio (one of only 2 horses to beat Nijinsky) amongst others: but again the line did not sustain. It is a shame as this is the Byerley Turk line and only about 5% of sires emanate from this line (nearly everything else tracing back to the Darley Arabian).

    But his influence is still seen and it is not surprising that it is seen with the Aga Khan horses. Estimate is an example of the embedded Boussac influence. Her 3rd dam was Boussac owned and bred and out of a good filly of his called Albanilla who was by his Pharis II (out of a mare of his by Tourbillon) out of a mare of his by Tourbillon. Another example is Dalakhani whose 3rd dam was a Boussac filly whose grandam was by Arbar (by Djebel (by Tourbillon) out of a mare by Asterus) out of a mare by Tourbillon. Maybe in time with some outbreeding the strength comes back and will not be lost forever. There will be more good horses that trace back to Boussac mares in the future.

    Boussac’s influence on racing is seen in the races he patronised. He was a greater believer in the French Derby (Prix de Jockey Club) than the then more prestigious Grand Prix de Paris. He was a great administrator and helped French Racing recover after the War. In breeding he brought in many innovations much to the health of his horses. He is rightly remembered today by his Arc day race.

    Despite the mega owner-breeders of today we may never see or hear again a comment like this ‘a breed of homogenous quality …. with a singular harmony of outline …….when one of them appears in the parade ring at Longchamp people are often heard to say ‘that’s a Boussac’’.
     
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  3. rainermariarilke

    rainermariarilke Well-Known Member

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    Good story, Bustino, and nicely told. One minor aspect of Boussac's life might appeal to Cyc (at whom this is principally directed); he got out of occupied France by bribing an Aussie larrikin called Sid Cotton to fly him to England. Cotton - think, maybe, the Donald Sutherland character in Kelly's Heroes - ran what was effectively a private air-taxi service early in WW2, which would have been fine except that he was using RAF planes. After the Boussac trip, the RAF pretty much banished him and he ended up, I think, in a Navy desk job. The reason I know this stuff is that my Dad claimed they were occasional drinking companions in 1946.

    Anyway, the Cyc angle is that Sid is buried, I believe, in Tallegalla Cemetery, which is fairly near Brisbane. If I've calculated Cyc's co-ordinates correctly,that should be reasonably close to him. If so, and you ever get to go there, Cyc, put a flower on Sid's grave and say that Freddy B sends his regards.
     
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  4. Gladness

    Gladness Member

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    Interesting Bustino. I have often thought about Boussac as our horses are increasingly inbred. Magnier could do well to read your piece.......Coolmore are shrinking the gene pool and anything not from the Northern Dancer tap root ends up siring jumpers.
    I have been noticing this season just how alike their horses are in type, colour and even markings, almost as if they are cloning Galileo. I suppose this "stamping" is the sign of a pre-potent stallion. Northern Dancer has certainly changed the look of race horses, so many bright bays now.
    So sad that Hugh Lupus and Hethersett died young, also Troy and Shergar. Breeding is looking pretty desperate, I have no idea where they will get outcrosses now.
     
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  5. Bustino74

    Bustino74 Thouroughbred Breed Enthusiast

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    Thanks Gladness. I suppose Monsun was the answer and he was a great sire but has not proved to be a sire of sires yet. Manduro could be one but has been a touch disappointing. He is of course out of a ND line mare!! Novellist was remarkably clear of ND but was bought by the Japanese. Maxios seems Monsun's latest son to be patronised, but again his dam was by a son of ND.
    Dalakhani hasn't followed up Conduit, which is a shame because he has Nearco but no ND.
    I forgot when talking about the Djebel/Tourbillon line that Lorenzaccio did have the surprisingly good sire Ahoonora, who again died relatively young. His promising son Indian Ridge did the same.
    At the moment few are going to stand against the ND recipe. Why should they it is successful. But so was Boussac for a long time.
     
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  6. Cyclonic

    Cyclonic Well Hung Member

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    Rainer, the grave is about 20 minutes from my mother in-law's place, which is about 2 hours from me. When I next visit the lady, I'll go have a look and leave a poppy or something and that small note. The link below says a bit about Sid.

    http://www.adastron.com/lockheed/electra/sidcotton.htm
     
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  7. rainermariarilke

    rainermariarilke Well-Known Member

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    That would be very kind, Cyc, much appreciated, and would bring a nice circular 'closure' feel to the whole thing. On reflection, since FB was my dad, it would make more sense to say Freddy B's kid sends his regards.

    I looked at the link (thanks very much) which looks a bit pious. If my dad was any judge - and he usually was - I'd guess that the 'plot' to get rid of Sid didn't need to be too sophisticated. He would have given them plenty of ammunition ! Regards to the mother-in-law.

    (Bustino and Gladness: sorry for hijacking your thread).
     
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  8. Bustino74

    Bustino74 Thouroughbred Breed Enthusiast

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    No problem Rainer. I particularly enjoyed the Frankel and Arkle comparison thread that metamorphosed into discussing the relative merits of Charlie Drake and Reg Varney.

    I reckon the Bousaac flight was probably to Newmarket to see his colt Djebel win the 1940 2000G. Another couple of weeks and neither of them would have made it.
     
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  9. Gladness

    Gladness Member

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    The difference between the Coolmore model and Boussac is that Boussac could have accessed out crossed blood had he wanted to, Coolmore can't.
    There are so very few stallions in the world, as well as mares that don't have at least one line of Northern Dancer.
     
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  10. Bustino74

    Bustino74 Thouroughbred Breed Enthusiast

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    Yes that's right. He could have done it because it was available then. The World of breeding has changed and the Monsuns of this world are few. Selkirk was one without ND blood but did not leave a son worthy of him to carry on. It is also a great shame that the Sharpen Up line as a whole has not produced a stronger line. But it was almost planned to be that way. How many people really got interested in a sire like Dieisis.
     
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  11. Gladness

    Gladness Member

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    No one will try anything out of the ordinary.
    Although a stallion like Sir Percy has a line of ND in the male line, he also have some stout British blood in the bottom half of his pedigree, he had enough speed to be placed in a 2000 Guineas, but he doesn't seem popular. He would be a very useful cross for many UK mares.
    Oh no! Not Pinza and Sheshoon, help Precipitation is in there too......you can hear them all saying......
     
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  12. Bustino74

    Bustino74 Thouroughbred Breed Enthusiast

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    I'm a big Sir Percy fan. He was a champion 2yo and won over 6f. In fact I'm a big Lanwades fan. I'd be looking at Leroidesanimaux as well.
    So agree with you entirely.
     
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