Philip Jodidio interview (3rd) published in ‘A Racing and Breeding Tradition: The Horses of the Aga Khan’ (Aiglemont)
- 4 July 2010, published January 2011
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The idea of entering into an activity that was in no way central to the Ismaili Imamat, an activity in which no member of my family — neither my brother nor my sister nor I — had any understanding, in itself raised a major question mark. Would I have the time, and the capacity, to learn something about an activity with which I was totally unfamiliar? When the leader of a family endeavour disappears, the next generation does not necessarily carry on…. To be the new young owner who would come in and cause the operation to collapse was not exactly what I wanted!
Interviewer: Philip Jodido in Aiglemont
Fifty Years of Racing and Breeding
A Conversation with His Highness the Aga Khan
His Highness the Aga Khan recalls the early years of his involvement in the racing and breeding activities created by his grandfather, His Highness Aga Khan III, and his father, Prince Aly Khan. His Highness the Aga Khan explains how years of effort and learning created the conditions for the current successes of the Aga Khan Studs.
Philip Jodido: What are your first memories of the racing and breeding activities of your grandfather and father? It appears that you were not very closely involved in those activities as a young man. What are some of the factors leading to your decision to take on the responsibility of the operations subsequent to the death of your father in 1960?
His Highness the Aga Khan: When my brother and I were children we had very little contact with racing and breeding. We went to Le Rosey in Rolle, Switzerland, which was a boarding school. We were students there from an early age; my brother was seven and I was eight. I had nine years of schooling in Switzerland and my brother ten years, and, of course, there is no horse racing there, or very little. Both of us went to Harvard, and Boston does not have a great deal of racing either, Cambridge even less. We knew of our family’s racing and breeding, but in a distant way. I was aware of my father going to the races. I knew of the meetings he used to have with his colleagues. I never saw my grandfather in the process of making his decisions. I did see my father working on racing and we knew the properties that he visited. It was not a priority for us because we were so immersed in our education.
My mother and father separated, but when we were on holiday with our father we were aware of his interest in racing. This was the case in Deauville in particular because we spent half of our summers there. When we were in Paris it was the same. As far as I can recall, we had no contact with racing in England, and very little with racing in Ireland, although we did sometimes spend a week or ten days of the Summer there.
My grandfather died in 1957. My early years of responsibility involved very significant institutional commitment. It was a time of decolonisation in much of Africa, and the immediate aftermath of decolonisation in most of Asia. The Cold War was still raging. The decolonisation process was unstable, often unplanned. The position of the Ismaili communities in the developing world was an issue that was very present in my mind and in my activities. We had questions to resolve concerning the health, economic, educational and other institutions created by my grandfather. The amount of time and effort needed to carry forward this institutional work in a responsible and coherent way was very considerable indeed. When my grandfather died, I inherited two secretaries and obviously had no staff of my own. The Imamat required significantly more manpower for it had heavily decentralised leadership in each country that had been in office for many years and was of my grandfather’s generation.
The idea of entering into an activity that was in no way central to the Ismaili Imamat, an activity in which no member of my family — neither my brother nor my sister nor I — had any understanding, in itself raised a major question mark. Would I have the time, and the capacity, to learn something about an activity with which I was totally unfamiliar? When the leader of a family endeavour disappears, the next generation does not necessarily carry on. In this particular case, I was very much aware of the fact that this had been a family tradition for many generations and that it had been immensely successful at the time of my grandfather and my father. To be the new young owner who would come in and cause the operation to collapse was not exactly what I wanted!
I imagined that [the staff] might look to me in five years’ time and say: “How on earth did this happen: we ended in the hands of a twenty-three-year-old who doesn’t know which end of a horse kicks!” That was a most unpleasant thought.
The year that my father died, he was having remarkable success with the racing operation. As a young man who knew nothing, I found this success daunting. There were a large number of people who had devoted a great deal of time to this activity, people who had been very loyal to my father and my grandfather. My father only owned the operation for three years. He actually inherited most of the key people who had worked over a long period with my grandfather. There was a context of strong human relations and loyalty, and I was genuinely uncomfortable with not respecting that should I have decided not to continue. On the other hand, I imagined that these people might look to me in five years’ time and say: “How on earth did this happen: we ended in the hands of a twenty-three-year-old who doesn’t know which end of a horse kicks!” That was a most unpleasant thought. I tried to decide if I could reorganise my work and my life because it was a question of reorganising one’s life to find the time to learn. I did want to be able to make value judgements as to the future of the activity. If I was going to be engaged, I was hopefully going to learn about the operation and to understand it, or I should not go on at all. After six months I realised that I probably could reorganise my work in a manner that would allow me to find time windows to follow this activity while remaining fully committed to my institutional responsibilities.
PJ: How did you go about learning what you needed to know about racing and breeding? What did you discover as you delved into the existing situation?
AK: I certainly did not know enough to understand what the fragilities were, and the fragilities were enormous. This is the type of activity where your shop window can look glittering, but what is in the shop can be of very poor quality. That is in some sense what I found. I asked myself with whom I could work. I had Mme Vuillier and Robert Muller, who were the two people specialised in breeding. Major Hall was the manager in Ireland, and there was Alec Head, who was my father’s trainer. That was the team that I started with. It was a system that was subject to centrifugal forces, in the sense that the breeding operation in France was thinking one thing, while the breeding operation in Ireland was saying another. Racing in France and England also had divergent views. While my father was entirely able to address such a situation, here was a twenty-three-year-old caught in the midst of these centrifugal forces pulling in different directions. For the first years, all I could do was to listen. I spent a great deal of time on the breeding side with Mme Vuillier and Robert Muller. We looked at the dosage system and at the task of keeping the method up to date. It had to be updated frequently. The system had both mathematical and judgemental aspects. It was based essentially on the assumption that the criteria for reproduction in the thoroughbred industry had remained and would remain stable and unchanging. This was conceivable because, at the time, it was inadmissible by tradition if not by law that a stallion would cover more than forty mares a year. The statistics were based on this premise in which you knew, or thought you knew, how many mares a particular horse had covered during every year of his career.
Training was another complex aspect of the operation. Alec Head had worked with my father. He trained a number of outstanding horses, but when he became an owner-breeder, rather than just a trainer, I was very uncomfortable with his decision, but we parted on very good terms. That is why I began to work with Francois Mathet. At the time of parting with Alec Head, I had considerable contact with Mme Vuillier and Robert Muller, not a great deal with Alec Head, and very little with Noel Murless, who was the family’s trainer in England, and with Major Hall, the manager in Ireland. The actual “people environment” was fragile, to say the least.
PJ: The death of your grandfather and then of your father led to sales of horses. What was the impact of those successive sales? What was the state of the physical infrastructure of the operation when you took over?
AK: I did not at the outset realise the degree of damage that was done to the stock by the two inheritance sales due to my grandfather’s and father’s deaths at a three-year interval. We had some very difficult decisions to take. My father had to buy out the other heirs to my grandfather’s estate, and he had to pay death duties. He had to decide what sort of stock to sell. Although he and I never discussed it, I believe he took the same decision that I had to take three years later, which was to sell the high-value, high-profile stock, and to keep the younger stock. That in itself was a very difficult decision to take. The high-profile stock had established its value; these are broodmares who have produced a good horse or had an outstanding racing career or an exceptional pedigree. My father sold that stock. When I inherited the operation three years later, I had to buy out my co-heirs and I again had to pay death duties. Again, I had to sell stock. I took the decision to sell whatever high-value, high-profile stock remained. Logically, we ended up with a very weak book of young untested mares, with often rather moderate race careers. I did not know quite how fragile the breeding operation had become.
The whole operation in 1960 was frankly more tenuous than I could ever have known. From that time onwards the question was how much we did not know, not how much we did know. Where were we going to get the information that was needed to rebuild? The activity, on the face of it, had a glorious result, but it was, in fact, immensely fragile.
Another aspect that I did not fully grasp was the significance of the required investment in all the physical assets of the operation. I had no idea, no notion of the real need to invest in the stud farms and perhaps even in the training centre. The stud farms were not kept up to standard: for example the railings were insufficient. When you have stud farms with insufficient railing, you cannot put horses in the paddocks. If you cannot put horses in the paddocks, you are breeding the same number of horses on less and less land, and therefore the horses become more and more fragile. That, obviously, was a source of great friction between the trainers and the stud farm managers in my operation. The managers were saying “We can’t do any better” and the trainers were saying “We can’t train fragile horses.” The whole operation in 1960 was, frankly, more tenuous than I could ever have known. From that time onwards the question was how much we did not know, not how much we did know. Where were we going to get the information that was needed to rebuild? The activity, on the face of it, had a glorious result, but it was, in fact, immensely fragile. That was the reality of an unexpectedly demanding challenge.
PJ: Aside from family influence, might people like the trainer Francois Mathet or others have played a significant role in your interest in racing? Did Francois Mathet assist you in the purchase of the Dupre operation?
In the early years I was essentially an observer. I was in a learning mode. I tried to go to every gallop I could, and I took notes…. Francois Mathet and I worked more and more closely together. It was a real partnership that was built around the reconstruction, unbeknownst to anybody, of the Aga Khan enterprise.
AK: Francois Mathet was what we call a public trainer. When he took my horses, his main owner was Francois Dupre, or thereafter his widow. He was also working with Etti Plesch and Jorge de Atucha, a gentleman of of South American origin, as well as one or two other owners with fewer horses. When I joined him, I owned a fairly large percentage of the horses he trained, but by no means did that number of horses have the same impact on his results as the Dupre stock. In the 1960s and 1970s the Dupres owned the dominant racing and breeding operation in France. They had one classic horse after another. Francois Dupre and Francois Mathet worked as a team. I believe they spoke to each other almost every day. Theirs was a very successful operation. Etti Plesch was a good breeder, she knew about horses, and Jorge de Atucha also had one or two good horses. I was the new man in the Mathet operation and, effectively, I had a very weak hand. I learnt over time just how weak it was, as did Francois Mathet. In the early years I was essentially an observer. I was in a learning mode. I tried to go to every gallop I could, and I look notes. I went to every race, even claiming races. I tried to learn about the racing programme, because if you do not understand the programme it is very difficult to run a well-focused operation. Francois Mathet and I worked more and more closely together. It was a real partnership that was built around the reconstruction, unbeknownst to anybody, of the Aga Khan enterprise. He was a significant partner in that reconstruction process. He observed the Dupre breeding, the Plesch breeding and the Aga Khan breeding. He came to the farms and every year we reviewed the yearlings together. He knew the stock that was coming up.
At the same time, I observed other operations gradually failing. When Francois Dupre died, the operation went to his widow. During that period I saw the gradual decline of the Dupre activity. I thought I understood the causes of this decline and identified the decisions that seemed wrong, in the breeding and in other areas. On the other hand, because I had trained long enough with Francois Mathet in France in the early years, I knew from French racing what the Dupre stock consisted of. When Mme Dupre died, I knew why there had been problems and I decided to acquire the operation. I remember discussing this acquisition with Francois Mathet, who knew it intimately. He said: “No, you shouldn’t do that. Why would you buy an operation that is in notable decline at a time when yours is coming up? We don’t need it.” I remember saying to him: “I believe we need to add new bloodlines. You know those bloodlines as well as anybody. If they are under my control you will continue to train the same blood you have come to know so well. If I can correct the upstream problems, I will be able to give you stock that is going to come back to the former Dupre level.” In the first year after the takeover, we were fortunate to have Top Ville.
When I bought the Dupre operation. I did not buy the farms. That was, seen with hindsight, an error, but at the time I did not need the land. I already had excess land. Because of our two family successions, the number of horses had dropped so significantly that I had excess land in Ireland and in France. That is why I sold Gilltown and a number of other farms to shrink the land holding. When you analyse this activity everything is linked. You cannot move in one area without it having an impact in another area if you intend to be active in the entire thoroughbred life cycle: breeding on your own farms, training in your own centres, and returning your best racing stock back to breeding .This is, of course, not the only format, for many owners and breeders are successful without having control over every component of the cycle.
PJ: The use of modern accounting methods was a significant element in your development of the operation, was it not? Did this influence the Boussac purchase?
I decided that in order to understand the economic dimension of the operation, I had to develop my own accounting format. There was no standard accounting method in the horse-racing industry at the time. When I took over, in most countries it was not even necessary to present a balance sheet to the national authorities. I introduced an accounting procedure and worked on it until we were able to have cost accounting that was meaningful.
AK: Between 1960 and the buying of the Boussac stock, I was concerned about the quality of the management of our operation, I was worried about the lack of analytical accounting. I decided that in order to understand the economic dimension of the operation, I had to develop my own accounting format. There was no standard accounting method in the horse-racing industry at the time. When I took over, in most countries it was not even necessary to present a balance sheet to the national authorities. I introduced an accounting procedure and worked on it until we were able to have cost accounting that was meaningful. When the Boussac operation became available, it was in the hands of the Syndieat de la Faillite. I never saw the breeding stock. I never saw any farm or any horse in the Boussac operation other than the occasional runner. Because of the cost accounting that I had put in place, I did know the cost of a given horse at a given date in its life, and I was able to determine a rational price to pay, and what the outcome might be if I were able to bring it back to its earlier levels of success. I knew that Mr Boussac had been conditioning his breeding programme on the basis of an absence of financial resources. Therefore, he was breeding to his own stallions extensively, he was putting fewer and fewer quality stallions and mares back to stud, and he ended sadly in a spiral of downgrading. But his bloodlines were outstanding, and they had been outstanding for many years. I noted that when Mr Boussac bred outside his own bloodlines, he often produced a good horse. I knew that the economic crisis that he was facing was the cause of the damage to his operation. If I was able to change that, I was going to have a high probability of bringing those bloodlines back. We negotiated with the Syndieat de la Faillite and they accepted my offer because they wanted a one-time, closed operation. At that stage, it was very difficult to put a commercial value on the stock because of its limited market appeal. In order to help finance those acquisitions, I took decisions to create liquidity for the bloodstock operation, for example by selling Blushing Groom, and later syndicating Shergar.
PJ: How did you go about absorbing the Boussac purchase into your own operation?
Francois Mathet and I went through many exciting steps that caused us to work as partners in strategy. I was responsible for taking the key decisions but he was responsible for seeing to it that those decisions produced the results we wanted. We had great fun.
AK: With Francois Mathet, we looked at the pedigrees of the horses and noted that Mr Boussac in his final years had put three colts back to stud. One of these, called Labus, had an old English pedigree. We discovered that Labus was producing good stock. We kept the stock and we kept Labus at stud. We decided to donate the other two stallions to the French National Stud, and we started spreading the breeding operation across proven stallions. Much more quickly than anyone could have expected, this stock started producing good horses again. We applied our breeding analysis to the stock, for example looking for the base mares. Did we have enough females from those base mares? If we did not, we had to do something about it. Francois Mathet and I went through many exciting steps that caused us to work as partners in strategy. I was responsible for taking the key decisions but he was responsible for seeing to it that those decisions produced the results we wanted. We had great fun. He was also a man of great intelligence with whom you could talk about any subject. Sometimes after gallop we would have breakfast together and we would talk about subjects such as development issues in the Third World, about Asia and Africa, and he would read about them in the serious French press. He was not a blinkered individual who only thought about bloodstock. We had a very good personal relationship.
PJ: You formed an outstanding team with Francois Mathet and the jockey Yves Saint-Martin. How did that occur?
Putting that team [of Francois Mathet and Yves Saint-Martin] back together was perhaps one of the most important moments in Francois Mathet’s life, and I think it was the same thing for Saint-Martin. From that day on, there was never a harsh word between them.
AK: Francois Mathet was Cartesian, very incisive in his thinking, very logical, and apparently unemotional. Inside he was in fact very emotional, but he never wanted to show it. Things got difficult with Yves Saint-Martin, who had been an apprentice jockey with him. He thought about Saint-Martin somewhat as his own boy, whom he brought up to become one of the world’s great athletes. At a certain stage, he split with Yves Saint-Martin and Saint-Martin went to the Wildensteins. I waited. Francois Mathet and I found other riding solutions on a case-by-ease bans. Because he was such a successful trainer and because my horses were achieving strong results, we were an appealing group to work with for a jockey. But this was not an easy time. It is an activity that must be watched every day, all the time. I remember following Yves Saint-Martin’s riding career. When I thought there was an opportunity, because it became clear that the owners and the jockey were going to part ways, I went to Saint-Martin and said: “Would you become my jockey?” He understood what I meant. He was not going to be under contract to Francois Mathet, he was going to be under contract to the Aga Khan. At that stage, he saw a completely different relationship that he could have with Francois Mathet and with me. He responded: “I would love to do that, but I can only accept if Francois Mathet will have me back.” I went to Francois Mathet and said to him “As your main owner, I would like to have my own jockey and that is Yves Saint-Martin.” Mr Mathet agreed so Yves Saint-Martin returned. Putting that team back together was perhaps one of the most important moments in Francois Mathet’s life, and I think it was the same thing for Saint-Martin. From that day on, there was never a harsh word between them. I had a long, complex, fascinating relationship with Francois Mathet. We lived through other crises, including the issue of Vayrann, where the British racing authorities maintained that the horse had been drugged with anabolic steroids. A partnership of this type is reinforced by the tests of life, not only by the successes.
PJ: Why did you feel it was better to buy entire operations rather than select individual horses at auction according to their bloodlines, for example?
If I learnt from going to auctions, I have also learnt from observing the racing stock of ongoing operations. When I have seen horses on the racecourse year after year, I think I know more about an operation than what I can read in a catalogue. Through observation, I believe I can garner a better understanding of an enterprise particularly if it has been under the same ownership for a long period. I can see it move up or move down and I can see what bloodlines work and what do not.
AK: One of the things I had always heard my father or Alec Head say was that this is an activity where you constantly need to change your inventory of mares. If you get trapped at a particular time in your breeding operation, either on the male side or on the female side, you lose your ability to perform. I went to auctions, I went through catalogues, I bought horses — not many — and I learnt the good and the bad aspects of that kind of activity. I realised that the risk in buying individuals at auction is very high, particularly with colts. I bought in this way essentially to add new bloodlines, but I also became prudent about buying fillies at auction. You buy a three-year-old filly out of training. What is she going to breed? Is she going to have valid stock? You buy a colt and he may not perform. If I learnt from going to auctions, I have also learnt from observing the racing stock of ongoing operations. When I have seen horses on the racecourse year after year, I think I know more about an operation than what I can read in a catalogue. Through observation, I believe I can garner a better understanding of an enterprise, particularly if it has been under the same ownership for a long period. I can see it move up or move down and I can see what bloodlines work and what do not. In terms of keeping the necessary process of change alive, I determined that it was better to buy entire valid enterprises even if they were slowing down, providing I knew the reasons for their deceleration, rather than to pick individuals out of an auction. For the three acquisitions of Dupre, Boustac and Lagardere, we were able to measure the compatibility or incompatibility of their bloodlines with ours. By assessing these factors we were able to establish the level of interest that we should have in that stock from a breeding point of view. If it was stock that simply added the same pedigrees or caused too much inbreeding on a particular family, there was no point in looking at it. What was extraordinary was that all the three operations — Dupre, Boussac and Lagardere — had bloodlines that were totally compatible with ours and we were thus not adding more and more individuals to the same families, they were compatible but not identical. By bringing the compatible but not identical bloodlines into the operation. I was creating a process of change and that process of change has proven its validity.
PJ: Your operation is famous for its broodmare band. How have you managed the number of mares required?
AK: Over time, we tried to work out the ideal number of mares, and the land required for them to achieve some sort of stability in our racing performance. We looked at the probability with a given number of mares and we came to what we thought was an ideal number of 165. When I bought an operation such as Dupre, Boussac or Lagardere, we went above that number so we had to start to consider reductions. With 165 mares you need a certain amount of land, a certain number of trainers and stud staff, and you face a certain maintenance cost. At that scale, it becomes a very consuming activity, and you cannot let it run out of control, unless you have other reasons to be in the industry. If you want to run it as an essentially self-sustaining operation, you have to be cautious. This was theory but it has not been fully implemented. We have put so much emphasis on quality, that having bought Dupre, Boussac and Lagardere we were not able to shrink the numbers of this stock together with ours to the ideal number. Doing so would have led us to sell stock that we should not sell. At a certain stage we had to accept we were going to become a bigger operation; however I would not want it to be much larger than at present.
PJ: What was your thinking when you purchased the operation of Jean-Luc Lagardere?
Over that period, Ouilly turned out to be, in my mind, the best breeding land in France. I was infinitely fortunate to have a second chance to acquire the best breeding land in the country. Sheshoon is, I think, the best breeding land in Ireland. I may be wrong. I am not an agronomist, but if you look at the history of breeding great horses you can tell which land produces great horses and which land does not.
AK: When I bought the Lagardere operation, it was quite unique. Jean-Luc had bought the Dupre farms. When I acquired his operation I did not hesitate to purchase his farms, which I had not bought from Mme Dupre thirty years earlier. When first Mme Dupre and then Jean-Luc Lagardere were active in thoroughbred racing and breeding, they used the Haras d’Ouilly as their raising farm for yearlings. Over that period, Ouilly turned out to be, in my mind, the best breeding land in France. I was infinitely fortunate to have a second chance to acquire the best breeding land in the country. Sheshoon is, I think, the best breeding land in Ireland. I may be wrong. I am not an agronomist, but if you look at the history of breeding great horses you can tell which land produces great horses and which land does not. In the case of the Lagardere operation, I bought an activity that was the epitome of the antithesis of my own. Jean-Luc Lagardere had a stallion called Linamix whom he was totally committed to and for whom he bought mares. He built his breeding operation around that one stallion, something we would never attempt to do. In fact, we are diametrically opposite. We decided we would never send more than twelve to fifteen mares to the same stallion. Jean-Luc Lagardere was buying mares all over the world for his one stallion. And he was sending the same mares to Linamix two, three or four years in a row. He was perpetuating the Linamix blood through the whole of his breeding operation and taking a level of breeding risk that we would never have envisaged. But he did it, and he made it work. We discovered not only that Linamix produced excellent racing stock but also that he is an excellent sire of broodmares. Jean-Luc Lagardere’s confidence in that horse has been proven in time. He and I used to discuss breeding and I understood that his techniques were totally different from ours. He used the idea of the chef de race much less than we do, but he worked in a highly individualistic and a very creative way. There is no real model. You cannot necessarily say that one method is more effective than another but some of them work and he made his work in a wonderful way.
PJ: You have reached a remarkable degree of success in racing and breeding in recent years. What goals would you say remain in order to perfect your operation?
One of the goals is to stabilise the men and women who work on the farms. In Europe there is an ongoing process of urbanisation and industrialisation. Compensation for agricultural labour tends to be lower than for industrial labour. The question is how to find the best people and hold on to them.
AK: One of the goals is to stabilise the men and women who work on the farms. In Europe there is an ongoing process of urbanisation and industrialisation. Compensation for agricultural labour tends to be lower than for industrial labour. The question is how to find the best people and hold on to them. Good horsemen are highly talented people. They need the respect and care that every other major contributor has. When a man has been with horses for forty years and he retires or when you have a good horseman and he decides for reasons of lodging or pay he is going to work in industry, you lose an important person. The farm operation depends on the number of people you have, and on the quality of the work environment. We have to look at the processes of change … Owners age, trainers age, jockeys age, horses age … Looking ahead, if this is an enterprise you want to keep alive, you must be able to recognise young talented people coming up. You must be able to identify the important horses. The early identification of the foundation stallion or foundation mare is critical to our breeding. If we miss one of these, we may have compromised our entire breeding operation. These individuals are so rare and they mark the book for so long that you cannot afford to miss them. Hyperion still influences our book today. If a name comes up frequently, it means something.
PJ: In your personal collection, you have a manuscript that describes methods for the care of horses, some of which have evolved considerably over time. In general terms, what is the significance of this manuscript, intended for the instruction of King Louis XII of France, for you in the context of your own racing and breeding activities?
What has the horse meant to various epochs of human civilisation, to various regions of our world? It is a fascinating, nearly unlimited subject. You can approach the topic from the point of view of faith and you will find the horse everywhere: in the Muslim world, in the Christian world…. When you think about it, the horse is one of the most extraordinary phenomena we have.
AK: When the Ciga hotel group, which I controlled at the time, decided in the late 1980s to sponsor the Ciga Weekend at Longchamp build around the Arc de Triomphe Sunday, we looked for themes that we could build into the weekend that would give it a somewhat different dimension than just two racing days. The idea was to expose the public of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, which is a very large one with a considerable percentage of non-thoroughbred people, to the interest and the joy of the horse. We decided to work with culture, and to bring to the Ciga Arc Weekend what I would call representations of the horse in human civilisation that the public could be made aware of. What has the horse meant to various epochs of human civilisation, to various regions of our world? It is a fascinating, nearly unlimited subject. You can approach the topic from the point of view of faith and you will find the horse everywhere: in the Muslim world, in the Christian world. You will find that the horse has been part of sport all over the world, going back centuries, including hunting on horseback and polo. You can look at the horse in human life — in agriculture, in war, or as a vehicle of exploration — for hundreds of years. When you think about it, the horse is one of the most extraordinary phenomena we have. I decided that over time I would try to acquire examples of these various representations of the horse.
This particular document is reputed to have been commissioned for a successor to the throne of France. It is essentially a series of lessons on how to breed and to raise horses, what characteristics of the horse are desirable or undesirable, how to correct undesirable characteristics, how to identify signs of sickness. It is a fascinating document because it reveals the basic principles that can impact the horse in every way it exists. I want to try to make the Museum of the Horse (Musee du Cheval) here in Chantilly an institution that represents the totality of the presence of the horse in human civilisation. It is going to be a complex task. When we started sponsoring the Ciga Arc Weekend, the idea was to blend the specialised public into the non-thoroughbred public and to interest them in the horse, so as to give racing a new dimension. Not the dimension of the expert in horse racing and breeding but the individual who is interested in the horse. Ciga was one of the leading 5-star hotel groups in Europe, and it is interesting to note that another hotelier, Lucien Barriere, succeeded Ciga in the role of the main Arc sponsor prior to Qatar taking over this sponsorship.
PJ: The 2009 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe Weekend was marked by your five victories in Group I and two victories in Group II races. How does that success reflect on the decisions you have taken in the past fifty years?
If there is ever a moment when any traditional thoroughbred racing and breeding operation is stable, I think that we are as close to it as we have ever been. That does not mean that there is not a great deal to be done. There still is an immense amount of work to do, and even when it is done, there is no guarantee that this thrilling game of chess with nature can ever be definitely won.
AK: Throughout my ownership of this activity, I have asked myself what is the optimum structure my family and I need in order to underwrite its continued success, if that is achievable. How many trainers, how much land, how many stud farms, in how many countries should I operate? I think the 2009 Arc Weekend showed that the structure of the system was as optimal as I was going to be able to make it. That is why every component of the operation had a visiting card during that weekend. The lesson I would draw was that there is no Aga Khan trainer or jockey or farm that was left out. They were all there, which meant that every component was working and working correctly. That was a source of immense satisfaction, apart from what it obviously did in terms of the image of the activity and the breeding operation and the bloodlines. When you think of what I started with, there is now a very considerable difference. We have a different set of countries in which we operate; we have a different relationship between the farms and the training operations. We have integrated a privately operated training centre in France, but we also use public trainers in France and in Ireland. If there is ever a moment when any traditional thoroughbred racing and breeding operation is stable, I think that we are as close to it as we have ever been. That does not mean that there is not a great deal to be done. There still is an immense amount of work to do, and even when it is done, there is no guarantee that this thrilling game of chess with nature can ever be definitely won.
Additional comment quoted in AFP
Despite breeding such great horses as wonder filly Zarkava, unbeaten in seven races and who in 2008 became the first filly to land the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe since Urban Sea in 1993, he will in the public’s eye forever be best remembered for the ill-fated Shergar….
Despite a nationwide search led by the unorthodox Chief Superintendent Jim Murphy no trace of the great horse was ever found, but despite this hugely embarrassing episode the Aga Khan maintained his racing and breeding operation there and bought the historic Gilltown Stud. Indeed he is remarkably forgiving of what took place — a reflection of the common touch he possesses which quite often sees him wandering round Longchamp racecourse like any normal racegoer.
That was a tragedy, but that was Ireland at the time.
- A Racing and Breeding Tradition: The Horses of the Aga Khan, Philip Jodidio, Prestel, 2011, pp 18
[Text verified and/or corrected from this source by NanoWisdoms]
- Aga Khan feared he could bring down racing empire, AFP, 23 January 2011
POSSIBLY RELATED READINGS (GENERATED AUTOMATICALLY)
- Alamshar’s Irish Derby and Ascot Victories (United Kingdom) ·· (26 June 2003)
- Sunday Times Interview, Andrew Longmore, ‘Victory in today’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe would crown almost perfect racing season’ (London, United Kingdom) ·· (5 October 2003)
- Dalakhani’s victory at Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp (Paris, France) ·· (5 October 2003)
- BBC Radio 5 Interview, Mick Fitzgerald, ‘The Shergar Story’ (London, United Kingdom) ·· (1 June 2011)
- Telegraph Interview after accepting the Horse of the Award for Zarkava at the Cartier Racing Awards, Marcus Armytage (London, United Kingdom) ·· (17 November 2008)