Graffard another Sheikh success story

Many have profited from the input of Sheikh Mohammed, clearly racing’s greatest financial contributor.

The Dubai ruler has pumped billions of dollars into racing in the northern hemisphere since 1981 when he created Darley Racing, the forerunner to Godolphin which was launched 11 years later.

Media reports before the 2016 Melbourne Cup estimated Godolphin’s Australian operation, which started in 2008, had spent $1.1 billion.

But for all the triumphs and trophies associated with champion horses raced by Godolphin or standing at stud for Darley, the greatest legacy Sheikh Mohammed has left racing is the humans who continue to work in the industry.

Francis-Henri Graffard is one example. The Frenchman is a graduate of Godolphin’s Flying Start program, which commenced in 2003.

The program provides a two-year full-time international management and leadership training program for 12 individuals annually, specifically designed for the thoroughbred industry.

Other alumni include Australian trainers Adrian Bott and Liam Howley, as well as Henry Field, managing director of Newgate Farm.

Prominent bloodstock agents Craig Rounsefell and Edward Sackville and UK television presenter Gina Harding also came through the program.

“I wouldn’t be where I am now without the Flying Start program,” Graffard said.

Graffard was selected for the original intake in 2003, where he met future wife Lisa-Jane, who is now Godolphin’s French racing manager.

Coincidently, Graffard’s first role post-graduation in 2005 came in Darley’s racing office as their English and French representative which involved liaising with trainers such as Andre Fabre and John Gosden.

Graffard left his role at Darley at the start of 2009 to become assistant trainer for Alain de Royer-Dupre. Graffard’s involvement came at the time Reliable Man won the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) and Americain won the Melbourne Cup.

He then made the step to become a trainer in his own right in October 2011, starting with a stable of seven horses at Lamorlaye, the neighbouring town to Chantilly.

Graffard would win his first stakes race after nine months when the Qatar Bloodstock-owned Pearl Flute won the listed Prix Yacowlef (1000m) for two-year-old debutants at Deauville.

Group 1 success has since followed with Erupt winning the 2015 Grand Prix de Paris and 2016 Canadian International Stakes for the Niarchos family while Bateel claimed the Prix Vermeille for fillies and mares last September.

Graffard has finished in the top-ten French-based trainers on prizemoney won in France since 2015, quickly making the transition to a premier trainer.

When asked which horses to follow from his stable for the rest of this season, Graffard offered; “My three-year-old fillies are very good.”

Not too long after our interview in early June, Graffard threw in a late entry for Homerique in the Group 1 Prix de Diane (French Oaks). The daughter of Exchange Rate would finish an unlucky third, beaten a neck, as a $13 chance at just her third start.

As of late August, six of Graffard’s seven highest prizemoney earners were three-year-old fillies, the exception being his Group 1-winning mare Bateel.

Here’s a brief outline of what each filly achieved before and after our conversation.

#1 Homerique (€185,300)

Before: Won on debut at Chantilly before finishing second in the G3 Prix Penelope.

After: Paid late entry fee for the French Oaks, she ran an unlucky third to Laurens. Won the G3 Prix de Psyche (2000m) at Deauville on July 28.

#3 Watayouna (€66,400)

Before: Had raced five times for one win.

After: Won her only start since, at her first try in stakes grade, the listed Prix Mme Jean Couturie (2000m) at Vichy.

#4 Pollara (€66,000)

Before: Won two of her three starts, including the G3 Prix de Royaumont (2400m) at Chantilly.

After: Hasn’t raced since.

#5 My Sister Nat (€49,650)

Before: Raced twice, finishing second on debut at Longchamp before going one better at the same venue next time out.

After: Ran second in the G3 Prix Chloe (1800m) at Chantilly at her third start. She then ran third in the G2 Prix de la Nonette (2000m) at Deauville.

#6 Frankel Light (€45,000)

Before: Raced twice, finishing second on debut over 1600m at Saint-Cloud before winning her maiden over the mile at Fontainebleau.

After: Won the listed Prix la Sorellina (1600m) at La Teste De Buch at her third start and then wasn’t disgraced when sixth to Wind Chimes in the G3 Prix de Lieurey (1600m) at Deauville.

#7 Hermaphrodite (€35,750)

Before: Raced twice, finishing twelfth on debut over 2000m at Fontainebleau before finishing second over 2300m at Senonnes, a low-grade track in north-western France.

After: Won her maiden next time out at La Teste De Buch over 2400m. She was then stakes-placed at her fourth and fifth start in the listed Prix de Thiberville (2400m) at Longchamp and G3 Prix Minerve (2500m) at Deauville.

That’s a total of three stakes winners and four stakes placings generated from his batch of fillies, who were largely unproven, within the following three months.

It’s that sort of sound judgement that’ll ensure we’ll be hearing about Graffard for many more years to come.

~ Also published in Winning Post newspaper.

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