Though third place in the 2013 LONGINES Hong Kong Cup behind Akeed Mofeed might have been the high-water mark among seven visits to Sha Tin, the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races without Cirrus Des Aigles might be unthinkable to many.
The veteran globetrotter was retired at the age of 10 in March but, in Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Vase (2400m) contender Garlingari, Chantilly-based Corine Barande-Barbe has found another horse with miles to spare in him.
At five years old, this year’s winner of the Group 3 Prix Exbury and the Group 2 Prix d’Harcourt would be on the wind down at many yards but, under the patient guidance of Barande-Barbe, Garlingari is only just getting warmed up.
“When a horse begins to improve from one run to the next, even if he is having tough races, that shows he has a certain quality,” Barande-Barbe said. “I don’t really know what his limits are yet because he is still a little babyish.
“You can see he is still looking at everything here in the mornings and I don’t think horses have reached full adulthood even by the age of five.”
The mighty Cirrus Des Aigles won seven times at Group or Grade 1 level, with all but one of those victories in the highest company coming after his sixth birthday.
It is a theme which, perhaps influenced by her experiences in Japan and Hong Kong, Barande-Barbe pursues further.
“The policy in Europe is to try and remain unbeaten so you can see horses up and off to stud after a couple of races,” she said. “It is a shame because I think that defeats can help build the mental strength of a horse as much as the victories.
“After that it is up to the people around them not to let them get stale or discouraged. Some horses need a longer amount of time to realise their full potential.”
Garlingari’s story can be traced back more than 20 years to Barande-Barbe’s first champion, the Prix de Diane and Prix Vermeille heroine Carling, who is the Linngari gelding’s great aunt.
“You could write a novel really,” the trainer said. “In 1995 Carling won the Prix de Diane for a few small breeders in the region and a little later we bought Garlinote as a yearling.
“We didn’t really have the money but we bought her anyway. I found a partner who took a third in her and she was pretty smart. She finished second in the Prix de Conde at two, while the next year she was fifth in both the Prix de la Grotte and the Poule d’Essai without getting much luck in running.
“I had some good offers for her but we preferred to keep her, eventually as a broodmare. She is the dam of Garlingari, who is the first good horse I have trained who descends from the family of Carling.”
The ties with this meeting and indeed Asian racing do not end there, as Teruya Yoshida bought Carling following her three-year-old season. Her son Lohengrin has become a successful stallion for Shadai Farms and will be represented in Sunday’s Group 1 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile by Yasuda Kinen winner Logotype.
For his part, Garlingari’s form ties in closely with his two compatriots in the Vase field, One Foot In Heaven and Silverwave.
Fit from a winter on the all-weather at Cagnes-sur-Mer, he won his first Group race in a messy finish to the Exbury at Saint-Cloud in March. But there were no excuses for the vanquished when he strode clear of the re-opposing Sumbal in the Group 2 Prix d’Harcourt at Chantilly three weeks later, with Arc fourth Siljan’s Saga and Silverwave some way further back.
“If they go a good gallop you can wait with him and if there is no pace he can make it,” Barande-Barbe said. “He was really impressive in the Prix d’Harcourt. He really did something there, going for home 400 metres out. It was a little reminiscent of Carling, who made her challenge in the Vermeille at Longchamp when they reached the ‘Pavilion’ grandstand (one of the oldest remaining features on the track and situated about 500 metres from the winning post).
“It is not easy to do and it is a sign of quality to have that sustained acceleration. Cirrus was the same: all three have finishing speed but it is over 400 metres, not 200 metres.”
The feeling that 10-year-old Cirrus Des Aigles was having more trouble than usual in beating his work companions led Barande-Barbe to investigate further and in March, x-rays uncovered some calcification to a leg joint which she describes as “the shape of a tiny atomic cloud.”
“There was no question of risking him further,” she said. “He had already come back from injury several times and I recognised when his work was just rusty or he lacked a bit of fitness. This was different and it was much better that he go to live with Christophe [Soumillon].”
Cirrus Des Aigles now enjoys a five star retirement at home with Soumillon and has become an ambassador for France’s new retraining of racehorses charity, Au-Dela Des Pistes.
But for a trainer whose numbers have rarely gone either side of 15 or 20 horses, Garlingari could not have moved into the big league at a better time.
“I feel so fortunate to find another good horse so soon,” Barande-Barbe said. “It is like a dream but maybe it is destiny, because I have taken things slowly with him.
“I own him so maybe that makes it easier to take my time. It would be fun to see how I got on with a really well-bred horse but, maybe I am made to deal in fairy tales.
“I think he is on his way to becoming a very good horse and I love his way of going about things, he is very straightforward. And perhaps the experience with Cirrus has taught me to dream big.”