WHAT is your favourite race? If I were to pose this question to John O’Connor I would be surprised if he didn’t answer that it is the Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club, the French Derby.

After all, the stallion roster at Ballylinch Stud in Co Kilkenny contains two winners of the classic, Lope De Vega (Shamardal) and New Bay, while they stand the 2007 winner, Lawman, at Haras du Mazet in France. Another of the sires at Ballylinch is the Group 1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Waldgeist, and he was runner-up in the 10 and a half-furlong race.

O’Connor’s love affair with the race can only have been enhanced at the weekend when Lope De Vega provided the first two home in the 184th running of the race, Look De Vega and First Look, the winner providing the sire with a 21st winner at Group or Grade 1 level. Both colts should go on to even better things, and they will enhance what is already a memorable year for the stallion.

This victory for Look De Vega is a second classic success in 2024 for Lope De Vega, following Rouhiya’s triumph in the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches-French 1000 Guineas. Last month Program Trading added a third Grade 1 success to his roll of honour when he landed the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on what was his seasonal debut. In all, Lope De Vega has had 14 individual stakes winners this year, and they are among a lifetime tally of 130 stakes winners on the flat.

It is still early days for Lope De Vega as a broodmare sire, and he awaits a first Group 1 winner in that department. However, he is making an impact and his Group 2 winners as a damsire include Persian Force (Mehmas), Sumo Sam (Nathaniel) and Sober (Camelot).

It is the same with his sons at stud, though early indications are that he will be a force to reckon with in that sphere too.

World’s best

With many seasons yet to come, hopefully, for Lope De Vega under O’Connor’s watch at Ballylinch, he is only going to continue to grow his reputation as one of the world’s best sires. It seems almost unbelievable that he stood for two seasons for just €12,500, and his fee of €125,000 for the past four years is arguably still great value. It is odds-on, even now, that this will change in 2025.

For the record, Lope De Vega’s list of winners at the highest level, with their damsire and number of Group/Grade 1 wins in brackets, includes Santa Ana Lane (Fastnet Rock, 5), Program Trading (Oasis Dream, 3), Dreamloper (Teofilo, 2), Newspaperofrecord (Holy Roman Emperor, 2), Vega Magic (Magic Albert, 2), and Belardo (Danehill, 2).

All of the following have won one Group or Grade 1 contest; Look De Vega (High Chaparral), Rouhiya (Raven’s Pass), Arapaho (Dansili), Place Du Carrousel (Duke Of Marmalade), Sweet Lady (Dansili), Hypothetical (Whipper), Vega One (Distorted Humor), Aunt Pearl (Hurricane Run), Lucky Vega (Cape Cross), Gytrash (Fastnet Rock), Zabeel Prince (Unbridled’s Song), Phoenix Of Spain (Key Of Luck), Capla Temptress (Dansili), The Right Man (Warning) and Jemayel (Homme De Loi).

Private sale

Bred by Joëlle Mestrallet’s Haras de la Morsangliere and Lucien Urano’s Ecurie des Charmes, Look De Vega was sold as a yearling in a private transaction at Arqana for €160,000 to his trainers, Carlos and Yann Lerner. They now own 30% of the three-year-old colt, Mestrallet and Urano retaining a quarter share each, while the remaining 20% is owned by Patrick Madar. Look De Vega won his sole start at two, in Fontainebleau at the year-end by seven lengths, and prepared for his classic tilt with victory in a conditions race at ParisLongchamp last month.

Look De Vega was only entered for the Prix du Jockey Club in February. After the race, Joëlle Mestrallet, a renowned name in the world of showjumping, said: “It all goes back to when I fell in love with the colt’s dam at the stud of Madame O’Reilly’s, just before she went up for sale.

“That’s how Mr Urano and I bought her [for €85,000 as a yearling in 2013 through Ghislain Bozo’s Meridian International]. A race like this is terrible when you have to live through it.

“I was breathless. I’ve experienced some great victories with showjumpers, but I don’t think that I’ve ever experienced anything as strong [in terms of emotion] as this classic win. I wasn’t expecting the colt to win with such ease. I’m bowled over.”

Obvious appeal

The dam of Look De Vega, Lucelle (High Chaparral), had obvious appeal as a yearling, given that, coincidentally, she was out of a half-sister to two classic winners, another French Derby hero and now multiple Group 1 sire Lawman (Invincible Spirit), and the Group 1 Prix de Diane-French Oaks winner Latice (Inchinor).

Lucelle won three of her nine starts when trained by Jean-Claude Rouget, and the only time she was out of the first four was when finishing fifth in a listed race, her only attempt at blacktype.

All of Lucelle’s winners have won more than once, and they are her first four offspring. The fifth, a two-year-old son by Almanzor (Wootton Bassett), was sold to trainer Marc Pimbonnet last October for €24,000. Lucelle is one of four winners out of the once-raced Larceny (Cape Cross), and the best of these was the Group 2 Lancashire Oaks winner The Black Princess (Iffraaj).

A daughter of Group 2 winner and Group 1 Prix Vermeille-placed Light The Lights (Shirley Heights), Look De Vega’s third dam Laramie (Gulch) never won, but she was a huge success at stud, three of her six winners being Group 1 performers. Group 3 winner Satri (Mujadil) was runner-up in the Group 1 Prix Maurice de Gheest, Lawman also won the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat, while Latice is the dam of stakes winner Fencing (Street Cry) and he ran third in the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy.

First Look

After the race on Sunday, First Look’s jockey Alexis Pouchin said: “He ran really well and was cherry ripe for this race. We were beaten by a very good horse. My horse is a very good colt.” Yet to win a stakes race, the André Fabre-trained First Look has been a model of consistency at Chantilly, never out of the first two in four starts there. He won a maiden second time out at two, and was runner-up in the Group 3 Prix de Guiche. His only run, at ParisLongchamp, saw him placed in a Group 3.

Bred by Haras de la Perelle, First Look cost BBA Ireland €340,000 as a yearling, and is the second winner for his Dansili (Danehill) dam Bilissie. She was a Wertheimer homebred who won a 10-furlong listed race at Chantilly before the brothers sold her as a seven-year-old for €420,000. Bilissie is one of three stakes winners for Balladeuse (Singspiel), and here there was a special connection to another winner on the card at Chantilly on Sunday.

The Group 1 Prix Vermeille winner and stakes-producer Left Hand (Dubawi) is the best of the seven winners out of Balladeuse. Another of that mare’s daughters, Romanciere (Dansili), an own-sister to Bilissie, was placed in the Group 1 Prix Jean Romanet. They may yet be joined at the top table by Balladeuse’s three-year-old daughter Aventure (Sea The Stars) after she gained her biggest win on Sunday in the Group 3 Prix de Royaumont.

This is one of the best Wertheimer families. Balladeuse is a half-sister to Plumania (Anabaa), winner of the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris and dam of the Group 2 winner Plumatic (Dubawi). Last year their stakes-placed half-sister Dancequest (Dansili) was responsible for the best three-year-old stayer in France when Double Major (Daiwa Major) captured the Group 1 Prix Royal-Oak.