Bobby Zen

Sunday at Longchamp was a day for firsts. A Classic victory for Rouhiya (Fr) (Lope De Vega {Ire}) in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains was an important milestone in the partnership between trainer Francis Graffard and the Aga Khan’s powerful racing and breeding operation. Then came a first Classic in his adopted home country for 34-year-old Mario Barrati when Metropolitan (Fr) (Zarak {Fr}) landed the Poulains, a year after the Italian trainer had won the German 2,000 Guineas with Angers (Fr) (Seabhac). But perhaps most notable of all, especially as a breakthrough success, was the victory of Birthe (Fr) (Study Of Man {Ire}) in the G2 Prix Saint-Alary for Laura Vanksa.

As a native of Finland, Vanska is a rarity in the Thoroughbred world. Her equine background may not be rooted in racing but she is a classically-trained rider whose skills have clearly stood her in good stead when it comes to aiming for the Classics with her stable star. The Prix de Diane is likely to be the next stop in the progressive career of Birthe.

“She just keeps exceeding all my expectations and more. She is really special,” says Vanska of Birthe, who cost €12,000 at Arqana’s July Sale last year and raced initially in the colours of Christine Guilbert, who has dual French and Danish citizenship. Over the winter, after her initial victory at Chantilly, Alain Jathiere bought a 50 per cent share in the filly. 

“She impressed me when I saw her at the sales as a two-year-old. I was already interested in her pedigree but when I saw her breezing and saw her physically I knew straight away that I wanted to buy her,” the trainer continues.

“She was on my list and I couldn’t stay there for the sale. Then there was a bit of a mishap and they had forgotten to vaccinate her so she was pulled out just before she went into the ring. Tina Rau went to see what was going on and was the bold one to push for a low price and we got her.”

Having run third on her seasonal debut at Chantilly in March, Birthe then won the Listed Prix Caravelle in Toulouse having swerved a more traditional Classic trial while the ground remained testing in northern France through the spring. 

“The last two successes that she had were important because, as a small trainer, I needed some proof that she was good enough to step up to Group 1 class, but now we have absolutely no hesitation and we shouldn’t feel ashamed to present her for the Diane,” Vanska says. 

“On Sunday, I thought we had lost all our chance when the thunder came and they had 22mm of rain in 30 minutes at Longchamp. We lost all hope but she proved us wrong. She has progressed so much and has gained so much muscle. She just keeps getting stronger and stronger.”

Based at Lamorlaye with the full range of the Chantilly gallops at her disposal, Vanska has come a long way from her early years as a showjumper in her homeland, where there is no longer Thoroughbred racing, and later in Holland. 

She says, “We have trotting in Finland. We used to have galloping in the 60s but they stopped it. I have always been into showjumping and my mum is a dressage rider, so it’s a classic background. I was very lucky to be able to ride good horses in the Netherlands for my bosses, who were  competing at the highest level in the World Cups. I was their young-horse rider at the time and I have been lucky to have always been surrounded by good horses.

“I must say the thing I enjoy the most is building the horses from the yearling stage. Then you know them from the very beginning and at least you know as soon as you can if something is going wrong.”

It was her family friends Amelie and Robert Ehnrooth, owners of Haras de Bourgeauville in Normandy, who introduced Vanska to the delights of the racing world, and they independently have close links to Kirsten Rausing, who stands Birthe’s up-and-coming sire Study Of Man at her Lanwades Stud. 

“It is because of Kirsten Rausing that Amelie and Robert are in racing. She offered them a nomination to one of her stallions as a wedding gift, so they bought a mare and that’s how it all started,” Vanska explains. 

“Amelie and Robert always wintered a few of their horses in Finland who were racing in Sweden in the summer and I was always admiring those horses but I didn’t know anything about racing. I got the stallion brochures and videos and it was my dream to one day ride a racehorse, and they organised for me to go to Deauville to ride out for Stephane Wattel. I was riding in the morning and prepping the yearlings in the afternoon during my summer holidays.”

Having been urged by her parents to complete a business studies course, it wasn’t long before horses dominated her life again, however. The Enhrooths had a horse in training in Chantilly with John Hammond named Sarah Lynx (Ire) (Montjeu {Ire}) who was several times sent home for a spell having ditched her riders on the Chantilly gallops. Vanska suggested a different approach to help the young filly.

“I rode her with the cows in the field in the afternoon and, long story short, she eventually became a Group 2 winner in France and won the Canadian International. At the weekend her filly by Justify sold for €800,000 at Arqana,” she says. 

“I was invited to ride her in Chantilly as well and I followed her to Japan and Hong Kong. I had never led up a horse at the races and the first time ever was when I led her for the Japan Cup. I thought it was pretty cool and I ended up staying in France afterwards because John Hammond offered me a full-time job.”

From Hammond’s stable she worked for a time with Francis Graffard, who met his wife Lisa-Jane when they were both students on the first Darley Flying Start programme (now known as Godolphin Flying Start) along with the aforementioned bloodstock agent Tina Rau. Ten years after they graduated, Vanska would follow that same path. 

She says, “I worked with Francis and he knew that when I was in Japan with Sarah Lynx I had applied for the Flying Start but I needed to do a language test which I couldn’t do while I was in Japan. I applied for a second time and Francis and Lisa-Jane helped me to get in with a letter of recommendation.

“It really is an amazing programme and, for me, I didn’t have many contacts or know much about racing around the world but now I know much better and I don’t really have the urge to travel any more. I would love to travel with the horses to those races but it is nice to be able to settle here and concentrate on a career in France.”

There is of course hope that a filly of Birthe’s calibre will help to advertise Vanska’s talents to a wider audience, though she is not keen to become too big too soon.

“This has really boosted everyone’s morale,” she says. “We only have a small team of horses. I work closely with some breeders but it is really important to the team to have a horse of the quality of Birthe. Hopefully it can help us to upgrade the quality of the stable a little bit. I’m not in too much of a rush to grow – I am very happy to work with the people who have supported me already and now they are sending some more. I already know that I have horses arriving so we have to get ready. I met a few people at the breeding stock sales last year and there are some two-year-olds arriving soon.”

She adds, “It’s great for the owners. Monsieur Jathiere has invested a lot of money and Christine Guilbert is a small owner, so for her to have a possible Classic filly like this is really amazing.

“I feel quite optimistic. Birthe has her routine and we will just stick to that. She goes to the paddock every day after she has been ridden out and we won’t be changing anything.”


The post Laura Vanska: The Classically-Trained Classic Trainer appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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