For our Z-Magazine nr 1 in 1993 Eric Wauters and François Mathy have been stirring up some fond memories about Almé Z. About how this super talent was discovered, about the purchase, the achievements in the sport, but above all about the successes in breeding. He has written the true story about Almé Z.
1973. The international event at the Etrier in Paris near Bois de Boulogne. Since the Olympic Games of Munich François Mathy and I have more or less been the pillars of the Belgian Show Jumping Team. A year after these Olympics we are frequently dispatched to various international confrontations as ‘ambassadors’ of the Belgian equestrian sport.
In the paddock ‘Fifi’ (as my Olympic colleague is called by his friends) and I are closely observing the mounts of our neighbours from the south. We knew, probably better than anyone else, how much quality could be found in French breeding. Fifi had already stolen the show with his win in the GP of Limoges and his exceptional performance during the Nations Cup in Munich with the French-bred Talisman (by Nankin), who later moved stables to Paul Schockemöhle, was just as remarkable. As a dealer of quality show jumpers Fifi knew how to appreciate the French quality label and quite a number of ‘made-in-France’ horses found their way to new riders thanks to our friend from Liège. Fifi´s eagle eye quality of spotting show jumping talent soon became world famous. Even Alwin Schockemöhle more than once appealed to his ingenious gift, a service just as much in demand by the then reigning World Champion Hartwig Steenken.
Léon Melchior on his part not only appreciated Fifi´s horse sense but also knew him to be an excellent rider, with exceptional feeling. Lineages are my hobby and spending time with Fifi was never boring.
In those days travelling wasn´t as easy as it is nowadays and I have lots of nice memories of train travels with Fifi on our way to the Anglo-Arab auction in Poitiers etc. Paul Raskin, who chose France over Limburg, was sort of our ‘scout’ and the minute he discovered a so-called ‘better’ jumper he used to inform François. Before we had made our way down to Paris he had inundated us with an incredible story using words like ‘absolutely unique, a miracle and so on...’, a brown Ibrahim son with an unknown American recreational rider! The stories Raskin used to treat us to in his efforts to kindle our interest were however very much the same, which meant our enthusiasm was frequently harshly frustrated. This time was no exception and we were sceptically awaiting his new revelation.
This prophesied super crack had a terribly tempting lineage, though. Sire Ibrahim had fathered quite a number of phenomena and via his sire The last Orange, they carried the special blood of Thoroughbred Orange Peel (small wonder that today´s most sought-after state stallion in France, Double Espoir, was inbred on this Orange Peel). With various offspring excelling at top levels Ibrahim has left his mark on the sport.
Val de Loire, Alcazar or Tango C, just to name a few, stood out because of their jumping qualities and technique. What´s more, with the Thoroughbred line of Ultimate on the maternal side these were extremely attractive papers indeed...
When the impressive brown stallion entered the warming-up arena we were stopped in our tracks! This was a first for us: such expression, elasticity and unique gallop made the ‘amateur’ in the saddle look completely insignificant!
Each and every one of Almé´s wonderfully uphill canter strides were poised and balanced...what class! In spite of the Yankee´s unsophisticated riding style every stride was ´textbook´. Power, impulsion, technique, classic arch... everything picture perfect. A few weeks later we were fortunate enough to witness the same spectacle, this time however with Michel Parot in the saddle, whose older brother Hubert Parot was part of the French Team that won Olympic Gold in Montreal (both are brother-in-law to Marcel Rozier). We could find just one word to express such absolute world class: UNIQUE! In the meantime François had contacted Léon Melchior and if there´s anyone with a talent to infect others with his enthusiasm then it´s definitely Fifi!
The Zangersheide boss wasted no time and sped to Fontainebleau to do business. The American owner, Fred Graham, proved to be not all that trustworthy. He gave an initial price for sale, then backed off and spoke of a potential sale and after François had tried the horse (which jumped excellently!) he started fiddling with the price again...
It turned into a long-drawn discussion with a seller who wanted to squeeze the last drop out of it and Léon Melchior who was dead-set on going home knowing he was the new owner of this ‘world wonder’. He was transfixed with the stallion´s extraordinary qualities. In a bid to avoid all possible misunderstandings and also because he didn´t trust the American customer an inch, Fifi made Fred Graham write down the sale price in his diary. So Graham wrote the round sum of 600,000 French francs (Francs Lourds as it is called over there) into Fifi´s diary, in his own handwriting. After a gastronomic stopover in Barbizon where the deal was lavishly celebrated, Léon and Fifi drove home blissfully happy...the horse of the century was theirs!!!
The suspicion Fifi harboured against ´our´ American business partner soon proved to be justified. Graham decided not to let Almé go....legal procedures became inevitable. For the intervening time the court of justice removed the top stallion from Graham´s yard and handed him over to French ´gentleman farmer´ Bernard Genest, to keep him in shape for national competitions. Genest was not exactly new to the game, his victories during the Jumping de Bruxelles in the sixties with super jumper Odeon K are forever printed in the memories of many horsemen. During that, obviously too long period, the combination Genest-Almé did pretty well. They even had a go at breaking the world high jump record. Later it was also revealed that he had stood stud in this period... I Love You, Jalisco, Joyau d’Or, Jolly Good etc. are just a few of the well-known registered 51 Almé offspring dating from 1974 and 1975. When Graham refused to deliver, Léon Melchior was leaning towards relinquishing the transaction because he was shying away from a lengthy legal tug-of-war, in France at that. But since Mr Graham felt the urge to seek publicity with comments like ‘a bunch of horse Jews trying to steal his horses and who didn´t shrink from forging signatures’ he had no other option but to take legal action. After all, he had dished out a considerable sum of money for Almé. Anyway, those who know Léon Melchior also know that he rises to the occasion when the going gets difficult. That´s the reason why he chose the number one of Parisian lawyers to represent him. Maitre Tixier Villancourt (LL M, ed.) became the defence lawyer on Melchior’s side. When the accusing party announced Mr Confilou LL M as their lawyer this was cause for great amusement in the court room (‘Confilou’ could be translated as ´stupid villain´!!! - what’s in a name?).
Fortunately Fifi had hung on to his diary and despite attempts on Fred Graham´s part to denounce his own handwriting...this all contributed towards the immediate assignment of our super crack to his buyer Léon Melchior.
Almé became Almé Z and was successful at international events under Fifi and later on with European Champion Johan Heins in the saddle, who at that time was the top jockey of the Lanaken elite stables. His exceptional technique, caution and strong personality soon became world famous.
By now Almé Z had completely settled into Zangersheide, both in the sport as well as breeding. A final deceitful attempt to reclaim Almé was undertaken by Graham. Graham declared the transaction amounted to leasing out the stallion, not selling him...for 600,000 French francs in 1972...just imagine!
No need to say that he didn´t have the ghost of a chance with this statement, but nevertheless there were a few Simple Simons who had fallen for his tall stories. Bernard le Courtois, who later took the initiative to buy back Almé Z at the age of 18, even deemed it necessary to put these lies to paper in his French Stallion Yearbook under his ‘Almé Saga’, disregarding the golden journalist rule of rights of fair hearing.
Honi soit qui mal y pense… (Shame be to him that evil thinks, ed).
The extraordinary quality of this Ibrahim son soon showed as every single one of the earlier French-born foals proved to be genuine cracks!
The real breakthrough came when Galoubet under Gilles de Balanda won just about everything there is to be won and finished with a gold medal at the World Championships in Dublin followed by the World Cup Finals victory going to the Almé Z son I Love You!
Another Almé Z son, Jolly Good who is a full brother to I Love You, reached a new world record clearing a jump at 2.39m (7 foot 9) in the new York sport temple of Madison Square Garden; Herban became the fantastic winner of Rotterdam under Michael Matz, and so on...and so on.
Jalisco would carry on this long list of stars with his victories in the GPs of Madrid and the CHIOs in Paris. And all these successes were amassed by just about 50 offspring that saw the light of life in France before Almé Z left the country!
Gradually the Zangersheide Almé products started to gain a reputation as well: the small Almé Z (maternal sire Domspatz) triumphed on Zangersheide soil at the BeNeLux Championships under Jos Lansink. Aerobic Z (maternal sire Gotthard) was the hit of the PSI Auction with 650,000 German marks (at the age of four!) and was moved to the States where he collected many successes at top levels. His victories in the American Gold Cup and the Nations Cup of Calgary were no coincidence. Alexis Z himself became an outstanding sire as was demonstrated by his son Amaretto winning Olympic Silver at Barcelona as part of the Austrian Team under Hugo Simon. Summing up all Almé Z products is a hopeless task but nobody can overlook Ratina Z (Silver and Gold in Barcelona and Gold at the EC in La Baule). Ratina’s dam is Argentina Z, another Almé Z daughter out of Zangersheide´s magnificent Holstein foundation dam Heureka. Home jockey Piet Raymakers is currently on a winning spree with stallion Rebel II Z, a full brother of this Ratina Z, while Rex Z (a direct product of inbreeding to both Ratina Z and Rebel Z) conquered the circuit for 4-year-olds and is proving to be the ideal stallion for outcrossing and a sure guarantee for breeders who are looking for power and ability. During the European Christmas Horse Show in the Mechlin Nekkerhallen the first separate jumping event for European stud stallions took place on the 29th of December 1992: winner was Amadeus Z, again an Almé Z (maternal sire Graphit)) under Piet Raymakers. The Belgian star rider Ludo Philippaerts presently also has an Almé Z stallion under his saddle. With this Jokinal (Almé Z x Lady Wokina by Rigoletto) Ludo has found himself a superb successor for Darco!
When Almé Z was 18 he was repurchased by a French syndicate. Initiator Bernard le Courtois sold 70 of the 80 shares of this ‘doyen’ that came up for sale for 22,000 French francs a piece! The three top-, sport- and stud stallions Papillon Rouge, Quidam and both World- and European Champion Quito de Baussy, all three of them grandsons to Almé Z via Jalisco (Almé Z x Tanagra by Furioso) are a guarantee that France can continue to safeguard the unique prepotent qualities of this ‘crack of cracks’. Almé Z died in Brulleil on the 21st of March 1991. The discovery of Almé Z by Fifi Mathy wasn´t too unusual as Fifi and Alwin Schockemöhle were the two people who spotted top sire Cor de la Bruyère (by Rantzau). Fifi, double Bronze medallist on Zangersheide horse Gai Luron (by Flügel) and Alwin Schockemöhle, Gold medallist at the same Olympic Games of Montreal in 1976 are both testimony to the policy and quality inspections of Studbook Zangersheide...no one could wish for better partners!