At Haras de Saint Crespin, part of the Aga Khan Studs in France, a nearly white broodmare roamed a green field with her foal. Brown, but destined to take on his mother's color, he faced a bright future filled with - perhaps - classic wins, a trip to America like his brother, the great Daylami, or maybe a victory in the famed Arc de Triomphe like another brother, Dalakhani.
But that's not exactly how it turned out.
The brown foal became Dawalan, whose path to greatness meandered like an old creek - changing course here and there and back again. He raced, and lost, four times as a 3-year-old in 2013 for his breeder and trainer Alain De Royer-Dupre. Dawalan finished second twice, but mostly showed that he couldn't keep pace in the late going of races at 1 1/2 miles and beyond.
One of the world's leading Thoroughbred breeders, the Aga Khan routinely sells colts that don't progress to the top level. Dawalan wound up as a private purchase by Simon Munir and Isaac Souede. Sent to English trainer Nicky Henderson, Dawalan won two of his first three hurdle starts and made a start at the Cheltenham Festival as a 4-year-old in 2014. He won twice more and reached a handicap mark of 150, before selling again - this time to American owner Irv Naylor - last year.
In the United States for about six months, Dawalan lived up to his family and became a champion - winning two Grade 1 stakes, leading all U.S. jump starters in earnings with $255,000 and collecting an Eclipse Award. He's the third champion for Daltawa, who died last year at 26 - after Daylami (North America's champion male turf horse of 1999) and Dalakhani (Europe's Horse of the Year in 2003).
Now 6, Dawalan is prepping for a 2016 campaign with trainer Cyril Murphy in Maryland. The initial target is the Grade 1 Iroquois Steeplechase in May.
Georges Rimaud, manager of the Aga Khan Studs in France, answered a few questions about Dawalan and his family via email this week.
What was Daltawa like?
"Daltawa was an incredible broodmare. Out of the 11 foals she had, three became champions: Daylami, Dalakhani and Dawalan. Daltawa herself was a beautiful strong mare who had a lot of presence and quality, which she passed on to her foals. Her legacy continues through Dalakhani, who is an excellent sire and is starting to have good results as a broodmare sire, and through her daughters, as she is a direct ancestor to two recent Group 1 winners, Dalkala and Dolniya."
How did she join the broodmare band?
"The family of Daltawa goes back to a mare called Astana who was bred by Marcel Boussac in 1956. Her family joined the Aga Khan broodmare band when His Highness bought the Boussac breeding operation in 1978."
Obviously, jump racing was not the plan with Dawalan. How did that come about?
"Dawalan was initially not bred to become a jumper, but his successes at Grade 1 level and the Eclipse Award he won are a testimony to his quality and to the work done by his new connections. It is not rare for Aga Khan-bred horses to become successful in National Hunt racing and there have been the examples of Zarkandar, Zaidpour, Diakali etc. who have won Grade 1 races over the jumps in Europe."
What was Dawalan like as a young horse?
"He was a strong, good looking colt who showed consistency as a racehorse. He was born late, in May, and needed some time to become fully mature."
Why was he sold?
"We sell almost all of our colts at the age of 3, either at public auctions at Arqana in France and Goffs in Ireland, or, like in Dawalan's case, privately. He attracted interest from the jump market, as he is a son of Azamour whose progeny had already done well over the jumps, notably thanks to Zarkandar who won four Grade 1s.
How proud of him are you?
"We still follow Dawalan's career and are delighted for his new owner, Mr. Naylor, to whom we wish the best of luck in the future. It is always a great pleasure to see these horses excel in their new careers and for their new owners."
Special thanks to Aline Giraud of the Aga Khan Studs for facilitating the photos and the interview.
For more, see the Aga Khan Studs website.