"The Greatest Reward a Breeder Could Have"

Despite all that has gone before, the successes of the Aga Khan Studs have recently reached new heights that give the full measure of the work that has been done in the 50 years since the Aga Khan decided to take on the family tradition and make it his own.

Zarkava, foaled in Ireland in 2005, was sired by Zamindar out of Zarkasha. Zarkasha descends from Zahra, the only live filly foal of Petite Etoile, and is thus a symbol of the continuity and determination of the Aga Khan’s breeding. Zarkasha is also related to Blushing Groom, an early purchase of the current Aga Khan. Zarkava was trained by Alain de Royer Dupré and ridden in all her races by Christophe Soumillon. In 2007, she won the Prix de la Cascade for two-year-old fillies at Longchamp, as well the Prix Marcel Boussac on the same racecourse. In 2008 she started the season back at Longchamp with a win in the Prix de la Grotte, followed by the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches where she set a race record, covering the 1600-metre course in just 1’35”20. Zarkava’s next race was the prestigious Prix de Diane at Chantilly which she won by three lengths. Zarkava then won the Prix Vermeille after having missed the start and lost several lengths. In her first try at 2400 metres she equalled the race record. Zarkava entered the fabled Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe as the first triple winner of the Poule d’Essai, Prix de Diane, Prix Vermeille since Daniel Wildenstein’s Allez France in 1973, and the clear favourite. Zarkava took the Arc by two lengths ahead of Youmzain (Sinndar). Zarkava was the first three-year-old filly to win the race since the Aga Khan’s Akiyda in 1982.

Zarkava retired undefeated and received the Horse of the Year and Three-Year-Old Filly Awards. Accepting these honours at a ceremony in London in 2008, the Aga Khan stated that "Alain de Royer Dupré identified her qualities very early on, which is why she went into a Group I race on her second race as a two-year-old." Recalling the connection of Zarkava to Petite Etoile, the Aga Khan stated: "Petite Etoile had only one daughter and I named that filly after my own daughter, Zahra. This horse had a good race career and went to stud and had a large number of winning fillies." The Aga Khan termed Zarkava, "the greatest reward a breeder could have."

Indeed, Zarkava is threaded into the very history of the Aga Khan family’s racing tradition. Before her Arc win, the Irish Independent wrote: "The threads that bind the sport and make it more than merely an opportunity to bet in the instant, are very much part of this weekend’s tapestry. Take the raging hot Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe favourite Zarkava, for instance. Her story, with reference to the here and now, began 86 years ago. On 14 September 1922, the third Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslims and friend of European aristocracy, acquired a grey yearling filly at the auction sales in Doncaster for 9,100 guineas. Named Mumtaz Mahal, she repaid her new owner’s outlay – the equivalent of nearly £400,000 today – by becoming a turf legend. On 14 September this year Zarkava, her seventh great-granddaughter, stakes her claim for similar immortality by winning the Prix Vermeille over the course and distance of tomorrow’s 87th running of the Arc."

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