Merriebelle Makes its Spa Debut

by Jessica Martini 
John Moores and Charles Noell’s Merriebelle Stables, which, in just two years of operation, has already been represented in the sale’s ring by the record-setting broodmare Immortal Verse (Ire) (Pivotal {GB}), will be looking to add to its auction success when it makes its first foray into Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga Selected Yearlings Sale next Monday. The operation, through the Bluegrass Thoroughbred Services’ consignment, will offer a filly by Tapit (hip 69) during the first session of the two-day auction. 
Moores–former owner of the San Diego Padres baseball team–and Noell are longtime business partners, creating and building new software companies. The two men dabbled in horse racing for several years before deciding to get more involved in the industry. 
“Mr. Noell has always had a passion for horses,” explained Merriebelle General Manager Gary Murray. “He’s an avid fox hunter. He’s had horses for a long time, mainly steeplechasers. He’s always been involved to a smaller degree, but he was quite keen to get more involved in the game. So he expressed an interest to go to Ireland to buy a farm, which we did about a year and a half ago.” 
That initial farm was the 120-acre Ardbraccan Stud in Navan, Co. Meath. Merriebelle also acquired Chanteclair Farm and the former Stonewall Farm in Midway, Kentucky, but the fledgling breeding operation really made headlines with the purchase of the bloodstock of Ireland’s legendary Kilfrush Stud last July. 
“Basically, we came together to look at Kilfrush Stud, to look at the property, but we didn’t end up having a go on the property,” Murray recalled. “Instead we purchased all the Kilfrush bloodstock interests privately.” 
The highlight of the 30 horses acquired was two-time Group 1 winner Immortal Verse. The 5-year-old mare was soon making headlines herself when selling for a European record 4.7-million guineas at last year’s Tattersalls December sale. 
“We bought her privately with the intention of keeping her,” Murray commented. “But then the market took off and we thought we had something quite special. So we offered her for resale at Newmarket and she broke the European record–which is something that we’re very proud of and we wish her new connections the very best of luck with her in the future.” 
That same willingness to strike while the iron is hot led Merriebelle to enter its Tapit yearling in the Saratoga sale. The gray filly was purchased by Merriebelle at Keeneland last November for $550,000. 
“The original intention maybe wasn’t to sell her,” Murray admitted. “We bought a couple [foals] and said ‘We’ll just see what happens.’ And then Tapit–he needs no introduction from me–he is a super sire. It’s absolutely incredible what he’s achieved this year. So we think the market might want her. We bought her right, we feel. So we’re just going to give it a go and test the market Monday evening and hopefully it will pay off.” 
Despite its early auction success, the main focus of Merriebelle Stable will be breeding to race. 
“Ultimately, we do want to get to the races, but with the farms we have a lot of overhead. We have bills to pay, just like any other business,” Murray said. “Primarily we’ll be looking to race the fillies and selling some colts along the way. So we will be offering some for sale, we will race some. We plan on being big supporters of Fasig-Tipton in general and the Saratoga sale is obviously one of the highlight sales of the year.” 
Merriebelle currently has 15 broodmares in Kentucky and some 10 in Europe. 
“We generally try to focus on breeding top-class fillies and are basically looking to develop a broodmare band over the next while,” Murray said. “It’s going to take time. We do feel like we’re a little bit ahead of the game in Europe with the purchase of the Kilfrush stock because there were seven or eight good mares in there. We want to keep the focus on real quality. We have some lovely young mares who hail from the great Kilfrush Stud family, so we have quite a few close relatives of Immortal Verse.” 
“We have Immortal Verse’s mother, Side of Paradise, who is in foal to Pivotal,” he continued. “We are very excited about having a full-sibling to Immortal Verse next year.” 
Currently, Merriebelle has about six horses in training in the U.S. 
“We haven’t had an awful lot of action on the track in America to date, but hopefully that will change in not too long,” Murray said. “We have quite a few yearlings and hopefully they will be showing up well in the coming years.” 
While Merriebelle isn’t a household name at the track just yet, its colors will be familiar. 
“We kept the Chanteclair name, we run our horses in the Chanteclair colors, which is nice,” Murray said. 
The Chanteclair colors of the late Saud bin Khaled were carried by champion Royal Delta before the owner’s death. 
In Europe, Merriebelle has interests in two potential broodmares. 
“What we’ve done this year to build our broodmare band, we have bought an interest in a filly called Tiggy Wiggy (Ire) (Kodiac {Ire}), who is with Richard Hannon,” Murray revealed. “She is probably the fastest filly in England, for sure, and arguably Europe. She was second in the [G2] Queen Mary and just won the sales race in Newbury about 10 days ago. She goes for a Group 2 next and will possibly run in the [G1] Cheveley Park, but ultimately the decision is up to Richard Hannon. We’re very, very excited about her. She’s a wonderful filly and she’s ferociously fast.” 
Murray continued, “We also have a share in a mare called Pale Mimosa (Ire) (Singspiel {Ire}), who is with Dermot Weld. We bought an interest from Dr. Ronan Lambe, who was very kind and he let us buy into her. She won the Challenge S. in Leopardstown not so long ago and she goes for the Ebor Handicap in York in a couple of weeks. She is a beautiful staying mare with a nice pedigree. She’s a beautiful-looking mare.” 
An Irish native, Murray has been involved with Merriebelle since its inception. After serving stints at Juddmonte, Castleton Lyons and Ashford Stud in Kentucky before relocating to Maryland with his wife Elizabeth, daughter of the late legendary trainer Tom Voss. 
“I’ve known Mr. Noell for some time,” Murray explained of his connection to Merriebelle. “Tom [Voss] trained for Charlie for many years. So that is how the connection came about.” 
“We live on the Voss family farm in Maryland and my wife has taken over the training duties from her late father,” Murray said. “We actually have a horse for Merriebelle called Paris Vegas (Maria’s Mon) that Tom trained and, thankfully, the owners have let us continue to train him. He’ll run in the Lure S. this Saturday at Saratoga.” 
Keeping track of Merriebelle’s international interests is a team effort, according to Murray. 
“We have Mick Flanagan overseeing the development of Ardbraccan, we have Pat Hayes, who is the farm manager at Chanteclair, and he is assisted by Sandy Stuart, who does wonderful work,” Murray said. “And Peter Bance is our senior advisor. He has been friends with Mr. Noell for a very long time. So we have a great team in place, we all work together and we’re all striving to make this thing work.” 
The team’s next test comes Monday at Saratoga and Murray is going into the sale with plenty of confidence in Merriebelle’s offering. The yearling is out of Rote (Tiznow), a half-sister to Grade I winner Magnificent Song (Unbridled’s Song) and to group placed Great Barrier Reef (Mr. Greeley) and Park Avenue (Mr. Greeley). 
“She was a smashing filly foal,” Murray said. “She was very correct and well-balanced. And she is exactly the same as a yearling. She’s never given us a minute’s problem on the farm. She’s a very straightforward filly with beautiful quality, a great temperament and she walks very well. She’s vetted fine, thankfully, and we’ll see what the market says on Monday night, but we’re very excited about her selling prospects.” 
The Saratoga sale gets underway at 7 p.m. Monday evening in the Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion.

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