By Sue Finley
Four years ago, Nicolas de Chambure took over the reins at Haras d’Etreham, one of the most high-profile breeding and consignment operations in France in the second half of the 20th century. He was 26 years old.
Etreham, made famous by his grandfather, Roland de Chambure, who along with Alec Head became known for introducing French bloodlines and stallions to America, had sat atop the list of leading consignors by aggregate at the Deauville August sale for 20 consecutive years, with gross sales in excess of 7 million euros under the guidance of Roland and later Marc de Chambure, Nicolas’s uncle, who had taken charge upon Roland’s death in 1988.
The new change in the guard in 2011 came just at the time when a host of new, younger operations were setting up shop at the Deauville sale, with Monceaux, La Motteraye and Coulonces Consignment, among others, bringing a modern concept of what it meant to be a consignor to the sale.
Some solid, if not spectacular, sales years ensued, with Etreham always finishing in the top five while failing to regain the top spot.
This year, however, the old guard with the youngster at the helm returns with perhaps its best draft in years: the Arqana team selected 33 yearlings for the August catalogue, up from 25 last year, including three Galileos (the largest in any single consignment) and a healthy mixture of yearlings from popular stallions, including two from the first Northern Hemisphere crop of Redoute’s Choice (Aus), two by Invincible Spirit (Ire), three by Shamardal, and yearlings from the hot young Dark Angel (Ire), as well as Oasis Dream (GB), and Kendargent (Fr).
“When I took over,” said de Chambure, “it was after 25 years of success, and it’s probably even more difficult to stay at that level in any business than it is to grow a new business. When I started, as well, it was probably more competitive than ever, with a lot of new players in France. And that’s good for the business. Competition is always good. At the same time, the market was becoming more selective as a whole, and all of those aspects, along with a bit of change in the family, I think made for a few sort of challenging years in the transition, the first two or three years. After that, I’ve just been trying to breed good horses, choose the right mating to the right mares, and bring them to the right sale.”
De Chambure is quick to credit the longtime team at the farm, citing longtime manager Ludivine Marchand and head of nominations Franck Champion. “I’m very lucky that I have a good team from home,” he said. “That was a huge help for me when I started. I have also brought some clients of my own, people I’ve made contact with throughout the world.”
De Chambure grew up in Paris, spending summers on the farm which had been purchased by his great grandfather, Hubert, just after World War II. Located just three kilometers from Omaha Beach, the commune of Etreham was the site of heavy bombing June 8, 1944, just two days after the D-Day landings. The farm and main home, dating from the mid-19th century, were spared from any damage, perhaps because of its use as a storage facility by the Germans. Etreham, noted de Chambure, was one of the first villages in France to be liberated from the Germans.
Hubert de Chambure had won the 1943 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe with Verso II, and purchased the 250 hectares (617 acres) at Etreham in order to have a place to stand him at stud, said Nicolas. “He started his own owner/breeder type of operation, and it was not really commercial at the time. He died pretty young, and it was my grandfather, late in the ‘50s, who took over the farm, and who really started to run the farm in a commercial way.”
While Nicolas was just three when his grandfather died, he has a healthy appreciation for his legacy. “It was sad, when he died. I was only three so I didn’t get the chance to learn from him, but there isn’t a place where I go where people don’t tell me stories about him. It was really himself and Alec Head who started the relationship with America.”
In 1988, Roland died and the running of the farm was assumed by his son, Marc, Nicolas’s uncle. Nicolas spent summers prepping yearlings at Etreham. “Very, very early, I loved it and I would follow the results and ask questions. The more I learned, the more I liked it.”
He completed a degree in business in Paris, and set off to learn more about racing internationally, spending a year at Three Chimneys in Kentucky, completing the Irish National Stud course, working for Goffs, and at Lindsay Park in Australia for the Hayes family.
During this period, French breeders and owners, led by the Aga Khan, were pushing the formation of Arqana, created through the merger of L’Agence Francaise and Goffs France. Marc de Chambure decided to head up international development for the new company, and currently remains in the role of Vice President of the Board.
“For a couple of years before that, we had worked closely together,” said Nicolas. “He decided to take on that challenge with them and leave the daily running of the farm to me.
When he decided to leave, the rest of the family had to approve if it was going to me who would run the farm, and I’d like to thank my dad (Eric, an architect) for entrusting me with it. It was a bit of a surprise because I was keen to travel a bit more and work with him a bit more, but it was (Marc’s) decision and he was still around if I needed him. I have been based in France since then, but still try to travel as much as I can to Australia and Kentucky where I know a good few people and keep the contacts and the business going as a global one.”
This year’s draft at Etreham is a good representation of that global goal. Made up of approximately two-thirds homebreds and one-third from outside clients, the yearlings have been primarily raised at Etreham. De Chambure said that he prefers to get the outside clients’ yearlings by mid-June at the latest. “We try to avoid just getting them for the sale,” he said. “Even if it’s just two months, I think you learn a lot about them in that time.”
This year’s stars figure to include: hip 59, the first foal out of the G3 winner and multiple G1- placed Fire Lily (Ire) (Dansili), by Galileo (Ire). “Sadler’s Wells with Danehill is a cross that has done really well, and she’s a very nice filly with a good pedigree and a good walk. I like her very much,” he said.
“We are lucky to have two other Galileos because he’s such a dominant stallion,” said de Chambure. “What I like about the Galileo colt (hip 51) is that he looks pretty early for a Galileo, and there’s a bit of a speed in the family. He’s out of a Rahy mare called Ecoutila.”
“We are also fortunate because we have a couple of nice Shamardals, who is doing such a good job right now. We always believed in the stallion and we’ve bred to him quite a lot. Hip 95 is the first foal out of an Anabaa (Fr) mare, and we have a nice filly (hip 63) out of a Green Desert mare. Two very nice individuals.”
One of the most interesting storylines of this year’s Arqana sale will no doubt be the performance of the first Northern Hemisphere crop of Australia’s Redoute’s Choice, the three-time Australian champion sire who spent two years reverse shuttling to Haras de Bonneval in France. He is the sire of 27 individual Group 1 winners, and has sold 65 million-dollar yearlings.
“I am familiar with the sire from working in Australia,” said de Chambure, “and so it’s very interesting to have some of his first crop for the sale. It’s going to be a little bit of an enigma for the vendor because we don’t know how the market will see them and prize them, but from small numbers, his stats in Europe are pretty good and I think the market will be spotting them. Especially so, because the colt we have (hip 182) is out of Vadawina (Ire), a Group 1 winner who has already produced two stakes winners, so a good Aga Khan family. He’s a very forward individual, precocious as a type but with a bit of stamina in the family, and he has a stallion pedigree, so it should be exciting for international and French buyers. And the other Redoute’s Choice we have (hip 115) is from the family of 2015 German Derby winner Nutan (Ger) out of a Rainbow Quest mare, Ninas Rainbow. We have some good clients who have trusted us with really good yearlings, so that’s nice as well.”
As for changes, De Chambure isn’t prepared to make any bold pronouncements.
“Maybe I have a lesser commercial approach than before, and will maybe use more proven stallions than freshman sires, and after the challenging transitional years, I’d like to be able to bring us back to a really top level regarding breeding good horses, more so than topping any particular sale or anything like that,” he said.
Etreham is currently home to the stallions Elusive City, Masked Marvel (GB), Poliglote (GB), Saint des Saints (Fr), Stormy River (Fr) and Wootton Basset (GB), and de Chambure said he can see adding to the roster someday.
“Stallion-wise, the market has become a lot more competitive but there are some good stallions in France right now. I’m looking for the next horse for the farm, but, again, the competition is good. For the past 15 years, we haven’t had a group of stallions like we have in France right now,” which de Chambure said he attributes to “a bit of a mix of French people supporting their own stallions, and some bigger owners and more people racing and breeding horses in France in general.”
Armed with his longtime staff, and like his great-grandfather, grandfather and uncle before him, de Chambure plans to be right there in that mix, orchestrating the renaissance of Etreham. “The team, the staff is there, and they’re key because it’s definitely a team effort. Any successful business is thanks to the team, and the people on the farm. I can really see myself here for a good few years.”