Normandie Breeding: `It's a Family Story'

Guillaume and Camille Vitse | Sue Finley photo

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Guillaume Vitse is probably best known as the man who helped to launch the Cindarella-story careers of the top French stallions Kendargent (Fr) and Galiway (Ire) when he worked at Guy Pariente's Haras de Colleville. Now, Vitse looks to write his own fairytale story alongside his wife Camille with their new project, Normandie Breeding, and it appears they are well on their way to doing so.

Normandie Breeding brought 16 horses to the Arqana Breeding Stock Sale from their operation in Beuvron-en-Auge about 30 minutes southeast of Deauville, after bringing 23 to the October sale and selling 18 of them.

Vitse left Haras de Colleville in 2018 after 11 very successful years there, where he not only oversaw the stallions' careers, but helped Pariente to build the farm. But in 2018, he and Camille decided they were of an age where they were either going to go out on their own, or miss the chance and spend their lives working for others.

“We thought it was time,” said Vitse, now 49. “Camille and I were very ready to have our own place. We liked having our own horses and doing business. We wanted to do it before we were 50 and we said if we don't do it this year, we'll never move. Sometimes, you have to move on and do something new. We started from scratch. No money, no farm, no clients. We had two little kids. And we said `let's go.'”

The first five or six months were tough going, he said. “We leased a farm,” he said, “but the farm was empty. We had no horses. It's a good experience when you set up your own place. You think it's going to be easy, that clients are going to come, but that's not the way it goes. You have to prove yourself anew. You have to show you have enough money to feed the horses, to do a good job. So it was pretty difficult, but we made it.”

Not only have they made it, but they have made it look easy, even if it weren't so.

“Before we started, we had two mares in association with trainers Phillippe Decouz and Yann Barberot. And we had two horses born that year that we kept, and they turned out to be very good horses–black-type performers. One of them, Go Athletico (Fr) (Goken {Fr}) went on to win a Group 3 at two and ran in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Keeneland in 2020, so that was amazing. And the other, Axdavali (Fr), went on to be Group 3-placed at two.

“We bought a mare for 4,000 guineas at Tattersalls called Miss Pimpernel (Ire), who wound up being the dam of Toimy Son (Fr), who was a listed winner at three. We sold him at the Arc Sale for €160,000 and now he's headed to David Menusier, so hopefully he'll be an even better horse. We bought Artifix (Ire), who is now the dam of Around Midnight (Fr), by Almanzor (Fr), trained by Jean-Claude Rouget, who is a listed winner at two and Group 3 runner-up, beaten a nose, at two. She's a Classic prospect for next year, so we have been very lucky. We have done a good job, but we have been very lucky that everything has gone well, and we just hope it keeps on going like this.”

The name Normandie Breeding is fitting for Vitse in more than one way. A native of the region, he was born in Argentan in 1973. His father Jean-Patrick managed Haras de la Verrerie, the farm of Elie de Brignac, the late president of l'Agence Francaise de Ventes du Pur Sang, the predecessor to Arqana. He lived there until he was six and his parents divorced. He moved to Paris with his mother but came back to Normandy to live with his father at 14. “School wasn't made for me,” he said with a smile. “I kept on working with horses while I finished school,” he said, “and I traveled around.”

For someone not yet 50, Vitse has accumulated a resume which has grounded him in every aspect of the business. He worked at Plantation Stud starting in 1991, working with Rafha (GB)–who would go on to produce Invincible Spirit (Ire) and Kodiac (GB)–when she was a maiden mare. He worked at sales and started riding out for a jumping yard, “just to know how to ride racehorses, to have another feeling, another connection with them. And the following two, three, four years I continued on like this, working the breeding season at Coolmore and Kildangen Stud during the yearling season.”

He spent a very formative two years in the United States at Lane's End where he worked with mares. “I was in Mare Barn 4, where we had some complicated mares to get in foal, some sick foals. It was a great learning experience. It's a very good farm to work at. They have the best stallions, and a very good team. Mr. Farish was in charge, and Bill was also there–such nice people and a very good place to work. I saw a lot of things. And if you want to be the best, you have to work with the best.”

After two years, he decided to return to France to get some experience running farms on his own.

“I was a young guy and went down to the south of France and ran Haras de la Clauzade, then Haras du Vieux Pont and then I went on to the Haras du Thenney, where I met my wife. And then I met Mr. Pariente. We started Colleville in 2007.”

Kendargent stood his first season at stud for €500 before going on to become one of the great French stallion success stories, and a successful broodmare sire. He was followed by Galiway, purchased from Wertheimer & Frere as a 3-year-old, and sent to stud with just a listed win and a Group 3 placing to his credit. He quickly become the Champion first-crop sire in France, and a Group 1 producer with Sealiway (Fr), who has just retired to stud not far away at Haras de Beaumont. Galiway stood for €30,000 in 2022 after covering more mares than any other stallion in France in 2021.

Jan. 1, the family, including their children, ages 11 and eight, are scheduled to move into their new farm. They have 23 hectares where they will keep only their own mares and those of their associates. “We're not going to board any outside mares,” he said. “We're going to keep the consignment, because we have an annex where we can keep fillies on one side and colts on another. So we can have 15-17 yearlings per sale.”

“We had a big draft in October, with 23 horses. But 15 is a good draft. We have some very good foals. We have regular clients, who come every year, we are expecting some very good horses to come along.” Vitse said that Sylvain Vidal and Mandalore Racing Stables were among those who have supported them loyally from the beginning.

Vitse said he believes in bringing home horses rather than selling them cheaply. “If a horse is going to sell cheaply, for 10, 15, 20,000 euros, we would rather keep her. If you sell at an average price, you end up with an average trainer and an average horse. You may as well get rid of the mare. If we have a cheap mare, it is because we believe in her.”

With Normandie Breeding, Vitse has come full circle. He is selling horses this week in the Elie de Brignac sales pavilion, named after his father's employer. He has worked with foals, yearlings and mares, and helped to launch two of France's best stallions. Now, he's just looking for the chance to do it for himself, and for his family. It has given him a satisfaction and a contentment that some people never achieve.

“We are very happy with where we are now,” he said. “It's family work. I am very in tune with my wife Camille; everything is 50-50. We see the horses together, we sell them together, we do the matings together. We see the stallions together. It's a family story, and nothing would be possible without my wife. Two of us together, we can do the job. I love my job, and I love my wife. Everything is perfect.”

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