Bobby Zen

It was just five years ago when Guillaume Vitse left his longtime job at Haras de Colleville where he had helped build the farm from a start-up to a well established French stallion station to forge his own path.

“At one stage, you just feel like it’s time to go out on your own and buy your own place,” says Vitse, sitting by one of his pastures at his Normandie Breeding in Hotot-en-Auge, France, where a dozen yearlings are grazing behind him. “My wife and I were pretty motivated to do something because we had been working for years for somebody else’s place. And at one stage, if you don’t make a move forward, you will never make it. I was 45 by then, and it was time. If I didn’t do it at 45, I would have never done it.”

That was in August, 2018, and by November, 2023, Vitse was in the Breeders’ Cup winners circle, receiving a trophy from Three Chimneys Farm as the breeder of Unquestionable, winner of the 2023 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Remarkably, Unquestionable was his second Breeders’ Cup starter in that five-year period. But if the road to success was quick, it wasn’t without its potholes. And certainly not without hard work.

“When we started, it was just me and Camille, my wife,” he recalled. “I had two clients, and no money.”

The Vitses leased land to get started, and there was no horses on the farm until March, 2019. “It was very difficult at the beginning, and we had plenty of doubt,” he said. “We didn’t know if we had made the right decision or not. But we kept on carrying on and some mares arrived and then some other mares, and then some other clients. It was difficult, but we never wanted to give up.”

Vitse spent some of his formative years in America, working at Lane’s End Farm for two years on the mares side of the business. That foundation and exposure to what quality looks like is proving valuable to him now.

Unquestionable | Racingfotos

“Before we started, we had two mares in association with trainers Phillippe Decouz and Yann Barberot,” he said. “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 Group 3 races at two and five, 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.”

But Haras d’Etreham’s Nicolas de Chambure advised him that if he was going to go buy mares, he needed to spend some money to make sure they were quality mares. Vitse made plans to go to the 2019 Tattersalls December Mare sale.

“So, I call the bank and I said, `can you forward me some money, so that we can buy a good mare at the sale?’ recalled Vitse. The bank agreed. While his efforts on Monday were thwarted by the prices, on the Tuesday, just 10 lots in, he came away with Strawberry Lace (GB), a Sea the Stars (Ire) mare in foal to Night of Thunder (Ire), for 52,000 guineas.

“The foal turned out to be a good filly, and we said we wanted to go to the best, and the best in France that year was Wootton Bassett,” said Vitse. He called de Chambure, who stood him, and asked if he would do a foal share. He looked at the mare’s sale price and hesitated. Vitse said he’d pay the fee, but the bank wasn’t ready to extend him more money. He asked de Chambure to just come look at the foal before he decided, and that was all it took. “He came along and said, `okay, done deal. Good filly. We’ll do it for sure,’” Vitse recalled.

“I was happy with that, because it was less pressure than trying to pay for it, and he turned out to be that kind of colt you don’t ever breed. You don’t even see them. He just went through everything with no problems. Nothing ever happened to him. Easy colt. And that was Unquestionable.”

Unquestionable was purchased by Mandore International for M.V. Magnier and Al Shaqab Racing at the Deauville Arqana August Sale for €340,000. He broke his maiden in his second start at 2, was fourth in the G1 Keenelad Phoenix S. As he was in the saddling are at Longchamp for the G1 Quatar Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere S., Vitse approached trainer Aidan O’Brien.

“He is such a nice man to talk to, and I said, `I’m sorry to disturb you, but, I’m Unquestionable’s breeder, and, I just wonder, do I need to buy my plane ticket to Santa Anita?,’” recalled Vitse. O’Brien’s answer? “Yes.”

Vitse said to his wife Camille, “Make sure you take some days off because we’re heading to Santa Anita.” Unquestionable was second that day in France, but after the vet scratch of River Tiber, he found himself the Breeders’ Cup favorite.
Watching the race, Vitse recalls, “I was screaming. I was crazy. It’s like if I were riding the horse. I don’t know how to describe that feeling. It’s the best. The best you can get.”

The whole week was a dream, he said. “At the Breeders’ Cup, we were treated so well. We went to the breakfast, had passes for the winners’ enclosures and the paddock, for ourselves and our friends. And the fact that Three Chimneys makes a trophy for the breeders? We breed the horse and we usually stay in the background. We really, really appreciate them for that. It was so nice to get that reward. It was amazing…Amazing.”

And while the Breeders’ Cup has always taken place in America, it has also always been a major focus of Europeans.

“The Breeders’ Cup, to my point of view, it’s a dream,” said Vitse. “And when I was a kid, we used to go watch it all the time at the races at Argentan and at Clairefontaine back in 1987, ’88, ’89. I remember those days like they were yesterday. And now we have a runner. And a winner. Who would believe that?”

Three Chimneys’ Three Cheers to the Breeder is a series of articles profiling first-time Breeders’ Cup-winning breeders. 

The post Three Chimneys’ Three Cheers to the Breeder: Normandie Breeding appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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