Rothschild intent on a lasting legacy both as public servant and private breeder
France Galop boss tells Isabel Mathew about twin legacies in a new era
Edouard de Rothschild, who had already served a seven-year stint with France Galop up to 2011, has been back at the helm of the governing body of French racing since December 2015, tasked with turning around the fortunes of the industry – a burden for which he is qualified in more ways than one.
For while his surname might be synonymous with banking, in domestic racing circles the Rothschilds are also recognised as a great dynasty of owner-breeders, stalwarts of the sport since the 19th century.
It is a position this passionate horseman feels fortunate to occupy. He says: "I'm extremely lucky to have the opportunity to help manage such a wonderful sport, which is also connected to nature.
"Horses are great teachers about life and there is so much to learn through being involved with them."
Over the years, a series of Classic and Arc winners have been born and raised on the family's 100-hectare Haras de Meautry in Touques, near Deauville.
Rothschild represents the fourth generation to take up the Meautry reins, following the death of his father Baron Guy de Rothschild in 2007, and today has 30 broodmares under his management.
"I grew up coming to Meautry every August with my parents," Rothschild remembers. "I picked up lots of things from Guy, but I also think you learn a lot by just observing.
"Horsemanship comes through experience, through trial and error. I think my father was not particularly commercial. He sometimes was a bit impatient and sold horses a little too quickly."
Nonetheless Baron Guy's success as an owner-breeder – including 1963 Arc winner Exbury, subsequently retired to stand at Meautry – was such that punters called his famous blue and yellow livery the 'sainte casaque' (holy silks).
Meautry was established in 1873 by the Barons Alphonse and Gustave de Rothschild. The stud's history is a fascinating one, embracing as it does the ups and downs of both the turf and the world beyond.
In the 1930s, Meautry ranked alongside Marcel Boussac's Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard as the leading studs of the day. During the war, however, the Rothschilds' entire breeding stock was confiscated by the Germans.
Rothschild's grandfather Baron Edouard then worked tirelessly to
re-establish Meautry's broodmare band, and some of the same lines are still present on the farm.
"I'm obviously very emotionally attached to the stud," says Rothschild. "My children follow racing too, so I think there is also a future. My eldest child is now 18 and he is familiar with pedigrees, while I also have a nephew that does a lot of showjumping, like I did."
A new era
Rothschild, indeed, showjumped for Israel at CSI5* level. It is with this background, this deep-rooted knowledge of the industry, that the 59-year-old has been charged not only with maintaining the success of Meautry, but also with moving the sport as a whole in France into a new era.
France Galop accounts registered a €45 million loss in 2015, leaving the new president with a small mountain to climb.
"The aim is to break even in 2018," he says. "Last year we brought this down to €36m, but to transform an 'old lady' – as I currently call our industry here – is not something you can do overnight.
"At one stage there were eight million people betting on at least one race a year, but these numbers have been going down. We need to make racing more attractive again, to work on its public image, as 90 per cent of our financing comes through betting."
As France Galop works to reduce the deficit, one of many concerns raised is the future of the unique owners' and breeders' premiums. Rothschild is, however, at pains to stress there will be no dramatic changes to the system.
"I believe the French model to be an excellent one, admired by many other countries," he says. "But we do have to modernise it to a certain extent, to make it more efficient. The premiums system will be maintained, but we will look how to optimise it going forward.
"The most important thing is for us not to lose our distinctive French touch. In the last ten years we have witnessed the industry become much more professional. The owner who simply spends money regardless doesn't really exist any more. Even the very rich are now demanding a return on their investments. People have discovered and benefited from the French system, and we want that to continue."
Rothschild applies the same philosophy to Meautry. He says: "I believe in challenges in life and I think one of the most important things is to live within our means and to make the stud stand on its own two feet.
"This involves using different stallions, being international, and being open-minded."
Rothschild celebrated his first homebred Group 1 winner in the family silks when Meandre landed the Grand Prix de Paris in 2011.
His dam, Penne, produced a filly foal by Muhaarar this year.
"We probably send a third of our mares to be covered abroad every year, but the most important thing is trying to find what bloodlines suit them," Rothschild explains. "I think there is much more quantitative analysis of stallions than there used to be, and choices are based much more on statistics.
"Together with my stud manager Nick Bell and adviser Patricia Boutin, the aim is to get good value for money and try new stallions with our mares; not just the ones that have worked for us before. After all, breeding is not an exact science."
The owner-breeder's second individual victory at the highest level came through Esoterique in the 2014 Prix Rothschild, a race named after Baron Guy.
"She really is a very special mare to me," Rothschild admits. "Her win in the Prix Jacques le Marois a year later is my greatest memory in racing, especially as the stud is just three kilometres away from the racetrack."
Unfortunately, the seven-year-old daughter of Danehill Dancer is not in foal this year due to a now resolved "technical issue".
"Winning a great race over there is a dream," he says. "I used to have horses with Luca Cumani, as well as breed and own in partnership with Simon Weinstock at Ballymacoll in Ireland."
This year, the Rothschild family silks were carried to success by the recently retired Armande in the Group 2 Prix Corrida. The daughter of Sea The Stars was bred and raced in partnership with Lady O'Reilly, as they also own her dam Alpine Snow together.
With the opening of the new Longchamp next month – on time, moreover, before re-opening its doors to the public in April 2017 – Rothschild's legacy could clearly extend beyond future generations of homebreds winning on its hallowed turf.
"There are a number of positive signs about our system, and the fundamental concept of our industry remains excellent," he says.
"Obviously there are some big issues to be tackled, and there are some people in difficult situations that I am not ignoring.
"I've been elected to turn around a system, modernise it and negotiate with the government – and I am determined to leave racing with a better future."
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