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Trainers: Les Anglais in France

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  The Rothschilds

Text prepared by The Rothschild Archive. ©2007; additional material by Patricia Erigero

The Rothschilds in France

"Racing is competition in its purest form, so simple and direct that its fascination is irresistible; and before one knows it, one identifies with one's horse. & Become a racehorse owner if you enjoy a thrill and are not afraid to suffer. But cardiacs, beware!"
--Guy de Rothschild 8

The French Rothschilds began to race and breed horses slightly earlier than their English relatives, Baron James Mayer de Rothschild (1792-1868) having created racing stables at his Ferrières estate in 1835. Still in existence, albeit relocated to Normandy, and under the management of later generations of the family, the Rothschild stables are one of the oldest in France. Ferrières was a perfect location, close to Paris and to Chantilly which was the centre of the horse-racing world in France. Built by the Prince de Condé, the stables and racecourse at the Château de Chantilly became world-renowned, with the last Prince, (the Duc d'Aumale), donating the racecourse to the Institut de France in 1886.

Initially, the majority of the horses belonging to Baron James ran under the name and colours of their trainer, Thomas Carter: amber vest, lilac sleeves and grey cap. This was soon changed to the now famous blue vest and yellow cap, variations of which are still used by different members of the Rothschild family.

Chateau de Ferrieres
Château de Ferrières
Haras de Meautry
Haras de Meautry in 1890
The stables were successful in James's lifetime, with victories in the St Leger at Chantilly in 1839 with Anatole and the Grand Prix Royal in 1844 with Drummer. In 1846, the Rothschild horse Medon won the French Derby, the Prix du Jockey Club. Following James's death, his sons Alphonse (1827-1905) and Gustave (1829-1911) succeeded their father as joint-owners. In 1879 they decided to move from Ferrières to set up a stud farm at Meautry, near Deauville in Normandy, where the stud has remained to this day. From the very start Meautry established itself as one of France's top breeding farms. The stables had many victories; for example, Heaume winning the Jockey Club in 1890 and his son Le Roi Soleil winning the Grand Prix de Paris in 1898. On this last occasion, a letter from Alphonse and Gustave was read out in the Paris Assemblée, stating that 'on the occasion of the first victory of their stable in the Grand Prix de Paris, the Rothschilds are donating a sum of 200,000 francs to be used on behalf of the needy population of Paris.'9

Nathaniel de Rothschild (1812-1870), nephew of James Mayer, also kept his own horses and raced in both England and France. He was one of the first Jews to be elected to the French Jockey Club.

Alphonse de Rothschild
Baron Alphonse (left) and Leonora de Rothschild at Deauville, 1904
Barons Gustave (left) and Edouard de Rothschild
Rue St. Laurent training stables
Training stables at Rue St. Laurent
By permission of The Rothschild Archive
Champion "Brantôme de Rothschild" (Blandford-Vitamine), bred and raced by Baron Edouard, was stolen by the Germans, but repatriated after the war
Maurice de Rothschild
James Rothschild
Baron Maurice de Rothschild (left) and James Rothschild
Reine Lumiere
Reine Lumière (by Antivari, bred in France) won the Grand Prix de Paris for James Rothschild in 1925
Alphonse and Gustave expanded the Rothschild stables. During the second half of the nineteenth century, they bought up land in the area around Chantilly, establishing training stables at 10 rue St Laurent, Chantilly and at 4 rue de la Source, Gouvieux. At Alphonse's death in 1905, the rue St Laurent training ground had 38 thoroughbreds training there. In addition to Meautry, they also leased another stud farm at St Cloud. A large percentage of the surviving material in The Rothschild Archive concerns these land purchases, as well as legal agreements made between the two brothers.

Edouard de Rothschild (1868-1949) inherited his father Alphonse's half-share of the stables and stud farm at his death in 1905. Edouard shared his father's passion for horses and built a new mansion 'Sans Souci' at Gouvieux-Chantilly. His son Guy fondly remembers a childhood where horse racing was a part of family life:

"Chantilly is practically synonymous with horses, which I've loved since I was a little boy, first in Normandy at the Meautry stud, where the foals were born, then at Chantilly, where from my window, well before I learned to ride, I could see the horses

Sans Souci resembled a Gothic country house, surrounded by an English-style park, thus combining Edouard's passion for the English countryside around Newmarket and the Middle Ages. His third passion for horses was also satisfied as the grounds of Sans Souci bordered the training runs used by the Rothschild jockeys and trainers. One of the first trainers employed by the Rothschild stables was Jean-Claude Watson. Later trainers included Clement Duval, W Barker jnr, Lucien Robert and Geoffrey Watson. Records relating to the employment of some of these individuals have survived in The Rothschild Archive.

Among the many winners bred and raced by Edouard was Brantôme, a colt who was unbeaten as a two-year-old, winning the French Triple Crown. He also won the coveted Arc de Triomphe and was featured in a short film, entitled "Brantôme: Invincible Horse", which was played in the cinemas celebrating his achievements. When Brantôme died many years later, the newspaper headlines announced: "Brantôme de Rothschild is dead."

Other members of the family were also racing enthusiasts: James Armand de Rothschild (1878-1957), commonly known as Jimmy, was introduced to English horse-racing when he was at Cambridge. Although as a boy he had been a scholar, he became so enthralled with hunting and steeple-chasing that when he finished his three years at university, he begged his father to allow him to remain for an extra year. Baron Edmond only agreed on the condition that he won a scholastic prize, which his son duly did. Although Jimmy was finally sent to Hamburg to study banking, he managed to preserve his links with the English equestrian world. By enduring long night journeys he contrived to spend his occasional days off hunting or steeple-chasing. It was said of him that his absorbing passions were horses, politics and art - in that order. Jimmy created a stud farm at his country estate of Waddesdon, enjoying some breeding successes. He raced in the colours of dark blue with yellow chevrons and yellow cap.

Edmond's other son, Maurice (1881-1957) was another keen racehorse owner, winning French classics such as the Prix de Diane in 1921 with Doniazade and again in 1938 with Féerie; the Grand Prix de Paris in 1909 with Verdun, and the French Triple Crown in 1914 with Sardanapale. He raced in the colours of blue vest with yellow seams and yellow cap with yellow braiding.

At the height of his racing career, Edouard de Rothschild owned eighty brood mares and another ninety horses trained for racing. He won the Prix de Diane five times and the coveted Arc de Triomphe twice. Edouard's son had a difficult precedent to follow, but Guy de Rothschild (1909-) was as passionate about horses as his father and soon established his own authority over the stable. He initially faced an uphill struggle, having to contend not merely with his father's great reputation as a horse breeder, but more immediately, with the legacy left from the ravages of the Second World War. All the horses in the Rothschild stables and studs had been auctioned in 1941 under the Vichy regime. A large proportion of the horses were exported to Nazi Germany where they were raced and bred by leading German race owners. Many never returned. Rothschild mares were crossed with other stallions, including those belonging to Marcel Boussac, a wealthy French textile manufacturer and the Rothschilds' greatest rival at Longchamp. Following the war, he ungenerously refused to acknowledge the progeny produced by these forced unions, resulting in the French Stud Book's refusal to register the horses now returned to Rothschild. Throughout the late 1940s, Guy was engaged in a lengthy court battle to reinstate his horses. Eventually the French Stud Book relented and the issue were legitimised and thus able to race in France. Guy also had to fight for the return of his horses from Germany, or restitution in kind. Arguments over war reparations were to continue into the 1960s.

Under Guy's aegis, the Rothschild stables again flourished and acquired the same prestige his father had enjoyed. Guy made his debut at Longchamp in the Autumn of 1949, not long after his father's death. Two of his horses were in the running for a prize and to his delight, and relief, one won. In 1950, he won his first major race - the Grand Prix de Paris with Vieux Manoir. The Rothschild colours, which had seemingly been eradicated by the Nazis and their French acolytes, finished the season in first place, with more victories in classic races than had been gained by any other single owner in recent memory. Guy races in the colours inherited from his father - blue and yellow hoops with yellow cap.

In 1963, Guy's 4-year-old stallion Exbury won the Coronation Cup at Epsom and the Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp. Shortly afterwards, the horse was sold to a syndicate for over £400,000 and for years Exbury earned its new owners a steady quarter of a million pounds a year.

Vieux Manoir
Vieux Manoir, Baron Edouard's Grand Prix de Paris winner by the baron's home-bred stallion Brantôme and out of the third-generation Meautry-bred mare Vieille Maison, stood at Meautry and was 1958 champion sire
Guy was given a property at Reux, near Pont-L'Evêque in Normandy, by his father as a wedding present. After the war he and his first wife, Alix, restored the stud farm and paddocks. They also restored Ferrières to its former glory, although the racing stables were never re-established here. Following Guy's second marriage, to Marie-Hélène van Zuylen de Nyevelt in 1957, Reux passed to Alix and the couple's son, David. Guy now turned to the 15th-century manor house at Meautry, which was in need of restoration, as a home for him and his new wife. Guy describes in his autobiography how horses brought him and Marie-Hélène together. Both keen race goers, they met at Longchamp when one of her horses beat Guy's in the Poule d'Essai for fillies.

It might have seemed that one saw the Rothschild name more frequently in the society and sports columns than in any financial pages. This was not entirely false, for a month after Exbury won the Arc de Triomphe, Guy made the cover of Time magazine.

The horse racing tradition continues with Guy's son, Edouard (1957-), who keeps a stable at his father's stud farm in Meautry. He races and breeds on an international level, regularly exporting his horses to the United States and Ireland. One of his first triumphs, in 1988, was with the filly Ochi Chornya who won races in France and Arlington, Illinois. Some commentators have remarked on his similar attitude towards racing and investment banking: "just as one in five or six deals pays off, so you have to enter five or six horses to win with one. In both fields one should learn to be a loser."

In 1985, David de Rothschild (1942-) was elected to the Jockey Club in France - the first Rothschild to do so since Edmond's strongly opposed election in 1868. In 2003, Edouard was elected to serve as President of France Galop, French racing's ruling body.

The Rothschilds in Austria

The Austrian Rothschild family were also keen race-goers and thoroughbred owners. Unfortunately like the archives of the Viennese Bank, very little has survived to detail these interests. We know that the three brothers, Alphonse (1878-1942), Louis (1882-1955) and Eugène (1884-1976) were members of the Austrian Jockey Club and records have been found to show that one of Alphonse's horses won the Vienna Derby in 1932. Although it is highly likely that the Rothschilds kept stables at their various estates throughout the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, at this time no records have come to light to show whether they also owned training grounds or stud farms.

Footnotes for this article

1 Charlotte de Rothschild, Diary, Wednesday 10 October 1866, The Rothschild Archive, RAL 000/1065
2 Cowles, Virginia, The Rothschilds (London: Widenfeld & Nicolson, 1973), p. 118
3 Buxton, Charles (ed.), Memoirs of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton (London: John urray, 1849), p. 345
4 The Rothschild Archive, RAL XI/109/47/1/105
5 Cecil Roth, Magnificent Rothschilds (London: Robert Hale Ltd., 1939) p. 175
6 Freguson, Niall, The World's Banker (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998), p. 745
7 Roth, p. 179
8 Rothschild, Guy de, Whims of Fortune (New York: Random House, 1985), pp. 244-246
9 Lottman, Herbert, Return of the Rothschilds (London, I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 1995), p. 124
10 Whims of Fortune, p. 52
11 Lottman, p. 320

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