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Marcel Boussac: The Rise

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  Marcel Boussac: The Rise

By Anne Peters ©2007

Haras de Fresnay
Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard, purchased by Boussac in 1919

The greatest French breeder of thoroughbreds of the twentieth century and perhaps of all time was Marcel Boussac. His Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard in Normandy was the nursery of many champions, foundation broodmares, and leading sires with global influence. Boussac's business fortune fueled a racing dynasty, but the story didn't have a happy ending. At one point he was the richest man in France and the head of two hundred companies, but when he died in 1980, Boussac was bankrupt, his stud in shambles. Still, his name is honored both in his business and favorite pastime, horse racing and breeding.

Boussac's reign was noted for several key points. First and foremost, his program created "a breed within a breed," thoroughbreds noted for such exquisite quality and electricity that they were as close to Arabians as the modern breed can approach. They possessed elegant, delicate heads, wide foreheads and a prominent eye, refinement and grace of limb, with brilliance and stamina both. A Boussac-bred could easily be picked out of a herd of lesser beings.

A large part of this new "type" was due to Boussac stringent breeding standards and his apparent eccentricity with regards to inbreeding back to his foundation stock and their key ancestors. Doubling up on the best qualities of his stock would "fix" the desired type. His great race filly Coronation, a two-time Arc de Triomphe winner, and good colt turned stallion Djeddah, with a lasting international influence, are proof of the value of his inbreeding program. Boussac was more successful and more daring with close inbreeding than any other modern breeder.

Second, the master of Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard was an innovator. His management techniques were ahead of his time in the physical plant of a farm as well as nutrition and health care. His unique barns, with stalls on either side of an aisleway instead of the traditional open shedrow with stalls facing into a courtyard, became the standard, and were particularly popular in America. They were easier on the help, and more convenient to manage as far as cleaning stalls, feeding and observing the horses.

Third, Boussac was a leader in racing politics. He was director-general of the Societe d'Encouragement for 14 years, succeeded by his good friend Jean Romanet, in creating an international horse racing authority, now known as the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities. This body was formed to unify racing and breeding around the world, and manages the International Cataloguing Standards and Pattern (Group/Graded stakes) races for each country.

Marcel Boussac
Boussac at Chantilly in 1943
Boussac dominated French racing throughout the twentieth century and took his French-bred on many successful invasions to Great Britain. His dramatic cross-Channel successes led to the perception that any French horse entered in an English event was the horse to beat. On the home front, his domination of the French classics was nothing short of remarkable. His racing success could not be attributed to one trainer, since he used a series over the years, from George Stern in the earliest years (he trained Ramus to win the 1922 French Derby), William Hall (who trained Tourbillon), and Albert Swann (Cillas). The "Golden Years" runners were trained by Charles Semblat, while later trainers included Charly Elliott and lastly Guy Bonnaventure, who trained Acamas to win the 1978 French Derby. For many years, his racing stable was managed by Comte Francois de Brignac.

Marcel Boussac was the leading owner 19 times, and the leading breeder 17 times. His horses won the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) 12 times; the Prix de Diane (French Oaks) 5 times; the Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2,000 Guineas) 3 times; the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (French 1,000 Guineas) 9 times; the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe 6 times; the Prix du Cadran (Ascot Gold Cup equivalent) 7 times; the Grand Criterium (2-year-old championship race) 9 times. His focus on the Prix du Jockey Club as his target singlehandedly took down the reputation of the once most coveted prize of the French turf, the Grand Prix de Paris, which he won twice to boot.

In England, Boussac won the English 2,000 Guineas once; the Derby once; the Oaks once; the St. Leger twice; Ascot Gold Cup twice; as well as the Irish Oaks once. In 1950, his homebreds swept the English Triple Crown, with Galcador taking the Derby, Asmena the Oaks, and Scratch the St. Leger. It's no wonder the English feared his orange and grey silks.

His successes in England literally changed the General Stud Book, particularly those with horses carrying the blood of his prize stallion Tourbillon. Tourbillon was technically a "half-bred" by English standards, since he carried some dubious American blood (through the "tainted" blood of the great American stallions Hanover and Lexington). But after two decades of Tourbillon offspring kicking the daylights out of proper English thoroughbreds, along with the success of American breeder William Woodward, who also used a combination of American and French blood, the notorious Jersey Act of 1913 was repealed in 1949.

The Early Years

Marcel Boussac was born in 1889 at Chateauroux, France, into a family with a tradition in textiles. As a young man of eighteen, he succeeded to the family business, then went out on his own a few years later. He gradually built a conglomeration of textile mills, clothing companies and newspapers. He also chose to invest his excess in Thoroughbred breeding, which he did in 1914, buying into eight mares owned by Comte Gaston de Castelbajac. These included Bonfire, Sweet Briar, Diana Vernon, Desmond Lassie, and Only One, all based at Castelbajac's stud at Saint-Antoine-la-Foret.

Boussac's first high profile horse came from this group, a colt originally named Sunday, born in 1915, by Sundridge out of Sweet Briar. Sold as a yearling and sent to America, Sunday was resold for the impressive sum of $5,000 to W.S. Kilmer at the Saratoga yearling sale. Kilmer changed the colt's name to Sun Briar, and for his new owner, Sun Briar became a hype horse. Champion at 2, and Derby favorite at 3 (he was scratched while his workmate, Exterminator, went on to win), Sun Briar won the Travers Stakes at 3, was the leading handicapper at 4, and became an influential sire in the U.S.

Castelbajac's mare Bonfire (top, 1905, by Gardefeu) won the Grand Prix de Pau steeplechase in 1909; her daughter Lasarte later produced Prix du Jockey Club winner Thor (bottom) for Boussac
In 1919, Kilmer came back and purchased Sweet Briar with Sun Briar's full brother at foot and took them both back to America. The foal, named Sunreigh, could not win and at stud, sired only fourteen foals, but one of those was Reigh Count (which Kilmer sold as a 2-year-old to John D. Hertz), winner of the Kentucky Derby, and sire of Triple Crown winner Count Fleet.

Another of the Castelbajac mares, Bonfire's donation to the cause proved to be her daughter Lasarte (1917 by Alcantara II), who produced Prix du Jockey Club and Prix du Cadran winner Thor. Lasarte's descendants included the champion fillies Corteira and Semiramide.

The Boussac/Castelbajac partnership also shared the mare Desmond Lassie, dam of stakes winners Irismond (Prix Lupin and Prix Noailles), Alguazil (Grand Prix de Vichy), and Esclarmonde (Prix La Rochette). Her descendants included Atys, Thiorba, Janus and Cortil. Only One, another partnership mare, produced Prix du Jockey Club winner Ramus, and from her descended the good Boussac-breds Jock, Scratch and Janitor among others.

But probably the gem of gems in the Castelbajac package was Diana Vernon. She produced the good stakes winning son Grillemont, but left her legacy through a daughter Deasy (1920 by Alcantara II). Deasy produced Prix Royal Oak winner Tifinar, and a few good daughters, the best of which was Sanaa. Through these, she is responsible for Boussac stars like Coronation V, Esmeralda, Palencia, Stymphale, Arbencia, Astola, and others. In the end, this is the female line that produced the last of the top Boussac runners, including champion Dankaro.

The Duryea Influence

In 1919, Boussac purchased his own stud, the historic Haras de Fresnay-Le-Buffard in Normandy, the heart of the French horse breeding region. Bringing some of the Castelbajac mares with him, he added to it some of the mares already in residence, as well as buying a package of ten yearlings, the foal crop from Mrs. Herman Duryea, owner of Haras du Gazon. These included the closely related fillies Durzetta (by Durbar II - Frizette by Hamburg) and Durban (by Durbar II - Banshee by Irish Lad - Frizette), both sired by Duryea's homebred Epsom Derby winner Durbar II. With the exception of 1920, Boussac bought the Duryea yearlings every year through 1925, gaining several foundation mares in the process, including Durban, Durzetta, and Durban's sister Heldifann (Heldifann was named for Boussac's fiancee at the time, the actress Fannie Heldy, in whose name she raced).

Boussac purchased many yearling fillies that became top race mares and later foundation mares in his stud, including Durban (top), bred by Herman Duryea, and Zariba (bottom), bred by Maurice de Rothschild
In 1920, the Castelbajac crops and Duryea purchases were coming to fruition. Racing in Boussac's orange jacket, grey cap, Durzetta vied with Durban for honors as the best juvenile filly in France, and by season's end, Durzetta was rated higher after wins in the Prix Morny and Prix de la Foret, but Durban won the Grand Criterium and Criterium d'Ostende.

Contining to accumulate the best bloodlines, Boussac purchased 3 yearling fillies in 1920, and one proved a rare jewel. This was Zariba (bay filly 1919 by Sardanapale - St. Lucre by St. Serf), bred by Baron Maurice de Rothschild. Zariba's dam was half-sister to Fair Play (1905) and Friar Rock (1913), 2 outstanding colts that raced in America for August Belmont, and at the time, Fair Play's son Man o'War was a 2-year-old legend in the making in America.

Zariba became an outstanding race filly and a foundation mare for Boussac. Her offspring included Champions Corrida (Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe twice) and Goya, as well as classy stakes winners Abjer, Goyescas and L'Esperance. Her descendants included classic winners Coarze, Galgala, Galcador, Philius, and Crepellana.

The next year, 1921, Durban won the prestigious Prix Vermeille, and Durzetta the Prix de Flore. In 1923 she produced Banstar (by Sunstar), winner of the Prix Morny and Prix Eugene Adam, who Boussac retired to stud, getting Canzoni,Negundo, Denver, and Thiorba. In 1925, she got Sartellus (by Sardanapale), winner of the Lincolnshire and Liverpool Handicaps. In 1927, she had a filly by Ksar named Diademe, winner of the Newmarket Oaks; and in 1928, Diademe's full brother Tourbillon, winner of the Prix du Jockey Club, and who retired back to an important stud career at Fresnay-le-Buffard.

Durzetta was not as immediately succesful or influential, but she became the granddam of Cingalaise, herself ancestress of champion Djelfa, and the good Golestan.

Another from that first Duryea crop was Grazing (colt 1918 by Sweeper - Xanthene by Grey Plume) who won the Prix Jean Prat and Prix Daphnis at 2, and later sired Boussac's good filly Cingalaise. The 1921 Duryea crop included Clavieres (Grand Criterium) and stakes winners Gracilite and Durban's sister Heldifann (later dam of Djezima). The 1925 crop included Gracilite's half-sister Xander.

In 1921, Boussac purchased a pair of important mares from the Newmarket December Sales, including Primrose Lane, carrying a foal by Black Jester which became his stakes winner Perle Noire, who became a useful broodmare for Fresnay-Le-Buffard. A later foal, La Moqueuse (by Teddy), also won stakes and helped establish this family as one of Boussac's strongest. From Primrose Lane came La Circe (Prix Vermeille), Abdos (champion; sire), and Canthare among the best.

The other 1921 purchase was Casquetts, who produced two daughters for Boussac, stakes winner Carissima and the winner Castagnette (by Sardanapale). Carissima gave the greatest of gifts, being the dam of Pharis, one of the all-time great French-breds. The family also produced champion Nirgal, and the great stayer Elpenor.

In 1922, Boussac won the first of twelve Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) renewals with Castelbajac partnership product Ramus (colt 1919 by Rabelais - Only One by Son o'Mine). The next win in the classic came in 1931 with homebred Tourbillon (Ksar - Durban), followed by Thor (above, by Ksar - Lasarte) in 1933, Cillas (Tourbillon - Orlanda) in 1938, Pharis (Pharos - Carissima) in 1939, Ardan (Pharis - Adargatis) in 1944, Coaraze (Tourbillon - Corrida) in 1945, Sandjar (Goya - Zulaikhaa) in 1947, Scratch (Pharis - Orlamonde) in 1950, Auriban (Pharis - Arriba) in 1952, Philius (Pharis - Theano) in 1956, and a long gap to Acamas (Mill Reef - Licata) in 1978.

Astérus and the Stallion Factory

Astérus sons Abjer (top, age 2) and Jock (bottom, age 10, later sold to an English syndicate) followed him as stallions in Boussac's stud
Following his success with Zariba, Boussac went back to the well and purchased another yearling from Baron de Rothschild in 1924, paying 210,000 francs for a bay colt which he named Astérus (by Teddy - Astrella by Verdun). Astérus won the Poule d'Essai de Poulains (French 2,000 Guineas) at 3 and the Champion Stakes in England at 4. Retired to stud, he became the first major sire for Boussac. Astérus's best get included Adargatis (Prix de Diane), Astronomie (a great broodmare), Abjer (Middle Park Stakes), Dadji (Prix du Cadran), Sanaa (Prix de la Salamandre), and Jock (Grand Prix de Deauville). Astérus retired to stud in 1928, and when he died in 1938, his capable son Abjer was already installed as a replacement, and Jock followed.

Boussac had relied on patronizing top class stallions in France and England, such as Rabelais, Sunstar, Clarissimus, Alcantara II, Pommern, Teddy, Sardanapale, and in particular Ksar, which Boussac used to get Diademe, Tourbillon, Thor and 1933 Prix Vermeille winner La Circe.

He even sent his prized Zariba to England to breed to Gainsborough, getting the talented Goyescas, from the same 1928 crop as Tourbillon. Goyeascas was a stakes winner at 2 in England; winner of the Champion Stakes and second in the 2,000 Guineas at 3; and Prix d'Ispahan and Hardwicke Stakes as an older horse. He died in training at 5, depriving his owner of a chance to prove him at stud.

Once Boussac began standing his own top class stallions like Astérus (in 1928) and Tourbillon (in 1932), he became largely a private breeder using home stallions with a few exceptions. Admiring the bloodlines fostered by Lord Derby, he utilised Derby's French-based Pharos, getting Pharis (1936), Semiramide (1936), Pharatis (1937), and the filly Lavendula (1930; dam of Ambiorix).

He also used Coronach, who sired Corrida, born in 1932; Trimdon to get Marsyas in 1940; Nasrullah to get Golestan in 1945; Winterhalter to get Norval in 1946; Owen Tudor to get Elpenor in 1950; Nearco to get Nemora in 1952; and Venture VII to get Locris in 1964. Between 1930 and 1964, Boussac bred 160 stakes winners, and only those 11 were not sired by home-based stallions.

Likewise, Boussac's sires not only drove his own highly successful breeding program, but they dominated the French breeding industry during that same period. A Boussac stallion was the Leading Sire in France 9 times between 1934 and 1958. These included Astérus (1934), Tourbillon (1940, 1942, 1945), Pharis (9144), Goya (1947, 1948), and Djebel (1949, 1958).

Astérus's first crop yielded up Adargatis (1931), Boussac's first of 5 winners of the Prix de Diane (French Oaks). This filly was the best runner out of her dam, Helene De Troie, whose previous foals included Leonidas (1925 c. by Teddy). That one didn't show his best form until the age of 5, when winning the 1930 Lincolnshire Handicap in England, so later that year, Boussac decided it was the ideal time to unload Leonidas's year-younger sister. She could not win, but he had bred her to Gainsborough, who had sired the good Goyescas. She sold at the 1930 Newmarket December Sales for 1,250 to an agent for E.R. Bradley and sent to his Idle Hour Stud in Kentucky where La Troienne became one of the most important broodmares in America.

Top: Pardal, out of Adargatis. Middle: Astronomie and her filly White Rose. Bottom: Astronomie's son Marsyas
As a broodmare, Adargatis proved almost as exceptional as her sister in America. From 13 foals, she produced 5 major stakes winners. Her first foal was the Grand Prix de Deauville winner Adaris (1935 by Tourbillon). Then she had English stakes winner Pharatis (1937 by Pharos), who became a leading sire when exported to Columbia. Next was Ardan (1941 by Pharis), one of the best of his crop at 2, then champion at 3 (Prix du Jockey Club, Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe) and again at 4. There was the minor stakes winner Gabador (1946 by Djebel or Pharis) who became a major sire in New Zealand; and the first rate Pardal (1947 by Pharis), a classy stayer and sire in England, getting among others, Derby winner Psidium and Ascot Gold Cup winners Parbury and Pardallo.

Another good homebred by Astérus, Astronomie (1932 out of the purchased broodmare Likka by Sardanapale) won stakes in France at 2 and 3, then embarked on a remarkable record of production with 8 stakes winners from a dozen foals, 6 of which were of the highest class. She produced Marsyas (1940 by Trimdon), considered one of the greatest French stayers of all time, winner of the Prix Jean Prat at 5; at 6 his scores included the Prix du Cadran (French Gold Cup), Doncaster Cup, and Goodwood Cup; and a second Prix du Cadran at 7. In 1942, Astronomie's foal was Caracalla (by Tourbillon), winner of the Grand Prix de Paris and Prix Royal Oak at 3, and Ascot Gold Cup and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at 4.

Astronomie next had Arbar (1944 by Djebel), a good stayer at 3 in England and France, second in the St. Leger (to Sayajirao); and at 4, winner of the Ascot Gold Cup and Prix du Cadran. Her next one was the filly White Rose (1946 by Goya), winner of the Newmarket Oaks, followed up with another good filly, Asmena (1947 by Goya), who won the Epsom Oaks and third in the Prix Vermeille.

The next year Astronomie had Pharas (1948 by Pharis), a minor stakes winner; then had Arbele (1949 by Djebel), the second best filly of her year, winner of the Princess Elizabeth Stakes at 2 in England, and at 3 in France, the Prix Penelope, Prix d'Ispahan and Prix Jacques le Marois. She also produced Estremadur (1951 by Djebel) who was third in the St. Leger; and in 1953, and Floridados (1953 by Djebel), who won the Prix Hocquart and was second the Grand Prix de Paris.

Next: The Golden Years and Decline

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Marcel Boussac: The Rise Boussac: The Golden Years and Decline

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