Domaine de l’Etang a Name to Note on the French Scene

Established in 2014 by Elise Drouet, alongside her partner David Salmon, Domaine de l’Etang made headlines last August when selling a a Kingman (GB) colt out of German Oaks second Waldjagd (GB) (Observatory {GB}), for €560,000 to Japanese trainer Yoshito Yahagi. They had pinhooked the colt as a foal for the princely sum of €280,000 at the Arqana December Sale.

Drouet, who managed the top-class breeding operation and sales consignment Haras des Capucines prior to striking out on her own, is a well-known face at the sales, and highly respected for her knowledge and impressive work ethic. At Capucines, she oversaw the yearling preparation for G1 scorers Flotilla (FR) (Mizzen Mast) and Zagora (FR) (Green Tune) amongst others. 

“I come from a family of restaurateurs, in the ‘Rouget le Braconnier’ country! [Rouget the Poacher – a Robin Hood figure of 18th century France, who lived in the La Sarthe region of France]” explains Drouet, who returned to the region to establish Domaine de l’Etang. “I knew from an early age that I was destined to do this – I was born with a passion for horses. I studied at agricultural college before working with riding horses, trotters, and finally racehorses. I was hooked by racing. I then worked in several studs in different countries before joining Haras des Capucines, where I spent 20 years as stud manager.”

Drouet is supported in work and life by former dairy farmer David Salmon, who was a key component in her decision to set up her own business. Domaine de l’Etang is found in the north of the Sarthe region, near the town of Alençon, just south of Normandy. A former dairy farm, the pair transformed the buildings and outhouses into an ideal base for their breeding operation and sales preparation. 

“We are based in the middle of the Mancelles Alps, on acclaimed breeding land and the stud extends over 200 hectares. We each brought our own expertise to the project,” says Drouet. “My experience with horses, and David’s experience of agriculture, breeding, and land management. We produce our own forage, which, with the increasing cost of feed, hay and straw, allows us to keep our overheads at a reasonable level. All the building was done with the welfare of the horse in mind, and we have spacious and well-ventilated boxes. We are on the doorstep of a number of the Normandy studs, so ideal for boarding mares visiting French stallions.” 

Drouet has been breeding for several years, with her first ever mare, Flower War (War Chant), gifted to her by Jean-Pierre Dubois, a long-established client of Haras des Capucines. Early success came from the first crop bred on Domaine de l’Etang with Group 3 performer Phocéené (FR) (Olympic Glory {Ire}). “She was one of our first foals,” recalls Drouet. “What she did was unexpected, but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable. We have a dozen of our own mares on the stud. We mostly have jumping mares, and a few Flat mares including Armure Bleue (Fr), a granddaughter of Aquarelliste (Fr) in foal to Zarak (Fr); from the Aga Khan ‘A’ family, Afsheen (Fr), in foal to Wooded (Fr); and Takamaka Bay (Fr), carrying to Persian King (Ire). The other mares on the stud belong to breeders who don’t have farms – all of them charming and passionate people.” 

Drouet also manages the Thoroughbred breeding stock of the successful trotting breeder and owner Rémi Boucret. She adds, “Gelino Bello was bred here, who went on to win a Grade 1 in England [the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree], and we also bred Chibani for Michel Delauzun, who went on to be top class in Poland.”

On the subject of her horses, Drouet comes alight, and the passion that she has for her work and for the animal is palpable. Rather than fill a page with her likes and dislikes on conformation or pedigree, she revels in the unquantifiable. “Of course, pedigree is important. But so is the physique, and the ‘aura’ surrounding a horse. That might seem incomprehensible to some, but it makes sense to us. When we look at foals, we are looking to see how they could improve, their attitude, but it’s also just a feeling.” 

Drouet and Salmon have pinhooked three or four foals each year with the sale of their Kingman colt marking a seismic moment for Drouet and her associates. “The colt is the pride and joy of our team and our family. He was born at the stud, by Kingman out of Waldjagd, and went to the Arqana December Sale as a foal to dissolve a partnership. We decided to buy out the partners and we had to go to €280,000 to secure him. At the time of bidding, we didn’t have any partners lined up, so it was a huge amount for us. Then we were approached by one, then two, then three, then four people who wanted to come in on the foal. So, he came back to the stud, with all our hopes riding on him. He was a beautiful foal, and he grew into a magnificent yearling. We brought him back to Arqana in August, where Yoshito Yahagi bought him for €560,000 – the highest sale price ever for our little stud in the Sarthe!”

French sales enjoyed an upward curve again in 2022, although the domestic market has been showing signs of struggle. “The sales are more and more selective,” notes Drouet. “But I am not someone who is defeatist. We have around 20 yearlings for the sales this year, with three pinhooks by The Grey Gatsby, Mehmas and Attendu. The colt by Mehmas was obviously quite expensive [bought for €56,000 at Arqana in December, under Drouet and Salmon’s banner of Avenir Bloodstock], and hopefully he will be popular at the sales. We only have a few commercial mares, but we have sent them to commercial stallions.”

She adds, “The demand from abroad for French young stock is something I think we should be proud of. Our land, our breeding stock, our French racehorses are excellent. The ‘French-breds’ are known across the world. It’s our job to make it more attractive for owners to keep the horses in France.”

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