A Marvel in the making

The fairytale story of Masked Marvel’s rise to the top level of the French NH stallions, as described by Lizzy Sainty

The Group 1 St. Leger winner, Masked Marvel, a son of the late, great Montjeu from the outstanding German family of Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Waldgeist, has gone from strength to strength with each of his crops since retiring to stud in 2018. Based at Haras d’Etreham’s National Hunt stallion farm, Haras de la Tuilerie, he now claims two Grade 1 jumps winners, both of which came in 2022.  

He was also responsible for a Group 1 second on the flat in Australia last month with the dual-purpose True Marvel, who surprised at 250/1 in the Sydney Cup and will now be aimed at the Melbourne Cup in the autumn. A €15,000 purchase by Hubie de Burgh at Osarus, True Marvel is proving to be a fairytale horse for his syndicate owners. April also saw Junta Marvel take the Grade 3 Weatherbys General Stud Book Irish EBF Mares Flat Race at the Punchestown festival, and Marvel De Cerisy finish a creditable second in the Grade 1 Maghull Novices’ Chase at Aintree.

Masked Marvel first joined an elite group of French National Hunt stallions when Sel Jem landed last year’s Grade 1 Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris for training duo Guillaume Macaire and Hector de Lageneste. This debut top level win for the sire was followed by Teahupoo taking the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in December. Indeed, his 2022 season was marked by nine wins at black type level and 16 black type performances from his progeny. These results, from just 60 performers, shot him into the top ten National Hunt sires in France – a list that includes the established greats Kapgarde, Saint Des Saints, Martaline, Balko, Doctor Dino, Great Pretender and No Risk At All. With a winners-to-runners rate of 40%, he is second on that list and the young Etreham sire has now entered a new dimension of his career at stud.

Sel Jem winning was a strong contributing factor towards filling Masked Marvel’s 2023 book as early as summer last year,” says Haras d’Etreham owner Nicolas de Chambure, “and this year we are already taking reservations for 2024! The Grand Steeple Chase de Paris is, without a doubt, a career-defining race for the connections of the winning horse, and for the sire of the winner as well. It should be noted that, thanks to the results of his progeny on the track and at the sales, Masked Marvel was already in high demand prior to Sel Jem’s victory in the Grand Steeple. Since then, he has enjoyed another Grade 1 win with Teahupoo, who has performed well on several occasions at the top level. 

Teahupoo beats Klassical Dream and Honeysuckle to win the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse.

Teahupoo beats Klassical Dream and Honeysuckle to win the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse.

Masked Marvel retired to stud at a fee of just €3,000, and now stands at €12,500. Logically, the quality of the mares covered by him has therefore only improved, and as a result we can say with some confidence that best is still yet to come. This year, his book includes 52 sisters to 82 black type performers; 18 dams of 21 black type performers, and 22 mares who were black type performers themselves. Amongst these are sisters to Le Berry, Santa Bamba, Gaillard Du Mesnil, Saint Palois, La Segnora, Moises Has and Tiger Roll.

Sel Jem is out of Ile Des Saints, a daughter of Haras d’Etreham’s National Hunt flagbearer sire Saint Des Saints, himself a son of the great Cadoudal, whose colossal influence on French jump racing and breeding is seen daily through both his sons and his daughters. He featured as the damsire for no less than five Grade 1 jump winners in 2022 alone. 

Masked Marvel crosses very well with daughters of Saint Des Saints and with the Cadoudal bloodline,” explains de Chambure. “The breeders are very much aware of this, and this year 22 daughters of Saint Des Saints are promised to Masked Marvel. In 2022 alone, this mating represented over fifteen wins and no less than eight black type performances, which is remarkable! The success of this mating can be explained by the complementary mix of the high-class flat bloodline of Masked Marvel with the jumping genes of Saint Des Saints. The latter is also proving more and more to be an excellent damsire with each year that passes.”

Masked Marvel saw four six-figure lots pass through the sales ring in 2022. Highflyer Bloodstock and Charlie Longsdon went to £130,000 at last year’s Cheltenham Festival Sale to secure his then 4yo daughter Realisation, who went on to win her bumper on her first appearance for her new connections, while Kevin Ross, Willie Mullins and Pierre Boulard, and Tom Malone with Paul Nicholls, all went over the €100,000 mark for his 3yo stores which were pinhooked and sold in Ireland.

“We are already taking reservations for 2024,” says Nicolas de Chambure.

“We are already taking reservations for 2024,” says Nicolas de Chambure.

His popularity with the English and Irish National Hunt professionals has been apparent since his beginnings at stud, as de Chambure explains: “Without question, Masked Marvel produces horses with outstanding physicals and excellent mentalities. These are essential qualities in this discipline. A large number of horses from his early crops were exported to Ireland and England, which explains the previously low number of his runners here in France. This has levelled out since as, in view of the quality of his produce, breeders are more inclined to maximize their chances by keeping their stock in France. When a stallion is shown to improve his mares, there is of course demand from both sides of the Channel. Masked Marvel will only cover a limited number of mares from abroad, due to the fact that his bloodlines are accessible in Ireland. Although few mares travel to him, his offspring are sought-after by the pinhookers and they have greatly contributed to his reputation across the Channel.

“The horse had a small health issue, which is why he was limited to 100 mares at the beginning of the year. However, depending on how the season progresses, he could well cover more than this number. All our stallions are capped at 140 mares. His crops have increased in number with his good results, notably jumping from 69 mares covered in 2018 to double that number in 2019, and he has been full ever year since. In view of the results that he has shown with a smaller crop and a more modest book of mares, we can only expect the best from his future generations.”

About the author

Lizzy Sainty

Lizzy Sainty grew up in Kildare and Lambourn, before moving to Chantilly after graduating from the University of Birmingham with a First in Classics and a solid grounding in racing from Ian Williams, for whom she rode out each morning. She also worked several breeze up seasons for the indomitable Malcolm Bastard. After seven years as assistant trainer to John Hammond in Chantilly, she then worked with bloodstock agent Rupert Pritchard-Gordon and at the French daily Jour de Galop. She is a freelance journalist and French representative for Ballylinch Stud.

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