A Morning With The Juddmonte Stallions

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Dansili and Frankel on morning exercise | Juddmonte

By Emma Berry

To their close friends they are known simply as Bobby and Danny. To their legions of fans, they are better known as Frankel (GB) and Dansili (GB), two of the most revered names in the bloodstock world but far from the only big-hitters in the stallion yard at Banstead Manor Stud.

Add to the mix Oasis Dream (GB), whose stallion sons now number 17, Dansili’s son Bated Breath (GB), who outgunned Frankel by number of individual first-crop winners last year, and the young pretender, Kingman (GB). Most stallion masters would gladly agree to a Faustian pact to be able to stand such a line-up, and it’s one made all the more remarkable by the fact that these sires are all homegrown, the famous Juddmonte brand stamping their genetic code like a stick of Brighton rock.

Today marks the official start of the 2017 covering season and for the next few months the quintet will be courting some of the finest mares in Europe and beyond. Often asked to perform three covers a day, sometimes four, the stallions can’t simply be pulled out of winter quarters without proper preparation for the season ahead. So February 15 is in some ways simply a changeover from one form of exercise to another.

As the sun rises, the team has until this week spent the early mornings walking up to seven miles around the manicured acres of Banstead Manor Stud as part of a carefully orchestrated fitness campaign. Dansili and Frankel even parade within hollering distance of their own dams, the retired 26-year-old matriarch Hasili (Ire) (Kahyasi {GB}), who until last year had three of her sons by Danehill on active duty at the farm, and Kind (GB) (Danehill), who recently achieved the feat of having all five of her sons at stud with the announcement that Proconsul (GB) has joined Mickley Stud. The two great mares currently share a paddock, though Kind will soon be on a return trip to Ireland to revisit Frankel’s sire Galileo (Ire).

“When the season finishes the stallions will have summer turnout for eight weeks or so and they are turned out 24/7,” explains head stallion man Jason Imeson. “The only horse who comes in is Frankel, and that’s just at night.

“They put on a bit of weight through the summer so after that we start a shorter walking routine leading up to the December Sales for about six to eight weeks and we probably do four or five miles a day. After the Christmas break we go straight into walking six to seven miles a day around the farm and that goes right through to the start of the covering season. The covering itself keeps them fit and it’s very important that we make sure they are turned out for a good while every day.”

The lifestyle, not to mention the tranquility of Banstead Manor, clearly suits them. For many, the abiding image of Frankel the racehorse is his bull-like charge down the Rowley Mile for the most jaw-dropping Classic victory in living memory. The athlete is plainly still there as he glides effortlessly across his paddock but Frankel the stallion is an altogether more relaxed individual.

“It took him a while to settle in. He was definitely used to his routine in a racing yard and life here is very different,” admits stud director Simon Mockridge. “But he’s pretty laidback now. He’s very much a celebrity, and he enjoys that status. He likes people and is a very engaging horse. Visitors enjoy the fact that when they come here they can really get up close and personal with him.”

For all that we should be grateful to Frankel for everything he achieved as a racehorse and for his continued compliance during his second career, the wider racing and breeding world owes Juddmonte a huge debt in the way that it has opened the doors on its previously very private operation and allowed Frankel’s many followers to continue to have access to him.

Jason Imeson has seen at close hand the effect he still has on some. “People have such an emotional connection with Frankel. We’ve had visitors come to see him and burst into tears,” he says.

“We get charity visits, Discover Newmarket tours, school groups, and he really loves the attention. There aren’t many stallions that you could trust to pose for photos with people like he does. He’s extraordinary.”

Almost as famous as Frankel these days is not just George the stallion yard cat, but Rob Bowley, who looks after both Frankel and Oasis Dream and doubtless appears in thousands of photographs taken by visitors over the last few years. The men, and occasionally women, who look after stallions play a vitally important role in their mental and physical wellbeing, arguably performing the role any good parent should fulfil: that of the benevolent dictator, firm but fair.

Bowley is so obviously proud of his two charges that it makes spending time in his company not just informative but also a delight. It would be easy to favour Frankel, and when Oasis Dream, or ‘O’ as he calls him for short, isn’t within earshot, Bowley can be heard to call Frankel ‘Champ’. The rest of the time, he’s just plain Bobby.

“Frankel is a beautiful horse to look after. He’s totally relaxed, has a great disposition and is very gentle with his mares. He’s highly intelligent––all horses are intelligent but he just has that little bit extra. I can’t speak highly enough of him really,” says Bowley, though in the interest of fairness, he’s quick to run down the list of considerable achievements of the stallion who’s already been there and done that.

“Oasis Dream has had more than 100 black-type winners and 15 individual Group 1 winners––he’s always been a superstar for us. He’s the most virile horse we have on the yard and a tremendous covering horse. He’s not just a great horse to use but great to look after.”

With six first-crop Group winners, including the Japanese Grade 1 winner Soul Stirring (JPN), Frankel has certainly made an eye-catching start but this year, with his first crop now of Classic age, is arguably even more important. Simon Mockridge confesses to a degree of trepidation ahead of the start of the turf season.

“The problem with Frankel is that he’s not judged by normal standards which makes it incredibly difficult for him,” he explains. “Whatever he achieves, there will always be those out there who want to knock him down––tall poppy syndrome, whatever you want to call it. He is an unbeaten triple champion, the highest-rated horse of all time, with access to some of the best mares in the world, so he should be doing well, but none of us could have believed that he would end last year as he did.”

In all the clamour surrounding Frankel, it’s easy to overlook his exact stud contemporary Bated Breath, who may well be the stallion bargain of the season at his reduced fee of £8,000. This admittedly was the price at which he started in 2013 but he weathered an increase to £10,000 for 2015 and ‘16 so well that he covered 550 mares in his first four seasons. He has the Group-placed Al Johrah (GB), Take A Deep Breath (GB) and Unabated (Ire) among his 19 winners.

“Bated Breath did all his best racing as a 4- and 5-year-old. He’s got every chance and on top of that he was full every year for his first four years, and that is incredibly difficult to do at that commercial level,” says Mockridge.

The 10-year-old has plenty to live up to if he is to emulate the success of his father. At 21, Dansili is now the oldest active sire at Banstead Manor Stud––his brother Cacique (GB), Observatory (GB) and Zamindar (GB) all remain there in luxurious retirement while Dansili’s other brother, Champs Elysees (GB), is one of a number of Juddmonte-breds standing elsewhere as dual-purpose sires, along with Beat Hollow (GB) and his relations, the half-brothers Martaline (GB) and Coastal Path (GB), each of whom sired a Grade 1 jumps winner last Sunday.

If the homes of equine luminaries were awarded blue plaques in the same way human achievement is commemorated then there would certainly be one on the foaling box at the end of the row just outside the Juddmonte office, where both Frankel and Kingman entered this life. It is understandably a source of pride for the team that all their stallions are the product of decades of careful planning and management.

“It makes it quite a unique situation,” Mockridge says. “There are very few stud farms where that’s the case, and there are very few stud farms that can say they bred the dam and the grandam.”

To a degree, that success comes at a price.

He continues, “One of the problems we have with our mating plans now is that we’re very Danzig-dominant. A lot of the fillies that retire to the stud are either by Dansili or Oasis Dream so there’s been a shift recently to use a lot more outside stallions. Andrew Caulfield does a tremendous job for us with our matings––he does all the heavy groundwork with Claire Curry.”

While some farms may struggle to get enough mares to their stallions, another problem faced by Juddmonte is that of sometimes having to say no, as nominations manager Shane Horan outlines.

“Frankel gets over 300 applications and we’re taking a sizeable book but we still have to let a lot of people down gently. We try to prioritise the breeders who have been to the horse since the beginning, but he’s also a great vehicle to introduce new business, which has happened this year too.”

He adds, “We’ve had a lot of international breeders using him, with big players from Australia, America and Japan getting involved in Europe and keen to use him. Banstead has a long history of standing really good stallions but it’s great to have a breeder like Barbara Banke visiting us to see Frankel, and we also had the general manager of WinStar here last week. He’s great for opening doors and to get breeders looking at the other horses too.”

None of the Juddmonte stallions shuttle, but Frankel’s arrival also brought about the extension of covering mares to Southern Hemisphere time in Newmarket.

“To get mares coming from Australia to England is quite an accomplishment and we were very fortunate in the first year, we received strong support from the Australians,” says Mockridge.

Frankel’s half-brother and former work-mate Bullet Train (GB) (Sadler’s Wells) is one member of the Kind dynasty to have been exposed to shuttling trips and, during the Northern Hemisphere season, is in Kentucky with another brother, the treble Group 1 winner Noble Mission (GB).

“By producing Frankel, Kind almost knocked over all the stones in one go,” Mockridge admits. “It’s nice to think that a great farm like Lane’s End has Noble Mission, who will have every chance in America. Unfortunately he had colic surgery last year which curtailed his season but his stock have received rave reviews.”

With Hasili long retired, the baton has been passed to her daughters, and not far from her mother on the farm is the unraced Responsible (GB) (Oasis Dream {GB}), who is doing her bit to provide a potent blend of two such high-achieving families with a Frankel yearling filly on the ground and another foal by him on the way any day now.

Of equal importance to the team at Banstead Manor, however, are the first yearlings of Kingman, whose only blot on an otherwise faultless career was to go down fighting by half a length to Night Of Thunder (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) in the 2,000 Guineas.

Mockridge is encouraged by the nascent athletes among the Juddmonte herd. “I’ve just seen all of our yearlings in Ireland and if you took the top 12, six of them would be by Kingman,” he enthuses. “They have tremendous depth and are very good through the quarters. He stamps them incredibly well­­––he’s a pure bay breeder and they look fast.

“If you look at Kingman himself, that’s probably what you are going to get. They can be a bit narrow through the chest and could be criticised for sometimes being a little light of bone, but they are incredibly athletic and have a good way with them. He’s a terrific horse to have.”

He is quick to acknowledge the support given by outside breeders, too, adding, “Kingman will have more mares in his third year than he had for the first two years and for him to attract a mare like Taghrooda (GB) from Shadwell was very exciting. The support from our clients is key––stallions can’t make it on their own––but breeders are encouraged by the fact that the moment a horse arrives here, Prince Khalid sends them enough of his own mares to give them a chance. If you look back, it’s only the likes of Frankel and Oasis Dream where he hasn’t bred the first Group 1 winner by one of his stallions.”

He may not have bred Frankel’s first Group 1 winner but Prince Khalid did at least have the satisfaction of breeding his first Group winner, the Roger Charlton-trained Fair Eva (GB), who, not many months from now will perhaps bid to become her sire’s first Classic winner in the QIPCO 1,000 Guineas.

Until then, the men charged with the important task of the day-to-day care of Frankel and his friends can amuse themselves between coverings with replays of his glory days––a pastime that is apparently a regular occurrence.

Jason Imeson admits: “I don’t think there’s a week that goes by when we don’t watch one of his races. They still give me the chills.”

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