By Alayna Cullen
The TDN’s Alayna Cullen recently caught up with Tim Lane, Stud Director of the National Stud in Newmarket, who has enjoyed a fruitful first year in his role. Having welcomed three new stallions to the roster, Tim fills us in on life at the National Stud.
AC: Tim, I think it’s fair to say that you’ve hit the ground running here at the National Stud. How’s it all going for you?
TL: It’s been great. It seemed when I first started lots happened with the new horses and what have you. And we’re in the midst of the breeding season now, and there’s enough to keep you busy. It’s great, I’m very lucky, we have a good team of people and the three new horses have been well received. Aclaim has been massive and Time Test is filling up. Spill The Beans offers something totally different for Europe. It’s great, it’s going really well, touch wood.
AC: I just wanted to touch on the recent news of the new board member, John Gosden, and also the Duke of Roxburghe, who is coming in as the new chairman. How important is that board to the National Stud?
TL: It’s massive. It’s key, it really is. The board is formed of great people who have a passion and great knowledge of the industry and the business and also The Jockey Club. Nevin Truesdale, who’s the financial director, sits on the board, so it is massive. And the Duke of Roxburghe coming in, what he’s achieved already with the support and funding of The Jockey Club is massive for the improvements we’re going carry out in the next three years, at least. Mr. Gosden joining is very exciting, it can only be good. He’s a sensational trainer, and he’s a great man. It should be, with him and everyone aboard, amazing.
AC: The season has just started, but how is it going for you? How many mares are you expecting to foal this year?
TL: I’d say we’d foal nearly a hundred, maybe a bit more. We keep getting them booked in every day. We’re up to 29 so far, so we’re rocking and rolling. We’re here to provide a service, and we turn no one away.
AC: You mentioned the stallions, and I think that’s such a huge achievement for you to have acquired not one, but three very exciting stallions. I’m going to start with Spill The Beans. He’s the first son of Snitzel to stand in the Northern Hemisphere. How do you think his sire line will mix in with the European bloodlines?
TL: I think it’s very clever of Billy Jackson-Stops to bring him up with Johnny McKeever. Snitzel’s a sensation, he really is, and to have a horse by him standing in Europe is massive. I think he’ll do really well. It’s amazing, he was on the back foot a little bit because he didn’t get here for December sales, and he landed on Dec. 21. But at the Tattersalls and TBA Stallion Parade held during the February sale, the amount of people that came to see him was amazing. He’s not a typical Aussie sprinter; he’s got a bit of length to him, and he looks more like a miler. He’s out of a Falbrav mare, so people understand that bit. He was on the back foot a little, but he’s ticking along and people are booking their mares into him. So, we’re very hopeful he’ll cover 60-odd mares, if not more.
AC: And he has his first foals in the Southern Hemisphere. Have you seen many, and what was your impression?
TL: I’ve seen lots of pictures. They look really good sorts. Well-formed, well-grown, and the reports are very good. It’s very exciting. Billy’s got a three-year agreement that I believe can be stretched to five years and to have that is massive and key. We look forward to seeing his foals next year here.
AC: The next new boy is Aclaim, and he’s been here for a little while.
TL: Yes, he landed in September, I think it was, or early October. It’s amazing to have him here. Son of Acclamation, Group 1 winner, that sort of horse doesn’t really retire in England; they nearly all end up on the big farms in Ireland. He was bred by Dermot Farrington, and he owns him along with Phoenix Thoroughbreds who came in and bought half of him. They are both very supportive of the horse and he is being managed by John Ferguson and Mark McStay.
It’s a bit of fairytale thing really because I was told the horse was sold, around the time of the October sales and then to suddenly get the phone call to have a cup of tea with John Ferguson and to discuss him standing here was a bit mind-blowing. He’s a lovely horse, we’re privileged to have him.
AC: How’s he taking to being a stallion?
TL: He’s good, he’s a bit like me, could do with going on a diet. He does very well on his food. He’s very laid back, he’s got a great mind. He’s a lovely horse, bless him. He ticks all the boxes.
AC: Time Test is the final new boy to the roster this year. He’s a bit of a different model in terms of what he achieved in his career. Can you just sum that up for us?
TL: I was very lucky, I got to see him an awful lot at Roger Charlton’s, and he was the type of horse that you’d always pick out in the barn. He’s not a typical Dubawi in looks and he’s got a good walk to him as well. He’s out of a Dansili mare, which is massive, I think. He’s a great broodmare sire. Time Test broke a track record at Royal Ascot, so he’s no mug or slug. It would have been great if he would have won a Group 1, but if he did he wouldn’t be here, I’m sure he’d be at Banstead. But he was tough, he trained on. He’s very interesting, I mean he’s very good-looking, he’s so kind and gentle, yet he’s got a lot of energy. Hopefully his stock will have the same attributes that he’s got.
AC: How is he being received?
TL: He’s good, he has over a hundred nominations sold. We’ve got a very strong syndicate of shareholders behind him, amazing owner-breeders so he won’t lack for support and there’s a lot of structure behind him.
Phillip Mitchell was key to getting him here and he’s been a massive help with Spill The Beans too. Philip has been a massive cog in the wheel, making it happen. Without him, without Phillip’s input, we probably wouldn’t have all the horses.
AC: We’ll get on to the partnerships that the National Stud has forged soon, but we couldn’t come here without speaking about Gregorian and Marcel, who are part of your roster. Gregorian has his first 2-year olds. Have you heard of any reports on him?
TL: It’s funny I actually heard that Mick Channon’s got a nice one that shouldn’t be as precocious as it is. Mick Channon Jr was here at the stud, so I said to him, ‘just tell your Dad to ease up on it, it’s a long time to Ascot.’
They’re in the right homes, some very good trainers have got them. He’s an amazing horse, he’s got a great mind, and it could be tough for him as it is for any horse. He was a very tough horse himself, and he turned up every Saturday, so I’d be very hopefully for his stock.
And Marcel, bless him, he’s got his first foals. I’ve seen a couple of them. To be fair, he’s got quite a book of mares this year already. He’s a lovely horse, bless him, a lovely big horse. And to do what he did as a 2-year old was fairly amazing. I’m always hopeful.
AC: You mentioned the people that you’ve worked with to get these stallions to the farm. How has it been for you forging those partnerships? You obviously have a very established career in the Thoroughbred industry, but being under the National Stud, and developing those relationships, how have you found it?
TL: Phillip said, when I came, ‘We need to be seen to be open for business.’ We could have probably stood, if I’m honest, six new horses this year. It was amazing the horses we got offered but they need to be the right horses. They need to be the horses that would be well-supported, and they need to be of a standard that people are going to believe in them and know that we believe in them as well. We’re not in the job of just standing horses for the money; it’s to make stallions.
I’m a very lucky guy. Maurice Burns has a major chunk of Gregorian and he’s a great man to deal with. Dermot, he’s been amazing. He manages Marcel and Aclaim. It’s all about partnerships, isn’t it? And working together. We’re very lucky, it seems to be going the right way.
AC: That’s great to hear. When it comes to breeding, are you someone who looks a lot at nicks, or are you more about the physical match-up of the mare and the stallion?
TL: I’d probably be the physical bit, and probably the sire line average, if I’m honest with you. I’m not very good on computers for looking at nicks so I would look to the sales ring average and what the horse would be worth. Physically, I like nice, good-looking animals that are correct. Really from there on it’s all about luck, isn’t it?
AC: Absolutely. There’s another superstar calling the National Stud home, and that’s Trip To Paris. How is he doing?
TL: He’s great, we’re very lucky to have him. Ed Dunlop, bless him, rang me up and said to go and see him, and did we want Trip To Paris to come and live here. We’ve got a great girl, Emma, who runs the racehorse yard, and she’s adopted him as her own I think. He’s great, I have to be careful though because I nearly fell off him the other week when I actually rode him, so I won’t be doing that again, but he’s good. He’s a real character from kicking cars to biting people but he’s a lot of fun. He’s going to do some ROR [Retraining of Racehorse classes] this year which I think he starts in March. He’s been to a show already and behaved impeccably, bless him. It’s amazing to have him.
We’d love to get another horse or two. I’d love a really good National Hunt horse. We’ll see what comes along.
AC: And another important component of National Stud life is the breeding course and the apprenticeship. Can you just tell us a bit about both education avenues, and maybe how they differ a little?
TL: This year we ran the E2SE apprenticeship course and we had one gentleman who was 56, who was a welder, another chap who was a policeman, and people who were chefs, and all kinds of things. It was amazing. I have to say that to see their enthusiasm and dedication, it was refreshing, to see there are actually people out there who want to get into the industry and get involved. We placed them on very good farms and it’s something hopefully next year we can grow with the TBA because I think it’s quite important. There is a staffing crisis in lots of areas, and if we can fill gaps with people coming into the industry and offer training and education then it’s great.
The diploma course is on at the moment. We have 20 students who seem very, very enthusiastic and they’re here for six months. They’re very lucky in my opinion, they get to see roughly about three years of work condensed into six months. They’d probably say they’re not, because there’s a lot to take in and do, but they get whole package, they do everything. At the moment, they are really embracing it and getting stuck in. It’s a case, every year, of offering the slots and filling them. And that’s one thing we want, more people.
AC: As part of your tenure here at the National Stud, is there any particular aspects of the farm that you want to grow or develop?
TL: I think the tourism side could be massive. We run tours and what have you. And there’s bits and bobs that we’re looking into, just to push that more. I mean, I’m very lucky. I inherited the role from Brian O’Rourke who’s a great man, and a great friend, and who did an amazing job. There should be a statue of him here, somewhere. He turned the farm around, and it’s keeping that momentum up, and really that’s key. And with the stallions, I think we need to show that we’re there to be seen in the marketplace.
It’s the whole thing, really. You have to keep going forward otherwise you go nowhere.