Weatherby A Man For All Seasons

|

Johnny Weatherby at Royal Ascot with The Queen and her racing manager John Warren | Racing Post Photos

By Emma Berry

It’s impossible to be involved in racing in the British Isles and not to have come across the name Weatherby.

For almost 250 years, generations of the Weatherby family have been at the sport’s core, ever since James Weatherby was appointed secretary of the Jockey Club and Keeper of the Match Book in 1770. The General Stud Book was first published 21 years later, the original record of Thoroughbred racehorses and their lineage which has been emulated the world over.

These days, the family firm Weatherbys still publishes the stud book as well as being racing’s official administrators under licence from the British Horseracing Authority. Johnny Weatherby became the seventh generation of the clan to safeguard the business when being appointed chairman in 1993, having started work at the company in 1979. His brother Roger is a non-executive director of Weatherbys and chief executive of Weatherbys Bank, through which most racehorse owners and breeders in Britain conduct their financial business.

While Roger maintains the family’s wider racing links as senior steward of the Jockey Club, Johnny has an arguably even more prestigious ‘outside’ role as Her Majesty’s representative at Ascot, effectively overseeing the management of Ascot racecourse on behalf of the Queen. With the Flat season looming, plans for this year’s Royal meeting will already be occupying his mind but this week they will be pushed towards the back of it as he turns his attention to Britain’s National Hunt equivalent, the Cheltenham Festival.

As well as being racing’s secretariat and banker, Weatherbys is also involved in insurance, sponsorship and printing, and we will see plenty of evidence of that at Cheltenham this week via the daily racecards and the company’s long-running sponsorship of tomorrow’s Weatherbys Champion Bumper. Johnny Weatherby has a far more visceral interest in this week’s action, however, as breeder, through his Preston Lodge Stud, of Presenting Percy (GB) (Sir Percy {GB}), the red-hot favourite for tomorrow’s G1 RSA Novices’ Chase, and owner-breeder of Red Indian (GB) (Sulamani {Ire}), who lines up for the G3 Coral Cup on the same afternoon.

“It really could be a red-letter day for Preston Lodge Stud,” he admits. “Red Indian’s dam died the day after foaling him so it would be great if the little orphan could spring a surprise.”

While Presenting Percy, who was sold by his breeder as a foal, is returning to Cheltenham a hero, having won the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle last year, it will be Red Indian’s first Festival appearance, though the Ben Pauling-trained 6-year-old has experienced the course’s famous undulations already and finished a good third over hurdles there in November.

Reflecting on last year’s victory for Presenting Percy, Weatherby says, “Now I really know why owners behave the way they do in the Cheltenham winner’s enclosure. What a feeling to have bred a Cheltenham Festival winner from a handful of mares. Presenting Percy has taken to fences well and gave Our Duke (Ire) a good race last time out and Our Duke is already a Grade 1 winner over fences, so there is every reason to hope Presenting Percy can win the RSA Chase, and the bookmakers seem to agree. Last year he stayed on strongly under a patient ride from Davy Russell to win the Pertemps Hurdle impressively, so he clearly handles the track and the occasion, and it is also worth noting that in third that day was Jury Duty, who has already gone very close in a Grade 1 Chase this season, so the dream is very much alive.”

It is indeed an achievement to have bred such a classy horse as Presenting Percy from, as Weatherby notes, a “handful of mares”, but the success is made all the sweeter by the fact that his dam, the dual point-to-point winner Hunca Munca (Ire) (Presenting {GB}), is really the sole National Hunt mare at Preston Lodge Stud in Oakham, where she lives alongside four Flat mares.

“We have lived at Preston Lodge for nearly 25 years but our small stud has really only been developed in the last decade,” says Weatherby.

“We have five mares at the stud and have used a wide variety of stallions over the years including Poet’s Voice (GB), Mayson (GB), Harbour Watch (Ire), Mount Nelson (GB), Bated Breath (GB), Lawman (Fr) and Kayf Tara (GB). The stud is very well managed by Kelly Morgan, whose father Kevin was a good trainer.”

Morgan’s duties extend beyond just the management of the stud and she is also likely to be feeling the excitement build this week as the trainer of the hunter-chaser Top Wood (Fr) (Kotky Bleu {Fr}), who on Friday will run in the most prized amateurs’ contest of them all, the St James’s Place Foxhunter, carrying the colours of her boss, for whom the 11-year-old has won his last two starts in point-to-points.

Like Morgan, Weatherby also rode as an amateur, and finished eighth in the Cheltenham Foxhunter back in 1991 aboard the family-owned Sanballat (GB) (Hunters Fort {GB}), on whom he won four races.

Adding to the tension of the week is the fact that Hunca Munca is due to deliver a full-sibling to Presenting Percy “any day now”.

Explaining his decision to use Lanwades Stud’s essentially Flat stallion Sir Percy for Hunca Munca, who hails from the same family as Cheltenham Gold Cup winner War Of Attrition (Ire) (Presenting {GB}), Weatherby says, “It’s all down to Charles Egerton who came up with the idea. I then did a bit of homework with the bloodstock team here at Weatherbys who have all the relevant data. Sir Percy was an unbeaten 2-year-old and was impressive when delivered late to win the Derby. To win races from 6f to 12f takes a certain amount of toughness and durability.”

He continues, “Sir Percy’s immediate pedigree includes no fewer than six Classic-winning sires and he is from the superior sire line of Mill Reef, that has produced the likes of Kauto Star (Fr) and Vautour (Fr). The other reason for selecting Sir Percy was to inject some speed into Hunca Munca’s strong but very much National Hunt pedigree.”

Once this year’s Sir Percy foal is safely on the ground, Hunca Munca will be visiting the G1 Irish Derby and G1 Dubai Sheema Classic winner Jack Hobbs (GB) in his first season at Overbury Stud.

“I think Jack Hobbs will be a top stallion,” says Weatherby. “He has a really decent race record and has good size and scope. He is a good-looking horse with all the attributes you could want in a National Hunt stallion and his sire, Halling, is already producing National Hunt sires of his own in Norse Dancer (GB), the sire of [leading G1 Stayers’ Hurdle hope] Yanworth (GB), and Coastal Path (GB).”

So with such a long-term personal involvement in jump racing, both in the saddle and on the ground, does Weatherby find his loyalties torn when turning back to Flat racing, and in particular the most important meeting in the British summer calendar?

“I genuinely love both Flat and jump racing, and having that variety is one of British and Irish racing’s great strengths,” he says. “As a family we were more into the jumps and my mother won quite a few point-to-points in the north of England. I had a good horse with David Nicholson but was a moderate jockey – as the ‘Duke’ kept reminding me! Latterly, I have owned and bred horses under both codes.”

He continues, “My two jobs ensure that I go racing regularly and it’s great that Ascot races all year round. I don’t think there’s a week in the year when I’m not thinking about Royal Ascot. We have a great team at Ascot they are all totally focused on making sure that Royal Ascot remains the best race meeting in the world. We are constantly striving to improve the experience for everyone who either attends the event or watches it on ITV.”

In the meantime, there is silverware to be exchanged at the hallowed headquarters of National Hunt racing this week. Leaving aside potential success of the owner-breeder’s horses, the Weatherbys Champion Bumper trophy will be handed to another lucky owner, and this is just one of more than 100 races sponsored by the company throughout the racing year.

“It’s one of our flagship sponsorships and it’s great to have an involvement at the Cheltenham Festival,” Weatherby says. “We sponsored the race for the first time in 1997 when it was won by the great Florida Pearl (Ire).”

He adds, “My brother Roger and I are very proud of the longevity of our business and the constant connection with our family through seven generations, as well as our involvement with the origins of the thoroughbred. We are fully aware of our continuing responsibilities to the industry. Our role as custodians of the General Stud Book is very important to us. James Weatherby, the nephew of the business’s founder, published the very first volume in 1791 – the founding record of the breed. That’s a tangible, vital piece of Turf history, alongside the Racing Calendar, which we also still publish. Tesio enthusiastically referenced those two works as ‘the most imposing and dependable source of information the world has ever known’.”

The lineage of the Weatherby family itself is thus intertwined, not just with the development of the breed, but also the expansion of what was once a sport reserved for noblemen to a globally important industry. Come the end of this week, it would be satisfying to see the name Weatherby included within the records, and not just as the keeper of records.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not a subscriber? Click here to sign up for the daily PDF or alerts.