A Trail Well Worth Following

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Lope De Vega | Ballylinch

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The Irish Stallion Trail launched by Irish Thoroughbred Marketing has really gained traction since its inception three years ago, and I was delighted to be asked by the TDN to report from my day on the road for a second time.

It seems Irish studs have really embraced the concept, and it is certainly a case of ‘build it and they will come,’ as it appears most farms benefit from a steady stream of visitors throughout the two days. Sceptics may argue it is mostly tourists and tyre-kickers that rock up hoping to sample a beef stew and catch up on some gossip, and that the business it actually generates is minimal. I disagree wholeheartedly; last year I myself came away from the day with two nominations booked and I was determined to be more vigilant on this occasion and at least sleep on future mating plans before committing to anything.

Last year I had two co-pilots for the journey but unfortunately I had to fly solo on Friday, with both of last year’s companions offering equally lame excuses: one eschewed the trip in favour of a day’s hunting with the Ward Union Staghounds, while the other is on honeymoon. Priorities please, gentlemen.

To that end I hit the road in the dark on Friday morning and headed south. Last year I began my tour in Kilkenny and meandered my way home. That strategy worked well, though I tweaked it somewhat this year checking into Joe Foley in Ballyhane Stud shortly after 9 a.m. hoping to be welcomed by the sound of sizzling bacon. Alas, the boss was on school run duty instead of breakfast duty so a mug of tea and some chocolate biscuits proved an able substitute. Foley was his usual ‘Dandy’ self despite some active socializing the previous evening following the Goffs Thyestes Chase day at nearby Gowran Park, billed as ‘the race that stops a County.’ His stallions showed no signs of early morning blues, however, in particular Elzaam (Aus) (Redoute’s Choice {Aus}), who bounced out of his box and swaggered around the circuit. It sounds silly to say about a 9-year-old, but I’m convinced Elzaam has grown in stature since last year; maybe it’s something to do with pride over his successful first crop of 2-year-olds, success which has lead to his stud fee rising to €6,000. I was interested in seeing Foley’s new offering for 2017, G2 Norfolk S. winner Prince Of Lir (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}); he should appeal to the market, and Foley’s new policy of limiting all Ballyhane stallions to books of not more 125 mares has to be commended. There is no doubt Ballyhane could cover twice that number with their current flag-bearer Dandy Man (Ire) (Mozart {Ire}), who remains popular enough to warrant a fee hike up to €10,000.

On to Ballylinch Stud and I could almost smell the coffee brewing as I drove down the long avenue that welcomes visitors to John Malone’s impressive estate set adjacent to Mount Juliet Hotel and Golf Course. I joined a large group of French visitors from the Arqana Racing Club in viewing the stallions. Stud manager John O’Connor has a lot to be excited about with a quality mix of established and new sires for 2017 headed by Lope De Vega (Ire) (Shamardal), who has really developed into a magnificent specimen. Make Believe (GB) (Makfi {GB}) can count on continued support from Prince Faisal this year, and a year at stud has been kind to the dual Group 1 winner, as he has matured into a fine horse. Fascinating Rock (Ire) (Fastnet Rock {Aus}) is one of two who are new to the Ballylinch roster this year, and it isn’t hard to see why he often needed a run or two to get fully fit. He is big, strong and bulky and has a lot of his own sire’s physical traits. One thing that we cannot doubt was his racing ability, and his part owner Maurice Regan had a busy autumn stocking up on choice mares to send to him this spring.

One thing Ballylinch has established is some wise partnerships with international breeders, and that is also the case with the other rookie stallion New Bay (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}). His breeder Juddmonte Farms has retained a significant interest in the G1 Prix du Jockey Club winner, while China Horse Club has also purchased a sizeable stake in the horse and between that pair and Balllylinch themselves, a flow of quality mares seems assured. Fascinating Rock and New Bay enter the market with stud fees of €10,000 and €20,000, respectively.

At 13-years-old, Lawman (Fr) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}) is the elder statesman of the Ballylinch roster and he kept his name in lights last year siring the G1 St Leger winner Harbour Law (GB).

There was definitely some strategic thinking behind my decision to visit Gilltown Stud around lunchtime, and given the ambitious target I set myself of hitting six farms in one day, lunch ‘on the go’ was the only option. I believe it was Natalie Collins, sister of trainer Tracey Collins, who provided the catering and her spread certainly hit the spot. The biggest treat, however, was seeing Sea The Stars (Ire) (Cape Cross {Ire}). It never gets old, he still is the King in my eyes and if one had to engineer a horse this is the template that should be used.

Gilltown also have a potential future heir to the King in dual Derby winner Harzand (Ire) (Sea The Stars {Ire}), and Pat Downes is hopeful that one day he can fill his mantle. Pat and his team were busy welcoming guests throughout the day, and he said of the Irish stallion trail, “It’s a great showcase for the breeding industry. While the majority of visitors are here on a more casual basis it does fuel business. We got some nominations sold this morning so from that point of view it has to be a positive initiative.”

Darley has assembled a world-class roster of stallions, and I was keen to cast my eye over them at Kildangan Stud. In fact, their roster has grown to such an extent that there isn’t room for Buratino (Ire) (Exceed And Excel {Aus}) in the main stallion courtyard. He doesn’t seem in the least bit bothered by this when he is paraded, and his inclusion in the Darley Stallion Club at a €5,000 covering fee should really see that concept gaining traction this year. As a tough, classy, well-made G2 Coventry S. winner, his credentials are obvious. Both Epaulette (Aus) (Commands {Aus}) and Dawn Approach (Ire) (New Approach {Ire}) will have their first runners in the coming months, and Darley’s Anthony O’Donnell relays that early vibes for the pair from trainers are certainly upbeat. Jim Bolger produced Dawn Approach to win the first 2-year-old maiden of the season in Ireland back in March of 2012, so he has set the precocity bar quite high for his progeny.

Darley’s roster of stalwarts like Teofilo (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) and Exceed And Excel (Aus) (Danehill) is complemented by other youngsters such as the teak-tough juvenile from 2016 The Last Lion (Ire) (Choisir {Aus}), who held his form commendably from the opening day of the British turf season in April to his career highlight when winning the G1 Juddmonte Middle Park S. in September.

On to Rathasker Stud outside Naas, and Maurice Burns and his daughter Madeline had as many brands of whiskey on display as they did stallions. Unfortunately I only got to sample two of them–stallions that is–as I was under time pressure to get to Derrinstown Stud for their final showing at 3:30 p.m. Rathasker’s Bungle Inthejungle (GB) (Exceed And Excel {Aus}) is deceptively big, while Es Que Love (Ire) (Clodovil {Ire}) oozes quality; both stallions will have their first crop of yearlings on display at sales this autumn. After making my apologies about not staying to see Clodovil, Anjaal and Coulsty, I cut across country to Maynooth to catch Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s recent arrivals at Derrinstown. I’m glad I made it and my visit coincided with a viewing by students from the Irish National Stud breeding course. Awtaad (Ire) (Cape Cross {Ire}) and Markaz (Ire) (Dark Angel {Ire}) join Tamayuz (GB) (Nayef) this year at Derrinstown and both look fine additions to the roster, with manager Jimmy Lenihan informing us that both horses were heavily oversubscribed with mares. It’s not hard to understand why. Awtaad, available to breeders for €15,000, is a most handsome Classic winner over a mile while Markaz, offered at €6,000, is a full-brother to Mecca’s Angel {Ire}) and is a lovely fluid walker who incidentally was showed by Peter Kelly, the subject of a TDN feature late last year. Tamayuz has been set a covering fee of €8,000 for 2017, and this will surely be very tempting to breeders looking for an established sire capable of not only siring a high-class racehorse such as G Force (Ire), but also a champion first-season stallion in Sir Prancealot (Ire).

So as I pointed for home, my mind was on high alert after about five times my normal daily caffeine intake. And, as I contemplated various mating options, I ultimately decided I’d probably just end up choosing the cheapest ones.

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