Irish Breeders Back On The Stallion Trail

Lope De Vega at Ballylinch Stud

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Having taken place as a virtual event last year when played out solely on social media, the ITM Irish Stallion Trail returned by popular demand this week, though attendance was limited to those directly involved in the breeding industry.

As a seasoned trail-hopper who has partaken in each event since its inception seven years ago, my preferred modus operandi in order to see as many stallions as possible is to be at Coolmore Stud for the opening 10 a.m. show and make my way back towards Dublin from there via the likes of Ballylinch Stud, Kildangan Stud and hopefully one or two more along the way.

This was the first year of the trail when the mighty Galileo (Ire) was sadly not available for photo opportunities at Coolmore, but life goes on and his loss leaves the door ajar for a young pretender to fill his admittedly giant shoes. While Galileo fitted seamlessly into the previous void left at Coolmore when Sadler's Wells came to the end of his reign, it is not easy to predict who may step up to the plate next. One contender is undoubtedly Coolmore's star signing for 2022, St Mark's Basilica (Fr), who has all the credentials to make a serious impact at stud. The son of the increasingly influential Siyouni (Fr) had an exemplary race record, winning the G1 Dewhurst S. at two and then progressing into a brilliant 3-year-old, landing a fabulous Group 1 four-timer consisting of the French 2000 Guineas and French Derby, the Eclipse and the Irish Champion S. He is also a half-brother to 2000 Guineas winner Magna Grecia (Ire), another young stallion who is seeking to make the breakthrough on the Coolmore roster.

Despite being quite an established stallion, Wootton Bassett (GB)–the most expensive sire on the Coolmore roster at €150,000–is quite new to Tipperary, embarking on just his second season covering in Ireland and despite a significant fee hike, Coolmore's Jason Walsh said there is no shortage of interest from breeders in the son of Iffraaj (GB).

Wootton Bassett covered over 200 mares last year which is impressive given his fee was €100,000, and even after it has been raised again there is still huge demand for the horse this year,” Walsh said. “He is very exciting given what he achieved in France and even since we acquired him his reputation has been enhanced.”

No Nay Never, the second-most expensive horse on the roster at €125,000 and described by Walsh as “a bit of a boyo” was not on parade, rather being happier in his daily routine of looking on from his paddock. Another of the senior team, Australia (GB), doesn't in any way resemble the slight, almost gawky teenager that won two Derbys back in 2014. The years in between have seen him mature into a formidable and impressive beast.

Of the younger Coolmore squad on show, Saxon Warrior (Jpn)'s first 2-year-olds will be making their debuts in the coming months and based on the average price of the son of Deep Impact (Jpn)'s yearlings last autumn, it would be fair to say the market expects his progeny to be smart. However, his colleague over at Castlehyde Stud, Sioux Nation (Scat Daddy), is a strong favourite to be crowned leading first-season sire in 2022, owing mostly to his own precocity and the sheer number of 2-year-olds he has to represent him this year.

Coolmore have two sons of Siyouni at stud, the elder one being 2020 G1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Sottsass (Fr), and having not had a chance to see him last year the general consensus is that he has developed exceptionally well since his retirement from racing. For good measure, the first foal by Sottsass arrived the same day with the birth of a filly foal in Ecurie des Monceaux, bred by the Roth family's LNJ Foxwoods.

When one adds in the likes of Calyx (GB) (Kingman {GB}) and Galileo's sons Churchill (Ire) and Circus Maximus (Ire), there is certainly a broad range of sire lines available to breeders.

Ballylinch Stud has no new names for 2022 but it's hard to drive by and not call in for a look at Lope De Vega (Ire) and his barnmates. Not many stallions can lay claim to their progeny being highly sought after in Europe, Australia and America but such is the boast of Lope De Vega, whose panther-like walk is still just as striking as his overall physique. Ballylinch's Eoin Fives said that he will cover in the region of 160 mares this year and given the quality of those partners, the 15-year-old's best years on the track may well be in front of him.

The nominations team at Ballylinch has the first world problem of turning down mares for New Bay (GB) as his success with his first few crops sees him massively oversubscribed for 2022. Make Believe (GB), meanwhile, has a chance of being part of a little bit of history as his son Mishriff (Ire) has a solid chance of becoming the highest-earning racehorse in history should he make it back-to-back wins in the Saudi Cup next month. The Ballylinch quartet is completed by Arc winner Waldgeist (GB), whose first foals last year averaged £51,346 at the sales having been conceived from a €17,500 covering fee.

With hospitality limited to coffee trucks and pastries for obvious reasons, something a little more substantial was required to see me through the day, so the toasted special in the Lord Bagenal in Leighlinbridge seemed the wisest move. From that hotel bar one could almost shout up to Joe Foley in Ballyhane Stud to signal one's imminent arrival, such is the farm's proximity to the village, and I joined bloodstock agents Barry Lynch and Harriet Jellett to view Dandy Man (Ire) et al.

Foley was rubbing his hands at the thought of Dandy Man's 2022 crop of 2-year-old hitting the tracks, such is the quality he saw at last year's yearling sales.

“I have unbelievable faith in this horse,” Foley said. “I can't wait for the flat season as I think Dandy Man is set for a huge year. Every year he comes up with several high-class horses but I think he could bring it to a new level this year.”

Things could be about to heat up for Elzaam (Aus) also after a few fillies put in performances late in 2021 that suggest they could be a force in some top races this year. The Paddy Twomey-trained Limiti Di Grecio (Ire) has the G1 Irish 1000 Guineas in her crosshairs after a deeply impressive win in a listed race at The Curragh in October, while Henry De Bromhead has stakes aspirations for Star Girls Aalmal (Ire) after she bolted up in a maiden in Dundalk in November.

“Elzaam must be one of the best value sires in Ireland at €5,000,” Foley said. “He has already sired a Group 1 winner and there could well be another one this year such is the regard Paddy [Twomey] holds his filly in.”

Foley noted that Elzaam's fourth dam, Hurry Harriet, was a great mare trained just down the road from Ballyhane by the late Paddy Mullins to win the Champion S. at Newmarket in 1973. Ballyhane is also home to Group 1-winning sprinter Sands Of Mali (Fr), and being such an impressive physical specimen it's no surprise that he covered 152 mares in his first season last year. Meanwhile Soldier's Call (GB), who was bought by Foley as a yearling for his good friend Steve Parkin, made a good start with his first foals last year with a top price of 100,000gns.

Last stop of the day was Kildangan Stud, where rookie stallion Space Blues (Ire) joins a top-class team that includes the likes of the upwardly mobile Night Of Thunder (Ire) and the exciting younger brigade of Ghaiyyath (Ire), Blue Point (Ire), Earthlight (Ire) and Profitable (Ire). Having Dubawi (Ire) as his own sire already gives Space Blues a bit of a headstart but if he can pass on to his sons and daughters the versatility and electric turn of foot that saw him swoop to victory in the G1 Prix de la Foret on heavy ground and the GI Breeders' Cup Mile on firm ground then he will surely make a significant impact at stud.

Ghaiyyath was a monster on the track and is also a monster in the flesh but a handsome one at that, and with his pedigree and athletic ability his fee of €25,000 seems great value. Profitable (Ire) meanwhile has matured into a powerhouse of a stallion and while he set his own bar quite high by producing G2 Queen Mary S. winner Quick Suzy (Ire) in his first crop, you wouldn't bet against him adding another Royal winner to his resume this year.

Having enjoyed seeing admittedly only a small sample size of Ireland's top stallions in some rare January sunshine, it's worth mentioning how well and naturally healthy each horse looked, and that is testament to the care, attention and horsemanship that is available to these horses which in turn enables them to achieve their maximum potential and to sow the seeds for this great sport.

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