Classic Dreams Live On In New Era For Newsells Park

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Graham Smith-Bernal at Newsells Park Stud | Dominic James

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The entrepreneur Victor Kiam once starred in his own commercials for Remington Products with the memorable catchphrase, “I liked the shaver so much, I bought the company.”

Now an entrepreneur of a different kind, Graham Smith-Bernal, finds himself in a similar situation with Newsells Park Stud. Until last week, he was a relatively small owner/breeder with four broodmares and six horses in training. Now Smith-Bernal has gone from being a client to the new owner of Newsells Park Stud, along with all the farm's bloodstock formerly owned by the Jacobs family. 

The Herfordshire-based operation, which was set up in 1926 by Sir Humphrey de Trafford, breeder of the 1959 Derby winner Parthia (GB), was bought in 2000 by Klaus Jacobs, whose father Walther owned Gestut Fahrhof. That renowned German stud remains in the family's ownership and is run by Klaus's son Andreas, who also owns Maine Chance Farms in South Africa. 

Since the death of Klaus Jacobs in 2008, Newsells Park Stud has been run on an increasingly commercial footing under the management of Julian Dollar, with boarding mares from leading breeders around the world being a key part of that business. 

“I've had the pleasure of being a client of the stud,” says Smith-Bernal. “It's a bit like having five years to take a wonderful car for a test drive before you make a decision on whether you want to buy it. It's an established, successful business. For the last three years, and five years out of the last eight, Newsells has been the top consignor at Book 1 so they are obviously doing something right.”

He adds, “The mixture of the team there and the bloodstock is pretty amazing. We have some wonderful mares, and Julian is very excited about the foals that have been born this year, and there are some nice yearlings coming to the sales this autumn. We're effectively going to be doing more of the same, and we are very interested in attracting another stallion or two.”

Early in his working life, Smith-Bernal was employed as a court stenographer, which led to him devising the legal deposition software LiveNote. He sold that company in 2006 and two years later set up another legal technology firm, Opus 2, which operates a globally renowned cloud-based litigation platform.

Like an increasing number of people involved in racehorse ownership, his interest in the sport started with him being encouraged to take a share in a syndicate some 30 years ago.

“At my younger son's school one of the parents was interested in racing and suggested that a small group of us have a leg in a couple of horses,” he recalls. “It was a lot of fun and we really enjoyed the social side of it. Then about 10 years ago a friend of mine asked if I wanted to invest in a horse he'd bought. The horse raced in his colours and I named him Opus Too, after my company, but I should have have called him Hopeless Two.”

Appropriately, Opus Too (Ire) was a son of Lawman (Fr), and while his best result in 20 starts was a runner-up finish over two miles at Kempton, his existence set the ball rolling for Smith-Bernal's next step into breeding. 

He explains, “While we were in Newmarket to see him, the foal sale was on at Tattersalls. I was having lunch in the restaurant watching these lovely foals go round and, of course, after a bottle of wine or so it got the better of me and I saw this filly who I thought was gorgeous. I ended up buying her for 8,000gns.”

To the filly, who would become known as Mercy Me (GB) (Mawatheeq), was added a companion, Celestine Abbey (GB) (Authorized {Ire}). The duo eventually went into training with John Ryan in Newmarket, winning six races between them before becoming Smith-Bernal's first broodmares. 

“I bred a couple of foals from them and that gave me some exposure to the breeding side, which I find even more interesting because it is much more a commercial environment,” he notes. 

The original pair has since been moved on and, prior to his recent purchase of Newsells Park, Smith-Bernal and his wife Marcela had upgraded their stock to four mares, including La Mortola (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}), a half-sister to the G1 Derby Italiano winners Crackerjack King (Ire) (Shamardal) and Awelmarduk (Ire) (Almutawakel {GB}). Her  first foal by Frankel (GB) sold through the Newsells Park Stud draft at October Book 1 for 300,000gns to Godolphin and is now in training with Charlie Appleby under the name Fabrizio (GB).

“What I liked about Newsells Park Stud was the level of service, and the fact that I had been able to build up a relationship with Julian and the team. It wasn't a stark arrival when I came to buy the place,” he says.

“It was witnessing the level of professionalism and attention to detail and then seeing how that transferred into being successful as a vendor with my own horses. They really do treat all horses there as if they are their own. I was able to experience that first hand and I can say, hand on heart, that it's exactly what we are going to continue to do for our clients. I've actually made money from it and done quite well. Maybe I was just lucky.”

Among the clients at the stud are John and Tanya Gunther, breeders of Triple Crown winner Justify (Scat Daddy) and Breeders' Cup Classic winner Vino Rosso (Curlin) at their own stud, Glennwood Farm, in Kentucky. From their group of boarding mares at Newsells Park, the Gunthers have bred the G1 St James's Palace S. winner Without Parole (GB) (Frankel {GB}), who has gone full circle from the nursery paddocks there to the stallion barn, where he stands alongside Nathaniel (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}).

“Newsells has been very much in a holding pattern for the last couple of years and they haven't been able to go out and sail the ship full steam ahead,” says Smith-Bernal. “We have various ideas, very much in their infancy, but which include establishing a high-end breeding and racing club. We also very much hope to establish partnerships with other main players within the industry with a similar mindset to us in terms of wanting to breed top-quality horses. Half the stud is occupied by mares owned by other people and we're looking to embellish and build on some of the infrastructure for outside boarders. One example would be the manor itself. We're going to turn that into a guest house for our clients when they come to visit.”

The number of power partnerships has grown in recent years across the globe, whether in breeding stock or racehorses. Notably, Newsells Park Stud's most illustrious recent graduate, the 2019 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Waldgeist (GB) (Galileo {Ire}) was bred by a partnership which included Andreas Jacobs, his fellow successful German breeder Dietrich von Boetticher of Gestut Ammerland, and Coolmore.

“If you race a horse that costs a million quid that's a lot of eggs in one basket and the chance of it being as successful as necessary to give you any kind of payback is quite remote, so spreading the risk makes a lot of sense,” says Smith-Bernal. “That's been my way of doing things in my other business interests, which is to very much stay focused on your core competency, on what you do best, and forge relationships with key players who have assets and skill sets in other areas. Win-win partnerships, if you like.”

He continues, “At Newsells, there's also the integrity and the honesty that is important to me as a businessman. Things don't always go well but they tell it to you straight, even if it is not good news. That's what I have with Newsells, and with my trainers, and with my bloodstock agent Jill Lamb.”

The owner currently has horses with John Ryan, who trained his best horse to date, the listed winner Grey Britain (GB) (Arcano {Ire}), as well as William Haggas, who has one of his key hopes, the dual winner Skyrunner (Ire) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}).

In partnership with his friend Alan Dee, he also has horses in training with Charlie Fellowes. Of course, with his purchase of the Newsells Park stock, which runs to 53 mares and “40 to 50 yearlings and around 45 to 50 foals”, Smith-Bernal's Thoroughbred portfolio has now blossomed significantly.

“We are not looking to increase that number, we'll be looking to maintain that sort of number and improving and investing in the quality of the bloodstock, even though it is already of a very high quality,” he says. 

The bar is indeed set high by his new additions. The top-class broodmare Shastye (Ire) (Danehill), star of the sales ring and racecourse through her offspring which include the Galileo siblings Japan (GB), Mogul (GB) and Secret Gesture (GB), is now 20 but she she is far from the only big name. The deal also includes Yummy Mummy (GB) (Montjeu {Ire}), the dam of Classic winner Legatissimo (Ire) (Danehill Dancer {Ire}), and a share of Waldgeist's dam Waldlerche (GB) (Monsun {Ger}). Smith-Bernal, who lives not far from Sandown Park racecourse in Surrey, also aims to have around 15 horses in training. 

“In the next 12 months I am not really looking to interfere with a business that is already working effectively. I'm looking forward to forging a close relationship with Julian and the team and then discussing what changes we may want to make. For the next six months it's look and learn,” he says.

“I'd like to think our clients' experience of Newsells won't go south of what they have been experiencing, and I'd like to think that it will actually go north. I'm very keen to listen to their opinions.”

As Newsells Park Stud–whose paddocks have already nurtured a Derby winner, 1000 Guineas winner and St Leger winner–closes in on its centenary, it is reassuring to see it pass into the ownership of a man who aims to uphold that Classic heritage. 

“I'm not an expert, I really am a novice at this compared to the experts so I don't want to interfere,” says Smith-Bernal with endearing humility. 

“But there are a couple of stallions out there that I really adore. One would be Sea The Stars (Ire) as I love middle-distance races, even though it's not the most commercial thing. I would love to win either the Oaks or the Derby. I had a runner in the Derby two years ago [Hiroshima (GB)]. He was never going to win but just having a runner in the race was special. Having a Derby winner would be the dream for me.”

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