Emma Balding's Love Of Foraging For Yearlings

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Emma and Andrew Balding at the yearling sales | Tattersalls

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There is much to admire about the team at Kingsclere, especially during a season when Andrew Balding has been in or near the top spot of the trainers' table throughout. But one particularly admirable facet to the Balding stable is in its sourcing of young stock at the yearling sales. 

Key to that process are the trainer's mother, Emma Balding, and Kingsclere's racing manager, Tessa Hetherington.  The duo can regularly be spotted forming an advance party on the sales grounds, sifting through the catalogue to ensure that they are left only with the most promising raw ingredients. Last year's efforts have been rewarded with two highly successful juveniles in particular, in the G2 Coventry S. winner Berkshire Shadow (Ire) (Dark Angel {Ire}) and the listed winner and Group 2 runner-up Masekela (Ire) (El Kabeir).

“What we have tended to do over the last couple of years is that Tess and I try and get two days ahead of the game, and she starts one end, I start the other and, time allowing, we look at each other's short lists, and leave on or off,” says Balding, whose success as a breeder and contribution to the bloodstock industry was recently recognised with the highest TBA award, the Andrew Devonshire Bronze.

She continues, “Now, she and I have completely different eyes and Tess has spotted some really good horses. She just likes a different type, and she's done a lot more around the showing world, so there are things that she notices which I just don't notice. And equally, there are some things that I notice that she doesn't.

“We both have this fault that if we're blown away by something, we don't actually notice the faults. But then Andrew then looks at our longer short lists and makes the short list, and he's far more looking at the page. We try to do it not looking at the page too much, but looking at the individual.”

While Kingsclere is well populated with smart homebreds from large owner/breeders and some expensive purchases from elsewhere, it is notable that those yearlings selected by Balding and Hetherington are invariably relatively inexpensive purchases, even if they have emanated from the more select sales. The aforementioned Berkshire Shadow and Masekela cost a total of 70,000gns, from Tattersalls October Books 1 and 2 respectively. In previous TDN interviews, those horses' owners, Paul Spickett and Mick and Janice Mariscotti, have been fulsome in their praise for the part Emma Balding plays in finding their runners.

“I had a very good mentor, which was Andrew's mum, who told me in no uncertain terms not to spend too much money,” said Spickett at Royal Ascot after accepting the trophy for Berkshire Shadow's victory. The Balding team also bought Spickett's St Leger runner-up and listed winner Berkshire Rocco (Fr) (Sir Percy {GB}) for €50,000 from the Goffs Orby Sale.

The Mariscottis are enthusiastic participants at the sales alongside the Baldings, with recent purchases including the G2 Queen's Vase winner Dashing Willoughby (GB) (Nathaniel {Ire}) and G1 Caulfield Cup hopeful Le Don De Vie (GB) (Leroidesanimaux {BRZ}), bought respectively for 70,000gns and 50,000gns. Both have subsequently been either sold or part-sold at a healthy profit to Australian connections, which Balding attests can be a huge advantage in the purchase of staying-bred yearlings.

“There's also the secondhand value as jumpers. You've got it both ways really,” she says.

Balding has plenty of praise for the work of others at the sales, pointing to the thorough job done by the team behind Peter and Ross Doyle, which includes Anna Doyle and Carol Tinkler. She also singles out Eve Johnson Houghton as being a particularly good judge of a horse. 

She herself has no plans to take it easy when it comes to pounding the tiring sales beat, which she has enjoyed for decades, first alongside her husband Ian and later assisting her son.

“We were very lucky in the early days because Ian trained mostly homebreds and didn't have to buy many horses,” she says. “But those he did, the owners very much wanted him to buy them. And fine, if you're used to using an agent, and Andrew is much, much better with agents than Ian was. But people in the old days, they just said, 'This is the budget. I'd like to know what your short list is, but just go and do it'. And they never turned up at the sale. So you weren't having to try and explain to them why you liked something.”

Balding continues, “Mick and Janice are great and they do more work on the catalogue probably, but both they and Paul allow you to put horses up to them and for you to justify why you've put them up rather than the other way around. And of course, that makes it so much easier. They don't mind first-season sires, they don't mind you buying horses that have got staying pedigrees. So it enables you to get the better bargains.”

That lack of constraint is a freedom which some agents do not have, as Balding acknowledges. 

“I think it is difficult for agents,” she says. “I'm hopeless in that I cannot look through the catalogue and turn down pages. Tess has been extremely instrumental in the last six or seven years but the only way I feel I'm doing reasonable work on the catalogue is to try and look at as many horses as I can. And they don't have to be big consignors, I don't mind first foals, I don't mind late foals. I don't mind so many different things, but I just cannot do that bit of turning down pages.”

Even with an open mind and book, Balding has certain likes and dislikes, and is quick to stress the importance of temperament.

“Personally, I'm not a heavy shoulder person, and heavy shoulder, back of the knee is an absolute no-no for me,” she explains. “But the thing that taught me the biggest lesson of the lot was going out to the Hong Kong international day many years ago now, and seeing all those Group 1 horses walking around in the morning, going out and doing whatever work they were doing, and seeing how few were perfect.”

Balding continues, “And if you like something, forgive the fault. Mark Johnson's a great one for knowing what faults to forgive with his veterinary cap on. And you sort of know what can be trained on your own gallops. But it isn't an exact science, and anybody who pretends it is, is living on a different planet to me. There is so much luck involved.”

She adds, “If they aren't too doped, you can tell quite a bit about temperament, and you can tell their attitude when they are coming in and out of their box and doing all the boring bits. You can still just tell what their mind is like. When you're rattling around, you're sort of always looking out the corner of your eye when you're moving onto the next one, to just see how the one you've just seen is going back in the box. And temperaments can come right but if they're upset by the sale, they're going to be upset the first time they go to the races, aren't they?”

As Balding speaks to TDN she has just completed the Tattersalls Ireland September Sale in Newmarket, at which the team from Kingsclere signed for 10 yearlings, and is preparing for a busy couple of weeks back in the town for the Tattersalls October Sale.

“I absolutely love it,” she says. “I don't mind going home before the actual sale starts, but the foraging I love, and just seeing the horses and the people. Some of them meet the horses at the sales, but quite a few of them have been with them for months and it is quite fun talking to them. I hate selling horses myself, absolutely hate it. So I really admire the personalities involved that don't mind doing it.”

And she has a valid reason for continuing her trawling of the sales grounds in that it is vital in informing her decisions when it comes to the mating plans for her mares at Kingsclere Stud.

She notes, “I said to Andrew a few years ago, 'Please, please don't stop me looking, because it's the only way I can decide what stallions I'm going to use next year.' I think if you see the type they're producing you have a little bit of an idea of what shape you want to go for, as well as temperaments, and the new stallions, and the third-season stallions, which are probably the ones I can afford as they have come down in price a bit. You're getting a bit of an idea of whether they're maintaining their stock or whether you do want to risk using them when they haven't quite hit the jackpot yet.” 

Balding has certainly done her homework well. She rarely uses expensive or obviously fashionable stallions, and in Ka Ying Star (GB) and Ranch Hand (GB) she has bred the top-rated runners by Cityscape (GB) and Dunaden (Fr) respectively. More notably and certainly satisfyingly, Kingsclere Stud has also bred the best runners by two former stars of the Kingsclere stable in the Group 1 winners Side Glance (GB) (Passing Glance {GB}) and Elm Park (GB) (Phoenix Reach {Ire}). Side Glance's sire was also a Group 2-winning Balding homebred whose first two dams and their sires Robellino and Mill Reef were also trained at Kingsclere.

Despite such success, and her service to breeding and racing as a trustee of the TBA and founder member of the Retraining of Racehorses charity, Balding still expresses some surprise at her recent prestigious award. 

She says, “When I look at all the names on the bronze, I mean, those people have contributed so much to the industry. Kirsten [Rausing] and going back to Nat Frieze, some amazing people. So I was unbelievably flattered.”

Few in the business will disagree with the decision to bestow such an honour on Emma Balding, whose tireless work behind the scenes  at home and on the sales beat continues to be a fundamental part of the success of the Kingsclere operation.

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