Kelly Thomas Q&A: 'Some Breeders Have Told Me That I Am Their Inspiration'

KellyThomas | Tattersalls

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Kelly Thomas enjoyed a banner year with Vandeek (GB) (Havana Grey {GB}), who she bred at her Maywood Stud, going unbeaten in a spellbinding two-year-old campaign that featured Group 1 wins in the Prix Morny and Middle Park S. 

In this week's Q&A, Thomas revealed how some people in the industry have shared with her that she has become an inspiration for smaller breeders. She also lifted the lid on her own hopes and dreams for Vandeek this season and explained her philosophy to breeding. 

You have had lots to dream about over the past few months. Where is the ceiling with Vandeek?

Gosh, who knows? Everybody is excited about what could be. What he has shown so far, if he can carry on the same trajectory for a little bit longer, you don't know where he will end up. 

In your heart of hearts, could you see him staying a mile or is he pure unbridled speed?

I think that, if a race was run to suit, the mile wouldn't bother him. If he is dilly-dallying at the back, he's not going to waste an ounce of energy and, then if it came down to a turn of foot at the end, you could almost see him doing it. He's a tall horse, has a really good stride and he relaxes in his races so I suppose you could say, from that perspective, he might be able to do it. His grandmother won over a mile in France so it's in the pedigree. But, what's he best at? Probably the distance he has been racing at, which is over six furlongs. 

There's nothing wrong with fast horses.

There's not. I like speed horses and that excites us. It seems to be what we have managed to do quite well with over the years so we stick to it. That's not to say we don't look outside the box as well when it comes to stallion choices and to buying mares. But speed is generally the way we tend to go and we try to breed commercially as well. You need to be able to bring something to the sales that will be attractive to buyers; something that is precocious, early and fast. That's the way we have been heading. 

The big thing I would say about your success story with Vandeek is that it would have given a lot of smaller breeders huge encouragement to keep going despite what was a very difficult year.

Absolutely. I've had so many text messages and phone calls from some people that I have never even met before. Some people have told me that I am their inspiration! All I could say, was, 'thank you very much.' It definitely has given a lot of people hope. But it's very difficult. Financially, it's a hard thing to do. We do all of the work ourselves and it's only recently that I have managed to get somebody in to help with the mucking out on the days that I am not here. That will help to take the pressure off my husband a little bit. We've always done it on a bit of a shoe-string. I did my Masters in Equine Science and I tend to draw on that knowledge a lot as well. I think it helps in keeping horses healthy and in their best condition which, in the long run, makes them more efficient. The biggest gamble you are ever going to take in this industry is breeding because you never know what you are going to get. If you are lucky, you get a nice foal but, if you are unlucky, you might get something that won't even make it through the sales ring. My Dad is in a different business to us and often says that this is the only profession where, often the product you produce might not be worth what went into producing it. That can put you in a very difficult position, especially if you have invested heavily. 

And given the current economic climate, have you made any changes to how you run your operation with regards to reinvesting in the broodmare band or maybe not putting some of your mares in foal?

We try to be economical and efficient in everything we do and we've never really spent a lot of money on stud fees. If we have wanted to use some of the more expensive stallions, we have tended to do foal shares. But, with regards to covering and not covering mares, when you only have five mares like we do, you have to keep plugging away. If you don't breed anything you don't have a chance of making any money. You have to keep the wheel turning otherwise you will have nothing to sell. If you were to leave one mare off for a year, you are guaranteed that one of the mares you did choose to breed from won't go in foal, so then there's two mares who aren't producing for you in a year. 

And Mosa Mine (GB) (Exceed And Excel {Aus}), the dam of Vandeek, could be viewed as a triumph for perseverance with regards to giving your stud a major payday given her Starspangledbanner (Aus) colt sold to Coolmore Stud for 450,000gns at the Tattersalls December Foal Sale last year.

The triumph of that is for a little stud like ours to produce a horse that will be trained at Ballydoyle. I think that is amazing. For us to have a horse trained at Ballydoyle and the prospects of Vandeek becoming a stallion in the same year, it's a dream come true really. A result like that is nice because we can invest a bit into facilities and look at buying our next broodmare. I haven't really felt the rain on my back this winter. It does put a spiring in your step, that's for sure. 

Remind us how Mosa Mine joined your broodmare band?

We bred Mosa Mine to begin with. She was a beautiful foal; in fact, we named her Bonny because she was a bonny wee thing. It was back in the days when we had just moved to this property and we had no stables at the time. She was a May baby and we foaled her in the field because the weather was kind. We sold her as a yearling but she probably didn't reach her potential on the track. We loved her and decided that we wanted her back. We thought she wouldn't make much money at the horses-in-training sale, and she didn't [£800], so that was great for us. 

And what does the future hold for her?

She's not in foal at the moment but she is going back to Havana Grey (GB). It's kind of an obvious choice but then again, you think can lightning really strike twice? But it's a proven recipe at the highest level and Havana Grey seems to be progressing all the time so it suits. When you look at the other proven stallions, you could be looking at the likes of No Nay Never, which is at a much higher price and therefore we'd have to consider a foal share. With Havana Grey, we could possibly think of retaining the next filly out of the mare if we wanted to. 

I know you said that you have a penchant for speed but what sort of stallions are your mares in foal to?

We've got a sister to Mosa Mine by Compton Place (GB) and she is in foal to Twilight Son (GB). We've gone for speed there in the thinking that the progeny could end up becoming quite a nice breeze-up prospect as Twilight Son had quite a good time of it at the breeze-ups last year. The family is quick and it might just suit. Then we have a Medicean (GB) mare in foal to Masar (Ire), so that is something a bit different. But then again, Masar showed quite a bit of speed as a two-year-old as well, so that helps. She has already produced a lovely horse by Masar called Move On In (GB),  who is trained by Ralph Beckett, and it was off the back of him that we sent the mare back to the stallion. She had an Ardad (GB) in between and he's gone to breeze. We also have a mare in foal to Perfect Power (Ire), so speed again. We have done well with first-season sires in the past.

Could you put your philosophy towards breeding into words?

Wow. That is a tough one but you have to enjoy it. This doesn't feel like work to me. I might be mucking out all day long but it doesn't really feel like work. It's a lifestyle. You have to take the highs and the lows and you mustn't take the lows personally. If you talk to other breeders, everybody suffers the lows. Not everybody gets to enjoy the highs, but we all suffer the lows. When you get the highs, you have to enjoy them without looking at them like a pleasure plane. You have to do your best by your horses; look after them, keep them healthy and well fed. We've a good team of vets, farriers and local feed merchants and that all helps. Above all else, you need the help and support of your friends and family. When it comes to deciding on your stallions, you have to go with what you like, what you can afford and what you hope will work, and you must make your own decisions. When I first started, there were times when I took advice on stallion choices. If it didn't work out, then that person would get the blame and I don't like that. I'd prefer to live and die by my own decisions and remain positive. I'm an optimist at the end of the day.

It's a refreshing story, especially in a year where there was a lot of doom and gloom. And, who knows, maybe you can inspire one more breeder to keep going and maybe they will breed a champion like Vandeek.

You never can tell where the next one will come from. You are very lucky when it happens to you but, you must remember, you can breed the best to the best and get the worst. I was talking to John Deere before and he was explaining how, you put a bunch of genes from the stallion and the mare into a bucket and you take a handful of each and, what you're left  with, that's what you get. It's true, really, isn't it? In saying that, I have chosen the mares I want to breed from so it's not exactly random but, when you do put the ones you like together, there is no predicting what you might get.

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