Mountmellick and Hunter Valley an Irish Partnership Forged in the Bluegrass

David Fennelly | Keeneland photo


Three years ago David Fennelly of Mountmellick Farm partnered with Adrian Regan and Fergus Galvin of Hunter Valley Farm to purchase a trio of seven-figure mares with the intention of forming a high-end boutique commercial broodmare band. The partnership, which has already had success in the sales ring and on the racetrack, sends the first foal of its most expensive acquisition through the ring during Monday's first session of the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Consigned by Hunter Valley, hip 36 is a dark bay filly by Curlin out of multiple Grade I winner Separationofpowers (Candy Ride {Arg}), a mare the team purchased for $2.1 million at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton November sale.

For Fennelly, who was born in the U.S. and grew up in Ireland, the breeding operation forms a full circle back to his childhood love of racing.

“If you want to be in the horse business, Lexington, Kentucky, is the horse capital of the world,” Fennelly said of his return to the United States as a 21-year-old in 1985. “I was coming to muck out stalls like 180 other people. That's how it started. That's how I ended up in the horse capital of the world mucking out stalls at Spendthrift.”

Fennelly would spend seven years at Spendthrift before an opportunity came along that took him away from the Bluegrass.

“One of our clients was exporting coal down the river system from Kentucky, West Virginia, Illinois, and he offered me a job,” Fennelly recalled. “I thought, you know what, I am not too sure if this is a childhood dream or a real job, so I am going to try this other path.”

Fennelly moved south to New Orleans where he learned the ins and outs of exporting coal. From there, he would go on to found shipping and cargo services businesses, including Associated Terminals.

But, as an avid polo player, horses remained a part of his life and eventually, business success paved the way for his return to Kentucky.

“We started playing polo in New Orleans and then in Lexington and I thought, 'Let's get 20 acres up here and have a little spot,” Fennelly said. “We ended up with Mountmellick Farm, which is 600 acres. And then we thought, 'Let's get some mares.'

“I never thought I would own a piece of the Bluegrass and that I would breed a horse that would sell at Keeneland. I sold lots of horses with Spendthrift at Keeneland, Saratoga, Fasig-Tipton–not me personally, me the caretaker of–and so it was kind of a full-circle dream. I am fortunate enough to be in a position to think, 'You know, what if we breed that mare by that stallion to that stallion?'”

Asked about his master plan when he began his breeding operation almost a decade ago, Fennelly said, “There was no plan at all. Nothing. Dudley's, a beautiful dinner, everybody who is anybody hangs out at Dudley's and I thought well, 'I can do this.' So I did it.”

Mountmellick is home to about seven broodmares in partnership with Terry Gabriel of Pelican State Thoroughbreds.

“Terry Gabriel advises me and keeps me focused,” Fennelly said, before adding with a laugh, “And he keeps me with my hands in my pockets.”

Fennelly met Regan and Galvin through trainer Andrew McKeever and made an instant connection.

“Andrew McKeever has been training horses for me for 25 years–I always had one or two,” Fennelly said. “He introduced me to the guys and they are off-the-charts fantastic horsemen. They know their business. And we just kind of hit it off. They said, 'Hey, David, look at this mare. Would you be interested in owning a piece?' And look at this one and that one. And we ended up with a few mares together.”

The team made its first seven-figure purchase with Diva Delite (Repent), the dam of champion Midnight Bisou (Midnight Lute), who sold for $1.2 million while in foal to Justify at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton November sale. The mare's Justify colt sold for $775,000 at last year's Keeneland September sale and, now named Verifying, was a first-out winner on the Travers undercard at Saratoga Aug. 27.

“Look at that moment in time,” Fennelly said of that result. “We bred a winner at Saratoga on Travers Day? Come on. That was wonderful.”

Just a few hips after purchasing Diva Delite, the team came back to purchase Separationofpowers for $2.1 million.

“Good Lord, is that what she cost? Why did you have to tell me that?” Fennelly said with a chuckle when asked about the purchase.

Still, Separationofpowers, who won the 2017 GI Frizette S. and 2018 GI Test S., was a standout at the sale, according to Fennelly.

“This mare is incredible,” Fennelly said. “She was a few dollars short of winning a million dollars, you placed her and asked her and she performed every time. When she walked around Fasig-Tipton in that back arena, it was like Good Lord, look at this girl here. So we bought her. Maybe the Irish get carried away.”

Separationofpowers visited Curlin in 2020 and the resulting foal, the mare's first, sells next week at Keeneland.

“She is pretty special,” Fennelly said of the yearling. “Everybody has got a special horse. You'll go from barn to barn and there will be many. But she is absolutely a beautiful specimen; out of a champion mare by Curlin–who needs to say any more about Curlin.”

Completing the Hunter Valley/Mountmellick trio of million-dollar mares is Nereid (Rock Hard Ten), who was purchased for $1.25 million at Keeneland November.

“The business plan with Hunter Valley is we are going to produce very, very nice horses,” Fennelly said. “We are not afraid to race, but the primary goal is to produce and sell wonderful, beautiful horses.”

Even the foals bred by Mountmellick end up at Hunter Valley.

“Anything we sell, we sell with Hunter Valley,” Fennelly said. “To me, they are second to none. They are absolutely second to none. They present a beautiful horse, ready for presentation to be sold. And they have an eye for buying the best.”

Fennelly, who said he began his breeding operation with no plan, is content to continue to let the business find its own way.

“At this stage, I want to stay boutique,” he said. “We have an absolutely stunningly beautiful farm. We operate and live part of our time in the Bluegrass in the midst of some of the most famous farms in the world. I am down the road from my college degree at Spendthrift. And so, just like how I got in, I try not to over think it.”

Asked to rate his experience as a breeder so far, Fennelly said, “I would say we've done quite well. We all love the highs. And we all know that it's a difficult business to be in at times, but that photograph in the winner's circle of a horse that you bred, or the moment in time when the hammer goes down and the digital clock is saying a particular financial number, it's fantastic. You can't get a better high.”

The Keeneland September sale begins with two Book 1 sessions next Monday and Tuesday beginning at 1 p.m. Book 2 sessions on Wednesday and Thursday begin at 11 a.m. Following a dark day Friday, the auction continues through Sept. 24 with sessions beginning daily at 10 a.m.

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