'My Aim Is To Fill That Wall!' – Ylang Ylang's Breeder Hails Picture-Perfect Filly

Ylang Ylang: ante-post favourite for the 1,000 Guineas and Oaks | Racingfotos.com


Craig Bennett of Merry Fox Stud, joint-breeder of arguably the most exciting juvenile filly in training Ylang Ylang (GB) (Frankel {GB}), recalls how a visit to Coolmore Stud a number of years back made a lasting impression. 

Not for the sheer expanse of the operation, or the might of the stallions the world-renowned County Tipperary stud could offer potential breeders, but for how Coolmore marks its successes.

“When I went to Coolmore a couple of years ago, I can remember looking out at one of the paddocks where the stallions were,” Bennett started. 

“They had plaques outside the barns with the names of every black-type winner that the stallion had produced. When you got to the likes of Sadler's Wells and Galileo (Ire), the plaques were never-ending. 

“Every time we produce a listed winner or better now, I get a plaque made here and it goes up on the wall. My aim is to fill that wall!

“The first one for this year arrived this morning and that was Voodoo Queen (GB) (Frankel {GB}). So there's a pictorial representation of what we are trying to achieve here.”

Voodoo Queen carried the familiar yellow and orange silks of Merry Fox Stud to victory in a listed event at Pontefract last month. The victory was made all the more significant for the fact that she is a homebred out of the brilliant Cursory Glance (Distorted Humour), who gave Bennett, a qualified accountant, one of his greatest days in the sport when landing the G1 Moyglare Stud S. at the Curragh in 2014. 

Fitting that the Curragh, a track Bennett describes as being a lucky place for him down through the years, played host to just about the most exciting debut performance that has been posted either side of the Irish Sea this season when Ylang Ylang justified the hype when scoring for Aidan O'Brien and the Coolmore partners on Irish Derby Weekend. 

Craig Bennett | Tattersalls

“She looks very exciting, doesn't she? It's really great to see. We had been hearing that Aidan liked her but I thought she did it very nicely. It's not easy to make all on your debut and, to quicken away the way that she did, she looks very exciting. I'm hoping that she will be the second Moyglare winner that we have bred. 

“I thought Aidan's comment was quite telling after her debut. He said that she had been working with some of their very good colts and that she'd been doing things nicely. You have to be half decent to be able to do that.”

Ylang Ylang was bred in partnership with Newsells Park Stud and is the first foal out of Shambolic (Ire) (Shamardal), who Bennett picked up through his advisor Gary Hadden at the Tattersalls December Mares Sale in 2019 for 800,000gns. 

The sale of Shambolic's first foal Ylang Ylang will go down as a memorable one for the Merry Fox Stud and Newsells Park Stud axis as it kick-started what proved to be an emotional afternoon when selling for 1.5 million gns to MV Magnier and White Birch Farm. 

Bennett said, “We started buying mares with Newsells Park Stud around 2019 and Shambolic was the second mare that we bought in partnership together. We paid 800,000gns for her at the December Mares Sale at Tattersalls but I think Juddmonte were the underbidders. I quite like it when you have such a quality outfit as Juddmonte who also wanted the mare. Shambolic is by Shamardal and I can remember when we were going in to bid on her, it was Matt Coleman who commented that 'they aren't making any more of them!' Therefore, you are not going to get the chance to buy many more Shamardal mares with the pedigree that Shambolic had.

“Ylang Ylang is the first foal and, if I wasn't in partnership with Newsells, I would have been 99 per cent certain to have raced the filly myself. But the modus operandi with Newsells is to sell the first progeny out of every mare. Obviously Graham [Smith-Bernal] has now bought Newsells and I get on great with him and have a great relationship with him and we decided to let Ylang Ylang go through the ring to see what she fetched. If we weren't happy with what she was selling for, the plan was to buy her back, but we didn't have to do that as her price flew up to 1.5 million gns. We still have Shambolic, and she's a very young mare, so hopefully this is just the start.”

He added, “We had an incredible Book 1. We had three in the sale–we kept one, Ylang Ylang made 1.5million gns and then we sold a Dubawi (Ire) half-brother to Acer Alley (GB) (Siyouni {Fr}) and Digital Age (Ire) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}) for 1.6 million gns. We'd never sold a horse through the ring for more than a million and then we had two in the one day. I've always said that breeding and selling gives me a thrill for about 24 hours when you do it well but racing them gives you a thrill that keeps you going all year round. 

“Take for example Voodoo Queen winning at Pontefract, it's just so exciting breeding a filly like that. Now, Ylang Ylang might be a bit different because it looks as though she might go on to operate at the very top level. The dam is still very young and it gives us every opportunity to really culture and develop that family now. It's just very exciting and it's great when people at Coolmore want to buy your horses because they are great judges and are great for the game. When they pay that sort of money for one, you'd have to be very disappointed if she wasn't any good.”

Ylang Ylang looked better than just good at the Curragh and is already sitting pretty at the head of the ante-post markets for next year's 1,000 Guineas and Oaks. A lot of water has to pass under the bridge between now and then but one thing is for certain, Bennett has an awful lot to look forward to with Shambolic, who looks set to play a pivotal part of his 25-strong broodmare band in the years to come.

“Shambolic has a Kingman (GB) yearling colt and has a filly foal by Siyouni (Fr) on the ground. She's back in foal to Frankel (GB) so it's exciting stuff. Graham wants to breed to the best, I want to breed to the best, and I think we can help each other. Newsells are a commercial animal and I am an owner-breeder so the mixture between the two can work well.

“We started in 2006 with a very clear plan which was to buy quality broodmares. I came at it with the angle that a quality broodmare would retain value and if you could get it to win a stakes race you could increase their value. We are still breeding from the families that we started with and have some very good broodmares, there's no question about that. I think it's important to ask the right questions when you are doing the matings, and that's what Gary [Hadden] and I do, because then you will get the right answers more often than not.”

Bennett added, “You need two things to succeed in this game. You've got to have time and you need deep pockets. I got into a nice position in that I sold a business that I had a share of back in 2006 and I have been able to take it from there. I am absolutely delighted to have bred four Group 1 winners which, for a small stud, is a wonderful achievement. Hopefully Ylang Ylang will make that five.

“I don't have a farm. The stud is completely virtual. We send the mares to wherever the stallions are based around October or November every year and we use Ballylinch Stud in Ireland, Fittocks Stud in England and Haras du Buff in France. That's the model. I'm not a horseman, I'm an accountant by trade and I can analyse pedigrees and love doing that. But the one thing I have learned in life is, don't pretend you are good at something if you know you are not. You can kid yourself that you know about conformation but, when I sit down and talk to Bill [Dwan] and Gary, it's bloody obvious that I don't know what I am talking about so you need to surround yourself with good people. If you don't, you will soon part with your money.”

Bennett's philosophy is a simple one; breed top-notch racehorses. In a relatively short space of time and with the help of his close-knit team, Merry Fox Stud has become synonymous on and off the track for its association with classy blue bloods and the best may yet be to come. 

“Last year was incredible, we had four stakes-winning homebred fillies. If we could do that every year it would be fantastic. Voodoo Queen has hit the board already this season so we are up and running with one. Hopefully there will be more to come and, with a bit of luck, Ylang Ylang will be the next.”

If things continue apace, Bennett may need to find some more wall space. 


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