Small breeders battle for top honours

Rose Armstrong takes the prize for Higher Power

The TBA’s Breeder of the Month Award for July, which features in this issue on page 90, must have been an incredibly close contest to call.

With absolutely no disrespect to the larger breeders in this country who invest so much in the best mares and, in many cases, stallions, it was great to see a neck-and-neck finish between two small breeders with just two mares apiece. Congratulations to Rose Armstrong, whose brother James Fanshawe deployed the skillfully patient training methods for which he is renowned to produce the homebred Higher Power perfectly for the biggest win of his career in the Northumberland Plate.

While the ‘Pitmen’s Derby’ doesn’t hold black-type status, it does carry a decent first prize of £92,385, highlighting the benefit of having a little patience and putting a staying-bred horse into training

While the ‘Pitmen’s Derby’ doesn’t hold black-type status, the heritage handicap does carry with it a decent first prize of £92,385, highlighting once again the benefit of having a little patience and putting a staying-bred horse into training. Higher Power has now earned almost £150,000 and, at five, is arguably only now reaching his peak.

At the other end of the spectrum came the British-bred Beckford, who is proving that Gordon Elliott is just as versatile as Fanshawe when it comes to handling both Flat and National Hunt horses.

Bred at Brook Stud, where his breeder Joyce Wallsgrove boards her mares, the son of Bated Breath became his sire’s first Group winner when landing the Group 2 Railway Stakes on only his second start. Beckford has subsequently gone on to demonstrate that he really is a young colt of the highest order when going down by only half a length to Sioux Nation to take second in the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes.

Wallsgrove, who sold Beckford as a foal, had previously had one less-than-successful foray into the breeding world. After a lull of some years she decided to make a comeback and must be congratulated for selecting Beckford’s dam, the Danehill Dancer mare Whirly Dancer, for just 9,500gns – “my very last bid,” she admits – at Tattersalls’ February Sale of 2012.

Not only has the mare made a great start herself, producing two winners from her first two foals, including Beckford, but her pedigree has continued to improve with each passing year. Her half-sister Malabar won Group 3 races in 2014 and 2015, while the following year, Harbour Law, another descendant of Whirly Dancer’s third dam Inchmurrin, won the St Leger. This year another of the mare’s half-siblings, Poet’s Word, won the Group 3 Glorious Stakes at Goodwood, no doubt enhancing the value of Whirly Dancer’s current filly foal, who shares his sire, Poet’s Voice.

Despite being relatively new to the breeding business, Wallsgrove is no stranger to top-class horses. During her years working for Barry Hills she looked after St Leger winner Moonax, who was famed for his fractious behaviour.

“He used to pick me up by the arm quite often,” she says nonchalantly of the enfant terrible of the stayers’ division who also once attempted to bite an opponent mid-race.

Wallsgrove moved to Newmarket in 2005, since when she has been stable manager at Newmarket racecourses. If Elliott can be persuaded to bring Beckford back to Britain for the Middle Park or the Dewhurst later this year, he’ll doubtless receive a very warm welcome indeed.

And they’re off
This month’s issue went to press on the eve of the Arqana August Sale, so by the time it hits doormats we’ll already have had the first yearling sales in France and Britain, at Deauville and Doncaster.

As the Dr Statz column highlights on page 96, the best horses aren’t always to be found at the most elite auctions, which gives hope to all of us operating with more modest means.
In fact, the Goffs UK Premier Sale has been an increasingly fertile source of talented youngsters and, while prices at the auction have been rising steadily, not least thanks to the niche appeal of the ‘Donny two-year-old’, it continues to offer value.

But when you see that a horse such as Slade Power was overlooked by the market and bought back by his breeder at £5,000, it reinforces the point that it’s worth trawling through every catalogue you can to find a racehorse within your budget. Six Group wins later, including two at the highest level, Slade Power was snapped up by Sheikh Mohammed to stand at his Kildangan Stud.

The interest in the offspring of new sires will doubtless ensure that members of Slade Power’s first crop, selling this year at Doncaster and beyond, are unlikely to be similarly ignored as he was seven years ago.

The recent trend has been for a huge intake of new stallions to stud and the class of 2015, on paper at least, looks a particularly elite bunch. Along with Slade Power, watch out for first yearlings from Classic winners Australia and Kingman, as well as Group 1 winners Toronado, Charm Spirit and Olympic Glory among a host of new names.

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