A sunny outlook for Bermuda Thoroughbred Racing breeding venture
Martin Stevens speaks to Simon Scupham about his interest in Johnny Barnes
Five years ago Bermuda-based businessman Simon Scupham, a long-time member of Highclere Thoroughbred Racing syndicates, decided to set up his own operation named after the sun-drenched islands lapped by the Sargasso Sea on which he lives.
The Highclere team of John and Jake Warren went to market to source horses on behalf of Scupham and his fellow islanders who invested in Bermuda Thoroughbred Racing (BTR), and one of the first horses bought, for €310,000 from the dispersal of the late Gerry Oldham's stock at the Goffs Orby Yearling Sale in 2013, was a striking Acclamation colt.
Christened in honour of the gregarious Bermudian national hero Johnny Barnes and sent to be trained by John Gosden, the horse got the new syndicate off to a fine start by winning four races including the Group 3 Prix Quincey at Deauville at three and a valuable handicap at Goodwood last August at five. He also finished second to Vert De Grece in the Group 1 Criterium International at Saint-Cloud at two.
Johnny Barnes has been installed at Haras des Granges near Toulouse in France, with Scupham retaining an interest in his stallion career. Now his focus is on getting the well-bred horse off to the best possible start at stud.
“I've always loved racing and have been consistently involved with Highclere and The Royal Ascot Racing Club syndicates, and I’ve enjoyed great success with more than 200 winners since 1998,” says Scupham. “I suppose the highlights would be the association with great horses such as Harbinger, Petrushka, Telescope and Motivator.
“Those incredible experiences certainly cemented my passion for the sport and fuelled the desire to develop my own syndicates in the hope of sharing my experiences with friends of mine based out in Bermuda and elsewhere.
“Although many years in the making in my mind, Bermuda Thoroughbred Racing actually officially started in 2013 with the purchase of our first two yearlings – Johnny Barnes and Horseshoe Bay, who went to Sir Michael Stoute. The concept was quite simple: to buy horses and go racing with my Bermuda mates and aim to emulate the success I’d had with my previous horses.
“The names and colours are readily identifiable with Bermuda, which is an important and enjoyable connection for us. It was a natural progression from my successful Highclere involvement and worked seamlessly because we decided to have Highclere manage BTR and John and Jake buy our horses.”
Given Johnny Barnes put up two of his best efforts at Saint-Cloud and Deauville, and that he is related to a number of Gallic glamour horses, the decision to stand him in France was a simple one.
“He was a Group 1 second and Group 3 winner there, so we felt he would be able to generate significant interest from breeders in that marketplace,” Scupham explains. “He also has a terrific pedigree with many relevant relations being successful in the region, such as Ectot and Chartreuse.”
He isn't wrong. For the record, Johnny Barnes is out of Prix Imprudence winner Mahalia, and is a half-brother to seven other winners including Prix de Flore scorer Albisola and the dams of La Teste de Buch Listed winner Chartreuse – later an 825,000gns broodmare purchase by Ballylinch Stud – and Criterium International hero Ectot (and his St James's Palace Stakes-winning half-brother Most Improved).
Scupham continues: “It’s also worth noting Johnny Barnes is a son of Acclamation out of a Danehill mare, which I believe is a combination that’s quite scarce in France, and that gives him unique appeal for the domestic breeders wanting to use the Acclamation line, which of course is so popular. The horse is now owned in the majority by Haras des Granges but we've kept a sizeable interest which will stimulate me to get behind him!”
To that end, Jake Warren scoured the sales this winter for mares with which Scupham can support Johnny Barnes. They certainly offer a strong vote of confidence in the stallion, who is available to breeders at a fee of just €2,500 – most notably Lorgnette, a €1 million yearling by Galileo out of a half-sister to Perfect Soul bought for €200,000 at Arqana last month.
“We've bought three lovely mares so far and will definitely be adding to the roster in the future,” says Scupham. “Jake worked hard to cover all bases and has come up with some really lovely pedigrees on which to build.
“The first mare we bought was Noble Manners by Myboycharlie. She was a very precocious two-year-old winner whose dam [New Story] was second in the Prix Marcel Boussac and half-sister [New Girlfriend] won the Prix Robert Papin. So that mating should produce a speedy type.
“The second is called Kenzahope, and she has perhaps a more traditional French pedigree, her trump card being that she is a full-sister to Kenhope, who won the Prix de la Grotte and was second in the Coronation Stakes and third in the Prix Rothschild. She’ll provide a lovely outcross.
“Then, lastly, we were particularly excited to secure Lorgnette, who will produce a Le Havre foal in the coming weeks. It was a real coup by Jake to get her given the way she’s bred, what’s coming along in her family and her cover by Le Havre. That she was purchased for a million as a yearling shows why we had to spend a bit to secure her.
“Having a Galileo with her looks and page is really exciting and the fact she’s in foal adds a bonus to the purchase, as we can speed up the production line.”
Some big pots on the racecourse might have awaited Johnny Barnes this year – he was last seen finishing a valiant fifth in the lucrative Challenge Cup Handicap at Ascot in October – but injury followed in the next month and so his retirement to France was revealed later than ideal, in December. Nonetheless, Scupham reports the horse to be going well.
“Given we announced after Christmas he’s amassed a really healthy book of mares,” he says. “I wouldn’t be surprised, based on what I’m hearing, if we reached 100 or so. He’s already got his first mare in foal which means there’s no issues there, thankfully.”
In Johnny Barnes's absence, it is left to the four-year-old Great Sound, a dual-winner by Galileo with Richard Hughes, to carry the navy blue and pink silks of Bermuda Thoroughbred Racing.
“We didn't buy any yearlings last year as at the time of Book 1 we felt we should focus more on the breeding side, and to keep our powder dry for more proven horses and/or private sales,” Scupham says.
Whatever Johnny Barnes achieves at stud in France, and Great Sound manages on the track, it is sure to be followed closely in Bermuda, where BTR has caused quite a stir with the local press keeping readers abreast of the horses who have represented the islands and, in Johnny Barnes's case, his popular human namesake so honourably.
“It seems that everyone here knows about BTR and is interested in its exploits,” says Scupham. “The Johnny Barnes story has been of particular interest. I'm regularly interviewed by the local press, with another interview on the latest breeding twist due this week.
“As an example, I just got stopped in the street prior to speaking now by someone I didn't know asking me for an update!”
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