All systems go for Whitsbury Manor as curtain comes up on December Sale
James Thomas speaks to the stud's director Ed Harper
With some 2,269 lots catalogued across the Tattersalls December Foal and Mare Sales, buyers and sellers have plenty to occupy their attention over the upcoming eight sessions.
While Whitsbury Manor Stud may only be offering 25 of those lots, with some notable names among its draft the operation has more to look forward to than most.
The Whitsbury Manor team have been counting down the days until the December Foal Sale, as stud resident Adaay, the dual Group 2-winning son of Kodiac, will be represented by 31 members of his debut crop.
"I've been excited for the Adaay foals from a long way out," says stud director Ed Harper. "They're very much of a type and you can see the Kodiac in them. They're all a nice bay, even the one that's down as a chestnut! They all have a good length from hip to tail so they really stretch behind.
"And they all seem to have good strong shoulders and are a good size, too. I think breeders have copped onto the fact that he's a compact 15.3 [hands] and they've sent the right type of mare to him, so it's a credit to the people that used him that he's got such nice foals."
While many view the foal sales as the first big assignment for a new sire, there has already been plenty of hard yards behind the scenes when a stallion's debut crop hits the market.
And having travelled the length and breadth of Britain checking up on Adaay's first sons and daughters, Harper heads to Park Paddocks with a distinct sense of confidence.
Among Whitsbury's 19-strong draft of youngsters are seven lots by Adaay, led by the half-brother to Heartache and Heartwarming (Lot 885), who will come under the hammer during Friday's headline session.
"We've never had a Friday foal by one of our first-crop stallions before," says Harper. "We've sent nice mares to our first-season sires before, but never our very best.
"We were always going to throw the kitchen sink at Adaay though as he really hit the button commercially. We've always had confidence in him and we've been rewarded for sending him our best with a very nice colt.
"He's a later foal than Heartache and Heartwarming, but he's a cracker nevertheless. He's dead straight with masses of bone for his age. He shows himself off beautifully and really catches the eye."
The only thing tempering Harper's enthusiasm is that he has been in this position and been wrong before.
"On the Monday morning of the foal sales when Showcasing had his first crop, dad [Chris Harper, Whitsbury Manor owner] and I were left a bit disappointed when we saw they were all shapes and size," he says, before adding with some understatement. "We got that one wrong, thank god!"
Farewell to Heartache
Heartache's half-brother is not the only eyecatching offering Whitsbury will make over the coming days, as the Queen Mary and Flying Childers Stakes winner herself has a date with the auctioneer on the Tuesday of the Mares Sale (1,897). Given her considerable residual value, the decision to send the daughter of Kyllachy to Park Paddocks was not taken lightly by the Harpers.
"Dad and I have been agonising over this decision pretty much since she crossed the line in the Queen Mary," Harper says when asked about offering the homebred star. "Can we afford to keep her? Do we have to sell her? It's one of those lovely problems to have but it's a bloody difficult decision to have to make."
After a lengthy debate, the economics of the situation dictated that the three-year-old would take her chance at Tattersalls.
"She's so desirable pedigree-wise because she's got no Danzig and no Sadler's Wells, which is very rare for an absolutely top-notch filly," says Harper. "You can go anywhere and do anything with her, and I'm certain she'll find a very good home."
Despite having carried the Hot To Trot Racing silks to success in a pair of Group 2s – including a Queen Mary Stakes that will live long in the memory thanks to the jubilant celebrations of her enthusiastic owners – Harper's personal highlight of his involvement with Heartache came at a rather more humble setting.
"My most enjoyable day with her was when she made a winning debut at Bath," he says. "Me and Sam Hoskins [Hot To Trot Racing manager] travelled down there together having been given some positive reports by Clive [Cox] and she duly broke the track record. It was one of those performances that had everybody's jaw on the floor. My phone started ringing about 20 minutes after she crossed the line because all the clock watchers had spotted her."
With Harper having turned down numerous offers for the filly during her racing days, expect Heartache to draw plenty of active admirers on Tuesday.
It is not only at Tattersalls where the Whitsbury man is being kept busy. The stud recently announced the fee for its flagship sire, Showcasing, will rise to £55,000 for 2019, and breeders have been quick to avail themselves of nominations.
"I haven't tried to sell a single Showcasing nomination this year but my phone and my emails haven't stopped," says Harper when asked about the reaction to the son of Oasis Dream's career-high fee.
"The decision to put him up a fair chunk was an obvious one, but settling on a figure is more about gut feeling. He had such a good end to the season with three stakes-winning two-year-olds, including two Group winners, it took a bit of regauging at the end of the year. His yearlings have sold so well too, especially bearing in mind they were bred off a £25,000 fee."
Having been represented by the likes of Advertise, Soldier's Call and Mohaather during 2018, it is no surprise there is plenty of interest and Harper is now keeping his fingers crossed that breeders won't deviate too far from the recipe that has carried Showcasing to his current status.
"Personally, I think Showcasing is at his best when you send speed to him," he says. "So my main hope is that people continue to send him the kind of fast mares that got him to where he is now."
Showcasing will be joined in 2019 by Adaay, Due Diligence and Group 1 Flying Five Stakes winner Havana Grey, a newcomer to the Whitsbury roster who has been introduced at a fee of £8,000.
"He's the most expensive stallion prospect we've ever bought, but we were happy to pay the price because he's exactly what we look for; a hard-knocking speed horse who won a lot of races," Harper says of the new recruit. "It's rare to get a highly precocious two-year-old that goes on to beat older horses in a Group 2 and a Group 1 at the end of the his three-year-old career.
"Pedigree-wise he opens up a lot of options for commercial mares as he won't be diluting any sort of speed and also gives access to the Galileo line, and that's a very rare opportunity.
"He made my mating plans with the Whitsbury mares extremely easy, which is a good test for how clients will find using him. We'll be sending him 30 mares, and we've done that without blinking. Every time you put the name next to a mare you've got to fully believe it and we're sending our best to him."
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