How Mother Earth propelled an ex Group 1-winning trainer into exclusive company
James Thomas hears a tale of Classic glory from the head of Grenane House Stud
Very few have scaled the twin peaks of breeding and training, with the list of individuals who have achieved the highest level of success in both disciplines amounting to extremely exclusive company. Think greats such as Aidan O’Brien, Dermot Weld and Jim Bolger.
A new name was added to this particular roll of honour on Sunday when Mother Earth ran out a length winner of the Qipco 1,000 Guineas. The filly supplied a third consecutive win in the Classic, and seventh overall, for O'Brien, but was in fact bred on the opposite side of the Golden Vale of County Tipperary to Ballydoyle at Grenane House Stud.
The family-run operation is headed up by Mark Wallace, whose name first appeared besides a Group 1 winner when he saddled the redoubtable Benbaun to a two-length victory over Kingsgate Native in the Prix de l’Abbaye of 2007.
"You never really think it's going to happen, breeding a Classic winner, but we're overjoyed," says Wallace. "It's a family farm and I know my mum, dad and brother were all absolutely delighted as well. It was a great thrill for all of us.
"We're still in lockdown because of Covid and my dad is 80-plus; he's had his two vaccinations now but we're being very careful so we couldn't watch it together, which is a shame, but we'll make up for it when the lockdown is lifted."
Although Wallace's time with a trainer's licence was relatively brief it was undoubtedly successful and, while this latest achievement is still to fully sink in, he says his previous role has helped him to appreciate his second taste of Group 1 glory all the more.
"Both wins were big thrills but I think because this is the family farm and I'm here with my wife Rowan, who everyone knows as Beanie, and my son Paddy, I think I appreciate it more now than I did back then," he says in reference to that October afternoon in Paris.
"After being a trainer and now turning our focus to getting the farm going, you see how much longer it takes to get a big result as a breeder. As you get older I think that, if you're lucky enough to get a result like this, you probably appreciate it a bit more."
Although the land has been in the family's ownership for many generations, the current chapter of the Grenane House Stud story only really began in earnest after Wallace and his brother Adrian, a key cog in the Coolmore America machine, decided to seize the moment around five years ago.
"When I spoke to my brother we decided that as the farm was there, and with my dad being a doctor and my mum just tipping away with her National Hunt mares, we thought it wasn't the maddest idea to try and develop that a bit," he says.
Among the siblings' first moves was to head to Goffs to set about seeding the Grenane House broodmare band, and they duly walked away with Many Colours after a bid of €50,000 was delivered through Horse France.
The daughter of Green Desert had fielded three runners without success when she was purchased, but, as a stakes winner from a fine family, Wallace saw more than enough potential.
"She was a very good-looking mare and a good walker, she was a stakes winner, which makes a big difference, and is by Green Desert," says Wallace. "All of those things appealed and I thought at the sort of money we paid for her she was good value.
"If you're trading the mares and their offspring like we are then you've got to be careful with how much you're spending and you've got to really like them because you're going to have them for a few years. At least that's the hope. We've all got things we look for in a mare, size and scope and pedigree, but you need a bit of luck as well - and we've been lucky with this mare."
Just nine days after Wallace's purchase, Many Colours' fortunes took the first of several turns for the better as Trillionaire, her fourth foal, broke his maiden over seven furlongs at Tokyo.
The mare was bought carrying to Night Of Thunder, and the resulting foal went on to be named Night Colours. The filly ultimately supplied Grenane House's first major winner when she landed the Group 2 Premio Dormello at San Siro for Simon Crisford and Hussain Lootah in 2019, shortly after Mother Earth was sold.
Although Night Colours had got the ball rolling on the racecourse, her €26,000 price tag when sold to Harry Dutfield did not set too many pulses racing. Mother Earth proved to be more of a sales ring smash hit, as MV Magnier went to €150,000 to secure the daughter of Zoffany when she was offered through Whitehall Stud at the Goffs Orby Sale.
"When you're breeding it's very important who buys your horses," says Wallace. "When MV bought her and we found out she was going to Ballydoyle, that certainly gave me a warm feeling as the Coolmore-Ballydoyle team make things happen. They just get it right, and that's why they are where they are."
Thinking back to the image of the young Mother Earth on the Goffs sales ground, Wallace says: "She had a really good athletic walk and she was a fine big filly too. Everything we've had out of the mare has been a good size with a very good action, so she must be passing that on."
Although bought without having produced a winner, Many Colours' production record now features four successful sons and daughters and a Classic heroine, and there could still be plenty more to come as Wallace reports that the 17-year-old has some exciting young stock on the ground - as well as a blue-chip mating in the offing.
"The mare has a Sioux Nation yearling filly and last month she foaled a colt by Zoffany, so a full-brother to Mother Earth," he says. "He seems healthy and well, obviously we're checking on him more than we probably need to after Sunday!
"Everything went well with the foaling so the mare's in good shape too. We're just sorting out who she's going to go to this year. We haven't quite made up our minds yet, but I think it's either going to be No Nay Never or Wootton Bassett. I think she warrants that kind of stallion now."
The same commercial imperatives that applied when Wallace and his brother bought the mare are likely to hold true for her progeny too, meaning that Mother Earth's half-sister and full-brother are likely to be offered at public auction in due course.
"In our position you've got to keep trading," says Wallace. "We haven't made up our minds fully but I would have thought they'll head to the sales. You can't keep everything and you're not going to get a better pedigree update than we have, and anything can happen so when you're in our position you've got to trade."
It seems fitting that Ballydoyle should supply Grenane House's first Group 1 success, as Wallace spent two seasons working for O'Brien before entering the training ranks himself. On his time with O'Brien, Wallace says: "I was there for two years, and in the second year he had his first Group 1 winner with Desert King.
"It's not a surprise that Aidan gets the results he does, even back then when he was still a young man he was completely at the top of his game. You can see why John Magnier identified him as the guy he wanted to train for the Coolmore operation."
Expanding on his grounding in the thoroughbred business, Wallace continues: "When I left school I worked for Timmy Hyde at Camas Park Stud, I did a couple of years with John Oxx and then went to Ballydoyle. I was assistant to Mick Channon for seven years before I set up myself, I still get on great with Mick, he's a great man.
"The three trainers I've worked for were all at the top of their game, so something must have rubbed off on me, even if I didn't know it at the time."
Although Wallace maintains that luck had a big hand in the breeding and raising of Mother Earth, there are too many links in the chain of the life of a young thoroughbred for good fortune alone to be the determining factor.
The standard of husbandry is crucial, and Wallace notes that the small but hard-working team at Grenane House all have roles to play, saying: "There's myself and my missus, she's a massive part of it, and we have a man called Max McDonnell who's been here for a few years and we do it between us.
"Don Hannigan is our repro vet, he's known as one of the very best in Ireland, and he's been a major help. He was one of the first phone calls I made after the filly won, to say thanks, because you can't do it without a proper vet. You need to surround yourself with decent people, then you've got some sort of chance."
The challenge now will be replicating the success of Mother Earth, but having already hit upon the magic formula that exists between hard work, skill and a bit of good luck, Wallace intends to stick with what he knows.
"We're just going to keep our heads down and keep chipping away like we do normally," he says. "After training I realise how difficult it is to get a result like this. I'm just so thankful that it's happened."
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