Bittersweet success for the impressive but ill-starred dam of Portrush Ted
Peter Griffin's mare got off to the perfect start but has had hard luck since
Portrush Ted's decisive victory in the Grade 2 Weatherbys Racing Bank Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race at Aintree on Friday was bittersweet for his breeders, vet Peter Griffin and his wife Mary of Rathvilly, County Carlow.
On the one hand, they have managed to breed the highly exciting jumps prospect and his classy brothers Bun Doran and Shantou Village as the first three foals from their sole mare, who they acquired by happy accident.
In a cruel twist of fate, the mare lost her most recent foal on Thursday, the eve of Portrush Ted's Aintree heroics.
Peter Griffin takes up the tale of how the invaluable but ill-fated Village Queen, a 13-year-old daughter of King's Theatre, came into his possession.
He says: “I had a mare called La Grande Dame and I sold a filly foal by King's Theatre out of her for a good price – €22,000 – but two years later the man who'd bought her, who had a large string of Flat and jumps horses, told his stud manager to move on all the jumpers.
“The stud manager rang me and asked did I want the unraced filly back? I asked what I'd have to give. He said €3,000, so I said bring her home.
“It was about Christmas time when the filly was brought back to us and I thought, my goodness she's grown into a big, fine two-year-old.
“In January the stud manager rang again and said they were moving on more horses but some microchips didn't tally. Could we have sent you the wrong one at Christmas, he asked. More than likely I thought. I went down to the field to read the microchip on the filly who'd been sent at Christmas and indeed it was the wrong one.
“The filly I bred was later brought here – she was as small as I'd remembered – and as they were about to take back the other one I asked what I'd have to pay to keep her, this other cracking daughter of King's Theatre. The answer was €800. I said done. I put the two mares in foal to Shantou and they had a colt each.
“My own filly bred a small little Shantou colt, so I gave her up as she was always going to breed a small one like herself, but the mistake mare turned out to be Village Queen who bred three classy colts by the same sire in a row – Shantou Village, Bun Doran and Portrush Ted.”
Shantou Village, an eight-year-old trained by Neil Mulholland, has won seven races under rules including the Grade 2 Hyde Novices' Hurdle in 2015. He holds an entry in the Grade 2 Silver Trophy at Cheltenham on Wednesday.
The year-younger Bun Doran, with Tom George, has won three races under rules. He finished third in last year's Grade 3 Red Rum Handicap Chase at Aintree and was a creditable fifth in the same race on Thursday.
The Warren Greatrex-trained Portrush Ted has had soundness issues but has “a big engine” according to his handler and has now won two races including Friday's Grade 2 by a comprehensive three and a quarter lengths.
He was sold to Greatrex and Highflyer Bloodstock at the Goffs Land Rover Sale by Rathturtin Stud, also the vendors of this year's Grade 2 winners Enniscoffey Oscar and First Flow as well as Queen Mother Champion Chase third God's Own.
Alas, we will not see another of Village Queen's progeny race for a while.
“It's the yin and yang of horse ownership,” Griffin says. “She lost her last two foals and on Thursday night I went down to see her and she'd lost her third foal in a row, a Champs Elysees colt. She'd foaled about two months prematurely.
“The guy who looks after the broodmare seemed to think everything was all right with her and there is no pathology we can put our finger on to explain why she's losing the foals.”
Village Queen is accompanied at stud by her three-year-old son, another by Shantou and her only other foal besides his three talented brothers. Griffin is understandably hesitant about putting the mare back in foal.
“We're a bit down after losing the foal and it's hard to summon up the courage,” he says. “But we've had so many people congratulate us and with a new dawn and spring in the air we'll probably look again if we get a good report from the laboratory and vets.”
There is another poignant note to the future of Village Queen's three-year-old colt.
“We're just deciding whether to send him to the sales,” says Griffin. “The alternative is to go pointing with him. We've been talking to Henry de Bromhead and he'd be keen to train him, and my son and granddaughter in London would love for us to race him as well.
“I've already got a name for him. A good friend and colleague of mine for many years was Ned Gowing, the famous vet from the Curragh, and he looked at the horse as a foal, as he had a little problem with a front leg.
“I asked Ned as we came out of the x-ray room if he'd be any good and he squeezed my arm and said, 'he'll race'. Ned passed away less than a year later so I said if the horse ever runs for me I'll name him He'll Race in his honour.
“It's a dream, but racing is a business built on dreams.”
Village Queen has certainly been a dream for the Griffins, a surreal one considering her unintended arrival on their farm and subsequent achievements as a mother, made no less pleasant by her reproductive problems.
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