Bullet Train a hot ticket with Frankel connection
Aisling Crowe talks to Gary Norris of Woodfield Farm Stud
Timing is everything, in life, in politics, in comedy. The art of choosing the right moment to make an important announcement, call a referendum or deliver a punchline can be the difference between falling flat on your face and gaining the desired reaction.
In the bloodstock world it is no different, with momentum gathering behind the stallions who are on a winning run and propelling them towards further success.
During his racing career, Bullet Train displayed impeccable timing as he played a pivotal role in the story of one of the greatest racehorses
of all time. The gorgeous bay was the perfect lead horse,
pacemaker and racing companion to his younger three-parts brother Frankel, who lit up the racing world with his extraordinary brilliance.
Retired to stud in the same year as Frankel, the son of Sadler's Wells is one of the star attractions on this year's ITM Stallion Trail at his new home of Woodfield Farm Stud near Dungarvan in County Waterford.
Gary Norris runs the stud farm with his father Liam in the foothills of the Comeragh Mountains, where they sweep down to the copper coast and the Irish Sea beyond, a location shrouded in mist and cloud this evening just a week after Bullet Train’s arrival after a long journey from the US.
"This is our first year to be involved with the ITM Stallion Trail and we're doing it because of Bullet Train," says Gary Norris.
"It's very exciting to have a horse of his calibre and pedigree and he's getting winners at the right time."
Bullet Train's arrival at Woodfield Farm has coincided with the 11-year-old's best results so far. The final month of 2017 provided six new individual winners and the new year began with another Bullet Train winner in Australia, where he shuttled for each of the past three southern-hemisphere seasons from Crestwood Farm in Kentucky, his northern hemisphere base for four seasons.
Tired though he undoubtedly is, Bullet Train is a delight, his sweet nature and kind demeanour captivating from the start. His beautiful
head is immortalised forever in a photograph of him beside Frankel, with the arms of their jockeys Ian Mongan and Tom Queally aloft and intertwined, as the two brothers take a lap of honour following Frankel's final victory in the 2012 Champion Stakes at Ascot.
Bullet Train himself was a Derby contender after his success in the Group 3 Lingfield Derby Trial, before his potential was sacrificed at the altar of his brother's brilliance.
"Bullet Train is the youngest son of Sadler's Wells at stud in Ireland and he's a Group 3 winner in his own right. His interests were pushed aside in favour of Frankel and he was so important to his younger brother but he was a good horse," says Norris, who acquired Bullet Train for Woodfield Farm, where he began standing stallions a little more than a decade ago.
"Our first stallion was Balakheri, an Aga Khan horse who won the King Edward VII at Royal Ascot for Sir Michael Stoute and Johnny Murtagh," explains Norris.
"It wasn't the best time to start standing stallions, as the recession hit and breeders sent their good mares to the established sires and not young horses."
All the same, from small numbers, Balakheri is responsible for, among others, Kilcarry Bridge. John Ryan's classy, tough and consistent jumper gave Road To Respect, winner of the Grade 1
Christmas Chase at Leopardstown, something to think about in a Grade 3 chase at Punchestown earlier this season.
Norris has experience of the racing side of the business, as he rode out for a number of trainers. Added to that is his equine science qualification and the experience gained from breeding and pinhooking with his family and on his own, as well as now running
Bullet Train joins another former Sir Henry Cecil-trained winner on the 100 acres of Waterford countryside as he will stand alongside his
paternal half-brother Curtain Time, an imposing horse with a towering presence and handsome looks.
In 2009, Norris went across the Atlantic to source Curtain Time, a debut winner at three before his owner, the late Charles H Wacker, transferred him to the US, where the legendary Bobby Frankel took over his training before a serious leg injury ended his racing career.
Norris explains what prompted the search for Curtain Time. "Sean Kinsella at Knockhouse Stud had Taipan, who was very hot, so we went for his half-brother by Sadler's Wells.
"It's a brilliant family; his half-sister Sleepytime won the 1,000 Guineas and his half-brothers include Group 1 winners Ali-Royal and Taipan, while their dam is a Listed-winning half-sister to Croco Rouge, twice a Group 1 winner."
Curtain Time had his best sales result so far when his four-year-old son Mr Lingo, a half-brother to the impressive Galway Plate winner Bob Lingo, was bought by Gordon Elliott for £250,000 at last year's Tattersalls Ireland Cheltenham April Sale. That high-profile sale came just days after he made an impressive winning debut in the four-year-old maiden at Dromahane for handler Joseph Ryan.
So far Curtain Time's best performer has been Texas Jack, whose victories for trainer Noel Meade include the Grade 2 Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles as well as multiple places in Grade 1 chases. Meade also has another son of the sire in Mr Showtime, winner of two hurdle races in 2017 as a five-year-old and out of Southcoast Gale, a half-sister to Denman and Silverburn.
Two legendary women in National Hunt racing – Henrietta Knight and the recently deceased Mercy Rimell – are among the many friends the Norris family have made in racing. The 25 broodmares owned by the family include mares from Rimell's wonderful Gaye Brief family and those without Sadler's Wells blood will be forming an orderly queue for Bullet Train once he begins covering duties at Woodfield
Farm next month.
The announcement that Frankel's older relative would be coming to Waterford in time for Christmas caused an enormous stir of interest from breeders and Norris is keen to capitalise on their time in the spotlight. Bullet Train's fee will be announced to the farm's visitors during the ITM Stallion Trail and, until then, he is remaining tight-lipped.
Standing such a close relation to arguably the most famous racehorse in the world is an exciting prospect for Norris and his parents.
And it comes quick on the heels of Norris's success in another field as the owner of the All-Ireland Scottish Blackface champion sheep of 2017. He is also a breeder of collies with numerous sheepdog trial champions emerging from his kennels.
Bullet Train is also a three-parts brother to Noble Mission, a three-time Group 1 winner who stands at Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky and has his first runners in 2018. So too does their Oasis Dream half-brother Morpheus, a member of the prolific stallion roster at Tally-Ho Stud in County Westmeath.
Timing is everything in this world and Gary Norris and Woodfield Farm Stud are on the fast track with Bullet Train, who has always shown perfect timing.