'I'd nearly given up; I'm a bit fortunate to still have her, to tell the truth'
Tom Peacock speaks to Bob Scarborough, breeder of two Ballydoyle highflyers
When you try to breed at "the pointy end of the market" like Bob Scarborough, there are only so many chances a broodmare can have to produce something of note before she starts to resemble a particularly expensive pet.
It had been heading that way with Cabaret, the Galileo mare the Australian had selected at some cost from Coolmore. Then Magna Grecia came along.
"I’d nearly given up," Scarborough admits. "The first foal by Danehill Dancer [Prance] was a cracking good sort and was bought by the Niarchos family but I believe she split a pastern as a two-year-old. I think she was possibly a filly who may well have had racing ability but when she came back she was mediocre. Then she had three more foals who did very little.
"I entered her in the broodmare sale the year before last, then Magna Grecia came out and won the old Racing Post Trophy [Vertem Futurity] and of course as soon as he did that I changed my mind.
"A couple of months before, I’d thought, 'There’s some chance I’ll get a little bit of money for this mare, she’s not actually a dud, I’d better stick her in the sale while I can get something back'."
How Cabaret has compensated Scarborough for her reprieve. Magna Grecia went on to give him one of the thrills of his lifetime in breeding by taking the 2,000 Guineas before his half-brother St Mark’s Basilica – sold for a considerably upgraded 1,300,000gns – took championship honours in October’s Dewhurst.
"I’m a bit fortunate to still have her, to tell the truth," he says. "If Magna Grecia had strained something or other and didn’t run at Doncaster, the mare would be gone. Then he’d have come out and won the Guineas. But these things happen."
It had been difficult for Victoria-based Scarborough to quite gauge St Mark’s Basilica’s position in Aidan O’Brien’s juvenile pecking order, aside from the odd snippet from his Irish sources that the Siyouni colt had been coming along nicely enough.
The colt had looked a work in progress on the track, winning a maiden and showing promise in two Group 1s before his piece de resistance under Frankie Dettori at Newmarket.
"He was a lovely foal and a lovely yearling and to see him develop as he did through the season, I thought was terrific," says Scarborough. "Clearly the Dewhurst was the icing on the cake.
"When he started off, I think he was basically waiting for them to jump [from the stalls], and when they jumped, he did. He put himself at a terrible disadvantage in those earlier races but as things progressed he became more confident. Although he was a fair way back in the Dewhurst, he was a bit more aggressive and finished the race off wonderfully well.
"He looks terribly promising, I’m so thrilled he’s clearly among the horses that would be expected to perform well in the 2,000 Guineas this year."
In comparing the two horses, he says: "Magna Grecia was a slightly more mature horse than St Mark’s Basilica as a foal and as a yearling, but in terms of their ability and their desire to win etc, I think that they’re very similar horses.
"Magna Grecia was possibly more masculine as a young horse, but as St Mark’s Basilica matures it may be he’s a similar type."
While many look towards Australasia for more reliable racing returns, Scarborough strides in the opposite direction.
He sold Wood Nook Farm in Nagambie, producer of Group 1 scorers such as Victoria Derby winner Hit The Roof and Blue Diamond victor Sleek Chassis, a few years ago and directed his focus towards a small broodmare band at Harry McCalmont’s Norelands Stud in Kilkenny.
Scarborough’s international interest was sparked when he found himself underbidder to Sheikh Mohammed for a yearling on his first visit to America in the early 1980s, but it was a few more years before he put it into practice.
"I don’t think I really returned to the northern hemisphere until the 90s, when I bought a mare in partnership with John Magnier. She was in foal at the time and the resulting progeny was [Prix Maurice de Gheest winner] King Charlemagne," he recalls.
"At the time I was heavily involved with 20, 25 mares and getting going here, particularly in the breeding industry, but I’ve always had that interest in the northern hemisphere, particularly the European pedigrees and their influence on the breeding industry in Australia.
"I’m now terribly involved with six mares that I own outright and one I own 50-50 with Coolmore. I’d dearly like to have a few more, about ten or 12, but it’s getting more and more difficult to get the black-type racemares off the track, or the proven mares.
"I love it, I believe they’ve been so much the source of the modern thoroughbred, it has effectively evolved from Europe."
The moustached and jovial Scarborough is an easily recognisable figure in Australian racing. A successful businessman and former chairman of a booming Moonee Valley, he even used to compete on Darien Powers, the event horse who won Olympic golds for Andrew Hoy at Atlanta and Sydney.
Growing up with parents who were "Presbytarian and had no interest in racing or horses or betting or whatever else", he still somehow found himself obsessed by thoroughbred pedigrees aged 12 and the passion has not waned over 60 years.
"I would spend 20 hours a week in the off-season contemplating where these six mares of mine would go," he says. "By the time the end of the year comes, there are all those first-season sires who have had a wonderful year, you wonder if you should go somewhere else.
"I’m forever changing my mind and by the time you get to a few weeks ago, you pick the stallion, then some of the owners turn around and say they’re fully booked and you can’t come. It’s a year-long adventure for me."
As he clicked with Magna Grecia, Scarborough has returned to the Invincible Spirit line by using his son Kingman for Cabaret, and she is expecting a foal by the Juddmonte stallion and is to visit him again in 2021.
He is also still the somewhat reluctant owner of St Mark’s Basilica’s Siyouni yearling brother, who failed to find a buyer at Tattersalls and is in the early stages of education for a career with Jessica Harrington.
He says: "It wasn’t the plan. I was planning on getting more than a million guineas for this yearling and to my chagrin I’m now a proud owner of yet another racehorse!
"I’m in fear and trepidation because you have these expectations of some financial reward for your breeding activities and all of a sudden you’re in the hands of the gods in needing some racetrack performance. But anyway, we’ll see what happens. It’s all part of the dream for us breeders."
More Classic dreaming
Bob Scarborough has kept the odd offspring to race for himself and his Le Havre filly Bonte Moi made one appearance in his silks this year for Jessica Harrington.
Far more has been achieved with her stablemate Oodnadatta, who was third in the Moyglare and ninth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.
"She’s out of Bewitched, who is the mare that John Magnier and I share 50-50," he says.
"We’re hoping she might be a Guineas filly, [though] maybe she might be one for a little bit later in the year. She’s by Australia, so you wouldn’t really expect her to have been as precocious as she was in her two-year-old year.
"She went to the Breeders' Cup and had no luck; she missed the start, hit the running rail and got tailed off before flying home in the straight. So that was a bit of an experience for her, but she’s got over that and I’m hoping that the Classic races might be on her agenda."
Bewitched is another of the mares who has required some patience.
Scarborough adds: "She was a very good race filly, a Dansili who won multiple Group 3s and Listed races.
"Initially she was a little bit disappointing, but not so with the last couple of foals; there’s a Group 3 winner [Pablo Escobarr] and the three-year-old [Roberto Escobarr] won last year. They were stayers and this one’s a bit more precocious. She’s got a tick from me finally."