Marie's Diamond turns dreams into a reality for small breeder Tony Ashley
Mark Scully speaks to the man behind last week's Anglesey Stakes hero
When Tony Ashley turned his hand to breeding horses a decade ago, he hoped one day to produce an animal good enough to win in Group company. Despite that aim, however, he admits he could not quite believe it when Marie's Diamond came home in front in last week's Anglesey Stakes at the Curragh.
Racing in the colours of Middleham Park, the colt built on his Railway Stakes second to land the Group 3 contest for trainer Mark Johnston, leaving his breeder thrilled.
"It's a dream come true for me," says the Staffordshire-based Ashley. "My ambition was to breed some nice horses and get a Group winner if I could but at the time, while that was achievable, it didn't seem really likely.
"I've bred horses with some success but nothing to compare with Marie's Diamond. It is just unbelievable."
A racing fan for many years, Ashley turned his hand to breeding when he retired from a career in gaming ten years ago and has not looked back since.
"I always had a big interest in horseracing and at the time [of retiring] interest rates were pretty low, so I started investing in bloodstock to see what I could do," he recalls.
"You've got to have confidence in your own ability. If it's something you think you can do, it's worth going for, which is what I thought, and it's working out for me. I'm thoroughly enjoying it, I must say and this colt winning the way he has done, I'm getting congratulations from all over the place, which is rather nice."
Key to Ashley's relatively quick success has been the shrewd acquisition of the Kalanisi mare Sindiyma, who Ashley bought for €20,000 at Goffs November in 2013, where she was offered in foal to Casamento.
Ashley admits he was pleasantly surprised to get the mare for the price he did and having done so, he sent her to Airlie Stud, where she remains today.
The Casamento foal arrived and was subsequently sold to Hughie Morrison for 30,000 Guineas at Book 2 of the Tattersalls October Yearling Sale. Subsequently named Special Relation, he joined Sikandarabad and Shinghari as winners for the mare.
What a diamond!
Sindiyma's progeny (name, sire, best Racing Post Rating)
Marie's Diamond Footstepsinthesand 104
Sikandarabad Dr Fong 103
Special Relation Casamento 84
Shinghari Cape Cross 83
But the best was yet to come. For the first time, it was up to Ashley which mare the stallion would visit and he had just the horse in mind.
"She was looking quite a good investment by this point and I decided on Footstepsinthesand because I thought he would suit her," Ashley says.
"I really like him as a sire and I think he's underrated. There are only two horses in the stallion book who were unbeaten - one is Frankel and the other is Footstepsinthesand. He won on heavy ground in Ireland and on firmer ground at Newmarket, so he handled any ground, plus the fact he is by Giant's Causeway, who I really liked when he was running meant it all just made sense for me."
The resultant colt, who would become Marie's Diamond, went to the Tattersalls Ireland September Yearling Sale, where he made €35,000 when bought by Middleham Park and Federico Barberini.
Ashley admits: "We weren't over the moon with the price. We were quite pleased but the Airlie Stud team really liked the colt and were expecting a little bit more than that. It covered everything though, so as it turned out it was ok. I still had the mare at the end of the day."
That last part is so important for Ashley. Having had as many as three mares, she is his sole broodmare and, aged only 11, there remains plenty to come.
She has a yearling sister to Marie's Diamond, who will be offered at Book 2, and is now in foal to the Irish National Stud's Free Eagle.
"Sindiyma is a terrific mare," Ashley says. "She has had four runners for four winners, two of them rated in the 80s and the other two over 100.
"She's in foal to Free Eagle now, who is potentially a top stallion. I'm expecting big things from him but only time will tell.
"The full sister to Marie's Diamond will head to the sales and there'll be a reserve on her - I certainly won't be selling this one for 35,000! She'll be a terrific breeding prospect because I think Footsteps will be a terrific broodmare sire, as Shamardal is proving to be."
Ashley's passion for the game is infectious and, now in his 70s, he plans to make up for lost time by immersing himself further still in the hope he can improve on Marie's Diamond by producing something even better.
He hopes to add to his broodmare band this autumn but is in no mood to change the principles that have brought him to this point and will only put his hand up for the one that fits his criteria.
"If the right broodmare comes along then I shall be going in but you've got to have the right one," he says. "Without the right mare, you'll never breed a top horse - the mare is far more important than the stallion in my opinion.
"It wasn't easily achieved, winning a Group race but now I'm looking forward to hopefully winning a Group 1 sometime, that's the aim!"
He adds: "This is something I am thoroughly enjoying and looking forward to doing for the rest of my time."
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