Record quantity but no compromise on quality at Kildangan Stud
Martin Stevens speaks to manager Gerry Duffy about a big year ahead
Godolphin might have cut back their broodmare band and made other rationalisations in an effort to streamline their operation, but one corner of Sheikh Mohammed's breeding empire has recently undergone a small expansion. Kildangan Stud, the sprawling headquarters in Ireland, will boast its largest ever roster next year and has a new complex of stables to accommodate the increased numbers.
The fact that Kildangan Stud will have a record 16 stallions on its books in 2018, despite having only two new recruits – Group 1 winners Profitable and Ribchester – and no new influx of less expensive Darley Club horses, testifies to the strength in depth in the ranks: none has been deemed necessary of moving on for fear of lack of demand, with only Night Of Thunder making what might be a temporary move to sister stud Dalham Hall in Newmarket for a change of scenery.
A glance at Darley's recently released covering fees confirm the impression. There's the growingly influential Shamardal, who will stand on a private basis again, and other reliable suppliers of Group 1 performers, Exceed And Excel and Teofilo. Then there are the young guns yet to have runners but who have fine credentials on paper that have won them strong support from breeders; the likes of Belardo and Slade Power.
Even the Breeders' Cup Classic hero Raven's Pass, who clearly has not achieved as much at stud as might have been expected of a horse of his immense ability, now has a fee – €10,000 – that is a fair reflection of his position as a solid source of stakes performers if not Group 1 winners.
"We built the new stables just to increase our capacity," explains Gerry Duffy, who will celebrate his five-year anniversary of being appointed general manager at Kildangan Stud next year. "There's no magic number as to how many stallions you want to have, but Godolphin produce a lot of top racehorses with stallion potential and we just recently ran out of space for the numbers we were taking.
"The new yard gives us another option on the stud, too. It will be nice for the new boys to go in there, or maybe the stallions who have returned from Australia. There's a lovely atmosphere in there. It's nice and quiet, and there's a great showing area, so it's a great addition to the farm."
It should be no surprise that there has already been strong demand for Profitable, a King's Stand Stakes winner by Invincible Spirit out of an Indian Ridge mare, and Ribchester, a four-time winner over a mile at the highest level whose sire Iffraaj – a record-breaking freshman sire – is now based at Dalham Hall but stood his first eight seasons at Kildangan.
"Speaking for myself and all the nominations team, the phone's been hopping," says Duffy. "As has been announced, we're selling a limited number of breeding rights in the two of them.
"The Profitable breeding rights are already sold out. A lot of people are interested in breeding a mare to him so I expect both horses to be very popular and cover full books of good quality mares."
Duffy had not seen Ribchester in the flesh yet, but says of Profitable: "He's a typical Invincible Spirit, is a hair under 16 hands and is a real strong-bodied, well developed horse with a very attractive head.
"A lot of people have come and looked at him already and they say he has exceeded expectations,” he says.
If either of the new intake manage to achieve half of what Kildangan's leading light Shamardal has, they will do all right. Duffy has an update on the 15-year-old sire of 18 top-flight winners, who has been out of reach of outside breeders in the last two seasons.
"He's on the roster but is a private stallion and covers a very restricted book; there are enough mares owned by the Maktoum family to fill that book so unfortunately there is no availability to outside breeders," he says.
Exceed And Excel, another stalwart of the stud, will, astonishingly, be returning to the northern hemisphere, having covered both in Europe and Australia for every breeding season since 2005.
"He's just fantastic," Duffy says. "He covered his final mare last season as if it was his first time in the shed. He's been a great servant to us and owes us nothing. He's fit, his fertility is good and he looks great. He's doing nothing to show us that we should be doing anything different with him."
Duffy attributes the longevity of the stallion, on the mark this year with Group 2 scorers James Garfield and Priceless, to his temperament. "He has a terrific mind, everything comes so easily to him," he says. "He eats, rests, works, he's a pleasure to deal with; a child could bring him in and out of the paddock. He'll have a home here for as long as he wants to keep coming."
Duffy naturally waxes lyrical about all the stallions in his care. Teofilo? "Always gets a big horse, and besides Galileo, has the most Classic winners and placed runners of any stallion in Europe"; Epaulette? "Had a lot of winners, they're progressive and stepping up – you'd be very excited to see what they do next year"; Slade Power? "First yearlings have been very well received in the marketplace and it's been proper owners and trainers buying them". And so on.
Impressive first foals
But what about one in the line-up who is perhaps a little more under the radar?
"One who's got my attention right now is Night Of Thunder," Duffy says. "We have about eight of his first foals at Wood Park and each one is better than the next. A lot of outside breeders are very complimentary about their foals by him too. I'm looking forward to seeing them at the sales – they should grab people's attention."
The reason for the 2,000 Guineas winner switching from Kildangan to Dalham Hall is, he adds, a case of "same shop, different window".
"It's a great option to have, when you can get different breeders and mares into a young stallion; it gives them more opportunity for success," he says.
Patience is a virtue
Dawn Approach has had a significant fee cut from €30,000 to €20,000 in recognition of him having a slower start with his first runners this year than breeders might have expected of a champion two-year-old who broke his maiden in March. But Duffy thinks it was the expectations that were wrong, not the young sire's performance.
"We can't forget he was a Classic winner," he says. "He was so brilliant he was able to win a Coventry, but I'd say he did that on pure raw talent. His stock all had plenty of scope and trainers said they liked them but they weren't particularly forward, so all the indicators were that they were going to make better three-year-olds than two-year-olds.
"Look at what he's got out there. Mary Tudor is a live Guineas prospect if you put a line through her last run and Kevin Prendergast's Shadwell filly [Moghamarah] won her maiden at Gowran by a street.
"Around 35 by Dawn Approach might have started, so there are at least 70 that haven't run yet. That tells you trainers are taking their time with them and minding them, and that they're more three-year-old types, although in fairness no other first-season sire has as many stakes horses as him."
An improved showing is also expected from The Last Lion, an addition to Kildangan Stud this year, but in a different aspect, as a temporary dip in fertility this year meant he covered 'only' 90 mares: not a bad amount but fewer than might have been hoped for a horse with such obvious commercial appeal as a precocious Middle Park Stakes winner by Choisir.
"There was a little bit of a dip in his fertility in the middle of the covering season but he came back strong by the end and is in Australia at the moment doing well," Duffy says. "It's tough in a competitive market, as the minute you ring a breeder and say he's missed a few more mares than he should have, people want to go somewhere else.
"But he had a better back-end to the year and, touch wood, normal service should resume next year."
Club concept modified
And what about the absence of fresh Darley Club sires in 2018? In mitigation, it was probably never feasible for the operation to keep retiring colts in such large numbers as it did in 2016 and this year, when it had 18 new names to launch. Otherwise Kildangan Stud would need 80 rather than eight new boxes for its stallions.
Duffy confirms the initiative is being modified.
"The Club is something we tried and the merits are really positive," he says. "There's been a longstanding debate as to how it is the breeders who make the stallion and yet it is the stud that often reaps all the rewards, and what the Club does is gives the breeder an interest in the ownership of the stallion.
"I wouldn't like to say it's not something we're doing, as we sold breeding rights in Profitable, we're selling them in Ribchester and we sold shares in Golden Horn [at Dalham Hall]; so we do it across every level for breeders to have the opportunity to come with us on the journey of standing a horse.
"The Club concept was that every nomination sold might turn into a breeding right, and maybe we'll refine that to 30 or 50. Many breeders have told me their foals by [Club stallions] Fulbright or French Navy are fantastic and at this point in time no one can say those sires won't excel, so we'll wait and see what happens with their first runners and hope they're a big success, with breeders holding breeding rights in proper commercial stallions."
Bigger is not always better, but with an enlarged roster that comprises old stagers Shamardal and Exceed And Excel and young guns full of promise – not least those Darley Club stallions – things are pretty good at Kildangan Stud.
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