New staff and young sires put a spring in the step of Shadwell
Shiekh Hamdan's operation has much to look forward to
Spring is always a time of great optimism for Shadwell Stud director Richard Lancaster as the regally bred horses who carry Hamdan Al Maktoum's silks - many of whose pedigrees he will have helped mastermind - are sent out on their first assignment of what could be a fruitful Flat campaign. At this time of year, after all, the once-raced maiden winner or stakes-performing two-year-old could still be a Classic winner or champion.
And Lancaster has even more cause for encouragement than usual this spring. It is years since the Shadwell stallion roster has had such exciting young talent, while in the offices at Nunnery Stud, the base of Sheikh Hamdan's breeding operation in Britain, there are new faces among the key members of Lancaster's team.
First foals by Muhaarar, the brilliant champion sprinter of 2015, are arriving at studs across Europe, while his stablemate Mukhadram will be represented by his debut yearlings at the sales this year. To manage and promote the stallions are James O'Donnell, who left Juddmonte to become assistant stud director at Shadwell last summer, and former Racing Post bloodstock journalist Tom Pennington, who took on the role of marketing and nominations manager last month.
“James arrived last June and has fitted in extremely well,” says Lancaster. “Obviously with something as large and complicated as Shadwell is, it takes a while to pick up, but he's throwing himself into the job.
“Johnnie Peter Hoblyn [O'Donnell's predecessor] was stud manager but James has been given the title of assistant stud director, which gives him much more of a broader responsibility. There's a lot of involvement in building projects and the overall running of the stud, including employment and resource management.”
Lancaster is looking forward to the fresh ideas the new team will bring.
“We're settling down into a new young team who bring with them a lot of enthusiasm and experience from outside the Shadwell bubble - it can only be good to bring in fresh ideas and enthusiasm, as it then rubs off on the other staff," he says.
Muhaarar, winner of the Greenham, Commonwealth Cup, July Cup, Prix Maurice de Gheest and British Champions Sprint in a golden three-year-old season, covered 129 mares in his first season at Nunnery Stud last year including 53 black-type winners - an impressive 41 per cent of the book.
“The support that breeders gave him in is first season was wonderful,” says Lancaster. “He's also getting strong support this year and, having seen some of the foals on the ground, lots have a very good walk on them and he seems to be stamping his stock as strong individuals with a lot of presence.”
Shadwell is lending Muhaarar strong support of its own this season, sending him Oaks and King George heroine Taghrooda – she has a yearling filly by Kingman and a colt foal by Dubawi at foot – along with Al Ishq, the dam of Tamayuz; Entisaar, a champion two-year-old in South Africa; Madaany, the dam of last year's 2,000 Guineas runner-up Massaat; and stakes winners Etaab, Fadhayyil, Muteela and Sudoor.
Many of the mares that Shadwell and other breeders have sent to Muhaarar have themselves excelled over a mile or middle distances, or their progeny have, and Lancaster regards the sire as one of those rare and valuable commodities – a sprinter who will be able to throw horses who stay Classic distances.
“He was a champion sprinter but my feeling was he didn't get the chance to show what he could do over a mile,” he says. “In stamp, he's more of a miler than a pure sprinter. He showed in the Greenham that he stayed seven furlongs, and who knows, if he hadn't had the misfortune of the bad draw in France [when eighth in the Poule d'Essai des Poulains] he could have possibly pursued a mile programme rather than a sprinting programme.”
Shadwell is known for restricting book sizes, a policy that Lancaster concedes is difficult when you have a sire as popular as Muhaarar.
He says: “We try to keep the number to around 120, but he might go over that because of one or two problems other stallions in Newmarket are having and because he's done so well this year. So there might be a few latecomers that means he goes a little over that mark.”
Lancaster says he was “very pleased” with the sales of the first foals by Muhaarar's studmate Mukhadram last year. “The third season is always difficult for stallions but he's got a good number of mares so there should be a strong impetus which will see him through with his two-year-olds and onwards,” he adds.
Another of Sheikh Hamdan's top-notch colts, Irish 2,000 Guineas hero Awtaad, retired to the operation's Irish headquarters of Derrinstown Stud this year, alongside Markaz.
A dozen Shadwell mares will be used to support Awtaad, headed by Taghrooda's dam Ezima.
“He's an exceptionally good looking horse and it's nice for Derrinstown to have him,” Lancaster reports. “They were overrun with applications to use him.”
Shadwell is also sending eight mares to Dubawi, including South African champion Majmu (a Muhaarar colt is her first foal); Group 2 winner and Oaks runner-up Tarfasha; and Taqaareed, a winning sister to Taghrooda; plus stakes winners Adool, Farmah, Muthabara, Qertaas and Yaazy.
More intriguing, perhaps, is that the operation is also doubling down on a sire outside of Maktoum ownership – the much talked about Frankel, to whom it is sending ten mares including Asheerah, the dam of Awtaad; Nufoos, the dam of Middle Park Stakes winner Awzaan; 1,000 Guineas and Cheveley Park Stakes winner Natagora; and Group 1-placed stakes winners Hadaatha, Maqaasid and Rumoush.
Muntahaa, a homebred winner of the John Porter Stakes carrying Sheikh Hamdan's famous blue and white silks on Saturday, demonstrated the brilliance of the Shadwell bloodlines and got the season off to a fine start for the new team at Nunnery Stud.