Sandmason inundated with mares late in life after years of breeder apathy
Sire of Summerville Boy subject of a remarkable reversal of fortune
Sandmason has proved it's never too late by covering more than 200 mares at Lacken Stud in County Wexford this year at the advanced age of 21 – despite getting his oats with only one in 2017 and none at all in 2016, and having generally been neglected by breeders during his long stallion career.
The reason for the extraordinary upturn in popularity is that the son of Grand Lodge's ten runners under rules in Britain and Ireland in the last jumps season yielded two scorers at the highest level – Summerville Boy in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham and Black Op in the Mersey Novices' Hurdle at Aintree.
“That's what a couple of Grade 1 winners will do for you,” laughs Lacken Stud owner Paul Rothwell, who placed his faith in Sandmason despite indifference from other mare owners and has been rewarded by breeding both Summerville Boy and Black Op.
“In the last few years I could've had a breeder standing at the end of my drive and told them we had Sandmason here, and they wouldn't have walked the few extra yards to look at him,” he adds.
“Now they're coming into the yard and telling me how good he is blah blah blah, and I just chuckle to myself. He was standing here for ten years and no one wanted to know!”
Rothwell admits he had contemplated moving Sandmason on when it appeared his stallion career was not meant to be.
“I sold Summerville Boy three years ago and he was a decent big lad with a reasonable page but I only got four grand for him. I had to give him away,” he says. “I said to myself then, that's the end of that.
“Sandmason himself is a fine big stamp with an excellent pedigree, and he was a good racehorse too, but if you can't make money you have to try something else. I'd be looking at him, knowing deep down he was good but you can't pay the bills with your opinion.”
Fortunately, word of several Sandmasons impressing point-to-point trainers on the gallops had filtered back to Rothwell and he thought better of making the cull.
He says: “The only reason I didn't do it was that although there were very small numbers of them out there, there were one or two who were working well and held in high regard. But they didn't get to the track.
“And then [point-to-point handler] Rodney Arthur told me about Black Op. He said that as soon as the horse had done his first bit of work he knew he had a serious prospect on his hands. Here we go again, I thought, but thankfully he got there.”
The answer to the question many will be wondering – whether going from one to 200 mares has been a shock to Sandmason's system at the age many other stallions start to wind down – is no.
“At the start of the year when there was a lot of interest in him, we didn't know how he'd take it,” Rothwell says. “But on his busiest days he was covering three or four mares and we couldn't hold on to him coming out of the breeding shed.
“I suppose the fact he did very little for so many seasons beforehand would've helped him in the long run. Thankfully he looks well, his fertility is good and he'll cover mares in a minute for you. It's been easy all the way through the season.”
Rothwell says that with renewed enthusiasm for the stallion game, he is tentatively looking for an eventual successor to Sandmason at Lacken Stud.
“The market isn't what it used to be,” he opines. “We're basically farmers and have stood horses down the years. In the past a lot of other farmers would've had mares or a point-to-pointer as a passing interest. All those people are pretty much gone out of the industry now.
“We're trying to compete with the big boys and haven't got the same financial clout to go advertising a horse – and that's almost as important as the horse you're trying to market these days.
“But, for all that, we've been given the opportunity with Sandmason to get people into the yard and you have to make the most of it, so the temptation to buy or even lease another stallion is certainly there.”
Sandmason's new-found popularity shouldn't recede any time soon, as yet another potential star for him emerged this week when the Willie Mullins-trained mare Masons Daughter hosed up in a Ballinrobe maiden hurdle by 18 lengths on Tuesday.
Already Listed-placed in bumpers, she looks a future top-notcher over obstacles.
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