Stateside sojourn puts a spring in the step of Beckford's breeder
Zoe Vicarage chats to Joyce Wallsgrove, who bred the Juvenile Turf contender
"They'd be peeling me off the ceiling!" says sprightly 65-year-old Joyce Wallsgrove when asked how she would react if Beckford, who she bred from the Danehill Dancer mare Whirly Dancer, were to land the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar on Friday.
The world of breeding, however, has not always left Wallsgrove feeling quite so spring-heeled. It was during her 20s that she acquired her first mare, but having been young and impressionable Wallsgrove found herself taking the views of others over her own.
"The usual thing happened," she said. "You listen to everyone else because you think they know better. It all went pear-shaped so I packed up and vowed I'd never do it again!"
But anyone who has spent any great time around thoroughbreds knows the addictive powers they possess, and having spent 18 years working for legendary trainer Barry Hills, including seven as head girl, Wallsgrove concedes that deep down she knew she would not be able to keep her promise of staying away.
Having made the move to Newmarket to take up a position as stable manager at the town's racecourses, Wallsgrove longed for the hands-on approach she had enjoyed with Hills, and five years ago decided the time was right to re-enter the breeding game.
It was at the 2012 Tattersalls February Sale that Whirly Dancer, a two-time winner by Danehill Dancer, was offered as a five-year-old horse out of training.
"Her pedigree was one of the main things that attracted me to her," says Wallsgrove of the mare, who is out of a half-sister to Inchinor and from the family of Miss Keller yet fetched just 9,500gns. "I just went to the sale to see what she fetched, and even though I'd marked her down I didn't think I'd get her.
"The bidding was quite slow and that led me to join in. I got up to to go because I thought someone else behind me had bid, but as it turned out they hadn't and the hammer came down on my bid - I couldn't believe that they were letting her go that cheap!"
The first foal Wallsgrove bred from Whirly Dancer was the son of Dick Turpin Lagenda, a winning two-year-old for Kevin Ryan. But things did not go quite so smoothly for the second mating. Wallsgrove opted to send the mare to Bated Breath during his first season at Banstead Manor Stud, but unfortunately Whirly Dancer lost the foal during the pregnancy.
Undeterred, Whirly Dancer was sent for for a second liaison with the son of Dansili, and the outcome on that occasion was altogether more positive: Beckford.
"I was, and still am, limited on which stallions I can use based on their stud fees," says Wallsgrove. "At the time I thought Bated Breath was cheap even though he hadn't won a Group 1 - he'd come so close to doing so on several occasions.
"He was the right shape for Whirly Dancer as she's not the tallest and his pedigree was brilliant. He had raced as a four-year-old and that was something I liked to see because it was a sign of soundness. You're not only trying to breed a racehorse but you're trying to breed something sound."
Wallsgrove admits that Beckford wasn't the type of foal who stood out physically, but says he has always been an individual who liked to get on with things.
That quality almost certainly contributed to Mags O'Toole paying 58,000gns for him at the Tattersalls November Foal Sale, and has definitely been reflected in his racing ability. During a busy juvenile campaign Beckford has won two races, including the Railway Stakes, and has twice finished runner-up at the highest level.
Despite his strong form, Wallsgrove is inclined to err on the side of caution when it comes to Beckford's Breeders' Cup chances.
"I'd love for him to run well but I'm not sure about the mile and I don't know about the turns on the track for him either," she says. "It's a very tight track and at the moment Beckford has run only straight courses, though I'm sure Gordon will have taken him round a few bends."
Wallsgrove, who has first-hand experience of Del Mar having accompanied Hills' Blues Traveller when he contested the Del Mar Derby, has work commitments to see to so won't be on hand to watch the race live, but certainly isn't lacking in support.
"Here at work and with my friends, they all can't believe and keep saying 'we know Joyce, she bred Beckford!'" she says. "I'm very proud of him and I'm proud of the mare too. A horse that competes at the top level is everything you aim for as a breeder."
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