Summerhill Stallion Barn
(Photo : Grant Norval)
THE MATING GAME
I guess it would be sensible to start at the beginning. The point at which champions are conceived, if not yet in the womb, then at least at the table. This is when all the benefits of individuality and specialisation are finally pooled for the greater good of our purpose.
Let me explain. There are those in the breeding business who believe that mating “the best to the best, and hoping for the best” is the most productive way of churning out champions. While there is merit in this argument, champions are never “churned” out, and in our view it leaves too much to chance, when practised as a single criterion for success.
Others resort to matching their mares for the best commercial outcome, betting the “farm” as it were, on the most fashionable stallion of the moment, proven or otherwise, and looking forward to their day in the sales ring as the sole judge of the worth of their endeavours. While this may bring short-term gains, it’s most times at the expense of long-term prosperity.
Yet others are committed faithfuls of the computer system, where some programmers have made a fortune persuading people that a champion can be generated through the rituals connected with software. To our knowledge though, without the benefit of knowing the animals concerned, their idiosyncrasies and their needs, no computer has ever consistently produced a good horse anywhere as regularly as a good stockman. As Bob Hope once said, “computers have enabled people to make more mistakes faster than any other invention, with the exception of tequila and hand guns”.
Our experience tells us there is no substitute for the eye and the experience of a good stockman, his wisdom honed over years of observation and interaction with horses. Indispensible to us is the collection of all the evidence, from the thoughts of your stallion man, the broodmare and foalcare manager, the yearling sales division and the Ready To Run team, listening to trainers and jockeys who’ve been associated with your horses where the action is beyond the rehearsal stage. All of these things influence our collective thinking.
But unless in your interpretation of what you have at hand, you can marshall the right instincts to best exploit the information and then back it up with best practice standards of husbandry, you still cast yourself adrift on the waters of chance. We like to think that we control 90% of the process at least, and the ability to do that is enhanced by the fact that our decisions are unfettered by concerns of what the result will fetch in the sales ring.
Every fan of the turf knows The Star, the Cape Argus, the Mercury, the Daily News, the Saturday Independent and the Sunday Tribune, but not everyone knows these titles belong to 1955 British Lions legend, Sir Tony O’ Reilly. Even fewer know his wife Chryss, and especially that she’s one of Europe’s outstanding breeders. Just this last year, her Castlemartin Stud in Ireland and her Haras de la Louviere in France between them produced 16 Stakes winners, among them the Gr.1 stars Nahood and Equiano. Lady O’ Reilly tells us that in their mating decisions, “we tend to favour proven stallions for our younger mares, but I would say that among semi-commercial breeders we do the least commercial matings, because our first consideration is to breed a racehorse”. We have a kindred spirit, it seems, in Her Ladyship.