(Photo : Summerhill Stud)




Only one man in history has trained twelve Melbourne Cup winners. Bart Cummings. And he says they come in all shapes and sizes, some with obvious imperfections. He’s right of course, but those of us with a pre-occupation for the breeding game, are always striving to produce the perfect athlete.

I was down at Manton in England one day with Sheikh Hamdan’s racing manager, Angus Gold. We were there to inspect a Group One-winning son of Kingmambo, who they wanted to send to South Africa. John Gosden was the laird at the time, and his great string under their beautifully embroidered blankets, came out of the mist. Gosden trains for some of the world’s wealthiest men and women, and he presides over a line-up of racehorses as regal as any in creation. Here was a proper gallery of the “old masters”.

One horse stood out. A youngster by Danehill, as handsome a horse as you could imagine. He was at the head of the string, just two years old, though turning three in a month or two. Gosden told us he belonged to Prince Khalid Abdullah, and his mother was a Stakes-winning daughter of Mr. Prospector. Pedigrees tell you a lot about horses, but they don’t always guarantee the looks. We know that when we look at the Royal families of the world, and how differently children from the same mother can turn out. But this fellow had everything: the pedigree of a prince, the physique of David, and a name to match it. Stronghold.

We followed his career with an unusual intensity, willing him to fulfil everything his lineage and perfection suggested, but at the same time secretly hoping that one day, he might be just short of what it might take to keep him at Juddmonte Farm as a stallion. We saw him again at three, and then once more at four, and he was becoming scarily good, the more he matured. We had a shot at acquiring him at the end of his four year old career, but John Gosden was convinced that he could be a Group One horse, and he told the prince as much. Our entreaties were put aside, while an arthroscopic procedure followed as part of the preparation for the next season. Big things were expected.

He hurt himself in the recovery room following his operation, and while we were to get one more glimpse of his class in the Hungerford Stakes (Gr.2) eleven months later, that’s as far as his career went. One thing the recurrence of his injury did for us, was to deter northern hemisphere breeders from pursuing him as a breeding prospect, when there was no certainty he would ever be able to serve mares. Remember, though, he’d been mentioned in dispatches as a stallion prospect as far away as Australia. Here was our chance, even if it meant taking a horse with a question mark.

We all know that he’s been through fusion surgery recently, in an attempt to make him comfortable henceforth. While he’s recovering (and he’s making a good job of it, so we’re told,) we thought we’d share these photographs which somehow made their way onto ourFacebook page a few days back.

stronghold as a foal
stronghold as a foal
stronghold as a yearling
stronghold as a yearling

Left : Stronghold as a foal

Right : Stronghold as a yearling

(Photos : Claire Curry - Juddmonte UK)