August 2018

The yearling sales season is once again upon us and so it’s time to pack the suitcase and head off soon to Ireland and then on to Newmarket for the Tattersalls Book 1 and Book 2 sales. Jake will be headed to Doncaster on the weekend as their sale starts next week and will then be pre-sales looking at stud farms all over Ireland and the UK to find those future stars!  It’s a long laborious process but it’s vital that he and John see as many yearlings as they can before the sales start.  We look at around 120 each per day at the sales and narrow it down to a short list for vetting. Those that survive are on the short list and we are ready to pounce if they fall into our price bracket! Needless to say, many make far too much money for us but each year it is extraordinary how lovely horses fall through the net and often when you least expect them to.

It’s so good to see the two-year-olds in this year’s crop doing so well and Pesto’s impressive four length victory at Leicester gave his owners much to look forward to…

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Pesto as a yearling (New Approach ex Pickle)

It’s so good to see the two-year-olds in this year’s crop doing so well and Pesto’s impressive four length victory at Leicester gave his owners much to look forward to this year and next.  Production caused quite a stir for the Royal Ascot Racing Club members as he won well on his debut at Ascot. Trained by Richard Hannon this stunning son of Oasis Dream could be something a bit special. Adamant showed yet again why Sir Michael is the master of giving horses like this all the time that they need to develop and mature. He won a valuable handicap at Chelmsford by three and a half lengths earning £16,000 for his efforts.  He can progress on from here into black type company and on the right ground he has the potential to go on again as a five-year-old in 2019.

I do hope that you have had a chance to look at the new syndicates and of course please don’t hesitate to ask me or any of the team an questions that you might have. Named after great explorers and adventurers there is hopefully something to suit all budgets!

Harry Herbert, Chairman

On The Track

With the summer well and truly underway, extreme conditions have somewhat limited the usual number of runners for this time of year and its seems bizarre to hear trainers saying…

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Nicklaus drawing clear of the field at Salisbury

With the summer well and truly underway, extreme conditions have somewhat limited the usual number of runners for this time of year and its seems bizarre to hear trainers saying they are looking for runners on the all -weather! Fast ground certainly hasn’t stopped Nicklaus finding his stride with a brace of victories at Newbury and Salisbury (two weeks later) before finishing third in a very hot handicap on the final day of the Qatar Goodwood Festival meeting. He heads to another festival meeting at York this Friday.

Pesto getting off the mark in a hot novice at Leicester

Pesto showed plenty of improvement on his second outing at Sandown when finishing an eye catching fourth. This colt is clearly learning fast as he went on to win his maiden at Leicester in really good style, coming away from the field inside the final furlong to win by four lengths. Knighted seemed to have lost his way after a fine victory at Nottingham in May, but recently bounced back in really good style with wins at Redcar and Pontefract, the latter a big jump in class and done so in an emphatic manner from the front. He is improving rapidly!

Knighted battling his way to victory at Redcar

Another two year old looked highly promising when finishing fourth at Redcar on his debut, but finished down the field next time at Nottingham. Richard Fahey will surely get the bottom of this one as Camber had been working really well at home in the build up to the race. Grandstand, a breeze up purchase in April, shaped up very well to finish fourth at Salisbury and looks capable of winning a maiden soon.

Whitehall keeps knocking at the door having finished in the frame on no less than three occasions so far this season, the latest a fine effort in a rainstorm at Sandown, Ryan Moore reporting that he had gone too early as he couldn’t see!! He will surely return to the winners enclosure before too long. Another looking ready to win is Flamenco who finished fourth at Lingfield and looks sure to succeed off her mark of 69.


Over in Ireland Gustavus Vassa was desperately unlucky not to win a valuable handicap at the Curragh before running with credit at the Galway festival. Two older horses that have bounced back in style are Archetype and Adamant. Archetype looked all over the winner at Clairefontaine under a confident front running ride from Christophe Soumillon, only to be cut down on the line. This ultra consistent son of Le Havre should have another one in him before the end of the season. Adamant has been off the track since May and Sir Michael Stoute and his team eventually deciding to go the all weather route at Chelmsford, where another front running ride, this time from Jamie Spencer, paid dividends with the horse running out a highly impressive three and a half length winner. He will surely have his time during the autumn months when conditions are more in his favour.

Rolf's Ramblings Part 1

By the time you read this Mark Johnston will probably have broken Richard Hannon Snr’s record for winners trained, 4193 – still less than halfway to the late Dale Baird’s…

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By the time you read this Mark Johnston will probably have broken Richard Hannon Snr’s record for winners trained, 4193 – still less than halfway to the late Dale Baird’s 9445, out of Mountaineer Park, West Virginia between 1961 and 2007; Baird never had a Classic winner. In the years 1956 to 2017 Rashid Byramji trained, in and out of Bangalore and Bombay, 228 Classics but a mere 3115 winners in all; Classics proliferate as racing contracts in India.

Mark Johnston has but five Classics (so far). Statistics? Humbug: on the brink of breaking the record he was all but on the Racing Post ‘Cold list’ having suffered a losing run of twenty eight in August. I was reminded of the 2013 Cesarewitch: the trainer had a mare on the ‘cold list’ – fifteen defeats that season, twenty in a row; 66-1 she was for the ‘Ces’, and yet Scatter Dice won doing handstands.

Not necessarily a man to do handstands himself, when Johnston says: “We have less troughs than other people” he means dips in form, not mangers – there are over two hundred and fifty feed bowls at Kingsley Park Stables: such a pity that neither of Highclere’s two Middleham inmates, Showroom and Precision, are likely to be the historic record breaker.

Now Baird didn’t get into the American Hall of Fame because his yard was an ‘Underground Railroad’ (there’s a notable book of that title, a metaphor for the slave escape route from the American South) to the abattoir. Baird was apparently brutal with his chain of claiming horses, and indiscriminate in his use of drugs.

Johnston’s maxim is unimpeachable. “If you’re looking for problems you’ll find them.  They give themselves a break often enough as they get injured and suffer setbacks.”  So when a Johnston horse finishes last - such occurrences pepper the Form Book - there’s nothing strange or suspicious when they come out and win next time. The stewards don’t issue a ‘season ticket’ for Johnston visits – they might be abashed because the Scotsman adopted by Yorkshire, a powerful fusion, doesn’t suffer fools that gladly and the stable motto “Always Trying” has strong resonance.

Then again, Johnston is more of the get one’s retaliation in quickly if not first persuasion. His Kingsley Klarion house magazine sees him not so much popping questions as lobbing stun grenades. He doesn’t court controversy; he’s a serial bigamist with it. On what the BHA regard as their latest triumph over the forces of evil – the stripping of the wings of a ‘butterfly’, Robin Bastiman, a retired trainer banned three years for doping with cobalt – qualified vet Johnston is his forthright self: “It worries me that the BHA seems to believe it (cobalt) is performance-enhancing…it’s the same with bicarbonate (milkshaking). When you’re taking a natural substance and it’s only the quantities it gets (becomes) a little bit of a grey area…I don’t believe for one second it makes them run faster so why would any idiot want to give them cobalt? Yet people do, because they’ll give them whatever some clown tells them is going to make them run faster. They’re all looking for something to turn lead into gold.”

BHA admits. “While cobalt is an essential trace element and is naturally present in the horse, when present at concentrations (it) may (their word) have the potential to enhance performance. It's also possible that exposure to significantly increased levels of cobalt may (their word again) have welfare implications for the horse.”

On the verge of the record last week Johnston visited Radio 4’s wake-up Today programme. There were welfare implications for their interviewer. BBC should have wheeled on Tomas de Torquemada, to ask the questions. The Grand Inquisitor, around the time of the War of the Roses, executed about five thousand victims – the next winner’s milestone in Johnston’s sights.

Today’s ‘grand inquisitor’, John Humphries, was otherwise engaged so the privilege fell to tyro (comparatively) Nick Robinson. You have to know a lot about racing to ask Johnston the simplest of questions because the Middleham maestro doesn’t play pat-a-cake. (Hooray for that).

“You’ve had a century of winners every year for twenty five years” (Robinson).

“Correction (Johnston), more than one hundred for twenty five years. Must help you’re not tipping them.” (The infamous Today programme racing tips, on the half hour each morning, are regarded as the kiss of death),

“You’ve got eight runners (today) so you’re bound to break it.” (Robinson).

“I’d need a fifty per cent strike rate and we haven’t had a winner for three days.” (Johnston).

You get the drift: I hope they shook hands afterwards. There’ll be a lot of shaking of hands and hosannas when he passes Richard Hannon Snr’s total. Both men started out on the breadline – Hannon nine horses; Johnston three. Hannon’s career took him from 1970 to 2014. He had eight Classic winners. He saved the best season to the last. He handed over a burgeoning operation to Richard jnr at the ideal time. Mark, first licence 1987, will doubtless show the same sense of timing when handing over to his son Charlie, though he insists that won’t be anytime soon.

Maybe Richard Snr, as generous a man as walks, won’t be sending any bouquets north though he may just give a nod in that direction as he downs another of his limitless glasses of champagne…which he’ll then raise to the two hundred and thirty eight winners of his final season – a  figure Johnston has yet to match. Way to go Mark: still some way to go.

Rolf's Ramblings Part 2

When the Wars of the Roses (1455-85) were at their height – 1950s and 60s – a battle in the timeless confrontation between the neighbouring counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire…

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When the Wars of the Roses (1455-85) were at their height – 1950s and 60s – a battle in the timeless confrontation between the neighbouring counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire took place at Bramall Lane, Sheffield. On the first morning, a boundary (yes, we’re talking cricket) was scored. Such frivolous ‘showing off’ before the lunch interval was frowned upon (as is the casting of clouts before May is out) among my dour fellow God’s Own County folk.

A spectator applauded with gusto. The old codger next door, startled by his noisy neighbour and the batsman’s cavalier behaviour, demanded: “’Art from Yorkshire?”

“No, I’m not,” was the rather tart reply.

“Tha’s from Lancashire then?”

“No, I’m not from Lancashire.”

“What’s it got to do wi’ thee?”

Pastoral York has never had to put up with the smoke and grit of industrial Yorkshire: it was said Sheffield’s steel workers would stoke up their furnaces when the other side were batting – mucking up visibility. The chocolate factory hard by York racecourse grandstands was rather more intoxicating, but the same crowds who followed Yorkshire cricket turn up, as devotedly, to support York races - as much part of their heritage as cricket. Strangers from around the world are welcomed – and Lancastrians. 

For a recent Racing Post series “Yorkshire Heroes” (we can do without ‘National Treasures’) Leeds born Jack Berry’s inclusion was a formality: forty seven firsts as a jump jockey, forty seven broken bones. Jack, despite the fact he trained over fifteen hundred winners on the wrong side of the Pennines, at Cockerham, Lancs, we forgave because he fund-raised millions. And we knew his heart was on York’s Elysian Fields where his nippy two-year-olds would send southerners packing.

I hung over the running rail on the Knavesmire in 1972 when American owner John Galbreath brought over Panamanian jockey Braulio Baeza for Derby winner Roberto in the first Benson & Hedges Cup. To my (pretty much untutored) eye, when Brigadier Gerard was stretched to a mile and a half to win the King George, he’d ‘bottomed’. I nattered with ‘the Brigadier’s’ partner Joe Mercer at Ascot only the other day: York all those years ago wasn’t a disaster to dwell on.

The entirety of British racing was as crestfallen over his eclipse as we would have been had Frankel let us down forty years on. But Frankel never did: his was not the first, nor the last Juddmonte adjudged the best race of the year in the world, but 2012 was the best of the best.

We couldn’t claim Frankel’s mentor Sir Henry Cecil (‘trainer’ seems an inadequate title) as one of our (Yorkshire’s) own even though he saddled his first winner at Ripon. I shall always recall that York day, exchanging familiar greetings with Sir Henry: “You’re looking well” to which the reply would always be “You’re looking well too”. We had contemporary cancers.

I’d learned in my time at Whitsbury with the volatile genius David Elsworth that there were healthier options than scoffing at his wilder adventures. As the lone member of the media who dared approach Elzee before the 2015 Juddmonte I knew he wasn’t best pleased by Derby winner Golden Horn’s name blazoned everywhere while all the pundits were dismissive about his filly Arabian Maid. He was still ‘molten’ post Arabian Maid’s shock, neck, victory over Golden Horn: “100-1 I got,” he thundered. “And that Ballydoyle withdrawal cost me 25p in the pound!”

Ballydoyle are scratching around for the big winners this season (everything is relative they’ve had eight Group Ones). It’s two-all between their Saxon Warrior and Qatar Racing’s Roaring Lion going into the Juddmonte with the latest head to head, the Eclipse settled in Roaring Lion’s favour by a neck – since when the John Gosden’s colt has done a piece of work at Newmarket the like of which hasn’t been seen since Frankel days.

Classic form among the colts has been abysmal tempting Godolphin to supplement the Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow to accompany Benbatl, another Group One Dubai winner. Poet’s Word, scraped home in the King George helping restore Sir Michael Stoute to his position among racing’s elite – not that he ever went away.

We might see the St Leger winner in the Great Voltigeur: it is a re-run of the Investec Derby and the Irish Derby also rans (unless the unexpected winner of the latter Latrobe turns out). Yorkshire hearts will beat for Tim Easterby’s Wells Farrh Go in the hope he can become the first Yorkshire-trained winner of the Leger since Easterby’s Bollin Eric in 2002.

The one before, Bollin Eric, was Bill Elsey’s 1973 Ebor winner Peleid. Folklore attends the meeting and ‘Yorkshire hero’ Sea Pigeon’s Ebor is preserved in memory for there is no film footage from the nine-year-old’s 1979 victory – before two Champion Hurdles! My good fortune was to have been at Timeform when Sostenuto won for the boss Phil Bull and with Ryan Price when he trained the easiest Ebor winner of all, Sir Montagu – neither he nor Peleid nor any three-year-old gets in nowadays.

For next year’s £1m Ebor, richest handicap in Europe, the starting gates will have come 10,000 miles from Australia (our steelworks have shut of course). And we’ll be sending half the Ebor field the other way for the Melbourne Cup, richest handicap in the world. In the van of Melbourne challengers will be Willie Mullins who has the one Ebor, Sesenta’s in 2009.  This year, ante-post, Mullins had nine horses at shorter odds than 25-1 Sesenta, including favourite Stratum.

The Nunthorpe on Friday is as much a Yorkshire connoisseur’s delicacy as tripe and pigs trotters. This renewal features Godolphin’s Blue Point, Hamdan Al Maktoum’s Battaash and Coolmore’s US Navy Flag. But I question whether they are of the calibre of giants such as Sharpo (winner three times), Dayjur, Oasis Dream and Pivotal.

Yorkshire folk are noted for being opinionated – how tired we are of the (southern) ‘joke’ “You can tell a Yorkshireman but you can’t tell him much”. We will be rooting for our heroes this Ebor week while the rest of racing is fixated by the on-going battle between Coolmore and Godolphin – not necessarily a healthy preoccupation.

“A Coolmore fan are you?” “No.”

“A Godolphin follower then?” “No”.

“Well what has it got to do with you then?”

New Recruit

A very warm welcome to Laura Robertson who joins us having just graduated from the Godolphin Flying Start programme in July 2018. Originally from New Zealand, Laura completed a law degree…

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A very warm welcome to Laura Robertson who joins us having just graduated from the Godolphin Flying Start programme in July 2018. Originally from New Zealand, Laura completed a law degree at  the University of Canterbury before being admitted to the High Court of New Zealand as a Barrister and Solicitor.
Laura comes from a strong horse background, having grown up with a mother who was a jockey! She has spent time on yearling farms, at the sales and in racing stables.

Taittinger Moment

This months Taittinger moment goes to Brian O'Rourke in Lambourn who continues to do a fantastic job helping us with our horses. Most recently preparing the National Hunt contingent for our parade. He has also provided an excellent rehab facility for some of our horses who have been injured or unwell.

Many thanks to Brian and his team from all of us at Highclere!

Out and about with the Highclere camera

(Please click on the thumbnails to enlarge photos and see captions)

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