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January 2018

Having been struck down by the dreaded lurgy over Christmas I was looking forward to heading to Australia's Gold Coast for the magic Millions yearling sale there. I had never been to this sale before but had heard from John and Dane what an extraordinary event it was and how it had grown in stature since the company was bought by Gerry and Katie Harvey a few years ago. Well it didn't disappoint on any front although looking at one hundred horses a day in 100 degree heat was testing to say the least!

John and my sister Carolyn were on their holidays and flew in from India for a couple of days at the sale. The short list that Dane and I had…

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John and my sister Carolyn were on their holidays and flew in from India for a couple of days at the sale. The short list that Dane and I had compiled for John was pretty short but it took my brother in law no time to ruthlessly cut it down even further and having got the vets' reports back it diminished yet again. Those that survived the cut were the most lovely group of horses so we sat and waited to see what we could afford. The market for racehorses in Australia is insatiable and once again the Magic Millions sale saw prices go through the roof with a staggering array of buyers from all over the world competing with one another. It is the strength in depth that astonishes with an army of bidders keeping the bid spotters on their toes as they screamed the bids around the vast arena. Our patience paid off though as we bought three really lovely colts by Fastnet Rock, Written Tycoon and Dundeel and so if you feel like dabbling in the prize money rich Australian market do get in touch as these yearlings are all beautifully bred animals with great athleticism - they really do tick all the right boxes!

Gwinganna

I had booked myself into one of Australia's leading health retreats called Gwinganna for a weeks "detox" programme after sales week having been advised by some Aussie friends that it would do me the world of good. I was one of around fifty other "inmates" thrown together with most being newcomers like me. I have to say that it was quite the best thing I have ever done and would thoroughly recommend it should mind, body and soul need a reboot! There was one drama though which embarrassingly took place on the very first morning. On the 3k walk through the tropical rainforest and with only three hundred meters or so to go to the finish I suddenly couldn't put one foot in front of the other and had to sit down. A beautiful Gwinganna volunteer asked if I was alright to which my answer was "no, something is definitely wrong"! Another girl appeared as word got out that there was a "man down!" My 6' 6" body then fainted into her arms which meant that the paramedics had to be called. It thankfully turned out that I wasn't having a heart attack but had got seriously low blood sugar which of course was quickly sorted. I was then the butt of all my fellow inmate's jokes going forward which being the only Brit was a shade humiliating! At the end of a week though where there are no mobile phones, lots of exercise as well as fascinating talks and massages I felt better than I have done in years and have vowed to try and make a visit to Gwinganna every year from now on!

Harry Herbert, Chairman

On The Track

With the Highclere National Hunt string expanding year on year, we had a very busy Christmas period with runners all over the country.  Style de Garde made a hugely impressive debut at Newbury on 20th December, where he cruised home leaving eight lengths between himself and the second-placed horse.  This son of Kapgarde looks like he could be a very smart prospect, which was reflected in his handicap mark of 137 despite a slightly disappointing follow-up performance at Huntingdon on 12th January, in a race which was won by the outsider of the field.  He remains a possible contender for the Cheltenham Festival in six weeks' time, and is due to have a prep race within the next couple of weeks.

If You Say Run (four wins from six outings) also won emphatically at Wincanton on Boxing Day, and was unlucky to bump into one of the most exciting mares on the National Hunt scene…

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If You Say Run (four wins from six outings) also won emphatically at Wincanton on Boxing Day, and was unlucky to bump into one of the most exciting mares on the National Hunt scene in Maria’s Benefit when she turned out less than a week later in Listed company at Taunton, but still managed to secure Black-type for finishing second.  She has been given a short break following her two quick appearances on the racecourse and is likely to line up next in a Graded Mares' Novices' Hurdle at Sandown on Friday 16th February. Posh Trish remains an exciting prospect despite putting in a below-par performance last time at Ascot against the boys for the first time.  Paul Nicholls was slightly perplexed following this run but Alison reports her to be in great form, having seen her last week, and she is on track to run in a Listed Mares' Bumper at Sandown the week before Cheltenham.  Crievehill put up a very good performance in a highly competitive field at Haydock and looked sure to be in the shake-up at Ascot next time before making a mistake four out but stayed on well to finish fourth, whilst the Ballywood syndicate eagerly awaits the debut of Alan King’s new recruit who should be ready to run soon.

As ground conditions deteriorated from soft to heavy and then to bottomless, so the form of a number of our jumpers declined. None more so than Peculiar Places who had won so impressively first time up but found himself stuck in the mud at Ludlow. Contented, another winner at Sedgefield, also found the going at Wincanton extremely testing. However the heaviest ground was to be found at Clonmel where Caro Des Flos struggled in conditions bordering on atrocious. All three are currently having a short break before returning to the track on better ground. Also returning after a rest will be Cabaret Queen and Whatduhavtoget both trained by Dan Skelton.

Whatswrongwithyou, trained by Nicky Henderson, won impressively at Newbury having finished second first time out in the colours of 5 Hertford Street. Nicky is hopeful of getting this seven year old gelding to one of the handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival. This would be a double bonus for the club who experienced the excitement of another major festival last summer when Hertford Dancer ran brilliantly to finish third in the Ribblesdale.

On the flat Pak Choi did more than enough on his second outing at Kempton to erase the memory of his debut at the same course, were he sat down in the stalls and looked very green during the race. On this occasion he not only broke well but travelled in a much more professional manner to finish fifth in one of the most competitive novice races to be held at the Surrey track for some time, at the same time restoring the belief of owners who attended. Contrast also gave the owners of the Thomas Hardy syndicate a boost when finishing sixth (only beaten just over a length) at Lingfield after a long lay- off. His performance suggested that he has retained his ability and clearly relished the all-weather surface. He will be back in action very soon and will hopefully contest the all-weather championships back at the same track on Good Friday.

Out and about with the Highclere camera

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

Highclere Australia Continues to Build Presence

It has been a foundation building month for Highclere Australia as the team have ramped up operations heading into the new year. January kicked off with the Magic Millions yearling sales, racing between two states, the addition of a new trainer to the team, the arrival of two new proven UK prospects and three shiny new colts also joining the growing Australian roster… 

The Millions Produce Three Magic Colts 

January always seems to roll right on by every year and there is no wondering why when two weeks of those are spent on…

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The Millions Produce Three Magic Colts 

January always seems to roll right on by every year and there is no wondering why when two weeks of those are spent on the Gold Coast for Magic Millions Yearling Sale. 

Last year we picked up two gorgeously bred fillies who have both made the track as early two-year-olds to complete their early education and we are expecting huge improvement to come into the second half of their seasons. While this year, it was the colts who grabbed our attention amongst the thousand yearlings to go under the hammer during this showpiece sale. Please click here to see a snapshot of our time at the Magic Millions. 

For further information on the three new Highclere Australia colts please click here

 

Welcome to the HTRA team Bjorn Baker  

This year’s Magic Millions saw the introduction of Bjorn Baker to the Highclere Australia team, who has been handed the reins of our two newest acquisitions in the Fastnet Rock ex A Million Tears colt and the Dundeel ex Glove colt. In just six years of setting up his Warwick Farm base Bjorn has earned his label as one of Australia’s most exciting young trainers since moving from his native land of New Zeaand with just two horses in 2012. In his short time Bjorn has built an impressive, yet select, stable of ninety horses which has helped him scale the trainer’s premiership to sit comfortably in the top five trainers in New South Wales. With one of the highest strike rates in the country, Bjorn’s knowledge of the form and attention to detail continues to see his horses race competitively across Australia at the top level, whilst his humorous and honest approach makes the overall experience all the more enjoyable for his owners.

Please click here  to see the Sky Racing feature piece on Bjorn Baker.

We are delighted to welcome Bjorn to the Highclere Australia team and wish him all the very best of success with his two shiny new colts! 

 

UK Prospects Make Touch Down 

January 21st saw the arrival of exciting UK imports Joshua Reynolds (pictured) and Pioneertown to Melbourne, who are two highly progressive staying prospects for Highclere share owners. Pioneertown comes from the Sir Mark Prescott yard after winning his last two starts impressively in the UK. The son of High Chaparral, who has now been fully subscribed, heads to the David Hayes team as we look for him to progress off an exploitable benchmark rating through the Autumn. Joshua Reynolds also brings impressive winning form Down Under after putting away a smart field at Chelmsford before going to top the Goffs UK Autumn Sale. Formerly trained by John Gosden, the son of Nathanial is a half-brother to Gr 1 winning sprinter Speedy Boarding and has already been posted a $51 chance for the 2018 Melbourne Cup. We still have a couple of shares available in Joshua Reynolds, so if you’re after a Melbourne Cup runner this year look no further! 

 

The New HTRA Website 

With the start of the new year, we have recently launched our Australian website and invite you to take a look by visiting www.highclereracing.com.au. We’d love to get your thoughts and hope you find it enjoyable and informative. 

Rolf's Ramblings

It’s well known, a camel is a horse designed by a committee. Which begs the question, who designs committees? The respective merits of the world’s thoroughbred racehorse population were juggled by the International Handicapping Committee in January. They spent time and money – Hong Kong rather than Davos – producing the Longines World Rankings only to see their work undone in a trice. Twenty four hours after awarding the title of world’s top racehorse to the US’s Arrogate (134) he wasn’t even top in America. By two hundred and forty eight votes to two, Gun Runner (130) received the 46th Eclipse accolade in Florida.  The Eclipse steering committee were spot on for inside twenty four hours Gun Runner took out the world’s richest race at Gulfstream – a result that showed how wrong Hong Kong got him; obviously he’s not 4lb behind Arrogate; what isn’t obvious is what either would do without Lasix.

Handicappers are isolated individuals - like lighthouse keepers: both can count themselves lucky that Minister for Sport Tracey Crouch has added the portfolio of Minister of Loneliness. When they get…

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Handicappers are isolated individuals - like lighthouse keepers: both can count themselves lucky that Minister for Sport Tracey Crouch has added the portfolio of Minister of Loneliness. When they get together to ruminate over horses whose paths will never cross, pass posts thousands of miles apart, you wonder whether there’s more to the exercise than stimulating bar stool debate.

But for me the whole shebang was undermined when they defamed the latest Derby by ‘awarding’ it the title of 18th equal best race in the world! I concur that the Qatar Arc de Triomphe should be top but this is THE DERBY (sponsored by Investec), founded 1780 for goodness sake. Surely if the same criteria were applied to the Derby winner Wings of Eagles (119) as to Arrogate – rated on his best race not on three miserable ones – Wings of Eagle’s defeat of Cracksman (third at Epsom) hardly deserves the notoriety of  our lowest rated premier classic, ever. Another curiosity; Aidan O’Brien, omnipotent O’Brien, smashed the record for wins at Group 1/Grade 1 level, yet his highest-rated horse Churchill weighs in only 12th equal. The Ballydoyle superlatives are dusted (not that they accumulate much of that) down each year and with six of the top eleven in the 2017 juvenile division including the best colt, US Navy Flag (122), and the best filly, Clemmie (115), sterile figures will not subdue Irish expectations for 2018.  Cracksman (128) and Enable (125) looked down on the Classic generation. They are third and fifth on the international list but add Enable’s fillies’ allowance and she would be bookmakers’ favourite. Their jockey wasn’t consulted by the committee but Frankie Dettori’s preference will not be swayed by mere mathematics.  Ascot are trying to seduce the exceptional Australian mare, Winx (132) into the mix, as they did Black Caviar in 2012. My information is that she will be confined to mile races, the Lockinge and the Queen Anne.

Another cliché: child prodigies are unlikely to be as prodigious as they age. US Navy Flag, first to win both the Middle Park and the Dewhurst for thirty five years, raced eleven times allegedly exposing himself and is expected to be swept away by a wave of late developers: stable companion and Racing Post Trophy winner Saxon Warrior (119), unbeaten in three races, is Derby favourite.  The argument against Clemmie retaining her ascendancy is that she lacks size and scope. Then again if, early in the season, she were to land the One Thousand Guineas she would surely have ‘done enough’. As late as the end of April last year Cracksman and Enable hadn’t found fan clubs, the latter beaten on her season’s debut off 86, Cracksman scrambling home off 92.  The prospect of the pair taking one another on this year revives flames of old time ‘duels’. 150,000 descended on York in late May 1851 (hangings on the Knavesmire had ceased) for the match between The Flying Dutchman and Voltigeur. Admiral Rous, the father of handicapping, set the former to give 7 1/2lb to the latter which he managed by a length. Maybe Cracksman v Enable would threaten that record attendance – and show that racing holds its own in the public imagination.

The sprinting division requires resolution – another straight fight, Harry Angel v. Battaash. A pound separated them in the rankings though they never met. Harry Angel (123) was beaten on his 2017 seasonal debut off 110: Battaash (122) won Listed off 100 first time out and concluded his season magnificently in the Group One Abbaye with revenge over Marsha. She sold for 6m gns – what price Battaash?  International travellers like Highland Reel – actually there was only one Highland Reel, 28th winner at the highest level for Ballydoyle last year – helped integrate worldwide form. Last July Enable gave a bigger beating to Highland Reel (123) in the King George than Cracksman did subsequently in the Champion Stakes. But one horse cannot carry the responsibility for handicapping every racehorse on the planet: he’s now at stud. The juvenile that caught my eye was Gustav Klimt (111), O’Brien’s, who else? Favourite for the Two Thousand Guineas after running all over the July course to nab the Superlative Stakes he’s rated 11lb behind US Navy Flag. He wasn’t seen again and his runner up Nebo only scrambled home in the Horris Hill. Yet impressions upstage bald figures – until one or both fails the racecourse test. 

I trust I am not deluding myself over Occupy who won his only race in a fractionally faster time than Roaring Lion, later runner-up to Saxon Warrior at Doncaster. A single race didn’t qualify Occupy for the Free Handicap of last year’s two-year-olds but Headway’s (106) Coventry and Gimcrack placings did –  a pound higher than the mark off which Brunel won his Free Handicap for Highclere in 2004. Showroom, despite his outstanding victory at Goodwood, is in the same boat as Occupy - among a mass of juveniles waiting in the wings to upset the handicappers’ hard work. This time last year Enable and Cracksman were in precisely the same position as are Occupy and Showroom.

Michael Oakeshott the great right wing philosopher and racing nut wrote that to be conservative is to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery. Phil Bull, the great racing philosopher, self-professed communist, applied hard headed empirical analysis. Breeding governed Oakeshott’s thinking and time figures were Bull’s sine qua non. They both admired Ovid; Oakeshott introduces his “A Guide to the Classics” with a quote from the Greek poet: Bull named one of his better horses for him. “Best Horses” was the original title of the Timeform Annuals: Oakeshott’s opus is sub-titled “How to Pick the Derby Winner”.  Bull wrote: “Form at its worst can speak like the Sphinx in riddles asking us questions when we are thirsting for an answer” and I doubt he would have gone for Wings of Eagles last year when the longshot, a son of a Derby winner, was an archetypal Oakeshott “qualifier”. On deliberation Oakeshott insisted: “What is essential is absolute quiet and freedom from distraction…He (the handicapper) will find himself better able to deal with the situation in solitude.” Bull’s retort was: “Read me not religiously but agnostically.” Great minds thinking alike – impossible for a committee.

Alex's Insights - Taittinger

Once again this year we will continue our association with Taittinger, a partnership which has now reached eight years. The origins of this venerable house can be traced back to 1734 and is one of only a tiny handful to remain in family hands. 

Founded by Jacques Fourneaux the Taittinger link was established in 1931 when Pierre Taittinger, the founder of today’s company, acquired the house. He had spent much time in the champagne…

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Founded by Jacques Fourneaux the Taittinger link was established in 1931 when Pierre Taittinger, the founder of today’s company, acquired the house. He had spent much time in the champagne region during the First world war when serving as a young cavalry officer. Stationed at Chateau de la Marquetterie, he fell in love with this remarkable property and its vineyards and bought the company. Today, the Reims based house is headed by Pierre’s grandson, Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger and his son Clovis and daughter Vitalie, both of whom are actively involved in the day to day running of this thriving family champagne House.

Taittinger’s home in Reims is situated above miles of chalk tunnels and cellars. These fourth century UNESCO listed cellars once belonged to the Benedictine monks of the abbey of St Nicaise and ideal for the slow ageing process required (by law) for the great champagne. The hallmark of the house style is the high percentage of Chardonnay that is used in the blend which can be anything from 40% in the non-vintage cuvee to 100% in the prestigious (and to my mind the best prestige cuvee bar none) Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs. This dominance of Chardonnay gives the wine a style and elegance, delicacy and finesse which is renowned around the world and has earned the house countless awards over the years.

Taittinger was the first champagne house to purchase vineyards in England. The land in Kent now planted with vines will produce an English sparkling wine under the Domaine Evremond label.
 
Taittinger produces a range of styles which includes non-vintage, vintage (only in exceptional years), rose and Comtes de Champagne. There are three grape varieties grown in the champagne region and used in the production of this greatest of wines: Pinot Noir (which gives body), Chardonnay (finesse and elegance) and Pinot Meurnier (also body and structure). The soil in the champagne region is largely chalky and covered by a layer of siliceous clay belong to a Jurassic formation named after the village of Kimmeridge in Dorset. The most northern of all the vineyards in France, it enjoys less sunshine and a greater threat of frost. Subtleties such as the aspect of the slope can make a huge difference to maximise the amount of sunshine.
 
Taittinger owns 288 hectares of vineyards in the best localities of Champagne making it the second largest domaine owner in the region. This ensures a regular supply of nearly 50% of Taittinger’s annual needs, which is a lot more than most other well-known houses. The remaining 50% comes from carefully selected growers, some of whose links go back four generations.

The wine by which all Champagne houses are judged is the non-vintage. Taittinger’s Brut Reserve NV (non-vintage) is made from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meurnier. Juice from each is pressed separately in the vineyard press houses and then taken to the cellars in Reims where they are fermented for the first time in stainless steel vats to produce a still wine. In the spring of the following year the assemblage (blend) is made to the house style, using 40% Chardonnay, nearly double that of most houses. The wines is then bottled with a little yeast and sugar, sealed with a crown cap and laid to rest in the famous cellars. Here they undergo a secondary fermentation which produces Co2 and ultimately the all-important bubbles.

After around three to four years (a costly amount of time in terms of investment by the house) maturing, more than twice the legal requirement, the bottles undergo “remuage”, a process where over a period of days the bottles are slowly rotated so that the sediment slides down the bottle to the bottle neck. The bottles are then placed in a freezing bath neck down where an ice plug forms capturing all the debris. When the cap is removed, the ice plug ejects, leaving a clear, sparkling wine, to which is added a little older wine to top up and cane sugar to bring it to the required level of sweetness (not “sweet” to you and me) before being re-corked and labelled.
 
So that is it, this magical drink, beloved around the world is a true labour of love. Personally my favourite time of the day for the first class is no later than 11am!

Taittinger Moment

This month's Taittinger Moment has been awarded to Michael Bell, who has very kindly offered to keep Namirah free of charge until she sells on 28th March, as she was unable to go to the Tattersalls sale this week.  This is a very kind gesture for a filly who unfortunately has had a career peppered with misfortune!

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