Newsletter September 2020

I attended my first yearling sale of the year at Doncaster last week which was very well managed by Chairman Henry Beeby and his team at Goffs. The sale itself lacked some depth quality wise and so Jake’s short list was extremely short but he was right on the money with those he had selected as they all made too much for us at this rage of the sales season. Those really nice individuals stood out like sore thumbs and proved once again that there is always plenty of money around for a good horse! The sale overall was down nearly 30%. 

We now head to Newmarket for the Tattersalls Ireland sale and then its back up to Doncaster for the Goffs sale. Book 1 and Book 2 follow on from that…

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Byline winning at Leicester

We now head to Newmarket for the Tattersalls Ireland sale and then its back up to Doncaster for the Goffs sale. Book 1 and Book 2 follow on from that so a busy time ahead as we look for the next stars! This year as we buy each yearling I will be sending out an email just as I do for for those breeze ups and proven horses that we find. There will be a video and full explanation from Jake and me along with pedigree analysis too. This will also go on to our new sales portal (please click here). So watch this space as one by one the new yearlings are secured and placed in their respective syndicates.

It’s been a busy and very successful time for team Highclere since our last newsletter. The winners have flowed and the horses have more often than not often run well even in defeat. It was so exciting to see Byline back to his very best at Leicester where he dominated a small field to win impressively. He then went on to run a terrific race off his new mark of 95, finishing a close 4th in a hot handicap at the Leger meeting last week.

Affable Newmarket win

The two winners that possibly got the biggest cheer were Affable and Mephisto. This duo have been trying the patience of trainer Ralph Beckett but thankfully the penny dropped for both as Affable stormed to victory at Newmarket whilst Mephisto came late to snatch victory at Sandown.  A relieved and thrilled Ralph said “please thank your share owners for their fantastic patience”!

Rhythm wins at Beverly

The two breeze up purchases to race so far also have proven to be useful. Spycatcher was unlucky not to win on his debut as he stumbled coming out of the stalls but he made up for this with a gallant second in the Acomb (Gr 3) at York proving that he is a top notch racehorse in the making. Unfortunately he blew his chance early on in the Flying Scotsman at Doncaster last week as he was far too keen. That was a great disappointment of course but hopefully Karl can get him back on track to run in a confidence boosting maiden!

Rythm got her act together when winning impressively at Beverley and with good Andrew Balding gallops chat on the Lucky Lion colt that Jake bought us at the Newmarket breeze up it looks as though all three are smart prospects in the making. Another smart Highclere two year old is Operatic who was incredibly impressive when winning at Windsor by seven lengths. She fluffed her lines on her debut when getting very fractious in the stalls at Wolverhampton but at Windsor she won in the style of a very good animal in the making.

Ascension Newmarket Win

I was thrilled to see Ascension get his act together at Newmarket. Roger Varian has always liked this stunning son of Dark Angel who won twice as a two year old last year. At Newmarket he showed that over seven furlongs on easy ground, he is a really progressive sort. He won with his ears pricked and he is definitely one to follow for the rest of the season.

Digital Mussleburgh win

Digital was suffering from a severe case of seconditis after three runs but thankfully he put that behind him with a good win at Musselburgh. He went on to run very creditably in the £200,000 Weatherbys Bank race at Doncaster where he showed blistering speed but was outstayed over the extended 6.5 furlong trip. 

The Highclere National Hunt horses are now beginning to bubble to the surface and Ballywood made an excellent start to our jumping season, finishing second at Fontwell on Saturday. We are also really looking forward to Orbys Legend making his debut - Philip Hobbs his trainer called me to say that he had worked impressively and that we had “a very nice young horse on our hands”! We do have a share available in him and I would thoroughly recommend you taking a close look at this gorgeous son of Milan. He is ready to run at the end of this month so here is an opportunity for some immediate winter action in a horse that we know has ability (Please click here for more information). There is much to look forward to in the remaining few months of the flat season, not to mention the start proper of the NH.

Orbys Legend 2016 b.g SHARES AVAILABLE

My thanks to Anthony Hanson MW for writing his fascinating article on Burgundy. Anthony is a partner in Haynes Hanson and Clarke, the wine merchants who this year are celebrating the 40th running of their race at Newbury next Friday.  This is one of the longest standing continuous sponsorships in British racing. The race has produced  numerous  good horses including Rainbow Quest, Unfuwain, Nayef, and the Derby winners Authorized and Shahrastani.

Good luck with your horses and as always, stay safe!

Harry Herbert, Chairman

BURGUNDY 2020 VINTAGE – first report as the harvest comes in

By Anthony Hanson MW 

The 2020 Burgundy vintage looks set to go into the records as being of excellent quality, though highly unusual. This mini-report (dated 3 September) comes while some growers are continuing…

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The 2020 Burgundy vintage looks set to go into the records as being of excellent quality, though highly unusual. This mini-report (dated 3 September) comes while some growers are continuing to pick, whilst others have finished. 

A warm Spring and early summer allowed vineyard growth an early start, and flowering of the vines generally went through well. There was a heat spike towards the end of June, then very dry, often torridly hot weather characterised both July and early August. Picking began in Meursault and Volnay around 20-22 August, some of the earliest dates ever recorded. The health of the grapes, both red and white, was exceptional – with no traces of rot to be seen. Sorting would be needed to eliminate parts of bunches, or whole bunches, which had not had leaf-protection from sunburn – but vibrating sorting tables or human hands would be able to take care of this. 

Les Clos across Chablis to Les Vaillons Hillsides

Growers were faced with difficult choices. In some plots, the summer heat and lack of rain meant that leaves were turning yellow or brown, signalling that the plant could ripen its fruit no further. It was essential to pick, before grapes became desiccated. Pinot Noir grapes were often tiny, with thick skins, and what looked like little juice. They appeared to have withstood the heat less well than the Chardonnays, and many people found themselves, unusually, harvesting their reds before the whites. 

Many vineyards saw sugars reaching the sorts of levels where growers would wish to harvest, however there were doubts about whether the pips and skins had fully ripened. Should a domaine wait in the hope of refreshing rain (forecast for the weekend of 28/29 August) – or should the crop be picked without delay? Malic acidities had dropped (due to the summer heat) to minimal levels, but beneficial tartaric acidity was holding up well, promising freshness to balance the richness of the grapes. The answer proved to be “stop-and-start” for many. Pick those vineyards which were ready, then take a break, waiting for those in cooler spots to ripen fully. 

There was relief that the tiny Pinot Noir berries nevertheless seemed to be yielding more juice than initially expected. Perhaps the crop size would equal, or surpass, the small one in 2019 – in many cases it will not, but the white harvest appears to be more comfortable. 

Colour from thick Pinot skins appears to be moving easily into the fermenting juice, a healthy sign. Rain did fall (though in varying volumes, from village to village) during the weekend of 28/29 August. But was it too late to be really beneficial, for the later pickers? 

With grapes so healthy, sugars plentiful and acidities appearing to have held up well, fine qualities look assured, but there are bound to be varied results. The harvest has been such a long-lasting one, and the summer had been so very hot and dry.


By Rolf Johnson

Donnacha takes after his father and his elder brother – now he takes them on! His name translates to ‘brown-eyed warrior,’ named after King of Ireland around about 1066. Donnacha…

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Donnacha takes after his father and his elder brother – now he takes them on! His name translates to ‘brown-eyed warrior,’ named after King of Ireland around about 1066. Donnacha O’Brien, 22, and brother Joseph 27, are heirs apparent to their father Aidan, ‘King of racing’. Both sons were champion Irish jockeys: both switched to training and immediately began chasing their father’s peerless record. The future of the dynasty is assured.

Donnacha and Forever Together- Investec Oaks

In this, his first, meteoric year as a public trainer, we slipstreamed Donnacha who was happy to speak about his burgeoning career.

“Dad is the best at what he does - to beat the best you have to be the best,” was Donnacha’s opening salvo.

When the son of legendary Australian trainer Bart Cummings took over from his father he said: “My father taught me everything I know about training but he did not tell me everything he knew about training”. 

Treading the footsteps of giants is naturally daunting – Frank Sinatra’s son could sing, but not like his father. The greater the expectations the likelier the size of the boots to be ill-fitting. The ‘yellow brick road’ Joseph and Donnacha are heading down may not be without its stumbles not least because the ‘boots’ still fit the patriarch; Aidan, at 50, is at the height of his powers, champion trainer’s titles his, seemingly in perpetuity. 

Aidan’s wife Anne Marie was Irish Champion jumps trainer so, being their parent’s sons (not forgetting the daughters who both rode winners) the O’Brien siblings weren’t born and raised to trudge leadenly in their parent’s wake. Already Joseph and Donnacha have achievements – the former a Melbourne Cup with Rekindling and the latter the Prix Diane with Fancy Blue – that father has yet to capture.

Fancy Blue claims Donnacha Classic title

Nor are Joseph and Donnacha, clones – both an inch short of six foot and taller than their father. 

James Joyce vouched in Ulysees, the most celebrated novel of the Twentieth Century, that racing in Ireland had its own place. Throwaway, the 1904 Ascot Gold Cup winner, plays a significant part. That was one Gold Cup in which no O’Brien was involved: Aidan has made up for the ‘omission’, four times - with Yeats, fortuitously named for Ireland’s greatest poet. 

All the O’Brien households – Aidan at Ballydoyle; Joseph at Piltown, Co Kilkenny; Donnacha at Longfield Stables in Tipperary where Aidan began - are their business premises. Donnacha emphasizes the fact. “In Ireland people’s business and their passion for racing go hand in hand. It’s more than a sport.” 

So racing dominates Irish lives and the O’Brien family admit no distractions. Then again you don’t feel, talking to Donnacha, first winner as a trainer, 21 February 2020 at Dundalk five years after his first winner in the saddle at the same track, that he sticks to script. Donnacha was once asked if he was the ‘carefree’ one of the family? Questions like that don’t get asked of his father and brother. His reply, “We all get on great. I don’t disguise things as well as some” - a chink of light into the family armoury?

Late last year when asked, repeatedly, whether he would take up training, he tantalized reporters.  The Racing Post asserted: “Donnacha O’Brien deflects talk of retirement after retaining his jockey’s crown”. Three weeks later the revised heading was, “Donnacha O’Brien quits saddle to focus on training.”  

 “I’m competitive – except I was useless at school. I am a football fan – Man United - and in some ways training horses is like training footballers; you set up as talented a bunch as you can assemble, keep them happy and a lot will play out for itself. 

“There’s more pressure on you as a trainer. As a jockey you can plead you were stuck in traffic and shift blame. But the buck stops with the trainer. Most of the work is mental: most of a jockey’s is physical. These days I’m too busy to spend much time in the gym!”

The best at what he does

“The majority of mine are split between Coolmore (the almighty ‘lads’ Magnier, Tabor and Smith) and horses bred by my parents. The advantage I have is their example. My mother has always bred top horses and Longfield has been in her family for generations. Obviously my parents are my inspiration. I try to replicate what they do and have done and then uncover something of my own. 

“I was always going down the path I’ve taken,” he said, philosophical about starting out in the present epidemic predicament. “Everybody’s in the same boat.”

Donnacha may not (yet) purvey quite the intensity we associate with the name O’Brien: but nature and nurture appear to have found a harmony of ambition and commitment in the tyro trainer. The family created a team when Joseph and Donnacha rode based on inbred diligence without which even ‘genius’ doesn’t have sufficient ‘boot’. 

A risky business then when a winning team splits up (see Man Utd). In these early days Donnacha is operating in a slightly lower ‘division’ than his father and brother but promotion looks assured; the winners are flowing. Those who divert themselves digging into the family psyche need look no further than the winners’ circle. 

On his brief time as a jockey - over 400 winners in just five seasons – Donnacha reflected, “If I was doing light – nine stone - I cut out all the food for a day or two (yes, you read that right). You get used to it. I got lucky with winners a few times with Ryan Moore away riding abroad”: self-deprecation is a notable O’Brien characteristic. 

“Over the two years previous to this I looked after backward two-year-olds at Longfield. Then I took the trainer’s course while I carried on riding. I want to train horses on an individual basis. I’ve space for fifty-five; no, I wouldn’t want one of these huge establishments. It’s not the way I want to do things.”

Is this off-piste? After all, the legions under his father’s command are meticulously marshalled to conquer the world.

Another established nostrum; ‘The father looks back; the son looks forward’. All the son has to do is not muck up his inheritance – or give it the kiss of life. First Joseph and then Donnacha helped maintain their father’s hegemony with their riding talents. Then, without urgings, they struck out as trainers. Donnacha’s first months have been a headlong rush. Fancy Blue was his first runner in France and the same filly was his first runner in a British Group One, Goodwood’s Nassau; same result, stunning victory.

Paddy Power had offered 12-1 against him saddling a Group One in his first year: that was costly. Now the odds compilers must tremble over the 33-1 they offered about a Classic victory in his second.

Gratification was even more intense since Fancy Blue was one of those backward juveniles he’d nurtured before he received his trainer’s licence. 

Classic odds

One impregnable record is that of the first father-son combination to win the Derby - Aidan and Joseph with Camelot in 2012. Donnacha rode in four of his father’s eight Derby victories, two of which (Australia the other) went to his brother. Donnacha came closest when fourth on Broome. He was champion Irish jockey (having been champion apprentice) in his last two seasons in the latter of which all his winners were ‘trained O’Brien’, father or brother. 

But you don’t inherit success in racing, only the challenge. Nepotism doesn’t breed winners and his first Group One winning ride, Intricately in the Moyglare Stud Stakes, was trained by Joseph, bred by Anne-Marie, but starting at 25-1.

There have been few timelines in the saddle like Donnacha’s; from that first winner, September 2014 aged 16, escalating to the Irish Derby on his brother’s Latrobe in 2018: the next four home were trained by their father, one them the beaten favourite that day on the Curragh, Saxon Warrior, the horse on which he, Donnacha, had earlier won the Qipco Two Thousand Guineas! 

“What sort of a day was that? Oh, awesome.”


The month following the Guineas he won the Epsom Oaks on his father’s Forever Together. And his brilliance in the saddle had a signal victory in the Qipco One Thousand Guineas when he plotted a unique route on his father’s Magna Grecia that left the Rowley Mile’s oldest hands shaking their heads in disbelief: in arrears was the favourite, dad’s Ten Sovereigns and Ryan Moore. 

Donnacha O’Brien’s tenth and final Group 1 win in the saddle was the Qipco Champion Stakes at Ascot on the superb Magical. “She was my morning ride at Ballydoyle. You can’t get closer than that.” 

How ironic that the O’Briens, the heavyweights of the racing game, had their riding careers beset by weight problems. Can Donnacha or Joseph dominate tomorrow as utterly as their father did yesterday and today? They sing from the same song sheet: unlike the Sinatras, they may well be equally as big a hit.


By Clodagh McKenna

This delicious and seasonal blackberry pie is a traditional classic British dessert, and another great way to use up your fall fruits, I hope you enjoy it. For those of…

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This delicious and seasonal blackberry pie is a traditional classic British dessert, and another great way to use up your fall fruits, I hope you enjoy it. For those of you who might be interested, please click here to browse my online cookery shop - some lovely items for the kitchen, table-top, ingredients and books.


For the pastry: 

225g butter 

55g caster sugar

2 eggs

340g plain white flour

1 lemon, zest

For the filling: 

300g blackberries

140g sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1 egg, beaten

1 lemon, zest

Caster sugar for sprinkling 


Preheat the oven to 180°C or Gas Mark 4.

To make the pastry, cream the butter and sugar together using a wooden spoon or a food mixer. Add the eggs and beat for several minutes. Reduce speed and mix in the flour. Turn out onto a floured board and roll into a round shape, wrap with cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour, this will give it a crumblier texture once baked.

To make the pie, roll out 2/3 of the pastry so that it’s about 1/8 inch (3mm) thick, and line a 9inch flat plate. Trim the edges with a knife, pop into a fridge to chill again while you prepare the blackberries.

Wash the blackberries and remove the pastry plate from the fridge. Evenly place the blackberries on top of the pastry lined dish and sprinkle with the sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest.

To create the lid for the pie, roll out the remaining pastry until it’s 1/8 inch (3mm) thick and cut it into 8 strips. Arrange and weave the pastry strips in a lattice pattern on top of the pie and crimp it all the way around with your fingers and thumb.
Brush the pie all over with the egg wash and sprinkle with caster sugar. Pop it in the fridge to chill for another 30 minutes.

Once chilled, bake in the preheated oven until the blackberries are tender, approx. 45 minutes to 1 hour. Then allow to cool on a wire rack. 

Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. 

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