SUNNYHILL Stud in Kilcullen, Co Kildare celebrates 40 years in business this year. It was founded in 1979 by Michael and Sheelagh Hickey, having been bought a year earlier from the well-known trainer Paddy Murphy.
Michael explains: “The stud has always been a family run farm, with Sheelagh taking a very active behind the scenes part. Mike is still involved in the running of the stud and Jane, Paul and Dave played their part until life took them in different directions.
“The first stallion was Whistling Deer at a fee of £300. He had a very good two-year-old from his first crop called Times Time who won five and was the highest-rated juvenile in the European Free Handicap by a first season sire. How times have changed! Other good stallions to stand here were Good Thyne, Montelimar, Old Vic, Lord Americo and Gamut. On the leading NH sires’ list for 2004-05 Montelimar was third, Old Vic fourth and Lord Americo sixth. Old Vic was champion in 2007-08.
“The biggest challenge facing National Hunt stallion masters is the shortage and availability of suitable stallion prospects. Breeders prefer to use proven, commercial sires and consequently it is difficult to get a young horse, just off the track, started with decent mares. The other challenge is the lack of trade for filly foals. Stallion owners, including ourselves, have reacted by giving filly foal concessions. While this is a short term help to breeders, it is not the answer to the problem.”
This year Sunnyhill offers three stallions, new recruit Casamento (€3,000), Doyen (€5,000) and Lucky Speed (€1,500), all with filly foal concessions. “I am looking forward to starting with Casamento who is the leading third-crop sire in Europe based on races won, ahead of Frankel and Nathaniel. Doyen continues to do well with his four-year-old runners on the track and in point-to-points. Lucky Speed is a fabulous looking horse and is getting lovely looking stock and very athletic movers.”
Sunnyhill maintains a broodmare band of between 12 and 15 mares. Among the winners bred are Gold Cup and dual King George VI Chase winner Kicking King, Road To Riches, Kalashnikov, Kalane and Balthazar King. “We are lucky to have sisters and half-sisters to most of these. We also sold a half-sister to Road To Riches in foal to Gamut - she was actually carrying Road to Respect! You win some and lose some.”
The team at Sunnyhill is select. “At the moment we have a full-time staff of just two, Mary is here three years and Triona joined us last September. They are both dedicated, unbelievable workers and I would gladly disappear any time for a few days and know everything is in good hands. We take on extra staff for the stud season and are looking for workers to start next month. This is another area of difficulty for our industry and it is increasingly difficult to find Irish lads or girls to work on a stud farm. The powers that be should realise this and make it easier to get working visas for citizens who are outside the EU.”
FEW farms in Ireland have a history and tradition as long as Tara Stud in Co Meath. Founded by Clifford Nicholson and Derek Iceton’s grandfather Tom in 1946, the management was taken over a year later by the then 18-year-old Billy Iceton. Billy was a much admired, respected and loved figure in Irish breeding circles, and a man who, like his son, put a lot back into the business.
Derek Iceton is a realist, and a man who is not afraid to call it as it is. He said: “We are entering a very difficult time in our industry, both for studs and breeders. Middle markets are ebbing away. The rush to the top is just not achievable by most breeders, and anyway there is a small and finite demand there. It’s not just a question of overproduction but one of a declining market.
“Brexit adds a further and very dangerous challenge; we simply do not know what’s about to happen.”
Tara houses two very exciting sons of Dark Angel, who stood early in his career for €7,000 and will command €85,000 this season. “Alhebayeb and Estidkhaar will stand here in 2019, both at €5,000. Alhebayeb had 18 winners and an additional 30 placed horses in his first crop running in 2018. We are expecting them to really perform this year.
“Estidkhaar’s foals sold exceptionally, making up to €100,000, and with many others selling very, very well. They provided a great return to those breeders who produced a nice foal from a 5k investment.”
Tara Stud also has a large farm and they feed a large amount of cattle and grow winter wheat. It is also a farm that retains its staff. “Leonard Brennan retired after 39 years at Tara just six months ago. He was previously stud groom in Old Fairyhouse. He’s sadly missed but he sure deserves his retirement. He looked after all our yearlings.”
A final word of wisdom from Derek. “We must look to the future with cautious optimism and be ready to adapt.”
ALASTAIR Pim is one of the most recognisable faces in the business, helped in no small way by his position as an auctioneer with Tattersalls and Tattersalls Ireland. He also runs the family-owned Anngrove Stud in Mountmellick, Co Laois with his wife Gillian. He said: “I am extremely lucky to have another career as an auctioneer. The two combine well as most of the sales are in the off-season.”
Alastair follows in the footsteps of his father as an auctioneer and stud master. “Anngrove has always been in the Pim family. Before my father bought the first stallion, Lucifer, in 1970, Anngrove was a dairy farm and the only horses were plough horses.
“He trained a few point-to-pointers but decided he’d be better off sending them to a proper trainer.
“He was actually one of Paddy Mullins’ first patrons and sent him a couple of winners in Lovely Lee and High Stakes.”
Anngrove has been home to two winners of the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, the remarkable Monksfield and Alderbrook, while some others have included Prince Regent, Arctic Lord and Pilsudski. It is currently home to Galileo’s son and successful sire Vendangeur (€3,500), Selkirk’s Group 2 winning son Aiken (€1,200) whose first crop are four this year, and the 13-time group winner and 20-time stakes winner Famous Name. The latter, a son of Dansili, is already a multiple stakes sire whose first crop are only five, and he is a bargain at €1,000 on the day of covering.
Girl power rules at Anngrove where there is a long tradition of female stud grooms, with Alastair saying: “we have always found them terrific.”
While the market for ordinary filly foals is a problem within the industry, Alastair is another to find the sourcing of stallions a major challenge, being able to afford the stallion you need to be viable.
“You nearly need a Group 1 horse now, or be lucky enough to get a flat stallion who has had a few National Hunt winners and turn him into a jumps sire. The less good the racehorse, the better the individual he needs to be.”
THERE is one thing for certain. A visit during the ITM Stallion Trail to Coolagown Stud near Fermoy, Co Cork will be entertaining. David Stack is always fun to meet.
He told the story behind the founding of the commercial stud business. “With the assistance of my dad, Bernie, I started Coolagown Stud in 1996. My first stallion was Air Display.
“My own interest in the business was fuelled by my dad’s passion for National Hunt breeding. Among the many good horses he bred was the high-class Travado, winner of the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham and runner-up in the Champion Chase.”
David is very much a ‘people person’, a quality that is useful where the greatest challenge to the industry is concerned. “Among the main challenges, similar to many studs, I find is retaining your clients and attracting new ones. It is a competitive industry.”
The most notable stallion to stand at Coolagown is world champion racehorse Daylami. David is delighted with the range of sires he offers breeders this year. “Coolagown will be offering attractive and competitively priced stallions this year, such as our new French recruit Axxos, by Monsun, who is already a proven National Hunt stallion. He stands at €2,500. Zambezi Sun is currently having great results with his runners and has an advertised fee of €2,500.
“As a result of interest from Irish breeders, Papal Bull has returned after three seasons in France, and will stand at €2,000. Shantaram represents great value at €1,000. His stock have been well received at the sales and by trainers. I am looking forward to seeing his first four-year-olds on the track and the point-to-point circuit in the coming months.”
David’s parting shot is typical of the man. “I am full-time managing Coolagown as unfortunately my career as a stand-up comedian failed!”
This family man can take comfort however from being an avid Liverpool supporter.
KILBARRY LODGE STUD
CON O’Keeffe owns and runs Kilbarry Lodge Stud in Waterford, but he is a man who shuns the limelight, preferring to let the horses he stands and breeds do the talking for him.
The stud farm was founded in 1994 and started standing stallions in 1997. The farm runs a broodmare band and their offspring, in combination with a herd of pedigree Charolais and Angus cows. Colts are normally sold as foals and fillies usually retained and raced, while the stud also consigns horses at the principal National Hunt auctions.
The first stallion to stand at Kilbarry Lodge was the versatile Right Win who won the Group 1 Italian Derby, the Group 2 Gallinule Stakes and the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle. He was followed by Bobs Return, Tel Quel, Classic Cliche, Urban Ocean, Overbury and Marienbard. This year the stud offers breeders the chance to use the hugely promising Diamond Boy at €6,000 and Pillar Coral at €1,500.
Pillar Coral is an unraced half-brother to three sires who have sired Grade 1 winners over jumps, the exceptional Martaline, Coastal Path and Reefscape, and comes from the immediate family of Kingman, Oasis Dream and Beat Hollow.
Con says that there are three challenges facing stallion masters at this time. Sourcing suitable commercial National Hunt stallions or stallion prospects at realistic prices is one, finding good staff is another, while making the business work from a financial standpoint is a third.