THE victory of promising mare Saddle Her Up in a two-mile-two-furlong maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse last month was significant in more ways than one for her owner-breeders David and Clodagh Fitzgerald.

As any breeder will appreciate - especially in National Hunt racing - winning with the first runner from a broodmare in your care is always a joy and release, so it was a cause for celebration when the daughter of unraced mare Daveoin got the family off to a winning start in fine style on January 13th.

However, it was also a milestone success because Saddle Her Up, trained by Barry Fitzgerald, became the first mare to avail of the increased Weatherbys ITBA National Hunt Fillies Bonus Scheme, taking home a tasty €7,500 for her decisive win under 7lb claimer Sean Cleary-Farrell.

In a change to the bonus scheme that came into effect at the start of 2024, Irish-bred winners of bonus races now earn €7,500 (up from €5,000) if that mare is winning her first bonus race, just as the Fitzgeralds’ six-year-old was doing in her 8/1 success at Fairyhouse.

“It was super to see her win for the first time and a huge plus to get the bonus too,” David Fitzgerald told The Irish Field.

“All our family were there so we got a massive thrill out of it all. Barry [who is no relation] has always liked this mare, he and his team are fantastic to work with. We had previously leased her to a syndicate with Barry but unfortunately she picked up an injury and we ended up taking her back.

“After that, we put her back into training with Barry ourselves. It takes the pinch out of training fees to have a day like we had at Fairyhouse with her.”

Improving mare

The Westerner mare’s breakthrough win was the culmination of some solid showings this season. She had caught the eye when runner-up at 50/1 in a Galway maiden hurdle in October before finishing fourth to wide-margin winner Ballyburn (subsequently landed the Grade 1 Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle) in a Leopardstown Christmas Festival maiden hurdle.

“She’s now run well on each of her last three runs,” said Fitzgerald.

“We find that Westerner fillies are tough, and she seems to be that way too. They’re nice to have on your side. It looks as though two miles or two miles and two furlongs is her perfect distance now.

“It’s lovely to have bred this mare as well. My father Paddy and I have been at this for about 25 years, always breeding mares. We’re from the Conna area in Cork, we love breeding horses, it’s a sideline as we are dairy farming. The horses are almost a break from that and we have three or four mares on the go.”

Young stock

On Saddle Her Up’s siblings who are coming through the ranks, he added: “There’s a half- brother to her, sold as a foal, by Sans Frontieres who is in training with Gordon Elliott, and her half-sister is also in training with Colm Murphy - she’s a beautiful looking mare.

“She also has a three-year-old full-brother who I sold as a foal. I have two more half-brothers at home, a Crystal Ocean two-year-old and a Vadamos yearling. The dam is breeding fantastic stock.”

Fitzgerald is a strong advocate for the Weatherbys ITBA National Hunt Fillies Bonus Scheme that has paid out over €3 million in €5,000 bonuses over 10 years.

“We put all our mares in the bonus scheme - even if they’re leased out, we put them in the programme,” he said.

“You have to. It’s an excellent scheme and makes complete sense to avail of. For a once-off cost of €200, I can’t understand why you wouldn’t sign up to it.”

Tomorrow at Punchestown represents the next - and biggest - challenge for Saddle Her Up in her fledgling career, as she tackles listed company for the first time in the Madigan Group Irish EBF Sheila Bourke Novice Hurdle (3.05). The two-mile contest has attracted a useful line-up, but earning blacktype is understandably a major aim for connections of the last-time-out winner.

Fitzgerald said: “We’re aiming for Punchestown and even if she was placed, it’d be an excellent result. Obviously, we’d be delighted if she could manage to pick up some blacktype.

“Breeding can be a tough game and you have to wait a long time for things to happen; the National Hunt side of things can be slow so you need to enjoy the good days. Thankfully, she is a very correct mare for breeding and I think Westerner mares have a useful record for that side of things too. We’re looking forward to the future.”