“IN general we sell all our colts as foals and we retain two fillies a year. We had two in training with Joseph O’Brien this year,” Matt Gilsenan, stud manager of Norelands Stud, Stoneyford, Co Kilkenny is outlining the stud’s policy as we drive through the yards and stabling, and past paddocks sheltered by mature beech and oak woods.
Norelands is adjacent to Mount Juliet and Ballylinch Studs, (“with whom we have a great working relationship”, Gilsenan continues) and extends to over 400 acres of top limestone grazing pastures. The stud was acquired by Sir Hugh McCalmont in 1912, then forming part of the family estate, Mount Juliet, and it has remained in the family ever since, with Harry and Elizabeth McCalmont in charge today.
Norelands is a leading consignor of yearlings and foals at the sales in Ireland and England, and also runs a large boarding operation, both permanent and seasonal for global clients.
“We have expanded with a long-term lease on a farm outside Kells (Co Kilkenny) with 25 boxes and about 60 acres. Now we sell more yearlings. People come to us at sales saying ‘we didn’t think you sell yearlings’ but we always have and now are selling more.
“Staffwise, of course, it’s harder to manage but staff numbers can increase and decrease as required.”
As we pass by some paddocks, Gilsenan outlines the grass management: “Sheep come through here and strip out everything and keep the paddocks in great nick. If there is one thing you learn at agricultural college it’s that a ton of sheep manure is worth a bag of nitrogen. We have 400-500 ewes on site from June to November who we lease. And we take them off, leaving a nice bit of green cover on the grass, so when the frost comes there won’t be severe damage. Horses are a terrible waste of grass!” he laughs.
“Luckily, we didn’t have any water shortages this summer as we have a well although there were problems locally with the mains. We were in Spain on holidays and I was talking to a local lady who said they have no rain but no issues. They have proper reservoirs and are organised!
“It was a crazy year. We couldn’t get to the Kells farm in the snow even though it’s on a main road, The lads had to go on tractors. Then we had floods, then more snow and then the drought.”
We continue the drive, flanked on either side by mature and younger-planted woodland retaining some technicolour autumn hues and interspersed with paths cut through the trees.
Matt continues: “There are about 3km of paths beautifully kept throughout the woods and, in the old rugby playing days I used to jog through them but now it’s walking with the foals – we have about 20-25 foals.
Youngstock grazing at Norelands
“We don’t use the walker with foals. Mentally it’s too hard on them and on their knees, especially April foals. It’s too much, you don’t control it, they are pushed on by the walker. If you have the staff, the foals like it much better. Their mouths are better, the dogs are all chasing about, it’s all much more natural.
“Foals can get banged in the walker, they don’t know what’s going on. For yearlings we use the walker, like everyone else.”
As we look into a paddock of youngsters, I ask how they decide which fillies go into training?
“In general, we go through our own pedigrees. Any filly of Fleche D’Or, the dam of Golden Horn, or from Power’s dam, Frappe, we keep.
“We had a Galileo colt two years ago out of Fleche, which we sold. We have a Frankel filly out of Fleche D’Or which will never be sold.
“Royal Fizz, Hitchens’ dam, died having a Mastercraftsman filly, the last of the line. We had a foster mother organised. There she is, that grey filly with the white face.
“The really good mares, we breed them to have a filly. If you have a colt, well, that’s fair enough but it’s not the plan. The mare should be good enough to carry the stallion. A Mastercraftsman can be tough to sell commercially but we’re happy to keep the filly.”
Recent years have seen spectacular prices for stock consigned by Norelands. Yearlings bred and nurtured here have realised up to 775,000gns (the subsequent Group 1 winner, Curvy), and in 2018 a Le Havre filly consigned by the farm made 875,000gns.
“With the yearlings, we have to plan now what’s going to be fashionable in three years’ time. It’s a lottery. Of course, the less fashionable stallions are better value.
“Now everyone wants a Kingman, there’s lot of Kodiacs and a lot of Dark Angels, both rock solid.
“We buy mares from good old breeders Hascombe, Sangsters, Coolmore, who breed daughters to the right stallions, not always the fashionable stallions. That won’t always work for your mare. When we buy mares, the key things - apart from the mares’ race record - is who is breeding from these lines? Where are the daughters? What else can pop up?”
The Land Cruiser turns into a stable yard where there is plenty of chat coming out of the open doors from working staff.
“The foals go out every day and when they are not long weaned they take a dip, a bit like a child going to boarding school. We take the mares away gradually and leave one older mare with them. It works very well. They are herd animals, of course, and don’t like to be on their own. We try to keep the same bunch together, as being with their pals is all part of de-stressing, so that they are mature enough for handling at the sales. Because of being hand-walked, they go out but are happy to come in. We stick to that, even at the weekends, when they arrive at the gate on-time, happy to have their routine.
“Then, prepping for the sales, you have to get them used to eating on their own and being in a box on their own, so they won’t be stressed.
“A foal going to the sales now has to have X-rays and videoscopes. It’s hard on them, they are babies. A foal that scopes okay now should be okay the following year. They have a bath two days before the sale and off they go to Goffs and Tattersalls.”
He looks over the stable door of one of the boxes. “There’s a first crop Awtaad, he’s nice, He could go to the December Sales. We have a bunch of eight selling for the Niarchos family; it great that they trust us with them. We’ve done that for the last four years. They have nice pedigrees, nice foals. The whole Niarchos team is involved in the selection process, including Maria and Electra.”
A fantastically calm foal comes out of his stable to stand on a bank and pose impeccably for The Irish Field. “He’s by Lope De Vega out of Hint Of Pink,” Matt recites. “He’s going to Tattersalls and should go well.”
“When you are thinking about who to keep as yearlings, you are looking at one and thinking ‘he’s a very nice foal now but will he be a nice yearling?’ It’s trying to judge a child of 12 playing rugby now and asking ‘will he play for Lenister in a few short years?”
“If we get 120,000 for a foal we are happy to let it go. Good luck to the guy who bought him and maybe makes twice as much as a yearling. That guy will come back to us and it means we have a good reputation for good foals that race. We’re very, very lucky to have had a huge run of results on the racecourse.”
Back into the Land Cruiser again and we stop at a paddock and take a look at some youngstock for next year: “This time of year we leave colts and fillies together, we won’t worry for another two months when we are more conscious of it. They stay in their bunch all together, all even after being weaned.”
He points a few out: “There’s a Curlin with white socks, a very, very nice foal; a Frankel filly out of Fleche D’Or, a Gleneagles, another Frankel, two Acclamations, and a Dansili.
“Acclamation is a good, commercial sire, we have shares in him. He’ll get out a racehorse every time. At one stage he was really hot, Coolmore had a few but it didn’t work out. Maybe he’s more of a hardy type, great value but not a classic one. Then Expert Eye comes along and wins the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Everyone will be piling in again! That’s the fascinating part of breeding. The good pedigrees always come back, some little thing will click and make a winning racehorse.
“It takes a hell of a stallion to come from a low level like a Kodiac, a Danehill Dancer, Fairy King.
“There’s Kodiac in Tally-Ho servicing tons of mares, Tony O’Callaghan has lots of mares, gets the offspring out racing and the mare quality is improving.
“Dark Angel didn’t get his ground this year but I will never bet against Dark Angel.
“Gay O’Callaghan is there at Yeomanstown for every single covering. These are men in their 70s. That’s a passion. Of course it’s about money, but it’s more than that.”
"Magna Grecia (purple cap), the Futurity Stakes winner, was a huge result for us.'' Photo Healy Racing.
Back in the office, over a cup of tea, Matt outlines the highlights for Norelands in recent years.
“The recent Group 1 Vertem Futurity Trophy winner, Magna Grecia, was consigned and sold by us in the 2016 Tattersalls foal sale draft for 340,000gns. That was a huge result for the farm, a huge swing.
“We got 840,000gns for a Le Havre filly at Tattersalls consigned by us at this year’s Book 1. I thought she would get half that. She was exceptional, 14 different vets had a look at her.
“We bred Power, the 2012 Irish 2000 Guineas winner and Group 1 two-year-old winner, as well as his half-sister, Curvy, who won the 2015 E.P Taylor Stakes, the Ribblesdale Stakes and Gallinule Stakes, Their dam, Frappe, also produced the 2005 Ribblesdale Stakes winner, Thakafaat. The Group 1-placed Hitchens, by Acclamation out of Royal Fizz, was one of ours, and his group-placed sister, Cava, and the group sprinter, Alphabet. Joseph O’Brien trains Cava for us and we’ll keep her.
“It was a huge honour for us to consign part of the Balymacoll Dispersal a couple of years back.
“This year’s foal draft is about 40, with six to 10 going to Goffs and the rest to Tattersalls. At Newmarket, we have a full yard with hospitality laid on and clients know where to find us.
“A Kodiac colt out of an unraced Galileo mare, Rate (Lot 974), at Tattersalls is very, very nice, as is the next lot, a Kingman colt out of Islington. She won the Yorkshire Oaks twice, as well as the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
“No Nay Never, who’s having such a great year, is the sire of Lot 1017, a chesnut colt. The next foal is the one you saw outside, the Lope De Vega out of Hint Of Pink, and he walks so well. Then we have a Siyouni colt out of Love On My Mind who should be popular.
“We are happy enough with the way things work out over the years. Tattersalls are never a problem to deal with and would tend to concentrate the higher-end foals on the Friday. Tattersalls occasionally ask us ‘is that a Friday foal or will it get buried there?’ A Friday foal, you would be expecting to get 100-200 grand, with a page to match. Others might have a better chance on a Wednesday and Thursday.
“Goffs have worked extremely hard to get everything right for the foal sales and it’s going to make a huge difference with the addition of the new boxes. Goffs split up the foals and have the mares in-between, and then go back to selling more on the Saturday.
“There’s too many foals around again. We try to keep it tight with only 20-25 mares. We only give them a few chances to get good stock and then get rid of them.”
How do you think the market will perform this year?
“The same as the yearlings, the top 20% - with a proper stallion, good mares and good looks - will go well.
“Those pinhookers, you have to admire them! They are so resourceful with some amazing touches. All this business needs is three young fellows to buy a foal for 10 grand and get 100 grand the following year, and you have a market!
“You have to think outside the box as regards the stallion or have an outstanding individual.
“Stallions hot now are Kingman, of course, Dark Angel, who is getting lovely mares, Siyouni, No Nay Never, Kodiac, who is getting better mares, Frankel, and we’re big fans of Sea The Stars, a lovely stallion. Zoffany’s best progeny are coming to run. You see how the market is going by the mares going through here and who they are booked to.
“I’m very pleased to use Lope De Vega, (his fee is now €80,000) who’s had an unbelievable year. You think ‘Mmm, a bit of a plain Shamardal head’ but when they start running, wow, they are beautiful.”