It’s been an awfully long sales season which has doubtless been good for some and not so for others. Hopefully breeders can now enjoy some peace and quiet over Christmas before foaling begins so, for those of you with an inclination towards National Hunt racing in particular, here’s a little feelgood story for the festive season.
Back in 2002, Dr Donna Christensen and her husband Dr Phil Burnett acquired a filly foal by Relief Pitcher, a son of Welsh Tern who was trained by the late Peter Walwyn before being sent to race on in America. After his repatriation, he returned to Britain to stand at Graham Heal’s Vauterhill Stud in Devon.
The couple needed a foal to run with a homebred from Christensen’s hunter mare at their Lamanver Farm in Cornwall and chose the Relief Pitcher filly after watching her gambol about the Vauterhill paddocks.
“One stood out,” says Christensen. “She floated across the ground, in balance, always in the lead, perfection in her movement. She was cheap, under £1,500, as she was a filly foal and no-one wanted them to race. But with the movement I had seen nothing else mattered, so she came down to our farm, weaned and very wild at five months of age.”
With no previous experience in thoroughbreds, Christensen and Burnett looked upon the filly as a “family project”, eventually backing her at the neighbouring farm and overseeing her early pre-training before deciding to send her as a four-year-old to Richard Barber, who at the time was operating a satellite yard for Paul Nicholls.
Having taken on a filly with a grandam named Bases Loaded and a sire by the name of Relief Pitcher, the American-born Christensen followed the baseball theme and named her pride and joy Lamanver Homerun – and in racing and breeding terms, she has proved quite the home run for the farming and hunting family.
Transferred to the care of Nicholls, she went on to win a bumper, two hurdle races and a mares’ novices’ chase, finishing her career in the TBA/EBF Mares’ Novices’ Chase Final at Newbury in 2009. Properly tried on the racecourse and earning a rating that would qualify her for the TBA Elite Mares’ Scheme, Lamanver Homerun encouraged her owners to enter the world of thoroughbred breeding.
“She clattered into a fence at Newbury and needed to mend. Richard Barber thought it was the time to breed her. Ruby Walsh, who had ridden her five times, said we should breed her and the TBA Elite Mares’ Scheme gave us the funding, encouragement and advice to do so,” says Donna. “We have had and have taken good advice from trusted and knowledgeable people in the industry.”
Sent for her first three seasons to Lucarno, Lamnaver Homerun produced three fillies in a row – a record that might try the patience of many National Hunt breeders, but again Christensen decided to back her own judgement and put all three fillies in training. All three are now winners in her colours.
The eldest, Lady Of Lamanver, ran placed behind subsequent decent winners Barters Hill and Lifeboat Mona in her first two bumper starts for Harry Fry and has been a model of consistency until winning for the first time at Fontwell on November 10. Her year-younger sister Lamanver Alchemy is a bumper winner, but perhaps the best example of Christensen’s patience being rewarded is with Lamanver Odyssey, who has won three races over the last two seasons and, in addition to her prize-money of £22,946, has earned her owner-breeder an extra £25,000 by landing three NH MOPS awards.
With Lucarno having moved to France, Lamanver Homerun has subsequently visited Apple Tree, Black Sam Bellamy and Geordieland, with her next three offspring all being colts.
Christensen says: “We have put considerable energy and finance into producing the young stock here on the farm, particularly now that we are retired and doing all the horse work ourselves. We have had to hold our nerve for some years as proving the breeding is a long-term endeavour. The thought of six useless racing homebreds haunted us. Thankfully it does not look as though this is going to be the case.
“We would hope that all three of Lamanver Homerun’s female progeny would attain elite mare status by continuing their racing and proving themselves worthy of breeding in the future, in either our colours or someone else’s. Two are well on their way.”
The Lamanver Homerun success story should certainly come as welcome news to the TBA National Hunt Committee, as well as to jumps breeders around the country. At a time when prize-money in the lower tiers is still nowhere near enough to cover most horses’ training costs, the financial incentives of the Elite Mares’ Scheme and MOPS are certainly helping.
Christensen adds: “We are retired from our NHS day jobs and as pensioners we now have four horses in training, which is not inconsequential financially. MOPS has helped us greatly as our only eligible mare has already earned £25,000 in prizes.”
There’ll be no MOPS prizes for Lamanver Homerun’s young geldings but their relationship to decent winners not only adds further hope for their careers on the racecourse, but indeed adds to their value if the breeders decide to try to sell any of the brothers. In the meantime, look out for the mare’s four-year-old, Lamanver Pippin, who should hit the track this spring.
I wish you all a successful breeding season ahead, and a peaceful 2018.