The Wildenstein silks fall into the category of ‘iconic’ and bring to mind any number of top-class runners, depending on your age group. Peintre Celebre’s breath-taking Arc win and Westerner’s Gold Cup triumph at York stand out for me but others will no doubt recall the names of Allez France, Sagace and All Along to name but three.
Breeding operations that produce top-class runners season after season represent the pinnacle of achievement in our sport, involving years, often decades, of wise investment and diligent decision making, not to mention careful culling. It is why Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms and the Aga Khan Studs, for example, are so admired today.
The families nurtured by these breeders tell the story of the thoroughbred through the generations, as Chris McGrath’s superb article on the Wildenstein family explains (pages 52-56). Blue hen producers rarely come on the open market, yet that will change at Goffs’ November Sale when the Wildenstein mares are to be sold. It is, unquestionably, a unique opportunity for breeders worldwide to buy into some illustrious bloodlines.
Of course, deep pockets will be required to snag any of the stars on show, such as Classic heroine Beauty Parlour. However as Richard Hannon jnr puts it in this month’s Big Interview, “some people don’t mind spending quarter of a million on a racehorse.” (Beauty Parlour will likely make upwards of ten times that amount when she goes through the ring – Chicquita was bought for €6 million at Goffs in 2013).
Hannon inherited his training operation from his father, also Richard, in 2014 and junior has carried on where senior left off. A winners tally in three figures for the season hints that all is fine and dandy down in Wiltshire yet the lack of a genuine Group 1 performer and a blank Royal Ascot in June tell Hannon that there is room for improvement.
Deep pockets will be required to snag any of the stars on show such as Beauty Parlour
“You can’t moan when you’ve had 140 winners but it hasn’t been as good as when we had the stars in the last two seasons,” Hannon explains to Julian Muscat (The Big Interview, pages 40-44).
“I inherited Sky Lantern, Olympic Glory, Toronado – I mean, I had 28 Group winners in my first year, which was unbelievable. It just shows how many good horses we had, and on top of them we had some good two-year-olds, too, like Tiggy Wiggy and Gutaifan. But by God, you miss them when they’re not there.
“We were also disappointed not to have had a winner at Royal Ascot. I’m sure people noticed but no-one said anything to me. It’s so important to have winners there but we didn’t have a star horse this year.
“I trained two Royal Ascot winners in my first year and two in my second. My first ever runner was Toronado and he won the Queen Anne, the first race on the first day. I’d only been in the racecourse ten minutes and the monkey was already off my back.”
The Hannon operation has become synonymous with two-year-old success, quick off the blocks in the early part of the season and bagging juvenile contests left, right and centre. Staying horses and Classic runners have been fewer in number – and this is something Hannon is keen to remedy.
“We are getting a better class of animal now and some of them want a trip,” he continues. “These horses take a little bit longer. People have probably noticed we hardly have any smash-and-grab two-year-olds that go out blistering away in March, April and May, after which they are finished.
“We have a lot of nice, seven-furlong two-year-olds for the backend. We used to have a choice of 20 horses for all those maiden auction races [for inexpensively-bought yearlings]. Now we only have three or four that are qualified to run.”
If Hannon is searching for future Group 1 winners, perhaps he can persuade some of his wealthier owners to take a trip to Ireland for the Wildenstein dispersal. They won’t be disappointed.