One of the most enjoyable aspects of this job is meeting a multitude of breeders and hearing their various tales of triumph and disaster.
There have been few breeders quite so colourful as Harry Ormesher, who died in November at the age of 81 and will be remembered chiefly in the bloodstock industry as the breeder of the Derby winner Sir Percy. After that colt’s excellent two-year-old season I was fortunate enough to be dispatched to Old Suffolk Stud in Hundon to hear the story of Sir Percy’s less-than-perfect start in life, his dam Percy’s Lass having died from colic when he was just three weeks old.
Ormesher bridled slightly at any suggestion that the breeding of Sir Percy was merely down to luck, and he was right
Ormesher’s early introduction to racing had been as publicity agent for Red Rum – an unusual sideline to his more regular work as an award-winning sports and fashion photographer – and he was every bit as sentimental about horses as his old friend Ginger McCain. The mare who became Sir Percy’s foster mother, Great Exception, remained at Old Suffolk Stud until she herself died foaling a filly by Lend A Hand, whom Ormesher subsequently couldn’t bear to sell. After naming her Orphaned Annie, he formed a partnership to put her into training with Brian Ellison.
There’s no question that all breeders great and small need luck on their side but Ormesher bridled slightly at any suggestion that the breeding of Sir Percy was merely down to luck, and he was right. It was primarily down to research and a belief in his convictions.
Speaking in the spring of 2006, prior to his star’s Classic campaign, he said: “Someone recently said it’s a fluke for a small stud having Sir Percy but I disagree. I sent Percy’s Lass to Mark Of Esteem repeatedly for two reasons. One is that I just love that Moller pedigree: Violetta, Favoletta, Furioso, Laughing Girl and so on. If you watch, it’s always throwing something up. I knew it would suit Darshaan [Mark Of Esteem’s sire]. Also, I went to the sales after I bought Percy’s Lass and looked at her offspring and they had terrible front legs but Love Token’s legs were great. That’s why I kept going back.”
In five visits to Mark Of Esteem, Percy’s Lass lost one foal when undergoing surgery for a twisted gut and aborted another. The winning fillies Love Token and Lady Karr interspersed those two sad occurrences, with Sir Percy being the final, triumphant result of the determined experiment.
Basic principles apply
Such forethought should be borne in mind when it comes to finalising this year’s matings. There’s no doubt that plenty of breeders will again flock to unproven first-season sires, and with the sales results for the offspring of many of these stallions being, often, unjustifiably high, who can blame them? In attempting to breed a racehorse, however, it’s important not to lose sight of the principles which the most influential breeders have stood by for generations – namely, pedigree and conformation.
In selecting the wayward but talented Percy’s Lass as a broodmare, Ormesher wisely bought into a family which had achieved noted success for the Moller brothers and set about using a stallion which would aid her in producing a correct foal.
Those on the pinhooking circuit will doubtless groan at the recollection that Sir Percy, a relatively inexpensive foal at 20,000gns, cost even less as a yearling when sold to Marcus Tregoning for just 16,000gns. Basking in the reflected glory of a top juvenile who went on to become a Derby winner will no doubt have eased the commercial pain for Will Edmeades and Chris Budgett, who were involved in the pinhooking of Sir Percy.
For a breeder to stay afloat, commercial considerations are paramount and the increasingly fickle nature of stallion fashions, combined with some hefty rises in covering fees, make this a headache-inducing worry.
For Harry Ormesher, losing the mare who bred him a Classic winner at such a young age was a significant blow and he may well have had cause to rue the decision to sell Sir Percy for a sum which would only just have covered his production costs.
His ultimate reward, however, was the satisfaction of watching the colt who kicked his breeder in the head just seconds after he was born passing the post in front in the most cherished Flat race in the world.
It was, Ormesher said at the time, “the best day of my life without doubt”.