The wheel of fortune has certainly spun in Bearstone Stud’s direction in recent seasons, and it isn’t just those on the Shropshire farm who are celebrating the fact.
Mark Pennell — the long-serving manager of Terry and Margaret Holdcroft’s operation, a true bulwark of the British breeding industry — says there has been a wave of good will in the wake of its wonderful run of success, headed by brilliant homebred sprinting mare Glass Slippers.
“Everyone has been congratulating us at the sales, even trainers and breeders who we haven’t had a lot to do with before,” he reports. “It’s been amazing. I think it’s because we’re a relatively small stud and everyone’s just so happy that Terry and Margaret are being rewarded for all their hard work.”
Glass Slippers’ pedigree bears the hallmarks of the Holdcrofts’ breeding acumen and wise investments. The Kevin Ryan-trained five-year-old, who has won three top-level contests culminating in a thrilling victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint last November, is out of the winning Night Gypsy, a daughter of former Bearstone resident Mind Games — himself by the stud’s foundation stallion Puissance — and the judicious broodmare purchase Ocean Grove.
Pennell says that the daughter of Dream Ahead gave an early clue that she could be the crowning glory of Bearstone Stud’s breeding efforts.
“She was her dam’s last foal, so the idea was there to retain the bloodline for the farm, but as it happens she might have been kept anyway,” he says. “She absolutely shone in the paddock as a foal and as a yearling.
“She always looked more like an athletic colt, with a feminine head but a masculine body on her. She was quite muscular even before she came in to be broken and prepped. She always looked ready to run, really.”
Glass Slippers has lived up to those early expectations, and how. She has won seven of 17 starts, including the Prix de l’Abbaye by three lengths at three, and the Flying Five Stakes and that famous Breeders’ Cup success at Keeneland at four.
She will surely deliver the stud more silverware yet, as she remains in training with a slightly adjusted programme in mind for her.
“Glass Slippers is still improving, so we felt she was worth returning into training for another year,” says Pennell. “We’re going to push her to six furlongs and see how she goes. She’s not always the quickest out the gates, and often does her best work at the end of her races, so although she’s won her three Group 1s over five or five and a half furlongs, she looks a filly who’ll get six.”
He adds that we might see Glass Slippers earlier in the season than expected, too.
“Some people think she’s a late-season filly but I’m not sure that’s justified,” he says. “We’ve only ever started her late, and she’s seen the season out well each time. It was probably our mistake that she didn’t have a run before the King’s Stand last year and she didn’t quite last home, although she also had a poor draw to contend with.
“She’ll be going to Royal Ascot with a run under her belt this year and I think it will make a massive difference for her.”
Glass Slippers is aided not only by her elite pedigree and powerful physique, but also by an amenable temperament.
“She loves racing and she loves travelling,” says Pennell. “The last time I brought her home from Kevin’s for the winter I put her on the horse box and by the time we were 100 yards down the road she had her head down and was asleep. She could go anywhere in the world and get off the box as bright as she got onto it.
“Glass Slippers absolutely shone in the paddock as a foal and as a yearling”
“She’s a relaxed mare when she’s at home and loves people, especially when they make a fuss of her, but she starts to let you know when she wants to get back into training. The first few months she’ll go out, stroll around and graze, but when she’s ready to go, you’ll turn her out and she blasts around the paddock.”
Glass Slippers’ rise to the top serves as a reminder of the benefits of a long established stud nurturing a family over several generations through careful observation of its members’ characteristics and qualities.
Pennell and his colleagues have done just that in this case since Bearstone Stud bought Ocean Grove at Tattersalls in 1996. The winning Fairy King mare was a granddaughter of Shellshock, who ran third to Mysterious in the 1973 1,000 Guineas.
“Terry’s a big believer in keeping these pedigrees going, as quite often they’ll miss a generation but come back,” he says. “There are two or three of our pedigrees now where we’ve bred the whole family on the catalogue page. It’s very rewarding to see those.
“We quite often speak to trainers who we’ve sold yearlings to, to give them an insight into the family. When you’ve worked with the pedigrees for as long as we have, you know what ground and what trip they’re likely to need.
“Glass Slippers’ family is a good example. They never look like two-year- olds; they’re generally quite narrow and tall, so a lot of trainers think they’d better not push them. But they will go on and do it early if the trainers do prep them that way, and buyers often appreciate hearing that.”
Glass Slippers was only the tip of the iceberg of Bearstone Stud’s fine run of form in 2020. It also bred and sold Group 3 Prix Miesque winner Lullaby Moon, a daughter of Belardo and Weatherbys Super Sprint runner-up Bold Bidder (by the farm’s former stallion Indesatchel) and Group 3 Summer Stakes scorer Queen Jo Jo, by Gregorian out of River Song, a US- winning daughter of Siphon.
The stud was early off the mark this year too. Insomnia, the three-year-old Due Diligence half-brother to Queen Jo Jo, made a pleasing impression when successful on debut in a Lingfield maiden for Richard Spencer, while Gravity Force, a four-year-old by another former resident sire, Fountain Of Youth, scored on his first start for Pia Brandt in France.
Bearstone’s loyal clients have also been in clover. Mike and Tina Bullock’s Crossfields Bloodstock have bred the likes of Motakhayyel, Tis Marvellous, Ventura Rebel and Well Done Fox from only a dozen or so mares based on the stud, while stakes winners Mattmu and Vintage Brut were also raised on the farm for James Bowers and Deborah O’Brien respectively.
Asked to put his finger on what the reason for Bearstone’s purple patch might be, Pennell says the operation has spent a lot of time and hard work in recent years on the matings — “looking for the best possible matches, even using some stallions we might not have used before”.
“There are two or three of our pedigrees now where we’ve bred the whole family on the catalogue page”
But the natural advantages of the stud, spread across three farms over 400 acres of land, have also stood it in good stead for consistently producing robust, talented athletes for the last four decades. “We make all our own haylage here and do paddock rotation so that every paddock gets a rest every two or three years, which you really need with horses as they can sour the ground,” says Pennell.
“We’re on a sandy base soil, which is good in winter as it drains so well, and all three farms were originally dairy farms, so they have quite rich pasture, always with ample grass.”
He adds: “We also have our own water supply as we’re set on a massive underground lake that, luckily, we’ve been able to drill into legally.
“One of our main priorities is land management. If you get that right, the good horses will follow.”
The Holdcrofts’ astute equine acquisitions have also paid recurring dividends down the years. Puissance, Mind Games, Firebreak and Indesatchel were all leading first-season sires in Britain and have given Bearstone some significant broodmares – as proven by Glass Slippers and Lullaby Moon.
One of the inaugural mare purchases also proved to be of utmost importance, as Pennell explains.
“The boss went to the sales to buy some nice mares in the early years and who had never raced for 20,000gns,” he recounts. “That was My First Romance and she turned out to produce 13 winners from 14 runners including three individual Royal Ascot winners — Romantic Myth and Romantic Liaison, who both won the Queen Mary Stakes, and Zargus, who scored in the Balmoral Handicap.”
The family wasn’t quite sure at first whether Terry had done the right thing, buying an unraced mare for a not inconsiderable sum, but those results blew away any doubts.
The decision also blessed Crossfields Bloodstock with one of their best mares. Mythicism, who is out of Romantic Myth, has produced five winners for the Bullocks led by sprint aces Mythmaker and Tis Marvellous.
It should be no surprise that the Holdcrofts have an eye for a good horse, though. The whole family are keen horsemen who used to hunt and were originally more interested in National Hunt racing before they specialised in producing horses who excel at the opposite end of the distance spectrum.
“It’s a great tribute to Terry and Margaret, who have put in so much time and hard work with the horses”
“Terry started out owning jumps horses with Ray Peacock and Reg Hollinshead, but there were so many injuries and disappointments that he moved onto the Flat horses,” explains Pennell. “He adopted the theory that anyone can breed a slow horse but it’s harder to breed a fast one, and so has always had sprinting stallions and mares.”
Today the stud is home to 80 mares, 26 of whom are boarders, and the stallion Washington DC, a son of Zoffany from the family of champion two-year-old Grand Lodge. He won six races including the Windsor Castle Stakes and Phoenix Sprint Stakes, and finished second in two Group 1s, once when hard on the heels of Marsha in the Prix de l’Abbaye.
“We haven’t looked to find another stallion just yet because of Covid,” says Pennell. “We’ve seen how many studs are struggling to fill stallions at the moment, and when you see there are big operations having to wheel and deal who’ve never done so before, you know things are difficult.”
The chance for breeders and purchasers of Washington DC’s fillies – the oldest of whom are yearlings – to win a £20,000 boost to prize-money thanks to the Great British Bonus is marketed enthusiastically by the stud.
“We try to promote that as best we can for the TBA,” says Pennell. “It’s just a great thing for the British breeder. What better incentive is there to buy a filly? Everyone will come out of it a winner. I know Kevin Ryan is now actively picking horses who qualify for it. Fillies had been difficult to sell, but we had some nice prices for ours last year and I’m pretty sure that’s partly down to the bonus scheme.”
Bearstone Stud enjoyed a good set of results at the sales last year generally, despite the spectre of Covid, as its excellent results on the track bestowed some of its lots with all-important pedigree updates.
Among its top-selling yearlings were a Kodiac half-sister to the useful Dan Troop sold to De Burgh Equine for 120,000gns, a Showcasing colt out of the Firebreak mare Bereka sold to Alex Elliott for 110,000gns, and the Ribchester half-brother to Lullaby Moon knocked down to Richard Ryan for £82,000.
“We came out of the sales season very well,” says Pennell. “We had a vintage crop of yearlings and they weren’t all by the most expensive inexpensive stallions, so we couldn’t complain. Unfortunately it seemed more difficult for those who had to sell in online sales last year. It was always going to be hard to sell horses without buyers being able to see them in the flesh.”
Bearstone Stud has embraced the digital era in other ways, though, with assistant manager Hayley Mayer diligently posting pictures of the farm’s young stock and notable racing results to social media.
“Hayley’s got us lots of followers through that, and it does no harm at all,” reasons Pennell. “It’s great to get our foals seen out there, and hear feedback on them. We also like to promote the races Glass Slippers has won. It all helps.”
Bearstone Stud’s success in recent seasons has not gone unnoticed beyond the realms of Twitter and Facebook, either. The operation was honoured with the Langham Cup for Small Breeder of the Year at the TBA Awards last year and also received a special merit award from the organisation last autumn, while Glass Slippers was named Yorkshire Horse of the Year for 2020.
“It’s been lovely for all the staff on the stud who work so hard,” says Pennell, “And it’s a great tribute to Terry and Margaret, who have put in so much time and hard work with the horses. We’re averaging 50 winners bred on the stud each year now, and some years we’ve been well above that. It’s very rare we’re under that number.”
Bearstone Stud is well and truly enjoying a boom. But don’t go thinking that the farm will be resting on its laurels.
“Terry’s as keen as ever, and still very ambitious,” says Pennell. “He’s as enthusiastic about the business now as he was when he and Margaret founded it in 1979.”