Breeders and bookmakers may appear to be polar opposites when considering the various factions within horseracing. Breeding and betting, however, are none too distinguishable, according to the man who knows plenty about both and is doing all he can to ensure the odds are in his favour at his beautifully developed stud in Surrey.
In a part of the country more readily associated with the sprawling suburbia of the stockbroker belt, Andrew and Jane Black have settled into a pastoral niche, within view of the M25 and just six miles from Sandown Park, but comfortingly bucolic nonetheless.
For various reasons I was always drawn into genetic study and actually betting and breeding are kind of similar
At 330 acres, Chasemore Farm isn’t exactly a small niche but it is one which has grown from a single railed paddock for children’s ponies to a manicured breeding operation to rival its more established counterparts in Newmarket’s thoroughbred heartland.
To use the term ‘state of the art’ would be to do a disservice to the well thought-out rustic charm of a main yard reminiscent of Normandy farms, but in its facilities, not to mention an on-site vet, Patrick Sells, Chasemore can certainly boast of all the accoutrements required to run a thoroughly modern stud farm.
“I’m a statistician really. For various reasons I was always drawn into genetic study and actually betting and breeding are kind of similar,” says Black, the Betfair co-founder who is now increasingly more occupied with analysing the vagaries of the bloodstock market than betting markets.
“I don’t see myself as a punter but I’ve spent a period of time as a professional gambler, playing cards actually, and that was a part of my life. If I have a bet these days it’s invariably on the basis of pedigree and looking at the picture of what you think the horse should be from his pedigree and what he’s achieved.
“To me, that sort of punting is not very different to breeding because if you’re betting on what sort of animal it is, or the sort of animal you’re trying to rear, it’s the same sort of mindset, so I think I’m suited to that.”
Striking a balance
Black admits to spending hours poring over pedigrees and considering matings for his 30-strong broodmare band, often trying to strike a balance between the fickle nature of an increasingly commercial marketplace and his more unorthodox views.
“I’m more inclined to go against the market and the principal thinking. I’m a bit of a contrarian,” he says.
“It’s almost painful doing the matings because we go over and over them, and chop and change things. It’s agony sometimes. I’m looking at pedigrees throughout the year.
“The amount of time that I put into it probably far outweighs the value I get out of it but it’s very much a hobby and part of the problem is that there never is an answer to who is the right stallion. It’s a punt, a probability play.”
The whole thing was very traumatic. I still think about it now. I went back to the house for a while and felt sure that by the time I came back we’d have lost them both
The gambling parlance recurs frequently in Black’s explanations of his approach to breeding and, during one particular incident two years ago, he must have felt his luck had run out.
On the night of February 24, 2016, the farm’s prize mare Ceiling Kitty – the homebred Queen Mary Stakes-winning daughter of Red Clubs and the first horse Black ever owned outright, Baldovina – showed signs of foaling.
Tragically, the Camelot colt she was carrying was locked in the ‘dog sitting’ position which had caused huge internal damage to the mare.
With only a slim chance of saving the foal, Sells and his team at the stud set to work on cutting the unresponsive foal from the mare immediately post mortem. After six minutes of mouth-to-nose resuscitation, and with the team close to giving up hope, the colt finally gasped and came to life.
“The whole thing was very traumatic. I still think about it now,” Black recalls. “I went back to the house for a while and felt sure that by the time I came back we’d have lost them both. But when I came back down at about 1am the foal was still alive. Everyone was exhausted. It was the most draining experience we’ve had on the farm.”
From tragedy to Royal Ascot glory
By the time this story was recounted on the Saturday of Royal Ascot, it was no less tragic but had been furnished with a more uplifting second chapter. The victory of that colt, now known as Arthur Kitt, in the Chesham Stakes is by no means a happy ending but it is a happy outcome nonetheless.
Despite the improbability of this orphaned foal with a twisted hind leg being able to bestow his mother with posthumous glory along the same stretch of turf on which she herself recorded her most memorable triumph, for Black it was a case of a plan coming together, albeit in rather more tragic circumstances than he had first envisaged.
“I had hoped to breed something that was precocious but that had stamina. And he’s been out early but he should also have stamina. Not many horses who are bred for the Chesham are actually being aimed to run in it. That’s why I had it in mind,” he says.
“People have criticised me and said that I was a bit arrogant for saying that I was trying to do this and trying to do that.
“But I don’t think it’s arrogant to try to do something and with Arthur Kitt, when I was thinking about the mating, I was thinking about the Chesham, and that was in my mind when I sent the mare to Camelot.
“It’s amazing to have that kind of long-term plan play out. It’s good for your self-belief and it’s good for all the team at Chasemore Farm. It helps everyone here to believe in what we’re doing.”
While in many ways it’s mission accomplished, Black is not the only one hoping that Arthur Kitt can go on to be a stable star for Tom Dascombe in similar vein to Brown Panther, whom he co-owned with that horse’s breeder and fellow partner in the trainer’s Manor Farm Stables, Michael Owen.
He adds: “In the parade ring [at Ascot] Arthur looked strong enough but he also looks like he has plenty of development still to come so I hope that he will be progressive and gradually lay on muscle.
“At this point the hope is just that he stays sound and healthy. In the Chesham, he was 1,000-1 at one stage in running because he started well and then lost his position, but he then started to run on again and showed a very good attitude, which bodes well.”
Expanding Chasemore’s repertoire
From its single-paddock beginning, Chasemore Farm is now home not just to a private broodmare band but also keeps boarding mares for clients, including the south London-based Chris Stedman.
I knew the land was interesting, and with the big slope it means the paddocks at the top are different to the paddocks at the bottom
It was a feather in the cap of a relatively fledgling operation to be sent eight mares by Philippa Cooper after she sold her Normandie Stud in Sussex last year, and Chasemore also has boarders from prominent French-based Swedish breeders Sven and Carina Hanson, as well as Jan and Maya Sundstrom and their daughter Anna — responsible collectively for such Group 1 stars as Pride, Reliable Man and Le Havre.
Looking back on a project which has taken just over a decade to come to fruition, Black recalls: “It was just 330 acres of open land other than the farmhouse and one small paddock where the kids had their ponies.
“There wasn’t a single road or any water pipes on the farm and part of it was being used for crops. We put up a temporary yard and then designed out and away from there.
“I don’t think we had a particularly big vision. I spoke to a few people and we went through various different versions of what it might look like, some a bit too grand for us, but actually what we have is quite grand in its own way.
“I knew the land was interesting, and with the big slope it means the paddocks at the top are different to the paddocks at the bottom.
“From 2014, we started to think that we could make more of a business out of it and not just keep our own mares. So we’ve got a lot more commercial and over the last few years we have opened for business for outside clients, and we now have three or four big clients.”
‘I want this place to be an owner-breeder community’
Black looks upon this newer venture as something of a breeding collective. “It was always my hope that sitting in this part of the country we’d attract interest from people in London and Surrey. Then I wasn’t sure if I’d misjudged it but in the last six months since the facilities have been finished we’ve had a lot of interest.
“We haven’t had anyone walk away from us yet if they’ve come to visit the farm, and the ones we’ve attracted are the owner-breeder types.”
He continues: “I want this place to be an owner-breeder community and if it means I have to have fewer mares to allow room for clients then I’m happy to do that.
“I have a mixture of mares and initially I wanted to get the numbers up and have a good body of horses here to get the place up and running. We’re working on the quality over time.
“We’re looking [at pedigrees] all the time. It’s a big part of it and if I didn’t enjoy it I wouldn’t do it. It can work well for our other owner-breeders. I could talk about stallions for an infinite amount of time.
“We’ve been buying shares in stallions and they are horses we’d like to use ourselves but we can also offer them to our clients here at good prices.
“I think it helps to run this place more commercially and it helps with our community orientation. I was talked into buying a share in Le Havre and that was a very good decision – he’s standing at a huge price these days.”
Black’s wish is to trim his personal broodmare band to no more than 25 mares. A total of 55 foals were born this year on the farm, which now has a staff of ten.
“Ceiling Kitty left us with two fillies, the first being Eartha Kitt, who is now in foal to Frankel. Her Invincible Spirit filly Formidable Kitt is still in training with Tom Dascombe. We have a lot of young mares who are just starting their careers as broodmares and it’s exciting to see what they are producing,” says Black.
But it’s not just the female members of the families who are of interest, despite a nod to the commercial angle through an increasing presence of Chasemore Farm at the sales.
I don’t think I’d ever go out and buy a stallion but if one came along it would be nice
Arthur Kitt was retained for understandably sentimental reasons, but if his Chesham Stakes win proves to be a marker for future success then he may well fulfil another of his owner-breeder’s ambitions.
“It would be amazing one day to produce our own stallion,” Black says. “I don’t think I’d ever go out and buy a stallion but if one came along it would be nice. I always keep a couple of colts back, I can’t resist it, especially ones that I think have interesting pedigrees.
“I’d love to work on the syndication side of a stallion but that’s further down the line, we’re not thinking of that at the moment and I’m not sure about standing just one stallion, or standing one here.”
A love of pedigrees
Black’s stated love of tireless pedigree research has led him, like many breeders before him, to form his own theories, and to back that judgement through purchases and matings.
The late Red Clubs, a rare representative of the Roberto line in Europe, covered just three crops before his untimely death but Black has done his best to round up a number of his daughters and of course raced one of the better ones in his homebred Ceiling Kitty. The Derby winner Sir Percy, who was the best British two-year-old of his generation, is another to have caught his attention.
“Sir Percy’s top line is just not around any more, which is extraordinary. If you go back to Mill Reef, he’s all that’s left in Britain and that’s ridiculous. Darshaan has been hugely significant and we’ve just lost that line.
“Sir Percy produces pretty much anything – great two-year-olds, milers, middle-distance horses, Cheltenham Festival winners – he’s a good stallion. I’d love to have a nice Sir Percy mare. You’d have to think it’s a good outcross.”
In pursuit of this aim, Black purchased the Victoria and Anthony Pakenham-bred full-sisters Gallifrey and Galmarley, daughters of the listed-winning Galileo mare Crystal Gal who traces back to Irish 1,000 Guineas winner Classic Park. The former is now a dual winner while Galmarley, trained, like her dam, by Lucy Wadham, has made a promising start to her juvenile career.
He continues: “In recent times there have been some horses who are very inbred and historically that wouldn’t have been done. It seems that there is a trend these days to breed horses more fiercely and I don’t like it because I think when you inbreed that closely there is a chance of producing unhealthy animals.
“If you take that risk you can potentially end up with something quite exciting but to me it’s a risk I didn’t want to be taking. It definitely is a trend – Enable is not the only one. People think if we do this and it works out we could get something fantastic but it’s rolling the dice and it can also go horribly wrong.
“Shalaa is ridiculously inbred and it’s a really bold piece of inbreeding that I wouldn’t dare to do because you could get a freak, but obviously people like freaks if they are good freaks.
“I don’t like to roll the dice that way but I do like to breed to proven animals who are inbred, and I have a really nice Shalaa colt foal.”
Black’s own ideas are balanced with a more scientific approach through work with geneticist Stephen Harrison, who provides analysis of the horses’ DNA.
“It’s really interesting but it’s not my bible,” he says. “I like to try to understand how Professor Steve thinks it’s going to make something better but there will always be a strong random element. All you’re really doing is giving yourself a slightly better chance and trying to massage the odds in your favour.”