Clairemont Stud has only been in operation for a little over a year but in that short space of time it has already made headlines beyond just the racing press thanks to a rather special mare by the name of Dancing Rain.
By the time Martin and Lee Taylor commissioned Liam Norris and William Huntingdon to buy some yearlings, the brothers already had in mind the idea to buy a stud farm and build up a largely commercial breeding operation. The sale of a dual Oaks winner in foal to Frankel for 4,000,000gns is just about as commercial as it gets and while some have questioned why a fledgling stud farm would part with a potentially outstanding foundation mare, the decision to sell was one which will lay foundations of a different kind for a burgeoning enterprise.
“We treat the stud as a business but that said it was very emotional saying goodbye to Dancing Rain,” says Martin Taylor, a partner with the law firm Freshfields who was involved in Betfair’s floatation on the London Stock Exchange.
“Watching her going through the ring was hard as she’s been a big part of our lives for the last three years but we knew it was the right business decision and we were pretty relaxed in the build-up to the sale as we knew what we wanted to sell her for, and she’d either make that figure or she wouldn’t.
“As William Haggas said on the day, it was a no-lose situation. The worst that could have happened was that we would take her home and we’d still have had her and a Frankel foal.”
As it is, Dancing Rain now resides at Darley’s Dalham Hall Stud, where she will visit New Approach this season after giving birth to her first foal. She was Sheikh Mohammed’s sole purchase at the breeding stock sales, prompting his advisor John Ferguson to admit: “For an operation like ours, you can have lots of mares, but you have to have the jewels. To Sheikh Mohammed, she was a jewel.”
That she joined such an established breeding operation in the UK came as good news to Taylor, who says: “I’m really chuffed with who bought her, that she’s gone to a fantastic home and she’ll be sent to the top stallions. I honestly think she has every chance of being a very important broodmare – she has everything going for her and I wish her new owner all the best with her. I look forward to seeing her Frankel foal winning the Derby.”
With two Classic-winning parents, clearly expectations will be high for Dancing Rain’s first foal, even though it was rather a different story when she herself appeared at Epsom.
“Oaks day was surreal,” Martin recalls. “It was the nicest day of Dancing Rain’s career really because we had no expectations. She’d run well as a two-year-old in a good maiden but the first wind we got that she might be any good was when we were on our way to Cheltenham on Champion Hurdle day and the phone rang and it was William [Haggas]. Naturally we thought he was going to give us some bad news but instead he said he’d quite like to make an Oaks entry for Dancing Rain. We were so excited that we got lost and almost missed the first race.
“When she was beaten a head by Izzi Top in the Swettenham Stud Fillies’ Trial at the time we obviously didn’t realise how good Izzi Top would turn out to be, so we went to Epsom just hoping our filly might be able to finish in the first six.
“The weather was beautiful, we managed to get a really fantastic box at the last minute but we went there with no expectation at all. So when she did what she did it was just extraordinary.”
It was certainly a leap that most owners could only dream about, going from winning an all-weather maiden at Kempton with their first horse, Penzena, owned by the Taylors in partnership with Martin’s Freshfields colleague Ben Spiers, to collecting the Oaks trophy at Epsom a little over 18 months later.
In many ways, Epsom was where a lifelong fascination for racing began for the Taylor brothers, who attended the spring meeting each year as children and whose grandfather was a bookmaker.
A self-confessed form addict and “statistics geek”, Martin Taylor proudly points to the fact that in winning the Oaks Dancing Rain ran the fastest last three furlongs of any Epsom Classic since timing began. But his interest runs beyond numbers, as one would expect of a man with a plan to develop a breeding operation.
“We’re getting on towards retirement age and about six years ago Lee asked me if I fancied buying a stud farm, so we decided to go halves on the land and the bloodstock,” he says.
We’ll probably never go through something like this again – outside family events those were the greatest days of our lives
“We were introduced to Liam through buying a Tobougg filly [Penzena] with a friend who already had a horse. We thought it would be a good way to get started and an introduction to the business. Then the next year we went to the December yearling sale and bought the top lot, a Sinndar filly called Alaia. She was our first serious purchase and we still have her.”
From the Aga Khan family of Aliysa and Alamshar, Alaia won once in Ireland for the Taylors from John Oxx’s stable before injury cut short her career. With such a strong page behind her, however, she was an automatic choice to start the broodmare band at what would become Clairemont Stud, which is managed by Liam’s wife, Jenny Norris.
Alaia’s first foal, a Montjeu filly, was the sole homebred offered among a quintet of six-figure yearlings sold by Clairemont Stud during Book 1 of the recent Tattersalls October Sale. The remaining four were pinhooked as foals by Norris and William Huntingdon, and more than doubled in value collectively when resold as yearlings.
As the plan to buy well-bred fillies advanced, another two, by Galileo and Danehill Dancer, were selected at Goffs in 2009. While one was struck by colic in the early stages of training and never raced, the other would go on to become a dual Classic heroine. Until December, Dancing Rain spent the last year alongside that daughter of Galileo (Shaleela, whose dam is a half-sister to Shergar), at Clairemont. Shaleela’s contribution to the farm may yet be felt. Later this year her Danehill Dancer yearling filly will be sent to the sales along with Alaia’s Oasis Dream colt, an increasing representation of homebreds in what will again be a largely pinhooked draft.
“When we decided to buy a stud farm and run it as a business, we wanted to bring some top quality yearlings to sell every year – that was the basic plan,” says Martin. “So eventually we want to end up with eight to ten broodmares of our own to produce six to eight foals every year for sale and we’ll top up with pinhooks to get to around ten.
“So far we’re delighted with the way things have gone – Liam and William have done a great job in selecting the foals.
“The farm’s lovely, it’s great land of just over 100 acres, so enough for ten families. We know that Jenny and Liam do an extraordinary job looking after the horses so we have a great team.”
On a day-to-day basis the five broodmares and the collection of foals are overseen primarily by Jenny and Rachael Andre at the farm just outside Whitchurch in Hampshire, with Liam acting in an advisory capacity alongside his role as bloodstock consultant and agent.
Jenny, whose picture appeared across national papers and news bulletins as she led Dancing Rain around a jam-packed ring at Tattersalls, managed the late David Hardisty’s Oaklands Farm for five years after a three-year stint at the Irish National Stud, while her husband formerly managed nearby Highclere Stud. Liam also grew up in the area at Polhampton Stud, run by his father Sean during his 37-year service to the Queen.
“From the start we wanted to go into this in a completely open way,” says Liam. “It’s about trying to produce the best horses we can and bringing them to the sales to let people see that.
“Primarily we’re traders, we want to trade and that’s one of the reasons we sold the mare [Dancing Rain]. We also sold all five of our yearlings earlier in the year. The most important thing is breeding good horses and producing results, and we’re fortunate we’ve got some really good land to do that on.”
While Dancing Rain is no longer the star player on the Clairemont team, the addition of the black-type Dalakhani filly Aniseed, whose dam Anna Karenina is a half-sister to Arcangues, has further augmented the clutch of well-credentialed young mares in residence, as, it is hoped, will Valtina, a winning daughter of Teofilo who remains in training. As any successful breeding operation knows, it’s the long game that matters and reputations hewn in the paddocks are earned over time with careful management.
All connected with Dancing Rain are realistic in their belief that the excitement derived from her all-the-way victory at Epsom to her last star turn at Tattersalls may well be as good as it gets.
“All in all it was an extraordinary experience,” says Martin Taylor. “We’ll probably never go through something like this again – outside family events those were the greatest days of our lives.”
They are days that anyone in racing and breeding would gladly settle for, but it would be unwise to bet against the name Clairemont Stud looming large in major events on the track and in the sales ring in years to come.
A thriving partnership
Liam Norris and William Huntingdon started buying horses together in 2006 and have forged an increasingly successful partnership, the highlight naturally being the purchase of Dancing Rain for €200,000 at Goffs in 2009.
Only a short time spent in their company reveals the level of mutual respect, often cloaked in wisecracks and leg-pulling, but genuine nonetheless. A former trainer, Huntingdon brings a different eye to the selection process to the avowed stockman Norris, who has spent a lifetime on stud farms. Their contrasting personalities and equine tastes make for an intriguing double act. But what do they make of each other?
Norris says: “I’m a sounding board for Jenny at the stud and William and I do all the consultancy work and buying for Martin and Lee Taylor, but we also advise and buy horses for other people.
“I’m very strict. I have a certain type of horse I like and William is probably more forgiving than I am but we’ve got to know each other well. I know the horses he will like and vice versa. A lot of it is instinctive.
“William’s really well-read, is great fun and through all the people he knows we do plenty of socialising, but the most important thing for us is that we cover a sale well. We like to look at everything and that gives you a good feel for what’s there and the general quality of the sale. That way, if someone rings us and asks what a particular horse is like we’re very happy to give our opinion. We like to offer that service, too.
“For us it’s all about getting there early and looking at as many horses as possible – that way you get a much better feel for the job.”
Huntingdon says: “We usually like similar horses, which is always a good sign and we both agree on the horses we buy, though neither of us are complete ‘yes men’, so there’s always discussion and different points of view.
“Liam is very strict on conformation, whereas I trained for a lot of owner/breeders so I learned to accept that horses come in all shapes and sizes. I also like to add an historical and analytical side to the process.
“Liam has a very good work ethic and we do get around and see lots of horses. That way, at the cheaper end of the spectrum, you can follow them in and have a chance of buying something with a little value.
“We’re very selective about what we have vetted and very few of those ever fail the vet, which I think is testament to Liam’s thoroughness on the conformation side.
“Of course we both also enjoy a good meal and bottle of wine, which helps too.”