Paying a visit to the stallion yard at Overbury Stud and not paying homage to Kayf Tara in the corner box he has inhabited since his retirement from racing is simply unthinkable.
Stallions have come and gone in the 15 years in which Simon Sweeting and his team have developed the operation into a thriving concern, but throughout that time one horse has lent consistency, which is now being rewarded with a constant stream of winners.
At the age of 21, and well on his way to a sixth champion British National Hunt sire title, Kayf Tara still does not look too far removed from the tremendous athlete he was in his racing days, during which time he collected two Ascot Gold Cups and two Irish St Legers among his ten victories for Godolphin. Little wonder then that Sheikh Mohammed was keen to retain his staying star, even though his profile didn’t secure him a place in the stallion barn at Dalham Hall Stud.
“I owe him everything really,” says Sweeting, who is not one given to overt displays of emotion but who clearly adores the horse who has helped to put his stud on the map.
“Horses like him are very few and far between. He came at the right time and everything just worked. I’m very lucky that Sheikh Mohammed let us have him. John [Ferguson, Sheikh Mohammed’s bloodstock advisor] said to me, ‘If you can find a stud you can have a stallion’.
“He was our first stallion. The whole thing started with him. The stud was available, the horse was retiring – he was the first animal that came here. It was pretty extraordinary that John decided to do that. I’ve still no idea why but it’s worked out well.”
With fellow sons of Sadler’s Wells – Old Vic and King’s Theatre – having gone on to carve successful jumps stallion careers in Ireland after being sold by Sheikh Mohammed, the decision to keep Kayf Tara was a welcome one for British NH breeders. King’s Theatre still rules the jumps table more than three years after his death and, while Kayf Tara’s home in England means he struggles to compete with his Irish counterparts numerically, he has carved a dependable niche through the opportunities presented to him, which has seen his offspring winning major races on both sides of the Irish Sea this season.
The uphill struggle of standing a jumps stallion in Britain – even a successful one – is exemplified by the fact that even in the year that Kayf Tara became the first British-based sire to pass £1 million in progeny earnings, he covered ‘only’ 155 mares, while 15 stallions in Ireland covered that number or more, with the country’s busiest stallion, Getaway, almost doubling that tally on 304.
Although obviously we have the National Hunt stallions and that’s what we’re known for, we’ve had far more Flat stallions over the years
Leading the way on the track this year for Kayf Tara is the Heather Calzini-bred dual Grade 1 winner Lieutenant Colonel, one of the stars of the all-powerful Gigginstown House Stud operation, while previous Aintree Grade 1 winner Special Tiara had spectators gasping at his flamboyant round of jumping when winning the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over Christmas. Other black-type winners by the stallion during his recent purple patch include Hawkes Point, Tea For Two and Blaklion, and two horses which will have particularly pleased the TBA’s National Hunt Committee are the Listed-winning mares Tara Point and Lifeboat Mona.
Sweeting says: “It’s tremendous to see what Kayf Tara is achieving at the moment, though obviously it’s quite a large remove from when we were doing the work to get some of the better mares in, as jumpers take so much longer to come to hand. But there’s a great sense of pride and we’re just so pleased for the horse himself. It’s great to watch it happening and it’s also great that he’s still about as not all stallions are still operating at the age of 21.”
Sweeting, who grew up in Oxfordshire on his family’s Conduit Farm Stud, is steeped in the bloodstock business and, despite his own fondness for the winter game, is quick to point to the dual element of Overbury Stud. Though not far from Cheltenham, which many would consider to be the spiritual home of jump racing, there is now a far greater Flat influence at the farm, courtesy of its current line-up of youngsters Delegator, Cityscape and new boys Kuroshio and Dunaden. Keeping Kayf Tara company on the jumps side is Schiaparelli, by growing National Hunt influence Monsun and closely related to Lanwades’ new stallion Sea The Moon.
Sweeting adds: “Schiaparelli is from one of the best families operating at the moment, but his eldest are three-year-olds so it will be at least 18 months before he has a serious amount of runners and that’s a long old way away. You just have to be very patient.
“Although obviously we have the National Hunt stallions and that’s what we’re known for, we’ve actually had far more Flat stallions over the years. Bertolini was European champion first-season sire when he was here.
“There’s a jumping feel to the area and we happen to have a very good National Hunt stallion, but we’re only three hours in a horsebox from Newmarket, and there are more and more Flat studs in the area, with David [Redvers] leading the way at Tweenhills.
“What would be great is if more boarding studs would spring up as that’s what we’re desperately short of around here – it would take some pressure off the stallion studs.”
The next few seasons promise to be both busy and potentially exciting for the Overbury team thanks to the recent influx of stallions. Delegator’s first yearlings will hit the sales in the autumn, while Cityscape, who is owned in partnership by Sweeting and Steven Smith, has his first foals on the ground this spring.
It has been known since last summer that treble Group 1 winner Dunaden would be joining the fold from Sheikh Fahad’s Qatar Racing team, but the Darley stallion Kuroshio, a sprinting son of successful shuttler Exceed And Excel, was such a late signing that he doesn’t appear in any of this year’s stallion books. That said, Sweeting is confident of matching the tally of around 100 mares the dark brown five-year-old covered during his first season in Australia.
“It was [Darley’s] Jono Mills’s idea for Kuroshio to come here and he thought he should have a chance,” Sweeting explains. “There’s only one other son of Exceed And Excel standing in England and to my mind, Exceed And Excel should be what every commercial breeder wants – he has that precocious speed and he’s by a very good stallion.
“If Kuroshio can produce animals who look like he does, he’s absolutely nailed on for Doncaster and that’s a great market now. This horse has a very northern hemisphere bloodline anyway, being out of a Gone West daughter of Grade 1 winner November Snow, who is by Storm Cat. We’ve had a good response to him so far and I’ll be very disappointed if he doesn’t cover a good book of mares.”
That responsibility falls in part now to Sam Hoskins, who is well known to many in the industry via his various roles with Kennet Valley Thoroughbreds, Hot To Trot Racing, and as a TBA board member and Chairman of the NGC Committee. Hoskins has added to his CV by agreeing to assist Sweeting with nomination sales for the Overbury stallions.
If Kuroshio can produce animals who look like he does, he’s absolutely nailed on for Doncaster and that’s a great market now
Sweeting says: “With more stallions on the roster I needed some extra help and it was a case of finding the right person. Sam just seemed to fit the bill really well.
“He is very well-liked and will be representing the stud. Even though he’s not a full-time employee, hopefully over time people will come to associate him with Overbury.
“Sam will also be going out to visit breeders and to look at foals by our stallions, which I don’t really have the time to do so much of now. I’m sure he’ll be a huge asset.”
He adds: “It’s nice to have first-season sires as they tend to be busy, but while we’re waiting for their first runners to make it to the track at least we have Kayf Tara to fly the flag for us.”
It’s a job the old boy has done admirably over the years. Long may it continue to fly high.
‘Dunaden’s not just a horse, he’s part of my family’
In the dying years of the 19th century, the Duke of Portland went to the considerable effort, not to mention expense, of importing one of Australia’s greatest racing heroes to England. The horse in question was the 1890 Melbourne Cup winner Carbine, who sired two Victoria Derby winners before leaving his homeland for Wellbeck Abbey Stud, where he stood alongside another formidable name in the annals of the turf, St Simon.
Carbine made his mark in the northern hemisphere, too, siring 1906 Derby winner Spearmint, who in turn would sire the 1920 winner Spion Kop, himself the sire of Felstead, hero of the 1928 Derby. Not until the Blue Riband triumphs of Mill Reef (1971), his son Shirley Heights (1978) and grandson Slip Anchor (1985) would this feat be repeated, though with Galileo having already sired three Derby-winning sons, it seems likely it will be achieved again before too long.
Though emulating Carbine’s legacy is a tall order, Overbury’s new recruit, Dunaden, will not fail for lack of positive thinking by his enthusiastic owner, Sheikh Fahad Al Thani, as he becomes only the second Melbourne Cup winner ever to stand at stud in England.
Simon Sweeting explains the background to Dunaden joining Overbury Stud, revealing: “While I was at Tweenhills a few years ago looking at Harbour Watch, I asked David Redvers what he planned to do with Dunaden, who had just won the Melbourne Cup, but as it turned out was some way off retiring. David said then that he hoped he would stand at Overbury.
“Later we heard that Sheikh Fahad had bought Longholes Stud in Newmarket so I thought Dunaden might stand there, but last July David rang to ask if I’d take the horse.
“It was very clear that they wanted to promote him as a Flat stallion, so Jocelyn Targett and I sat down and came up with a few ideas to help that aim and Sheikh Fahad liked the idea of the equivalent of the French premiums.”
The Dunaden Breeders’ Club – which rewards owners of two- and three-year-old winners by the stallion with a 64% supplement of their prize-money, while the winning breeder receives a 15% bonus – was launched. To add a little extra spice to the intriguing incentive, the breeder of a stakes winner at two or three from Dunaden’s first crop will receive a one-off £25,000 prize.
“We’re delighted with how Dunaden and the incentives have been received,” says Sweeting. “The way things look at the moment, he should cover just north of 100 mares this season, and a good mix of mares at that – some sprinters, some stayers, and some black-type horses in there as well.
“All Sheikh Fahad wants for him is the chance to prove that he can make it as a stallion.”
Sheikh Fahad himself has taken to film on the Overbury website, echoing Sweeting’s words when he says his aim is for Dunaden to be “the greatest stallion possible”.
Describing his Melbourne Cup experience as “one of the most thrilling days of my life”, he goes on to say: “I’ll be supporting Dunaden myself – I’ve been buying mares to send to him and I can’t wait to see his first foals. He deserves to take his chance at stud. He’s not just a horse to me, he’s part of my family.”
Plenty of stallions have failed simply through lack of support and, while only time will tell if Dunaden can live up to the hopes placed upon him, the winner of ten races, including three Group 1 contests, and more than £5 million in prize-money will at least have been given the opportunity warranted by this fine record. And, in these days of craven commercialism, few can argue with an owner’s refreshingly heartfelt desire simply to do right by a horse who has done right by him.