Pinhookers are undoubtedly a breed of their own. It takes unwavering self belief and an element of bravery to make any kind of investment in youngstock. At times, the stakes are unbelievably high. But when it works out, there is probably nothing quite like it.

Just ask Philipp Stauffenberg. Based at Schlossgut Itlingen in the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany, Stauffenberg and his wife Marion have enjoyed plenty of high points as breeders, the latest of which arrived this summer when Fantastic Moon won the Deutsches Derby at Hamburg. 

At the same time, Stauffenberg has forged a formidable reputation as a pinhooker, rarely afraid to invest sizeable sums in order to secure top-level stock, and quite often with excellent results. Never Ending, a dual winner this summer for Cheveley Park Stud and John and Thady Gosden, is one such example. Purchased for €260,000 as a Goffs November foal, the No Nay Never filly went on to top the opening session of the Tattersalls October Book 1 Sale in 2021 at 825,000gns. 

Last year’s Book 1 draft was similarly high-profile, with a daughter of Night Of Thunder blossoming from a €240,000 foal into a 550,000gns yearling. Sold to Godolphin and named Romantic Style, she recently made her second start a winning one in impressive style at Yarmouth. Another graduate, a Lope De Vega colt, sold for 525,000gns after having been bought for 200,000gns while Majestic One, by Teofilo, increased in value from 80,000gns to 260,000gns.

“It’s nerve-wracking in one way but very enjoyable in another, especially seeing how the horses can thrive and develop in prep”

Various other graduates have also done their bit to promote the farm. Flora Of Bermuda, who ran a recent second in the Flying Childers Stakes, and the Group 3-placed Kumite were both sold at last year’s Arqana August Sale. Soprano, who has been stakes-placed on multiple occasions since breaking her maiden for George Boughey in the spring, was also part of last year’s Tattersalls October Book 2 draft while the hardy Group 1-performing mare Rosscarberry was sold at Tattersalls in 2019 on behalf of breeder Gestut Wittekindshof.

Such results make the whole process appear easy but that would be to disregard the time and effort put into each horse during their time in Germany – and the pressure that goes with it.

“Obviously there is pressure,” he says. “You want the horses to go to the next step and be successful. And the next step for us is the sales and for them to be profitable for the people involved. Then after that, it is to go on and hopefully do well on the track.

“The pinhooking side to our business really happened by accident. Andreas Putsch asked me in the beginning if I would pinhook for him, prep the yearlings and then sell them. That went quite well and so then some other people came in. Andreas later stepped out of it but more partners have since come in.

“It’s very enjoyable when it works out but painful when it doesn’t! I buy everything myself, it’s all my own risk. After the foals have been bought, I split them up. My accountant asks me how can I sleep at night when I spend money on foals without knowing if they’ll be sold at the end of it. What I do is produce a small brochure at the end of it, send it out to people who have registered an interest and then split them between all of us.”

He adds: “It’s nerve-wracking in one way but very enjoyable in another, especially seeing how the horses can thrive and develop in prep. And then when you have a filly like Never Ending that attracts the interest of leading owner-breeders, who then battle it out in the ring [Cheveley Park Stud outbid Juddmonte Farms for the filly], then that is very rewarding.”

Philipp Stauffenberg, pictured with daughter Alexandra, brings another high-profile draft to the Tattersalls October Sale this year. Photo – Tattersalls

Buying and selling in England and Ireland for a German-based operation is undoubtedly more of an undertaking than for the average pinhooker. Hence there is that emphasis on quality. The 120-hectare Schlossgut Itlingen hosts stabling for 39 horses, which in turn reduces the temptation to expand. This year’s yearling draft consists of 20 and the broodmare band, some of whom belong to Stauffenberg’s noted Fraulein Tobin family, is complemented by a handful of boarders.

Stauffenberg originally tried his hand as a professional show jumper, and with success before turning his attention to bloodstock. It was as manager of Gestut Karlshof that he struck a major coup in 1994 when purchasing Sacarina, a daughter of Old Vic, for the equivalent of just €4,000. Then an unraced two-year-old, she went on to become something of a blue hen for Karlshof as the dam of the Deutsches Derby winners Samum and Schiaparelli as well as another German champion in Salve Regina. Her grandson Sea The Moon, bred by Gestut Gorlsdorf out of her Monsun daughter Sanwa, also captured the Deutsches Derby and is now a successful stallion at Lanwades Stud. With all that in mind, it’s very fitting that he is the sire of Stauffenberg’s current star Fantastic Moon.

“I set up the bloodstock agency in 1994,” recalls Stauffenberg. “At that time, there were more German breeders buying in England and Ireland. When we founded the farm in 1999, it all became hands on so I reduced the agency quite a bit. Itlingen has been a horse farm since 1954 [then as Gestut Quenhorn] and it’s on very good land, so when the chance arose to lease it, we took it. It was pretty run down when we came here and we’ve completely refurbished it.” 

Indeed, some pretty smart horses have come off that land in the years since then. The 2008 Prix de l’Opera heroine Lady Marian, a €49,000 BBAG yearling who later sold for 1.8 million guineas to Godolphin, was bred by Philipp and Marion out of La Felicita. Fellow Stauffenberg-bred Four Sins, meanwhile, was a rare yearling purchase by the Aga Khan Studs and went on to reward that investment by winning the Blandford Stakes and running fourth in the Oaks for John Oxx. Like Fantastic Moon, she is a member of the Fraulein Tobin family, which has served the farm so well. By J O Tobin, the mare was a half-sister to Philip Mitchell’s Group 1 globe-trotter Running Stag and left behind ten winners led by the Rockfel Stakes heroine Germane and Firedance, now the granddam of Fantastic Moon.

“Marion bought Fraulein Tobin for very reasonable money,” says Stauffenberg. “She was looking for a farm to board her mares. I was recommended. She came to the farm, we fell in love and that’s how it all started. Fraulein Tobin became a foundation mare for us. It’s our signature family. The only shame is that after Four Sins, we struggled to get a filly out of her dam Four Roses, which was very frustrating. And it was a little bit the same with another sister that we had. They kept producing colts. So we’ve tried to buy into different branches of the family over the years. One of them is a daughter of Germane called Relevant who we bought off Clipper Logistics. We sent her to Stuart Williams and she won for us. Now she’s in the broodmare band.”

Fantastic Moon: German Derby winner another high-profile horse bred by Philipp and Marion Stauffenberg. Photo – Alamy

Fantastic Moon’s dam, Frangipani, is out of Fraulein Tobin’s final foal, the Lomitas mare Firedance. Frangipani was sired by Jukebox Jury during his time in Germany and won in France for her breeder before heading to the paddocks. Fantastic Moon is only her second foal and is followed by a Starspangledbanner two-year-old filly named Fang Mich and a yearling filly by Masar, who was due to sell at the Goffs Orby Sale.

As for Fantastic Moon, he recently supplemented his German Derby win with a clear-cut victory over Feed The Flame in the Prix Niel at Longchamp. Despite the ease of that win, his connections – owner Liberty Racing and trainer Sarah Steinberg – have decided to bypass the Arc with an eye on the Breeders’ Cup and Japan Cup later in the year.

“Fantastic Moon has indeed been fantastic,” says Stauffenberg. “He belongs to such an important family for us that we’re more emotional than happy to have produced a Derby winner. And now to have that international Group 2 on his record is very important. It is very important for his future and that of our Derby.”

The German thoroughbred is widely respected for its durability and regularly punches above its weight, especially in light of the fact that its foal crop sits at around an annual figure of 850. The flip side is that number falls far behind that produced by Britain and Ireland while the stallion ranks are still to fill the void left by Monsun and more recently Adlerflug.

“The overall mood in Germany is not very positive,” he says. “People are a little bit frustrated.  A lot of the big German owner-breeders are getting old. We’re running out of stallions – Adlerflug is dead and Soldier Hollow is coming to the end of his career. It’s a big shame. Torquator Tasso, of course, is new. He was a very good horse with an interesting pedigree but he is unproven, as is Japan.”

Still, German pedigrees remain highly respected and in keeping with Stauffenberg’s place as a leading consignor outside Germany, his draft at the upcoming Tattersalls October Sale offers several chances to buy into such a family.

Stauffenberg sends a select group of five to Book 1, including a Lope De Vega half-sister to Group 1 winner Lucky Lion. She is the beneficiary of an important update thanks to her three-year-old half-brother Lips Freedom, the winner of a Listed race since the publication of the catalogue. 

The Book 1 draft also includes an Earthlight half-sister to the brilliant Hong Kong runner Pakistan Star offered on behalf of Gestut Witteskindhof.

“This colt was a very good foal and is an absolute stunner now, he’s very strong and a good mover”

However, it is pinhook power that again forms a fundamental part of the draft. A Night Of Thunder colt out of Listed winner Persona Grata purchased for €280,000 as a foal is followed by a Havana Grey half-brother to the high-class sprinter Dragon Symbol. At 250,000gns, the latter was by far the most expensive foal to sell by Havana Grey last winter but with his sire going from strength to strength, such a decision would appear to have been vindicated, on paper at least.

“Havana Grey is outperforming the mares he covered,” says Stauffenberg. “They seem very sound, honest horses. This colt was a very good foal and is an absolute stunner now, he’s very strong and a good mover. His half-brother Dragon Symbol won a Group 1 [the Commonwealth Cup] and was unlucky to be disqualified. Ed Harper said to me this colt is the best bred of all the Havana Greys in that crop – it was his third season, which tends to be one of a stallion’s weakest. 

“The stallion obviously continues to have great results on the track. And when you work with this colt at home, he’s very straightforward and uncomplicated. He’ll do everything you ask. It’s easy to see how the trainers like the Havana Greys so much.

“And the Night Of Thunder colt is a very fluent, good mover. You can see the influence of his damsire Sir Percy coming through a little bit as he’s an elegant horse.”

A French flavour is offered by the final pinhook destined for Book 1 in a first-crop daughter of Hello Youmzain, who was added to the fold for €150,000 at the Arqana December Sale. Her sire is a Group 1-winning sprint son of Kodiac whose first crop attracted positive reviews at the Arqana August Sale and this filly, a half-sister to a Classic winner no less in the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches heroine Coeursamba, is among a select group of three by him in Book 1.

“The Hello Youmzain is a gorgeous filly,” says Stauffenberg. “What attracted me initially is that the mare, Marechale, has produced good horses by lesser stallions. And Hello Youmzain was such a good racehorse in England. With her physical, she was also going to go to an elite sale.”

He adds: “Our Book 2 draft is a mix of good physicals. I have a lovely filly by Advertise and another by Galiway, a stallion who is doing very well. There are two Dandy Mans that look precocious and colts by Sottsass and Lope De Vega.”

In the meantime, Stauffenberg Bloodstock will have been represented by a first draft under its own banner at the Goffs Orby Sale. It’s a trip that obviously requires extensive time and planning from his base in Germany but Stauffenberg is no stranger to selling with the company and was keen to support the sale with a selection of well-bred horses. 

Chief among them is a Kingman half-brother to Moyglare Stud Stakes winner Skitter Scatter, who topped last year’s Goffs November Sale when bought from his breeder Airlie Stud at €550,000. His full-sister, Skellet, recently added further to the family when the taking winner of her maiden for Ralph Beckett at Salisbury. The Stauffenberg’s are also selling their Masar half-sister to Fantastic Moon as well as a Sottsass filly from a deep German family.

“We were keen to split the horses and send a few to both Goffs and Tattersalls,” says Stauffenberg. “We’ve sold through Eimear Mulhern [of Abbeville Stud] before – we sold Four Sins through her – but this is the first time we’ve actually sold under our own banner at Goffs. We finally decided to go there and we’re taking some very nice horses.” [Since this article was published, Stauffenberg headed to Goffs, where he sold his Kingman colt for €650,000 to Godolphin].

Nerve-wracking it might be but such a deep draft of horses also surely presents the case for some enjoyment as well. And like any pinhooker, you get the impression Stauffenberg wouldn’t have it any other way.

Stauffenberg’s powerful draft includes this Havana Grey colt. Photo – Tattersalls