There has been a bustle in the hedgerow of British breeding of late, and the person responsible for some enthusiastic shaking of the branches is owner and breeder Simon Davies. While plenty of new players have burst onto the scene with free-spending sprees at the sales or significant numbers of horses in training, the 56-year-old has made his mark with a somewhat different approach.
In September 2020 Davies announced that he had bought Planteur and would be standing the Prix Ganay winning son of Danehill Dancer at Chapel Stud in Worcestershire. Two more stallions have since been added to his bloodstock portfolio, with Bangkok and Walzertakt joining the team for the 2022 season.
These three signings represent the accelerating interest of a man who first encountered horse racing during the period when the likes of Lester Piggott and Vincent O’Brien were winning the Derby on a Wednesday afternoon. Although he was not born into a racing family, Davies does have his father to thank for his early engagement with the sport.
“My father was a market trader and when the Derby was on a Wednesday afternoon he used to have a stall at Epsom,” Davies explains. “I used to work the market stall with him back in the early 70s. That was my earliest memory of racing, although I can’t remember who won the races as it was quite a while ago now.”
The intervening years saw Davies’ attentions trained well away from theracecourse, having spent 24 years in the Royal Signals regiment of the army. Davies is now the owner and managing director of Spectra Group UK, which he founded upon leaving active service and whose website says is “a leading global provider of tactical and strategic mission-critical communications systems.”
The company can count significant players from the defence sector and the emergency services among its client base, and in an illustration of how well business has been going for Davies, in 2019 Spectra Group UK received the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise for its revolutionary SlingShot device. This piece of equipment extends the range of radio networks up to thousands of miles by utilising commercial satellite networks.
High tech stuff, then, but not an obvious gateway into the world of thoroughbred breeding.
“I spent 24 years in the army and basically had no involvement in racing at all,” says Davies when asked how the stallion venture came into fruition. “When I finished up in the army in 2004 I started my own business and that took up pretty much all of my time. That grew over the next ten years or so until we had a significant breakthrough on one of the products we’d developed. That came at just the right time and things basically took off from there.
“It was pretty full on and my wife, Rhian, works with me as the chief operating officer, which meant we were working full-time day and night on growing the business. It sort of became a situation where you’d come home from work, ask the other half how their day was and they’d say ‘you know exactly how my day went, you were there!’
“So six years ago we decided we needed to do something different outside of the day job so we had something else to talk about. I’d always liked the idea of owning a racehorse so I rang around a few trainers local to me in Herefordshire and hit it off with Tom Symonds and his wife.”
Racing certainly provided Davies and his wife with something else to talk about, but they soon realised that owning just the one horse rather left them a hostage to misfortune. Davies duly added a second and third to his string, and before long found himself the proud owner of 12 thoroughbreds.
“The problem with racehorses is there’s always some sort of issue – the ground is wrong or it’s not the right time to run – so we decided to buy another one, then another one and then another one. Before I knew it I had 12 racehorses, and that’s how it started. I didn’t have pots of money but I had a little bit of spare cash and the brief to Tom was to have some fun. Even though winners were hard to come by, we still had some great days out.”
Like so many owners before him, as Davies’ involvement deepened he found himself becoming increasingly captivated by the breeding side of the racing game. Going down this line of thinking has only one logical conclusion: the realisation that breeding winners is better, and possibly more cost effective, than buying winners.
“I realised that to have top racehorses and be winning at Cheltenham you need to spend lots of money and have lots of horses to find the one who’s good enough to compete at that level,” says Davies. “So the breeding side started to interest me more, looking at pedigrees and trying to figure out which lines work together. From my point of view, to breed a winner would be more satisfying than buying a winner.
“I started breeding three years ago and that’s grown from one mare to two mares the following year, and that jumped to 15 last year.”
However, it was when trying to plan the matings for a more significant number of mares that Davies found himself short on suitable options close to home. He says: “When I started looking at breeding and where I’d send my mare, the first mating was fairly easy as she went straight to Scorpion.
“When I had a few more mares it became a bit more difficult to find the right stallion in Britain. Last year we effectively sent all of them to Ireland apart from one mare who went to France and one who stayed in England and went to Nathaniel. I didn’t find there was a great choice in terms of stallion options and we found a lot of people were doing the same as us and sending them to Ireland and France.
“We felt that had to change, not only from a cost point of view but in terms of improving the situation in Britain. Finding the right stallion and having him stand in Britain was key. That was the driver, and knowing that I could support the right horse with most of mybroodmares.”
And so a plan was formed to find a suitable candidate. Davies says that cost was a factor, and he was conscious of the fact new retirees to the National Hunt stallion ranks generally have to endure a lag time of at least five years between covering their debut book of mares and fielding their first runners.
Having already covered some sizeable books during five seasons at Haras de Bouquetot, but with French Flat breeders losing faith, the Group 1-winning Planteur found himself firmly in Davies’ crosshairs.
“This wasn’t done with a bottomless pot of money, so it was about doing it in an intelligent way,” says Davies. “We identified Planteur as the target and with the help of Richard Venn we got him. We knew he’d have lots of runners so he’d have a lot of prospects coming through, even if he hadn’t hit the top flight yet. And his popularity in France was waning because people were starting to see him more as a National Hunt stallion than a Flat sire.”
When Planteur was acquired he had sired three black-type winners on the Flat and a handful of young jumps prospects of potential, but he lacked the headline act that every stallion needs to really capture the imagination. However, it was not long before that changed.
Shortly after it had been announced that Planteur was moving to Chapel Stud, his son Trueshan put in a pulverising performance to win the QIPCO British Champions Long DistanceCup by no less than seven and a half lengths.
This year the five-year-old has proved himself a top-notch performer, with Group 1 victories in the Goodwood Cup and Prix du Cadran earning him Cartier champion stayer status. In turn, he showed that his sire is a fine conduit for class, stamina and toughness.
“We thought we’d struck gold when Trueshan started winning all those big races and Alan King has done us a great service at just the right time,” says Davies. “You could say we had our eye on Trueshan before we bought Planteur, but we knew there were lots of other horses coming through as well. His eldest progeny are only six and they’re generally hardy types who are tough and run a lot, just as he was.
“He pretty much has a winner somewhere everyday and what he’s done up to now has been achieved with, without wanting to sound disrespectful, some fairly ordinary Flat mares in France. With better mares going to him now, he should produce better progenythan he has already.”
Planteur has been subject to a small fee increase for 2022, up from £3,000 to £4,000. When asked how breeders received the horse in his first year at Chapel Stud, Davies’ response reveals a certain pragmatism, while also hinting at the scale of his ambitions.
“His final total was 77 mares, which is over what I’d planned for but not quite as much as I’d dreamt of,” he says. “It’s a good number though and he’s done very well. Everyone who’s come to see him has loved him. He’s a great-looking horse and stamps his stock.”
It was not only the solid foundation laid down by Planteur that encouraged Davies to secure the services of Bangkok and Walzertakt, and nor does he imagine his stallion roster will remain at three.
“The plan was always to add other stallions, primarily if I could afford to when the right horse came up,” he says
“The three stallions are completely different and appeal to different breeders and do different jobs, but they all compliment each other very well.It’s probably too late this year, but I’ll absolutely be on the lookout to pick another one or two stallions up as I still see that there’s capacity for more goodquality stallions in Britain.”
With a classy race record underpinned by a blue-blooded pedigree, Davies is hopeful that breeders will share his view of Bangkok as a genuine dual-purpose option at an introductory fee of £3,000.
The son of Australia won six races over four seasons in training, most notably the Group 2 York Stakes and the Group 3 Sandown Classic Trial. He is a sibling to four black-type winners, including Group 1 hero Matterhorn and the high-class Tactic, while another sibling, Mujarah, is better known as the dam of Ribchester. His 500,000gns yearling price tag attests to his good looks.
He fits the profile of another very tough horse and his pedigree is fantastic,” says Davies. “In our view he’s a dual-purpose stallion and we’re confident he can produce Flat and National Hunt horses. He’s another one I’m sure breeders will love when they come and see him because he’s let down well and looks fantastic.”
Davies is also dangling a lucrative carrot in front of breeders, with connections of Bangkok’s first blacktype two-year-old set to land a £25,000 bonus, with the breeder and owner each receiving £10,000 and the trainer claiming £5,000. The breeder of any two-year-old winner by Bangkok will also receive a free return.
Despite only debuting at the age of five, Walzertakt’s rapid progression saw him defeat the up-and-coming jumps sire Bathyrhon in the Group 2 Prix Maurice de Nieuil back in 2015 before the pair joined the Haras de la Hetraie stallion roster two years later.
While Bathyrhon’s profile at Hetraie took an upward trajectory, Walzertakt was moved on to Haras de la Croix Sonnet, where he sired some respectable crops during a four-year stint. Although his eldest progeny are only three, there are green shoots of promise with two hurdles winners in France, namely Santa Clarita and Wal Cassandre, while one of his daughters fetched €55,000 from Stroud Coleman Bloodstock at the Goffs Land Rover Sale.
Not only is Walzertakt a son of Montjeu, sire of a jumps great in Hurricane Fly as well as high-achieving National Hunt stallions like Authorized, Fame And Glory and Walk In The Park,the other half of his pedigree also holds considerable appeal. He is out of dual Group 2 scorer Walzerkoenigin, makinghim a sibling to six winners, four of whom gained black type.
He is a half-brother to Wiener Walzer, winner of two Group 1s, namely the German Derby and the Rheinland-Pokal,in which he beat a certain Getaway, while Aidan O’Brien trained his threeparts brother Port Douglas to win the Beresford Stakes. Walzertakt will stand at a fee of £2,500.
“Walzertakt is bred on exactly the same cross as Camelot, being a son of Montjeu out of a Kingmambo mare,” notes Davies. “We’ve had some very positive comments from breeders in Ireland and Britain about him already. The thing with breeding is that it’s all a matter of personal choice, and this is why you need a range of options. It’s a game of opinions and having choice is what we’re all about.”
Although Davies is firm in his convictions, he recognises his position as a relative newcomer to the industry, and as such is happy to draw on the skills and knowledge that others have to offer.
Chapel Stud may have only opened for business as recently as 2019, but the woman at the helm, Roisin Close, has a wealth of experience to call upon. She spent 12 years at Tweenhills and, more recently, transformed Bucklands Farm & Stud from a ten-acre smallholding to a 100-acre farm that was home to three stallions.
“You’d be surprised how many stallions you get offered, but to get offered nice ones, that’s a bit different,” Close says of her involvement in Davies’ stallion venture. “I probably didn’t quite realise Simon’s ambitions when he first approached me with Planteur, but it’s become increasingly obvious that he’s been properly bitten by the bug.
“He’s very easy going but getting involved behind the scenes is part of the journey for him and I think he enjoys that side. He’s got a lot to offer, he’s a smart guy and he hasn’t got to where he’s got through letting other people do his work for him so he’s very much helping drive everything forward.”
The arrival of Bangkok and Walzertakt has seen Chapel Stud’s stallion roster grow to five, with Davies’ trio joined by Coach House and Hellvelyn. While the growing numbers means more work, and plenty of it, there is no mistaking Close’s desire to rise to the challenge.
“We have three stallions [for Davies] who are all exciting in different ways and there’s a lot of work going on in the background,” she says. “You name it, we’re busy doing it at the moment; marketing, websites, open days, stallion parades. We’re not afraid of hard work though and I don’t want to be sitting twiddling my thumbs as I know what it takes to make a success of things in this industry.
“We’re moving into an interesting time and the team is really up for it. We’ve got quite a lot of Planteur foals due next year, which I’m really looking forward to seeing, and we’re going to be busy as we’re putting in new stallion boxes and other facilities to facilitate the arrival of these extra mares. Bring it on!”
On those helping him realise his vision, Davies says: “I’ve surrounded myself with experts because, clearly, I’m not an expert on any of this and I’m learning on a daily basis. When it comes to pedigree advice, Tom Symonds is my go-to guy. When it comes to looking after my foals and yearlings, I use Scarlett Knipe [Cobhall Court Stud] and then Roisin does all the stallions at Chapel Stud, so I think I’ve got a great team in place. I wouldn’t be able to do it without them.
“They’re not all co-located, although they’re in the Hereford and Worcestershire area. Whether we bring all of those things into one location on one farm, that’s probably the goal at some point. But I’m not rushing into that because I’m comfortable with where we are at the moment.”
Davies may have reined in his racing string, but still has eight horses in training to look forward to over the coming months. His two Flat performers are based with Adrian Wintle, his four-strong National Hunt team is with Symonds and his two yearlings are undergoing their early education with Jane Allison, one of which, an El Kabeir filly sourced through Billy Jackson Stops, will be the owner’s first horse with Andrew Balding.
Davies will also offer a selection of foals at the upcoming Tattersalls December and Goffs UK January auctions. However, with a growing broodmare band to mate and a triumvirate of stallions to support, the man who got into racing as a distraction from a hectic work schedule now finds his focus firmly on his breeding interests.
“Any winner is a great thing and from a breeding point of view winning is the main ambition, and then winning black-type races,” he says. “It would be great to have winners as an owner, but, for now, that’s very much secondary to having success as a breeder