As one chapter closes, opportunity beckons. The Waddesdon Stud dispersal, which begins with the sale of Lady Rothschild’s broodmare band at the Tattersalls December Sale in Newmarket, is a sad confirmation of the end of a successful association between an owner and a beloved sport.

At the same time, however, it naturally provides a perfect opportunity for outside interests to invest in a rich collection of respected stock, among them several Group 1 winners and producers.

Lady Rothschild’s death in January 2019 at the age of 83 robbed racing of one of its great enthusiasts. The British racing landscape is very different to that of yesteryear as the presence of true owner-breeders continues to dwindle, but in Lady Rothschild there was just that; someone with the passion and commitment to cultivate families at Waddesdon Stud and race the progeny while enjoying the sport and everything that goes with it to the full.

The Aylesbury-based Waddesdon Stud officially closes for business at the end of the year. Given that Lady Rothschild’s son, Nathaniel, is based in California, the move is an understandable one.

Thankfully, however, 2019 won’t mark the last season that we see those famous navy and yellow colours on the track since the 2018 crop of Waddesdon-breds, a group of 12 yearlings, are slated to join the older horses in training.

“She was never frightened to speak her mind and had a good sense of humour”

Today, Waddesdon’s influence runs high through Nathaniel, a marvellous homebred Galileo out of Magnificient Style who captured the King George and Eclipse Stakes for the breeder, the latter on a memorable July afternoon in 2012 that also featured the victory of his sister Great Heavens in the Lancashire Oaks. And, of course, Nathaniel has now provided us with a true great in his daughter Enable.

A programme of relatively recent serious investment in the stud and its stock through advisor James Wigan has also featured other major rewards, notably a Breeders’ Cup winner in Pounced, successful in the 2009 Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita, and Pretty Polly Stakes heroine Thistle Bird.

Another homebred, Mince, was rated the champion three-year-old sprinter of Europe in 2012. There would have also undoubtedly been tremendous satisfaction from the Antipodean achievements of McCreery, who developed into a Group 1 performer following his sale to Australia.

Waddesdon’s success never emanated from large numbers. However, quality was key, as reflected by the purchases of Cheveley Park Stakes winner Magical Romance for 4,600,000gns and Sun Chariot Stakes heroine Spinning Queen for 3,000,000gns during a determined 24-hour period at the 2006 Tattersalls December Sale.

In the case of Magical Romance, the price represented a then world record for a mare sold at auction.

Another turn in the ring

Now 13 years on, and Magical Romance heads to auction once again as part of this 16-strong draft – phase one of the Waddesdon Stud dispersal – which is being handled on behalf of the family by The Castlebridge Consignment.

The remaining mares, among them Spinning Queen and Irish Oaks heroine Great Heavens who are not in foal, will be offered next year following the sale of the stud’s 2019 foals, all of which are slated to sell at Tattersalls during 2020.

Magical Romance sells this time around in foal to Nathaniel behind her winning Shamardal daughter Aflame, who kicks off the draft as lot 1502. Magical Romance, a Barathea three-parts-sister to Oaks winner Alexandrova, has foaled eight winners for Waddesdon including Listed scorer Tall Ship, but she is also the grandam of this year’s Prix de Diane heroine Channel, which obviously bodes well for the prospects of other daughters of the mare.

Magnificient Style, a terrific producer whose eight stakes winners include Nathaniel and Great Heavens alongside the Fillies’ Mile heroine Playful Act and Yorkshire Cup winner Percussionist, is now retired.

But anyone looking to invest in the family this December has the option of her daughters Rocksavage, by Fastnet Rock, and Willoughby, by Oasis Dream.

Add in the likes of Thistle Bird, dam of recent impressive two-year-old winner Bullfinch, her own dam Dolma, Pounced’s dam Desert Tigress and Mince, and the mares’ dispersal promises to be a memorable occasion.

“Lady Rothschild had a great passion for racing,” says James Wigan. “She split her time between Waddesdon and Stowell Park, near Marlborough, and when she was at Waddesdon, which was mainly at the weekends when her husband Jacob [the 4th Baron Rothschild] was there, she would always come up to the stud and visit the stock.

“It was the day-to-day interaction with the horses and the people who looked after them that she really liked.

“She really embraced life. She said exactly what she thought – she was never frightened to speak her mind and had a good sense of humour.

“I think the only time she didn’t manage to speak her mind was when Pounced won the Breeders’ Cup. She was there with her son Nat and I remember being interviewed afterwards.

Pounced (yellow cap) winning at the Breeders’ Cup – Photo: George Selwyn

‘When did you think you were going to win?’ the interviewer asked. ‘I didn’t even watch the race,’ she responded. The interviewer was horrified. But the fact was that she was too nervous to watch.

“She got very nervous with runners on the big occasion, she’d much rather have a runner at Bath. She wasn’t very keen on pomp and circumstance. Instead, she enjoyed those smaller tracks.”

He adds: “She had quite a few well-named horses, she was great at that and would spend a lot of time studying them. They were all nearly named as foals – all this year’s yearlings had been named at the time of her death.”

Take McCreery as an example; named in honour of her former advisor Bob McCreery, he was a son of Big Bad Bob.

Lady Rothschild was born Serena Mary Dunn in 1934, the daughter of Sir Philip Gordon Dunn, and assumed the supervision of Waddesdon, established in 1924 by James de Rothschild, during the late 1980s.

“Magnificient Style was in the December Sale and we were keen on the pedigree”

By all accounts, she derived great pleasure from the exploits of her Bengough Stakes winner Mince as a member of one of her original families. Then there was the 1996 Lancashire Oaks winner Spout, bred out of Dorothy de Rothschild’s Arderelle.

But it was when the family took the decision to invest further significantly in Waddesdon that it really came to the fore.

Dolma, purchased in 2005, yielded Thistle Bird and McCreery. Two years later Magnificient Style joined the fold. Winner of the 1996 Musidora Stakes for Mahmoud Fustok’s Buckram Oak Holdings, Magnificient Style produced Fillies’ Mile heroine Playful Act for Robert Sangster before being catalogued as part of the Swettenham Stud dispersal at the 2007 Tattersalls December Sale.

Wigan takes up the story.

“Lady Rothschild had inherited some mares and then there was a move to increase the quality of the stock,” he says. “Her son Nat realised how keen she was on racing and breeding, and financially he was a great supporter.

“Magnificient Style was in the December Sale and we were keen on the pedigree and had made the decision she was the one we were going to try very hard for. But then she was withdrawn. So I went to find out the situation and she was running milk.

Nathaniel returned to win the Eclipse after a 266-day absence – Photo: George Selwyn

“At the time, she was in foal to Galileo and they quite understandably decided that it was too risky to travel her. So we had her thoroughly checked out and we bought her – and the resulting foal turned out to be Nathaniel.

“She’s a big mare with a lot of quality. They’re not particularly quick maturing, they go on improving with age, but they’re very genuine.”

Nathaniel’s four-year-old season, when he won the Eclipse and fell a head short of landing his second King George, was the crowning point of an eight-month period for Waddesdon that comprised 14 individual winners of 29 races, among them Great Heavens, who followed up her Lancashire Oaks win in the Irish Oaks, and a pair of Listed scores by Mince.

“The afternoon Nathaniel and Great Heavens won was amazing,” says Wigan alluding to that July afternoon. “Trade Commissioner [out of Spinning Queen] had won a good handicap that day at Sandown and then Nathaniel won the Eclipse.

“I remember we watched the Lancashire Oaks from the winners’ room at Sandown. It was extraordinary, none of us could quite believe what was happening.

“Lady Rothschild had a great passion for racing”

“Thistle Bird, when she won the Pretty Polly in Ireland, was great as well. But I have to say that I’ve never seen Lady Rothschild so overcome as when Pounced won at the Breeders’ Cup. It was all the more special in that Nat was with her and she  could share it with him.”

The Waddesdon name might be stepping back from racing circles but the story is not yet over, with a number of two-year-olds demonstrating above average ability as the season drew to a close.

Bullfinch, by Kodiac and out of Thistle Bird, made all to score at Chelmsford City; so easily did Roger Charlton’s colt win that it took a full circuit of the track for Jason Watson to pull him up.

A pair of John Gosden inmates, Galsworthy and Sun Bear, have also shown promise; Galsworthy has been placed twice in novice and maiden company while Sun Bear, a Dubawi daughter of Great Heavens, went down by a short head on her debut at Nottingham.

“Sun Bear is very much in the mould of her dam,” says Wigan. “She’s strong and sturdy with a lot of quality. We’re hopeful about her.”

With any luck, those two-year-olds and others will justify the high hopes held of them in 2020 and provide a fitting tribute to Lady Rothschild and all at Waddesdon Stud.