At the moment it seems that barely a day goes by without Whatton Manor Stud registering a success in some shape or form, a point that was emphasised about 30 minutes into this interview when Ed Player pauses mid flow before casually saying: “I’ve actually just been texted by my father to say we’ve had another winner.”
And, moreover, there has been plenty of quality to complement the quantity of recent successes, with a Royal Ascot Group 1 winner, a burgeoning sprinting star, and a whole host of progressive young talents among the stud’s growing roll of honour.
In truth, the latest red-hot run of Whatton Manor graduates has merely seen the stud pick up where it left off last year, when the Nottinghamshire nursery’s flag was flown high by July Cup hero Starman, who was bred by David Ward, and State Of Rest, a 2018 pinhook who bagged a remarkable brace of top-flight international prizes in the Saratoga Derby and Cox Plate.
Having set the bar so high in 2021, Player admits to some apprehension starting a new season afresh, saying: “We had a great year last year with Starman and State Of Rest but we were a bit nervous that we weren’t going to be so lucky this time around, and we wondered where the next good one was going to come from.”
Player and his family didn’t have to wonder for long, however, as State Of Rest returned to win two more Group 1s, namely the Prix Ganay and Prince of Wales’s Stakes, St Albans Bloodstock’s Sense Of Duty, who was born and raised at Whatton Manor, looked something quite out of the ordinary in the Group 3 Chipchase Stakes, while the homebred Grande Dame romped away with the Listed Coral Distaff.
Backing up those headline results have been the likes of smart two-year-olds Clearpoint and Queen Mary Stakes runner-up Maylandsea, both of whom were sold on behalf of Fiona Denniff, and the winning and Listed-placed homebred Mukaddamah, while George Strawbridge’s Mimikyu and Mirsky showed the benefit of being raised at Whatton Manor by winning twice and, in the case of the latter, reaching the frame in Listed company.
Successes have stemmed from a variety of sources
These are just a handful of the many names who have been bred, raised or sold by Whatton Manor Stud before reaching the winners’ enclosure in recent times, along with the likes of Danville, Golden Voice, Greased Lightning, New Heights, Roseberry Topping, Totally Charming and Way Of Life, to name but a few.
These successes may have stemmed from a variety of sources spread neatly between clients’ horses, their own homebreds and their annual intake of pinhooks, but the common denominator among the majority is the upbringing they enjoyed in Whatton Manor’s idyllic paddocks.
Player says the quality of the land helped give Whatton Manor an edge when they were operating with more humbly-bred stock, although an expanded portfolio of significant clients now means that plenty of blue-blooded youngsters are deriving those same benefits.
“We strongly believe that the land we have here at Whatton is very special,” says Player. “The Vale of Belvoir is known as very good cattle land and we’ve long since known it’s good for the horses too. As a result the horses we’ve been breeding here have always punched above their weight.
“In recent years we’ve had better stock coming onto the place and you always hope that’s going to translate into bigger and better results. You can’t guarantee these things but we couldn’t be happier with how the year has gone and how the horses are running.”
Whatton Manor’s reputation for nurturing future winners has been built over 40 years, reaching back to the purchase and early development of the farm by Ed’s father, Peter Player. As the reputation has grown, so has the scale of the operation and the stud now stretches to 650 acres and features all the mod cons required to help young thoroughbreds through their formative years. The stud’s results have not gone unnoticed and the clientbase now includes a host of skilled and highly successful breeders.
“My father started Whatton Manor Stud in 1982 and when he came here there were less than 15 stables on the place and there were very few fenced paddocks,” says Player. “He designed the stud and it’s been his lifetime’s work. It’s something I’ve been passionate about ever since I was born and for us to help bring the stud forward with him, and it’s very much a family enterprise, gives us all huge pride.”
There is no better advertisement for the grounding on offer at Whatton Manor than State Of Rest, who was pinhooked from his breeder Tinnakill House for 45,000gns at the 2018 Tattersalls December Foal Sale. The son of Starspangledbanner has now won four top-level prizes in four different countries and is scheduled to stand at Rathbarry Stud in Ireland and Newgate Farm in Australia once his dual-hemisphere stallion career gets under way.
“He was just the kind of foal we like buying,”
Player says he saw plenty of physical development in the young State Of Rest, and his upward trajectory may still not have peaked yet as he produced a career-best performance on his 12th outing to deny Bay Bridge in gutsy fashion in the Group 1 Prince of Wales’s Stakes last time out.
“He was just the kind of foal we like buying,” recalls Player. “He was quite leggy and a bit light but a very good mover. We saw him as a real improver and we felt that on our land he would grow the bone he needed and he’d fill his frame. He always had a nice pedigree and he was one we were really keen to get, although we were quite surprised when we did buy him, particularly as we didn’t buy many that year.”
While State Of Rest will forever be defined by his Group 1 heroics, he won’t be remembered for leaving any great profit at Whatton Manor as he was bought by Aidan O’Ryan and Joseph O’Brien for what now looks a bargain 60,000gns. Not that Player has any complaints given what has happened since.
“He did very well from foal to yearling but we never quite got him to where we wanted and he still had further improvement to come,” says Player. “We just missed a couple of big players with him for one reason or another, as going into the sale ring we were hoping he was going to make over a hundred thousand.
“You always want to make money out of your pinhooks but, at the end of the day the most important thing is that they go to good homes and they turn into good horses.
“We want to have a reputation as being a stud that sells good horses, whether it’s for clients, pinhooks or homebreds. We want people to see Whatton Manor as a farm they can come to and know they’re going to get sound, tough horses that will win races.”
State Of Rest now has five victories to his name and there is every chance there is more to come. As well as his innate class, his defining attribute is his thoroughly genuine attitude. That has been on display as he has annexed top-flight races in the US, Australia, France and Britain, and has Player drawing a comparison with another multiple Group 1 winner with an iron constitution.
“We always felt he’d be a horse who was more of a three-year-old than a two-year-old but we never dreamt he’d improve as much as he did,” he says. “When he’s in front two furlongs out he’s a hard horse to pass. He doesn’t win his races by far, but then neither did a horse like Giant’s Causeway.”
St Albans Bloodstock, the racing and breeding vehicle of Andrew Stone, has already tasted homebred Group 1 success thanks to Premio Lydia Tesio winner God Given, a Nathaniel half-sister to the brilliant Postponed.
Further top-flight laurels could soon be on the way courtesy of Sense Of Duty
Further top-flight laurels could soon be on the way courtesy of Sense Of Duty, who is three from three this campaign, a run that includes success in the Listed Cecil Frail and the Group 3 Chipchase Stakes, the latter victory gained by no less than four and a half lengths. Somewhat remarkably, she is one of three fillies who shared the same Whatton Manor paddock before developing into a black-type performer.
“We’re absolutely delighted to have a good one for Andrew Stone, who’s a huge supporter of the industry,” says Player. “If Sense Of Duty could go on and be as good as she looks at the moment that would be very exciting.
“We liked her during her time here, she didn’t have perfect conformation but she always had huge quarters on her and looked very strong and she was one of those in the ‘could be anything’ category. St Albans Bloodstock is managed by Richard Brown and I remember clearly when he saw her he loved her and was always very sweet on her. We had a very good bunch of fillies that year because in one field we had Mukaddamah, Grande Dame and Sense Of Duty.”
While the quality of land and the high level of horsemanship provided by the Whatton Manor team have combined to help their clients’ stock realise its potential, be that on the racecourse or in the sales ring, they have also made plenty of smart moves of their own when it comes to broodmare buying and stallion selection.
A case in point being the well-touted Grande Dame, who is by Lope De Vega and out of Minwah, a daughter of Oasis Dream who was purchased with Larry Stratton for 46,000gns in 2012. The 13-year-old mare has already produced £730,750 worth of yearlings for Whatton Manor, and has a daughter of Too Darn Hot heading to Book 2 later this year. Similar comments apply to Mukaddamah’s dam Craighall, who has bred five winners and long since repaid her purchase price of just 11,000gns at the 2010 Autumn Horses in Training Sale.
Player says that finding value among the stallion ranks remains an ongoing challenge for any operation with a commercial imperative, but adds that he is optimistic about the prospects of some of the up-and-coming names among the British roster.
We like to support English studs
“We like buying shares and breeding rights, it’s something we’ve been very lucky with over the years,” he says. “Years and years ago my father bought two or three shares in Sharpen Up and he turned into a very good stallion and we made a lot of money from those, which really got us going in the early days when my father was starting off.
“We bought into Ardad and we’re huge fans of his. He really could go the whole way and his statistics are incredible. When you look at the quality of mares he’s covered he’s massively improving them and I could easily see him being another Kodiac, if not going beyond that.
“We like to support English studs and we’re big fans of Whitsbury Manor and Juddmonte, who do a very good job of making stallions. We’d all love to use Kingman and Pinatubo and Too Darn Hot but a lot of our mares don’t warrant that sort of covering fee, and it’s very expensive to send them to Ireland so having options in England makes life a lot easier.
“We’re delighted to see what a great job Whitsbury have done with Havana Grey, who we’ve also got a breeding right in. We sold three last year and they all had bombproof temperaments and they were such strong, athletic horses. Luckily we used him quite a lot this year and hopefully that’s going to pay off.”
This year’s mating plans also included Whatton Manor graduate Starman, who has reportedly gone down a storm in his first season at Tally-Ho Stud. It can be seen as a further measure of Whatton Manor’s success that, should the right mares present themselves, their 2023 mating plans could include four stallions who were born or raised at the stud, with Starman joined by State Of Rest, Irish National resident Nando Parrado and Haras d’Annebault’s Fighting Irish.
“We’ve supported Starman and there’s a real buzz about the quality of mare he’s covered,” says Player. “We sent him a good one in Ensemble, who’s got a good three-year-old called Quick Change and bred a stakes-placed horse called Desert Haze, and I can’t wait to see his foals on the ground. David Ward is another who puts a huge amount into the industry and he’s very much living the dream at the moment.”
Player is far too humble to seek his share of credit for Whatton Manor’s current form, and instead reflects on recent results by saying: “You have your good days and you have your bad days, but when you have good winners and very serious clients supporting you, it gives you real pride in what you do.
“We’re extraordinarily lucky with the clients we have and I appreciate just how fortunate we are.”
It may be true that good fortune will always have a part to play in a business as unpredictable as racing and breeding, but it is not merely by chance that some of the most accomplished breeders around have placed their trust in the Player family’s operation. The veritable tsunami of Whatton Manor success stories tells you all you need to know.
High hopes for Magna Grecia pinhook
Whatton Manor Stud has plenty to look forward to at the upcoming yearling sales, not least Book 1 of Tattersalls October, where an eight-strong draft will feature three lots by Dubawi, including colts out of high-class racemares God Given and Dabyah, as well as a son of Invincible Spirit and Fiona Denniff’s blue hen Tiana, who is best known as the dam of Beat The Bank.
But it is Book 2 that will perhaps be most highly anticipated by the younger generation of the Player family, as that is where Ed’s 16-year-old son Freddie is due to offer his latest pinhook.
Freddie has already shown an eye for future talent that far exceeds his tender years, as two of his previous pinhooks went on to score in stakes company. A share in a Whatton Manor pinhook was Freddie’s reward for passing his 11-plus exam, and after some careful consideration he chose to be involved in the Dandy Man filly out of New Romantic.
The 7,000gns foal was resold for £24,000 and went on to be known as Dr Simpson, who won the Group 3 Mercury Stakes for Tom Dascombe. Freddie’s second involvement was with Method, the €16,000 son of Mehmas who was resold to Dermot Farrington for £20,000 and won the Listed Rose Bowl Stakes for Martyn Meade.
“Freddie has a share in a Magna Grecia colt out of Occupation, who we bought for 32,000gns at Newmarket,” says Ed Player. “He’s a fine, big, strong colt that I’d be very hopeful of doing well at the sales when he goes to Book 2. Hopefully he can keep Freddie’s record going!
“What’s so lovely about our industry is that the experts are brilliant with the younger generation. Whether it’s Ed Sackville, Richard Brown or Geoffrey Howson, they’ve all taken Freddie under their wing and taken the time to teach him.”
The knowledge that Freddie has acquired from his family and those leading bloodstock agents will undoubtedly stand him in good stead as his involvement in the industry progresses, and Player says he hopes to one day pass on the reins at Whatton Manor, just as his own father did to him.
“It’s very much a family business and my father is still very much involved, as are my wife, Katherine, and my children. Freddie is particularly keen and his two brothers, Archie (14) and Harry (ten), are starting to show an interest too,” he says.
“We’re a family enterprise so it feels special when we have success, and whether it’s just an ordinary winner or something a bit bigger, we just feel very lucky to be in such a beautiful spot with a lovely stud. Long may that continue and hopefully the future will be safe with one – or all three – of my sons taking the stud forward.”