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Bruce's Blog – July 2008

Bruce photographed with recently-retired champion stallion Sadler's Wells (USA) at Coolmore, Ireland.
Bruce photographed with recently-retired champion stallion Sadler's Wells (USA) at Coolmore, Ireland.

Bruce Wraps Up In Ireland

8/6/2008-8/7/2008

The Stallions, Ballydoyle, and Primus

Time doesn't just fly, it is jet propelled. Here I am at the end of the second leg of my Sunline scholarship journey and my emotions are tainted with a mixture of complete sadness and burgeoning excitement for what America holds. Coolmore has been magnificent. As a commercial operator it has been a very different knowledge gaining experience to that of Cheveley Park, with both being so important to the fully rounded education attributed to this scholarship. Very special horses, a special place, but hardest of all to say goodbye too are the exceptional people. Coolmore, like Cheveley Park, has been a great example, and reminder, of the notion that great staff/great personalities make for great places and a great experience.


The Stallions and their Men
The majority of my 10 weeks (6 weeks) have been spent in the Coolmore stallion unit and let me say that it has been an absolute privilege. As I said before in a previous blog "I grew up with the Coolmore stallion brochure" these horses ignited my flame of passion for the thoroughbred game, and here I am now handling them. It really is unreal, and as I said before an absolute privilege. This privilege extends also to the top horsemen I have been able to work with also. The core group of stallion men in brothers Mick and Eamon Phelan, Paul Gleeson, Noel Stapleton, Michael Power, and Gerry St John have over 120 years experience between them and I was lucky enough to be taken under their wings, nurtured with increasing responsibility, and given the opportunity to listen and learn from the very best. They coupled with young guns Bobby, Benny, Tommy, Gabe, Mathieu, and Andre made up the stallion team, and made for great laughs, good yarns, cheeky insults, and devastatingly frustrating crosswords at lunchtime courtesy of the local newspaper.

Our day in the stallion unit usually went as follows:

6.30am- Coverings. The Procedure:

1. A team of three would be awaiting mares arriving for cover in the first barn/vet crush usually termed 'below', as in "Brucey go and give them a hand down below". Firstly the mares are teased by Jake, our resident grey teaser and often referred to as "the most important man on the farm". Once showing that she is well in season she is brought into the crush to get her tail bandaged, washed behind, and her documentation(checking for negative swabs to a range of different STD's) and identification checked to make sure everything is correct. A leather and gold plated tag is then attached to the mare to indicate which stallion she will be visiting. The mare is then sent to wait outside in a massive oval covered in yard with around 10 different compartments for individual mares separated by a rope not dissimilar to those seen trailing on either side of the red carpet at The Oscars.

2. The stallion is then radioed for and the appropriate mare sent up to either covering shed 'left' or 'right' depending on who she is visiting. The stallion crew then take the mare over from the mare's leader and then boots, lube and the twitch are applied before the stallion enters the circular, enclosed covering shed. Two men holding the head ensure the mare moves as little as possible, and a stallion manager, either Mick or Gerry in a full set of disposable gloves, guide the stallion in and then check for ejaculation. A vet is also always present at coverings to ensure both animals safety and in case of emergency.

3. Once the mare has been covered she walks out a different way to ensure that she does not get in the way of the next mares in line who are making their way up for service. The whole system works so efficiently, and testament to that fact is the completion of up to 15 covers in around an hour and a half. All coverings are on live camera so that the boys 'below' know when to send the next mare up for service so that no time is wasted.

8am- Exercise stallions, turn out into paddocks, muck out, bed down, hay, and water. Exercising the stallions usually entails a lunge and then a walk in the forest. The forest walk is a circular track in a most beautiful wooded area that was especially designed for the stallions. Absolute serenity... ahh the serenity.

10am-Breakfast- I usually have cereal before work in the morning so depending on hunger levels I either go into town with the boys for a breakfast roll(probably the best thing ever invented consisting of a fresh baked baguette roll filled with mayo, hash brown, bacon, sausage, and black pudding.. scrummy) or I just have a cup of tea and check my emails and the racing news in the internet room here at Coolmore.

10.30am- Continue exercising and mucking out.

11am- Visitors. Coolmore must be the most hospitable stud farm I have ever come across. They have a very open door policy whereby anyone can visit the farm and stallions by appointment. Visitors range from important clients and leading industry figures from around the world, to the most snap-happy tourist who may have never seen a horse up close and personal before. Coolmore's philosophy is simple, as explained to me by nominations/client liaison manager Mathieu Alex. Mathieu explained that they try to give every single visitor a personal experience, which could be a simple cup of coffee and 15minutes of his time to explain what happens at Coolmore. Long term that person may decide to invest in a racing or breeding proposition, or even a friend may be contemplating such a move and in both instances it is hoped that Coolmore will be seen in a very positive light. I have so much respect for this 'personal touch' culture that Coolmore employ throughout their operation. It is a culture that for me is described like this:

'Not only do we want to reap what we sow, but we want to give you access to plant your own hopes, dreams, and desires in the excitement that is the thoroughbred game. And once your crops have grown, perhaps from Coolmore seeds, but perhaps not, we will still be held in your highest regard and no doubt we will work together again in the future"

Our guests (notice even in the stallion unit we see them as guests invited into our homes) have ranged from an Octogenarian, who only wanted one thing for his birthday and that was to see, pat, and get a picture taken with the one and only Sadler's Wells, to rugby stars like world cup winning Lawrence Dallaglio. The most special group for me however was the bus load of Australians and Kiwi's over for the Irish Derby. Included in this group was New Zealand bloodstock agent John White and his lovely wife Jan who had just taken in wonderful Royal Ascot, and also the enigmatic Bob Skelton whose bright eyes, bubbly character, and proudly worn Seachange cap really stole the show. I got a photo with him between the life-size High Chaparral poster and the Fethard sign in the covering shed which meant my day was a complete success no matter what happened after that moment.

12pm- Coverings

1pm-Lunch- Usually a couple of ham sandwiches and a bottle of water. Also lollies like peach rings if there are any lying about/any left.

2pm- Bring stallions in from paddocks. Groom or wash depending on how dirty they are, which of course depends on whether they rolled or not. Usual culprits include Sadler's Wells, Hurricane Run, Aussie Rules, Excellent Art and Holy Roman Emperor.

2.30pm Visitors and photo's/video footage. As the marketing team are always on the ball putting together brochures, DVD's, adverts, breeders handbooks etc they are always looking for the right camera shot, the right angle, the right light etc. So at least once a week we will have photographers around to shoot specific horses, in specific poses, and in specific situations. The most memorable ones for me so far must be the:

· Sadler's and his two outstanding sire sons, Montjeu and Galileo standing together under the trees in the main stallion lawn.

· Sadler's leading his sons up the driveway to the covering shed with Galileo, Montjeu, and High Chaparral in tow.

· The lady coming to take shots and measurements for her bronze sculpture of Montjeu.

· Dylan Thomas walking between the hedge rows between his box and the main stallion yard.

· Hawk Wing and I getting videoed walking in a V-shape in the main stallion yard and then a standing pose. He is such a gentlemen, and a poser too.

The funniest part of this whole experience for me is the stallion theatre group performing in "get the stallion to prick his ears for the photo". Characters often include:

. Bushman- whereby the character stands in or next to the nearby bushes in front of the stallion in the pose and rattles the branches. Accompanying ape noises not always necessary.

. The Rattler- whereby the character puts half a scoop of feed in a bucket and rattles it to try and grab the horse's interest.

. The Whistler and Clapper- whereby the character whistles and claps in unison an attention grabbing tune- usually 'milo' or 'hey mambo, mambo italiano'.

. The Mobile Phone Ringer- whereby the character tries to grab the horse's attention my playing a ring tone on his mobile phone. Risky- Can reveal a person's taste in music, and thus ridicule follows for days or weeks after.

. Crouching Tiger- A move I have perfected after it was passed on to me by my Aunty Liz in South Africa. Basically entails crawling like a cat towards the horse(at a safe distance) like you are about to pounce on them. Always effective but risky as you are really putting yourself out there for ridicule, and also damp grass, or stones can be uncomfortable on knee caps.

Hardest stallion to get: Definitely Sadler's Wells. He has seen it all. I am pretty sure he just stuck his ears up in the end because he felt sorry for us.

3pm-Coverings

4pm-Feed up and lock up.

5pm- Home time- Social soccer on Monday and Wednesday's, shopping on Fridays, and occasional tennis with Tommy or pub on other days.

8pm- Night Coverings- every second night.

The Stallions

Here is just a quick piece of how I have come to know each of them. Please remember they were all exceptional racehorses and are extremely well bred. All of them are elite class, they are the dream team.

Sadler's Wells (Northern Dancer)- 72 group 1 winners in the Northern Hemisphere alone. Say no more, but you have to. He is such a gentlemen at 27years of age and in superb condition. I have been so lucky to meet him. I am told his top stock are defined by their lovely loose walks so bear that in mind for future Sadler's generations.

Galileo (Sadler's Wells)- Possibly the only perfect horse? He is so well balanced, it's just all there and in the right places. His race record and stud career prove that. Great nature and great doer. So much respect.

Montjeu (Sadler's Wells)- Length, scope, and a natural athlete. Phenomenal racehorse and sire. Dominant.

Hurricane Run (Montjeu)- Promoted as 'like father, like son'. All truth so read comments on Montjeu.

Danehill Dancer (Danehill)- Powerful quarters, short coupled and described by the boys as the closest thing to Danehill. Enough said.

Rock Of Gibraltar (Danehill)- A great character, highly intelligent, and fun to be around. Powerful throughout, 7 gr1 wins on the trot speaks volumes for his constitution, and his character.

High Chaparral (Sadler's Wells)- Here comes a big call- the most natural athlete I have ever seen. Walks like the proverbial black panther, so light on his feet, and so elastic. Things just flow with him, and walking alongside him is an experience in itself. His race record speaks volumes for his athleticism.

Holy Roman Emperor (Danehill)- Short coupled, speed machine. Very energetic and his precocity will suit Australasia down to the ground. Oh and did I mention he is from the same family as Flying Spur and Encosta De Lago. First foals are real stand-outs and have all got the 'holy' stamp.

Oratorio (Danehill)-Like father like son. Power and quality combined. A pleasure to be around.

Dylan Thomas (Danehill)- In the mould of the scopier, large framed Danehills. Very easy going, large stride and phenomenal depth and length of reign. I bet his heart is as big as my head.

Hawk Wing (Woodman)- Magnificent thoroughbred. Carries himself so well. Lovely nature, you can do anything with him, and you know it is going to be done in style.

Excellent Art (Pivotal)- Oozes class. You know how much I love the Pivotal's, and he in my view has been the best of them so far. Typical miler type with a powerful shoulder and hind quarter all in proportion with his bit of length. Real quality about him and so easy to get along with. If you ever get to see him in the flesh look out for his unique whorl located on the near side of his neck, just below his throat. A mark of greatness??

Peintre Celebre (Nureyev)-My boy to exercise on most days. Such a character, he still lives life at 100 miles an hour, even at the ripe old age of 15. Masculine, powerful, and at the top of the hierarchy. Wouldn't hurt a fly. Throws an exceptional racehorse every year. He holds my utmost respect.

Ad Valorem (Danzig)-Full of quality and full of cheek. Strength throughout in typical Danzig fashion but with a bit more length, and scope. Cracking type really. Interestingly he is owned 50/50 by Coolmore and Darley since the latter's acquisition of Woodlands.

Aussie Rules (Danehill)- A natural running type. Loose walk, great shoulder and nice length of reign. Like all of the Danehill sons here an absolute dream to deal with.

Haradasun (Fusaichi Pegasus)- He spent a couple of weeks with us after his resounding and tough win in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot. Fantastic attitude and nature, especially considering he had just came out of training. Extremely relaxed, nothing bothers him. Great quarters, deep girth and stands over a lot of ground. A big and powerful animal already... going to be a marvel to look at once he fills out.

Ballydoyle-Facts and a quick synopsis

A bus load of us, thanks again to Tom Lynch, were lucky enough to visit Ballydoyle, the training grounds of one M.V.(Vincent) O'Brien, and now the home of the extraordinary Aidan O'Brien(no relation of Vincent). We went during "quiet time", which is a time period(few hours) in the middle of the day when no horses at Ballydoyle are allowed to be disrupted by any human(grooms, vets etc included)so that they are totally relaxed and thus recovery, digestion etc is enhanced. This meant that we could not see the likes of Henrythenavigator or The Duke of Marmalade, but the experience was second to none anyway. A bronze statue of Nijinsky greets everybody upon their arrival to Ballydoyle. A reminder of the great horses that have graced these gallops, stables, and fields. The Minstrel, Sir Ivor, El Gran Senor, Storm Bird, Golden Fleece, Alleged, Ballymoss, Royal Academy, Rock Of Gibraltar, Galileo, Sadler's Wells, just to name a minute few.

Below are some is of the information I picked up on our tour of Ballydoyle:

. 750 acres

. Training tracks include:

. an undulating summer gallop(grass) with a downhill left hand turn(like Tattenham Corner at Epsom) at the end which is only used on derby hopefuls however. All divots are put in by hand my track maintenance staff each morning.

. Round 6f polytrack

. Uphill 6f polytrack

. 6f hill turf gallop- man made to specific gradient wanted by Aidan O'Brien. Where most of the Melbourne Cup hopefuls do their main work-outs.

. Massive covered in rings where horses are warmed up together under the watchful eye of Aidan and his head lads.

. Barns/Stabling:

. Iron Horse barn-Newly built state of the art. Named after Ballydoyle's Iron Horse, Giant's Causeway. Large stables, all rubber floored and with outside en suites attached to each stable. Houses all the horses/colts and geldings in training that are 3yo+.

. Blue Barn-Fillies and mares 3yo+. Each with their own individual paddocks.

. Hylands- colts division and fillies division. 2yo's only.

. Isolation Units- Barns used as quarantine units for any horses coming in having raced abroad etc. To prevent disease from entering the Ballydoyle string.

. Aids for exercise and recovery:

. Indoor Pool- much like the ones we have in New Zealand, water temperature is controlled.

. Ice Bath- looks similar to a water treadmill, but horses are stationary and the water ice cold. Just over knee/hock height.

. Sauna/ Horse Thermium-Heat radiation bath-relaxation, regeneration and growth.

. Infra Red- Sunlight like qualities to aid coats, and increase blood flow to heal injuries faster etc.

.Food and Water

. Own water supply via wells. Waters gallops and roadways- no contamination.

. Produce own hay, straw and oats. Cut 24,000 bales of meadow hay per year.

. Feeding- horses fed three times a day. First course is served one hour before first person arrives in the yard. Lunch and evening feed follow.

. Other bits and bobs

. The higher up in the yard a horse is stabled the more accomplished they are on the racecourse.

. 160 horses in training at the start of each year, 150 staff employed by Ballydoyle.

. Wash bays- horse hosed after work with warm disinfectant wash.

. No horse walkers- Ballydoyle prefer to hand walk and in a position to pay staff to do so.

Now here comes the incredible bit. To think that Ballydoyle provides Coolmore Stud with around 4-5 new exciting and well credentialed sire prospects each season, as well as well performed broodmares, you would think that the number of horses in training must be phenomenal given the typical number of racehorses that make it into the sire ranks etc. Well not here at Ballydoyle. Aidan starts every new season with 160 horses, made up of 80 3yo's and older horses and 80 2yo's. But there is no revolving door here. Once a 2yo goes shin sore, or an older horse is sold out of the yard, or a horse becomes injured there is no replacement that arrives immediately to fill the vacated box. Thus the 160 is usually down to around the 80 mark at the beginning of the next season ready for the next group of 80 2yo's to step in. Given that Aidan O'Brien has trained 12 Group1 wins this season already(on target for a record number of Group 1 victories in a season), plus 6 Group winners at Royal Ascot(Vincent O'Brien holds the record with 7 victories at Royal Ascot) it would have to speak volumes for his superior training skills, and the quality of bloodstock he handles.

Though I did not get to meet Aidan O'Brien on our tour of Ballydoyle, I did have the great fortune, pure luck, and great surprise of meeting him over dinner one night. All thanks to Michael O'Hagan, of Irish Thoroughbred Marketing, a contact kindly provided by Michael Martin, who are great friends after many crossed paths in the thoroughbred world. Aidan, to me, is the kindest of people. So willing to give his time, and all questions always answered in his typical calm, calculated, and softly spoken way. His speech demands your attention, not because it is loud and over-powering but because what he says is so well formed, you cannot wait for his each and every word, you cannot wait for the next knowledge/wisdom imparting moment. Though I only spent a couple of hours over dinner with him (all of it on my part being too overwhelmed to say anything intelligent) I can honestly say that it was long enough for me to firmly establish in my mind that Mr Aidan O'Brien is my new definition of both Genius and Gentleman (and NO he does not read the blog-this is not a part of any business/career strategy).

Apologies

Sorry for taking so long with this last blog. A combination of poor time management, trying to get myself sorted for travel to America, and poor internet access has meant a large delay to this blog. Look forward to my next blog from Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky. As I will be attending around 5 weeks of sales while I am here it is going to make writing this blog very difficult so I envisage only being able to complete about two blogs from this leg of the journey. I am off to Saratoga, New York, on Wednesday 30/7 for a week of sales and racing so look forward to reporting on that in my next blog.

All the best,

Bruce