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Robert's Blog – March 2014

Robert Dennis
Robert Dennis

Robert Dennis' first blog from Cheveley Park Stud in England

Hi there everyone, welcome to my blog about my experience while on the Sunline Scholarship. Firstly a brief introduction of myself, my name is Robert Dennis and I am this year's recipient of the Sunline Trust International management Scholarship. I am 22 years old and hail from a township called Woodlands in Southland where I was raised on the family farm by my parents Tony and Sharon. I went to school in Invercargill before continuing onto further studies at Lincoln University near Christchurch where I gained a degree in economics and business management, an experience I thoroughly enjoyed and am proud to have achieved.

My background with horses began early, I was lucky enough to be born into racing and breeding with my father Tony being one quarter of the Dennis Brothers partnership. In my younger days I liked to keep busy and help out and learn on the farm and stables and always enjoyed going to the races or getting on the back of a horse. A trip to Queensland with The Jewel when I was 12 has probably been the catalyst for my involvement in horses. A trip I'll never forget and from then I have always looked to get more involved.

While studying at uni I worked at the Riccarton track for Kevin and Pam Hughes and later, Peter Rudkin. Both trainers gave me different perspectives on horses, training and taught me valuable lessons. Having a racing heavy background it was important that I got stud experience so once I completed my degree I moved to The Oaks Stud in Cambridge in August last year. I gained a stack of knowledge from The Oaks, having never worked on a large commercial stud before, I was lucky enough to be exposed to foaling, breeding, ready to run and yearling sales. The experience I gained will be a great base for me to build on while on this magnificent experience.

Once again I would like to thank Michael, Sally, the Sunline Educational trust and all those involved for selecting me for this trip of a lifetime. I will spend 10 weeks each at Cheveley Park Stud in England, Coolmore Stud in Ireland and lastly Taylor Made Farm, Kentucky. It is a wonderful opportunity that I plan to make the most of.

After 3 months of nervous excitement I was ready to go. I had 2 weeks break since the sales with time spent watching the family's horses and filled with farewells and best wishes from friends and family. My journey began at 7am Wednesday 19th February at Invercargill airport, where after a goodbye from the Mum and a few last minute words of advice from the old man, I jumped on the first of my flights making my way to Heathrow, England. At 1 in the afternoon I left New Zealand soil via Singapore Airlines on a 10 hour flight to Singapore. The large airport gave me a chance to stretch my legs and have a look around, but it's safe to say I was pretty tired 5 hours later when I boarded the final plane on my journey to London. After a good sleep (I was out before take-off) and a read of Brian Anderton's book 'BJ the White Robe Legacy', we weren't far from London. The realisation of the opportunity I had been given really started to sink in and the excitement was peaking. I couldn't wait to get there and start working and learning in a completely new and different environment.

After landing and clearing customs I navigated my way to the National Express bus that delivered me to my final destination, Newmarket, the headquarters of British Racing. By this stage the excitement and anticipation defiantly overshadowed the 44 hours of travel. On a typically grey English day I was greeted in the High street of Newmarket by the smiling Cheveley Park Stud manager, Andrew Snell. As we drove to the stud he explained as much as he could in a short period of time, pointing out the plethora of top studs and trainers along the way. After driving through the automatic gates onto the main farm of Cheveley Park's magnificent property our first job was to call into the office to meet Managing Director Chris Richardson, Sharon and the team and collect my work kit. I felt like an All Black on the first day of training camp with all the new gear I received!

We loaded the car with my new gear and Andrew then proceeded to show me the main yard where I would be working and introduced me to Stud Groom Dale and the friendly staff. My hot streak of foals at The Oaks didn't end in NZ with a Dutch Art colt out of the mare Jamboretta (a 2 win mare by Danehill out of Jiving (Generous)) born about 20 minutes after my arrival. He was a big boy (69kg) but was well put together and sound for his size, also quick to his feet in search of his first meal.

Andrew and I then made our way to the covering shed for a quick introduction with the stallion boys followed by 3 coverings by resident stallions Dutch Art, Lethal Force and Mayson (more on the stallions later). By this stage it became evident how tired I was so Andrew drove me to the accommodation at Pivotal Court near the stud. After a quick introduction and yarn with my new flatmate James, I was off to bed for a refreshing 12 hour sleep, ready to start work at 7.30 the next morning.

The main gates at Cheveley Park Stud
The main gates at Cheveley Park Stud

Just a quick snapshot on the operation. Cheveley Park Stud is privately owned by David Thompson and his wife, Patricia and is the oldest stud in Newmarket. The time and effort put into the maintenance and presentation of the stud combined with the first class barns and combination of new and old buildings makes it a truly superb property and a source of pride for all those involved. The stud is split into 5 farms, Main Farm, Strawberry Hill, Sandwich, Ashley Heath and Warren Hill which together cover nearly 1000 acres. Each farm has its own use, with the Main Farm, Ashley Heath and Warren Hill being broodmares, Sandwich for yearlings and Strawberry Hill a recuperation area for the sick, wounded and lame. Cheveley's 7 stallions are also based on the Main Farm.

Of the stallions, Pivotal (Polar Fiction x Fearless Revival) is currently the most successful with over 100 individual stakes winners, including 23 G1 winners, with progeny amassing over 25 million pounds. Regarded as one of the world's best sires, Pivotal stands for £45,000. Intello (Galileo x Impressioonnante) and Lethal Force (Dark Angel x Land Army) are the new boys on the block this season standing for £25,000 and £12,500 respectively, with Intello proving to be particularly popular. The other 4 lads are Dutch Art, Kyllachy, Mayson and Medicean. I have spent a little time helping with the stallions but will spend a couple of weeks there soon. All horses on the property are impeccably bred and I have become accustomed to working with many group 1 winners and group 1 producers.

The main yard on the main farm
The main yard on the main farm

After an often chilly bike ride to the main farm, the working day begins at the luxurious time of 7:30. So far I have predominantly been based on the main farm, home to half Cheveley's broodmares. First job of the day is to turn the mares out (and foals if they have one), as long as they are not required for the vets Andrew and Hattie, who arrive about 8. After the vet work is complete the remaining mares are turned out before mucking out the boxes. The mares are boxed overnight in straw boxes meaning mucking out can take a few hours to complete. The great advantage of stabling mares and foals every night is not only that they are warm and out of trouble, it also means they are closely examined at least twice a day. This individual attention is key in identifying problems or issues that may arise and treating them in a timely manner. Mucking out, although sometimes tedious, provides quiet time to reflect and process bits of new information or different procedures. It also always seem inevitable that eventually I find myself comparing everything to home and how Cheveley Park's systems would work back in NZ, and vice versa.

A half hour break at 10 provides a chance for a drink and a snack before resuming work. Boxes are finished with fresh straw, feed and hay before other various stud duties are completed. This includes farrier, vet, taking mares for covering and ground maintenance amongst other tasks. At 2pm after an hour for lunch the day's jobs are completed before bringing the horses in for the night, all finished and off home by 4.30, making for a reasonably short day.

The systems in place on the main farm are fairly simple but work very well. There are 6 lots of boxes, main yard, dairy, 24's, 12's, Bensons and top mansion. 24's as the name suggests, has 24 boxes, and is used for maidens, dry mares and the old 'pensioners' including a farm favourite and top race mare, Russian Rhythm (by Kingmambo out of Balistroika, a multiple G1 winner including the 1000 Guineas). It is also home to the old teaser who double checks the vet work before the mares have their big date with their chosen stallion. The mares rotate around the rest of the yards depending on how close they are to foaling or how old their foal is. Mares foal in the main yard boxes which are monitored by cameras as well as the night watchman. Dairy is resident to the mares next closest to foaling and will be moved to the main yard when their time is nearer. 12's and top mansion is home to mares with later foaling dates that will move down to dairy and eventually the main yard when the time is right. Lastly Bensons is where mares and foals transfer to from the main yard when old enough, to make room for the next wave of pregnant mares coming through. This simple yet effective system ensures the mares and foals receive the right attention and support based upon their stage in the cycle (which is no surprise considering the value of the bloodstock!). Boxes are always kept in good condition and the large paddocks provide sufficient area for grazing and a good run around, essential to the foal's development.

Our view of the horses parading ahead of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, packed into the course with 70,000 others. The 2 white posts is the finish line so we got ourselves a good spot to see Lord Windermere first past the post! He retained the win in the enquiry room in a decision I feel would have been overturned back in NZ, but I did back the 2nd horse so maybe I'm a little bias.
Our view of the horses parading ahead of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, packed into the course with 70,000 others. The 2 white posts is the finish line so we got ourselves a good spot to see Lord Windermere first past the post! He retained the win in the enquiry room in a decision I feel would have been overturned back in NZ, but I did back the 2nd horse so maybe I'm a little bias.

My first Saturday here I accompanied Chris Richardson (managing director of Cheveley Park) to the morning gallops. Completely different to training horses at home and the stories I heard about the Newmarket gallops didn't do it justice, something that must be seen! I have been accompanying Andrew Snell on the vet rounds of the whole stud, giving me the chance to observe vet Andrew McGladdery and quiz his vast knowledge and experience on anything I am unsure of. I've also had a trip with 2 mares to see the unbeaten champion racehorse Frankel and outstanding sire Dansili at Juddmonte and it was good to follow the two mares through their vet work and see them scanned in foal at 15 days, a very happy team after the confirmation with the combined service fee equating to £220,000. I've also joined the roster for the night watch of the foaling mares (something I've never done before!), with a filly born on my first night. Every Tuesday and Thursday I have been attending lectures at the English National Stud, very informative and interesting. Also I made the trip out to Cheltenham with 2 of the lads from Cheveley for the last day of the jumps carnival, Gold Cup Day. More on all this later though, can't fit everything into one blog!

A few things planned for the near future…
• Trip to Shadwell with Mark (the 2nd man at Cheveley, a former Shadwell employee)
• Catch up with ex-pat kiwi bloodstock agent, Larry Stratton, later attending the April breeze up sale with Larry
• Spend my next day off at the stable of top trainer Sir Michael Stoute
• A day or 2 spent with vets Andrew and Hattie, and a trip to Rossdale's horse clinic
• Attending the Craven meeting at the Rowley Mile Racecourse in Newmarket, the key lead up races for the Guineas meetings in May

Writing only tells half the story and I'm sure some of you aren't that fussed on the reading so I have copied Jamie's idea and started a photo blog of my trip. One thing they drummed into me at uni was if someone has a good idea, don't be afraid to imitate it. You can check out more pictures at All going well this will be updated more regularly than the written blog.
I am having a truly enjoying my time over here, before I left my uncle told me I'd be like a sponge over here and I am! Trying to soak up as much as possible. Hope all is well at home and everyone is happy and healthy! Keep an eye out for my next update on Cheveley and Newmarket,


P.S I've been keeping up with the racing back home, congratulations to the O'Leary boys on the massive win with Whoshotthebarman in The Auckland Cup, great guys who take a lot of enjoyment from racing and their celebrations as he crossed the finish line even made it onto Facebook. I'm sure Auckland knew they were out that night! Another G1 winner for former White Robe staying sire, Yaminan Vital. Also tragic to hear about Ashley Frye's terrible fall, I know she will be in the thoughts of many, all hoping for a speedy recovery.


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