In Part 2 of our interview with John O’Connor, he looks back at some of the most influential stallions to have stood during his stewardship of the farm and makes observations on the current roster
1981 brown horse by Roberto ex Toter Back (Carry Back)
Bob Back, who took the notable scalps of Pebbles and Commanche Run when winning the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot at huge odds in 1985, got the new stallion roster under Tim Mahony’s ownership off to the perfect start.
“It was an early ambition to build up the stallion roster and the first horse who came here, Bob Back, actually followed me from Baroda Stud,” says O’Connor. “In his first year here he sired the St Leger winner Bob’s Return, so it was an auspicious start to the new era.”
Bob’s Return was Bob Back’s only Group 1-winning progeny on the Flat, but he also got the Group 3 winners Big Bad Bob (later a rags to riches sire for his owner-breeder Cristina Patino), Inner City and Wren.
He made a much greater impact in National Hunt breeding though, with a long list of top performers in that sphere including Bacchanal, Back In Focus, Back In Front, Bobs Worth, Boston Bob, Cousin Vinny, Dedigout and Thisthatandtother. His daughters also produced three exceptional talents in Many Clouds, Special Tiara and Synchronised.
“Bob Back later moved to Burgage Stud and Victor Connolly did a marvellous job keeping him hale and hearty,” adds O’Connor. “I think it’s fair to say he sired more good horses in his 20s than many stallions do in a lifetime, including a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner in Bobs Worth.
“He was just a lovely horse to be around. When I first started at Ballylinch I was acting as vet as well as manager and he was such a clever horse: if I ever made a mistake vetting the broodmares he would usually say okay, we can wait another couple of days and you’ll get me right then.”
Bob Back passed away in 2011 at the grand old age of 30.
1984 bay horse by Nureyev ex Veruschka (Venture)
Soviet Star was a brilliant talent for owner Sheikh Mohammed and trainer André Fabre, winning the Poule d’Essai des Poulains, Sussex Stakes and Prix de la Foret at three and the July Cup and Prix du Moulin – from Miesque, no less – at four, when he was crowned European Champion Sprinter.
Initially retired to Dalham Hall Stud, he was later sold to Japan but was repatriated to Europe by Ballylinch in 2000.
“We’d had a few stallions that didn’t make the grade, as every farm does, and when they moved on we had a space so we decided to bring Soviet Star back from Japan, where he had been standing for a number of years,” recalls O’Connor.
“I remembered him winning the July Cup well; he was a serious horse, and so we bought him and on the way back from Japan he stopped off at New Zealand, where he stood one season. He made a big impact there, producing Starcraft from that one southern hemisphere crop among some other very good horses.”
As it turned out, Soviet Star had probably done his best work as a stallion in his first stint in Europe, as his earlier progeny conceived at Dalham Hall included top-notchers such as Ashkalani, Freedom Cry, Limpid, Soviet Line and Starborough. The pick of his Ballylinch-bred crops were the Italian Group 1 winners Eva’s Request and Pressing.
“He was probably a little bit disappointing, to be fair. He didn’t have the impact and influence that I hoped he would,” says O’Connor. “But he left us some nice fillies including Lidanski, who went on to produce Wizz Kid for us.
“A few of his sons have established lines of some sort around the world, so his name will appear in pedigrees for a long time to come.”
Soviet Star was another long-lived resident of Ballylinch. After living out his days in a field with beloved companion Bertie the goat, he died at the age of 30 in 2014.
“There must be something in the air and the water around here,” O’Connor says with a smile.
1991 bay horse by Sadler’s Wells ex Regal Beauty (Princely Native)
O’Connor speaks about King’s Theatre with a special affection; there’s no mistaking that the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes-winning son of Sadler’s Wells was a personal favourite of Ballylinch’s managing director.
“He was an outstanding dual-purpose stallion, first getting some good runners on the Flat such as King’s Drama, Red Rioja and Young Mick,” he says. “He was actually an unconventional horse to do so well in the National Hunt sphere as he wasn’t big at all — he was actually quite compact, barely 16 hands, very deep and quite short coupled.”
King’s Theatre was “the best National Hunt stallion for a generation” according to O’Connor and it’s difficult to disagree. Despite not fielding the same huge numbers as some of his peers in Ireland, he has been represented by one top-class jumper after another in the 21st century.
His leading jumps progeny have been Cue Card, Captain Chris, Riverside Theatre, Menorah, Bellshill, The New One, Carlingford Lough, Champ, L’Ami Serge, Glens Melody, Voler La Vedette, Wichita Lineman, Balthazar King… and that’s only scratching the surface of his roll of honour.
“He never covered the size of book that’s commonplace now, as we limited his numbers,” says O’Connor. “But we knew he didn’t need them as he was always a high percentage stallion in terms of winners to runners and black-type winners to runners, generally operating at a level between 25 and 33 per cent higher than other good stallions standing at the same time.
“And then, once he had a critical mass of runners, he ended up being Champion National Hunt Sire five times. He was just incredibly successful, and when you look at a sales catalogue you can see how he turned around so many pages by enriching them with Grade 1 winners. He was great to us and great to the people who used him.”
Interestingly, Bob Back and King’s Theatre fed off one another’s success. When King’s Theatre was sent Bob Back mares, he came up with the smart Born Survivor, Regal Encore, Sesenta and William Henry, while Bob Back sired his Cheltenham Gold Cup winner out of a daughter of King’s Theatre.
King’s Theatre died aged 20 in 2011. His final crop, who have just turned nine years old, includes Champ, winner of the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase, and Cabaret Queen, successful in the Kerry and Munster Nationals, as well as the talented sorts Dawn Shadow, Just Janice, Maire Banrigh and Mortal.
2004 bay horse by Invincible Spirit ex Laramie (Gulch)
Ballylinch Stud was ahead of the game when it came to Invincible Spirit’s rise as an in-demand sire of sires, as it snapped up his first-crop son Lawman at the end of the colt’s three-year-old season, in which he had won the Prix du Jockey Club from subsequent Group 1 winners Literato, Shamdinan and Zambezi Sun and then followed up in the Prix Jean Prat.
Lawman’s maternal pedigree also held considerable appeal as he is a half-brother to Prix de Diane winner Latice and Prix Maurice de Gheest runner-up Satri.
With so much in his favour it is unsurprising that he has compiled a solid progeny record, capped by six Group 1 winners – Harbour Law, Just The Judge, Law Enforcement, Marcel, Most Improved and Pretty Gorgeous. However, he has stood at Haras de Grandcamp in Normandy since 2019.
“He’s a good sire and has had a fair bit of success, and has those two Classic winners, Harbour Law and Just The Judge, but he probably just went out of fashion rather than not succeeding,” says O’Connor.
“The business is now so insatiable in wanting constant success all the time that people question even good, proven sires like him. So we felt it was the right thing to do to give him the chance to appeal to a fresh bunch of breeders and agents, and we moved him to France with Eric Lhermite at Grandcamp.”
Pretty Gorgeous, who heads ante-post betting lists for the 1,000 Guineas after her decisive victory in the Fillies’ Mile for Joseph O’Brien last year, has a link to O’Connor in the distaff pedigree too.
In his own capacity he bred her granddam Cayman Sunset by sending his Roberto mare Robinia to Night Shift. He sold Cayman Sunset for Ir160,000gns as a yearling through Ballylinch Stud and she went on to produce Kartica, the Group 3-placed dam of Coronation Stakes heroine Qemah, as well as Lady Gorgeous, the Listed-placed dam of Pretty Gorgeous.
Lawman, who is developing into a noteworthy broodmare sire with his daughters having produced the likes of Battaash and Patrick Sarsfield, is standing at Haras de Grandcamp this year at a fee of €10,000.
2008 bay horse by Diktat ex Land Of Dreams (Cadeaux Genereux)
Dream Ahead’s case bears uncannily similarities to Lawman. An exceptional talent on the track – joint Champion with Frankel at two, when he won the Middle Park Stakes by nine lengths, and a three-time Group 1-winning sprinter at three – he was also retired straight to Ballylinch, where he chalked up a very respectable progeny roll of honour.
He has supplied the Group 1 winners Al Wukair, Donjuan Triumphant, Dream Of Dreams and Glass Slippers, who made history by becoming the first European-trained winner of the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint last year. He is also responsible for the Group 1-placed sprinters Forever In Dreams, Gold Vibe and Sensei.
However, because his best performers have arrived a little later than an impatient market could tolerate, he is also based at Haras de Grandcamp, in his case since 2017.
“I think he’s one of the best speed influences in Europe at this point,” says O’Connor. “He’s proved it time and time again: when he gets access to speedy damlines, he’s capable of getting a very high-class horse, and he’s shown on many occasions now he can sire a consistent Group 1 winner.
“I’m proud of how well both Dream Ahead and Lawman have done. It’s not their fault that fashion comes and goes a bit, and they can still do a really good job for breeders.”
So would O’Connor consider bringing Dream Ahead back to Ballylinch Stud if demand for his services increased from Irish breeders, as they very well could, with Donjuan Triumphant, Dream Of Dreams and Glass Slippers all having won Group 1 races within the space of a year?
“It’s something we keep under review, but we also want to be fair to Grandcamp, so if the demand is so strong we feel we have to bring him back we will,” says O’Connor. “But a number of his shareholders are French and they continue to use him, and shareholders in Ireland can send mares to him there.”
Dream Ahead’s fee at Haras de Grandcamp in 2021 is €12,000.
2007 chestnut horse by Shamardal ex Lady Vettori (Vettori)
Lope De Vega looks like being the best Flat sire to have stood at Ballylinch Stud in the modern era. The 14-year-old son of Shamardal has hardly put a step wrong in either his racing or breeding careers.
Trained by André Fabre for his owner and breeder Dietrich von Boetticher of Gestüt Ammerland, he emulated his sire by notching victories in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains and Prix du Jockey Club – beating Planteur by no less than three lengths in the latter contest.
He retired to Ballylinch Stud in 2011, receiving strong support from major shareholders Ballylinch, Von Boetticher and SF Bloodstock and justified it with his runners on the track early in his freshman season.
His debut two-year-olds included the Dewhurst winner and European Champion at that age, Belardo, who would go on to land the Lockinge at four. He has since added another 11 Group/Grade 1 winners to his record, including Irish 2,000 Guineas hero Phoenix Of Spain, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies’ Turf scorers Aunt Pearl and Newspaperofrecord, and Australian sprint stars Gytrash, Santa Ana Lane and Vega Magic.
At the start of 2021 he has had 125 Stakes performers, including 42 Pattern winners and 35 Listed scorers, from seven northern hemisphere crops of racing age and four generations conceived in Australia.
“Tom Ryan of SF Bloodstock and I went to inspect him at André Fabre’s and we both loved him,” says O’Connor. “I was a big fan of him, as he was just so athletic, and so we did the deal and brought him to Ballylinch Stud.
“The only reservation people had about him when they first saw him was that he had a typical Shamardal head. There was a time when that was regarded as a negative but I think both Shamardal and Lope De Vega have shown it’s a complete irrelevance. In fact people might even see it as a badge of honour now!”
When Lope De Vega’s first runners hit the track, O’Connor was obviously delighted to see such a high-class performer as Belardo – especially as Ballylinch bred the horse – but another less celebrated Stakes winner among the cohort also stood out to him.
“Lope De Vega did something which I think is fairly unique for a French Derby winner: he sired a Cornwallis winner in his first crop, and that gave an early indication that he was transmitting a lot of speed as well as class,” he says. “I think we can still see that to this day, as his progeny go to America and have the speed to be really competitive on American circuits.”
That Cornwallis Stakes winner was Royal Razalma, who later joined the Ballylinch broodmare band and has produced the winning Make Believe colt Royal Pippen as well as young fillies by Lawman and Fascinating Rock before she was sold on to Yeguada Centurion.
Lope De Vega’s covering fee at Ballylinch has been raised to €125,000 for 2021.
“He received a lot of support from his shareholders, which was a big help to him, and he kicked off early with his runners and built on that success,” reflects O’Connor. “His fee has risen steadily since then, and even though I’ve been in the business for such a long time I still smile when I see the quality of mares coming to him now.
“I think you’ll see that he’ll do even better in years to come, as he seems to handle the rise in class in his books well, and he does well with mares of all different aptitudes. In fact there’s every chance he’ll do even better in time.”
2012 bay horse by Makfi ex Rosie’s Posy (Suave Dancer)
Make Believe might not have made the same striking first impression with his early runners as Lope De Vega did, but with two crops under his belt he has stealthily gained the respect of breeders.
The son of Makfi, a Poule d’Essai des Poulains and Prix de la Foret winner trained by André Fabre for Prince Faisal in his racing pomp, delivered three stakes winners in his first crop including the tough 12-times raced Firth of Clyde and Oh So Sharp Stakes winner Rose Of Kildare.
Better was to come in his sophomore season, as Prince Faisal’s homebred Mishriff landed the Prix du Jockey Club and Prix Guillaume d’Ornano, Rose Of Kildare added a victory in the Musidora Stakes to her CV and Believe In Love signed off for the season with a cosy success in the Prix Belle de Nuit at Saint-Cloud.
“We followed a similar path to Lawman and Lope De Vega with Make Believe, as we formed an ownership syndicate that included the horse’s racing owner Prince Faisal,” says O’Connor. “That’s been a good model for us, in the sense that the people who raced the colts are usually very enthusiastic for the horse to succeed in the next phase of his career.
“Prince Faisal has been influential in the good start that Make Believe has made, having bred and raced a Classic winner in Mishriff as well as the Listed winner Tammani in the sire’s first crop.
“The good thing with this fellow is he’s backed it up with other good horses like Rose Of Kildare at Group level, and he also has that very strong winners to runners percentage which usually tells you that you’ve got a good stallion on your hands.”
O’Connor adds that Make Believe’s own racing style might give a clue as to why he is proving so successful as a sire.
“He was a very generous horse,” he says. “If you look back at his races, as soon as he was asked for his effort he was gone; he had plenty of pace, so he could race close to the front, and then he didn’t need to be encouraged too much to go forward.
“You see that when he won the Poulains and Prix de la Foret, in which he broke the track record that had been set by Dream Ahead when he beat Goldikova. I guess that quality is coming through, as trainers tend to like his offspring well.”
Make Believe is in strong demand this year, helped by the fact that the progressive Believe In Love is staying in training along with Mishriff and Rose Of Kildare and so shouldn’t lack strong ammunition in the months ahead.
“He’s being supported by many of the leading breeders in Europe and this year will be the best book of mares he’s ever had,” says O’Connor. “He’s from the Dubawi sire line but early in his career he had to get past the bias that existed against Makfi, which was probably a little unfair anyhow. But he’s past that now and seems to be on everybody’s radar.”
Make Believe’s fee has been set at €15,000 in 2021.
2011 bay horse by Fastnet Rock ex Miss Polaris (Polar Falcon)
Fascinating Rock was a top-class ten-furlong horse, successful in the Champion Stakes and Tattersalls Gold Cup. He had earlier made a quiet debut at the backend of his juvenile season and broke his maiden in the following spring.
He is also fairly stoutly bred, being a Fastnet Rock half-brother to Galway Hurdle winner Quick Jack out of a mile-winning Polar Falcon full-sister to German 1m1½f Listed winner Euro Falcon.
So it goes without saying there were no expectations that he would be quick out of the blocks with his debut crop, and it is therefore no surprise that he was represented by only a smattering of winners among his first two-year-old runners in 2020.
“Fascinating Rock’s stock are following his own pattern, so I’d be very surprised if we don’t see a bunch of really nice early-season three-year-olds by him this year,” says O’Connor. “We have a few ourselves who we think will show up well for him.
“So he’s a work in progress, and has to convince everyone. But I’d give him a good chance of doing so.”
Fascinating Rock’s fee in 2021 is €5,000 – a real bargain in the context of his racecourse achievements, including slamming the fabulous Found by nearly four lengths in the Tattersalls Gold Cup.
2012 chestnut horse by Dubawi ex Cinnamon Bay (Zamindar)
Like Night Of Thunder – another son of Dubawi – in the preceding year, New Bay was the talking horse of the first-season sire ranks in 2020. The Juddmonte-bred Prix du Jockey Club winner and Arc third is from the famed Bahamian clan that has also yielded top sires Kingman and Oasis Dream.
His first crop winners included the Royal Lodge Stakes winner New Mandate and Oh So Sharp Stakes scorer Saffron Bay, as well as the Listed-placed pair Imperial Yellow and Vafortino. That’s an excellent early showing from a middle-distance performer, and consequently New Bay finds himself in strong demand for the coming breeding season.
“It’s fair to say he shocked even us with how precocious his stock were,” says O’Connor. “He didn’t make his debut in his own career until very late in the autumn of his juvenile year, so it’s a surprise he kicked off so early.
“But I do like to see that in a stallion, and we found the same thing with Lope De Vega: when a middle-distance horse throws two-year-olds with plenty of precocity and speed, it’s usually a good sign.
“He certainly seems to have grabbed the attention of breeders, but the one thing we’re trying to do this year is not be overrun by applications. We’re just trying to put the word out that he’ll cover a big book but not an excessive book. It’s a challenge when you have a horse who’s so popular.”
O’Connor goes on to admit that there’s no simple answer to limiting books.
“We try to do it but it isn’t an easy thing to do in the modern era because young sires need a fair number of foals to compete on a level playing field with their peers,” he says. “So you can’t be too strict in keeping books very small, and this year New Bay will cover his biggest book so far, but not every mare that has an application.”
New Bay’s covering fee was raised from €15,000 to €20,000 in light of his freshman exploits.
2014 chestnut horse by Galileo ex Waldlerche (Monsun)
Waldgeist is yet another recruit to Ballyinch Stud’s stallion ranks from André Fabre’s stables, and would have been the fourth Prix du Jockey Club winner currently owned by the operation but for a short-head, the distance he was beaten into second by Brametot in the Chantilly Classic.
A classy and customer performer for his joint owners and breeders Dietrich von Boetticher and Newsells Park Stud, he won nine of his 21 starts including the Critérium de Saint-Cloud at two, the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud at four and the Prix Ganay and Arc, in which he denied Enable her third straight victory in the race, at five.
He also finished placed in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes and King George, is by the world’s best sire Galileo and is from a fine maternal family, being a three-parts brother to Group 2 winner Waldlied out of Waldlerche, a Group 3-winning half-sister to St Leger victor Masked Marvel.
Waldgeist covered his first mares at Ballylinch Stud in 2020 and the book included Danielli, the dam of Chriselliam, from Ballylinch; Prix du Moulin winner Grey Lilas, the dam of dual Classic winner Golden Lilac, from Von Boetticher; and Date With Destiny, the Listed-placed sole offspring of George Washington, from Newsells Park Stud.
He will stand his second season at an unchanged fee of €17,500 in 2021.
“He’s a horse I was watching for quite a long time,” says O’Connor. “I think he first really attracted my attention when he won his Group 1 at two, and that turned out to be an exceptional race as he beat future Group 1 winners Best Solution and Capri into the places.
“But I think he was most impressive when he won the Prix Ganay, easily beating Study Of Man and Ghaiyyath over ten furlongs on decent ground.
“That convinced me we should try to stand him, and as Dietrich von Boetticher had enjoyed so much success with standing Lope De Vega here, he was also keen to let us stand Waldgeist. A number of other studs were hoping to stand him so we were lucky he came here.”
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