Innovating in Times of Uncertainty

Carl Evans talks to Jake Warren of Highclere about their young stallions, Cable Bay and Land Force, and discovers how the stud has introduced two new imaginative incentives to help breeders through these difficult times

Just when you think some breathing space is around the corner another raft of work comes along.

That is the reality of life on a commercial stud farm, where the busy covering and foaling seasons are immediately followed by . . . “Visits from Tattersalls and Goffs and everything starts getting ready for yearling prep season,” says Jake Warren of Highclere Stud.

Being busy when business is good is not too great a hardship, and after some excellent early-season results on the racecourse for Highclere stallion Cable Bay, a batch of first foals by Land Force that gladdened the eye, and an exciting Royal Ascot around the corner, Warren is upbeat.

“We’ve gone from the frying pan to the fire, but the weather has improved and everyone is in a good mood,” he says. “April was tough – it was so cold the grass didn’t grow and we had to rotate some horses off the stud. Much of the grass seed we put down was eaten by the birds, but then the rain came and everything has really flushed up now. We’re back on track, the place looks great and we have some lovely foals.”

Challenges remain in place, not least the movement of horses across borders following Britain’s exit from Europe, but for now it is onwards and upwards with ten-year-old Cable Bay (Invincible Spirit), who is responsible for several key Royal Ascot runners, and a waiting game with five-year-old Land Force (No Nay Never). Warren says of the stud’s decision to acquire the pair: “Their appeal can be seen in their profiles – they both have very strong pedigrees. Cable Bay’s granddam Cherokee Rose was a Group 1 winner and has produced a lot of good horses. Mukhadram is in the family, as is Volksraad, who was placed in the Challenge Stakes and became an eight-time Champion Sire in New Zealand. Land Force’s pedigree is one of the best in the book.”

A half-brother to Group 1 winner Photo Call, Land Force is a son of the Rock Of Gibraltar mare Theann, a Group 3 winner who was a half-sister to the Irish 1000 Guineas victress Halfway To Heaven. They were foaled by the wonderful racehorse and broodmare Cassandra Go.

A Group 2 winning 2yo, Land Force has an excellent pedigree and is a half brother to the Group 1 winner Photo Call

A Group 2 winning 2yo, Land Force has an excellent pedigree and is a half brother to the Group 1 winner Photo Call

“That (the pedigree) for us is such a big deal,” says Warren, “particularly at the level we are able to play the game. We want some form, and while we find it hard to buy Group 1 winners because of the prices they can command, we find it hard to compromise on pedigree.

“Both Cable Bay and Land Force (who won the Group 2 Richmond Stakes for trainer Aidan O’Brien) had very good two-year-old form. The market is hot there at the moment, and they are both by top sires. Sire lines are also key for us. We put 20 to 30 (Highclere-owned) mares to these stallions, and we’re a commercial stud so cannot afford mistakes. My father is a stickler for good looks and so his judgement combined with his incredibly perceptive understanding of what the commercial market wants has held us in good stead.

Cable Bay ran 20 times and proved he was tough, and Warren says: “Barry Hills (whose son Charlie trained Cable Bay) told me he thought the horse would win the Guineas, but he became cast in his box, underwent hock surgery, and didn’t race until late in his three-year-old career. To come back from that, to train on as a four-year-old and finish with a win in the (Group 2) Challenge Stakes says a lot about him. Trainers like his stock – they stick their neck out and really try.”

Cable Bay was bought outright by the Warren family from Hills and Julie Martin, in whose colours he raced. They retain breeding rights and others were sold to some 20 ‘high-end’ breeders, while Southern Hemisphere rights were bought by Australian investors, including Gilgai Stud’s Rick Jamieson, the breeder of Black Caviar.

Cable Bay is proving to be an excellent sire of sprinters, but Barry Hills thought he would have won the Guineas before he became cast in his box

Cable Bay is proving to be an excellent sire of sprinters, but Barry Hills thought he would have won the Guineas before he became cast in his box

Land Force, who raced initially for Coolmore before being sold to race in Australia for Zhang Yuesheng’s Yulong Investments, is also owned outright by Highclere Stud, although Mr Zhang retains ten breeding rights.

Warren says: “Not many folks will know this, but the mares we sent to Land Force in 2020 were some of our very best, and we sent a lot back this year. Those we didn’t are now in foal to Frankel, Too Darn Hot, Blue Point, Showcasing and Wootton Bassett, which shows how highly we regard Land Force.  

Realities of challenging times

With a plethora of uncertainty following Brexit, let alone the Covid pandemic, Highclere opted to cut Cable Bay’s 2020 fee of £15,000 to £8,000 for the current season. 

Warren says: “We’re genuinely trying to do the right thing for breeders. When the market corrects by 30 per cent we wanted to thank breeders who paid their cheques in full without any complaints. In hindsight, given the way Cable Bay’s horses have performed on the racecourse this year, the cut to £8,000 might seem a little extreme, but at the time it seemed the right thing to do. It is very unlikely he will remain at that fee.

“We had very good support again this year from his breeding rights holders. Liberty Beach’s dam, Flirtinaskirt, was covered by him again, New England Stud sent him a full-sister to Australia, and we sent him some nice mares, so the standard of mares he covered was comparable with last year. He’s a proven sire who will produce a horse that will get you into Book 2. If you send the right mare with a page the commercial buyers are after the resulting foals and yearlings.”

Under the direction of his mother, Lady Carolyn Warren, Highclere Stud has become one of Europe’s top yearling consigning operations, although it broke new ground in 2020 when offering foals under its name at the December Sale. Jake is expecting a return to that auction this year, probably with a handful of first-crop Land Force foals. He claims they are outstanding lookers, and a sale would provide a platform where others could judge, although he is mindful of some advice given to him by an Australian friend of his father’s, who said selling foals “can look like a very expensive advert” – if they make double when resold as yearlings.

The dual Stakes winner Selinka (Selkirk), with her colt foal by Land Force. She is now in foal to Frankel.

The dual Stakes winner Selinka (Selkirk), with her colt foal by Land Force. She is now in foal to Frankel.

In addition there is the risk of losing control over foals, meaning decisions about where and who trains them passes to others. Such twists can impact upon a young sire’s career, although Warren is also aware of another piece of wisdom he was offered, which is that “one element of a stallion’s success is ensuring everyone is winning along the way”. If pinhookers have success with a young sire’s stock a sense of positivity is gained from that area of the market.

Sharing costs 50/50

As a way of stimulating business, Highclere Stud came up with two imaginative schemes to entice breeders to send mares during the season which is now nearing completion. Euros4Euros was an incentive to mare owners from outside Britain, who would pay the stallion’s fee at a slightly-reduced sum in their own currency. Warren admits it had little impact, the challenge of sending mares across borders in 2021 proving too much for breeders wanting to use stallions below the absolute peak level.

He says: “With the work of governing racing bodies around Europe we got through Covid pretty much unscathed, but Brexit is a very different story and very challenging. It’s made travelling horses very much more expensive, which affects stallions in the under ten grand category rather more than those at £200,000. We would usually cover mares from up to 30 Irish breeders every year, but this year it has been much reduced. Croom House sent over a lovely bunch of mares for Cable Bay and Land Force, and there have been one or two others, but it is much reduced.

“We’ve sent mares to top-end stallions in Ireland, but it was very expensive, We need to iron out these issues very soon, and in a uniform approach, because everyone across Europe feels the same. Horses travelling from Ireland to France or France to Ireland have to travel through Britain’s ferry ports, so it is not straightforward for people in those countries. Covid is a distraction, but I think you will hear a unified song this autumn calling for improvements, and to be fair to the TBA it has been lobbying very hard to resolve the matter.”

The second incentive, Highclere’s 50/50 Terms, has proved popular across the board, with breeders paying half fees by October 1st, but they only pay the balance if their stock is retained to race or sells at auction for more than a target price set by the stud – in Cable Bay’s case that is £24,000 (or guineas), and £15,000 for Land Force. If a breeder sets a higher reserve than the target price, the 50 per cent balance is payable. 

Warren says: “It’s worked extremely well. People are not stupid and won’t send a mare to a stallion who is not commercial just because of an incentive, but we had the right sires and 50/50 has proved very popular. We wanted to get across that in these troubling times if a breeder lost we would take a loss, too. The benefits are larger numbers and sensible reserves, but that was secondary to giving loyal breeders some assistance at a time of uncertainty – whether the terms remain the same in future when the market stabilises we will have to see.”

Another innovation of the past 12 months has been the take-up in online sales business, which Warren believes has a future. “It’s been an evolution that has been waiting to happen, and ours is one of the last industries to embrace it,” he says. “It’s now part of ‘the norm’. We all need outlets for our horses, but online buyers need to have trust in the product. If the vendor provides the right information and the presentation of the online catalogue is professional and can be trusted it will work.”

Royal meeting so welcome

And so to Royal Ascot, both a welcome break from the machinations of industry and a crucial week in the fortunes of people across the racing and breeding spectrum. 

Warren will be there, on some days at least, taking particular interest in horses by Cable Bay and others which have been bred, raised or sold by Highclere Stud, including World Champion miler Palace Pier and exciting two-year-old filly Ruthin, who is trained by Wesley Ward. In addition there are the runners which he and his father John have sourced for clients such as Highclere Racing – headed by his uncle Harry Herbert – and Sheikh Isa Bin Salman Al Khalifa of Bahrain. The last-named owns a smart Showcasing colt called Instinctive Move that will head to the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes having won impressively on his only start at Bath. There are also the runners managed by his father for the Queen.

Cable Bay’s daughter, Liberty Beach, seen here winning the Group 2 Temple Stakes, now bids for Group 1 glory in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot

Cable Bay’s daughter, Liberty Beach, seen here winning the Group 2 Temple Stakes, now bids for Group 1 glory in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot

The Cable Bays include the fast filly Liberty Beach, who is a leading candidate for Tuesday’s Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes. Also in that contest is Liberty Beach’s paternal siblings Glamorous Anna and King’s Lynn, although the last-named is currently favourite for the final day’s Wokingham Handicap. Cable Bay’s son Ropey Guest is also in that race and the Royal Hunt Cup, while Dragon Symbol is near the head of betting lists for the Group 1 Commonwealth Cup.

Highclere Racing interests of note include Title (King Edward VII), Ascension (Royal Hunt Cup) and Spycatcher (Commonwealth Cup), and the exciting two-year-old filly Cachet, a key hope for the Group 3 Albany Stakes having been bought by Jake at the recent Craven Breeze-Up. 

About the author

Carl Evans

Carl Evans's love of horses, riding and the written word combined to lead him into journalism, and, after a solid education at local, then national, newspaper level, he became a freelancer who built a wide network of contacts. He has written reports and features covering many areas of horse racing, and since the turn of the millennium, has been a key member of European Bloodstock News' sales reporting team.

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