Little Breeders, Big Prices

Maria Theresa-115

Hendrik Winterbach, Maria Theresa, Jacob Jullies & Judy Brannigan (photo by Liesl King)

When I sit down to chat to Judy Brannigan, she starts off by apologising that her voice is a little hoarse. “Celebrations from last night?” I ask. “No,” she answers, “allergic to horses!”

I bump into Judy regularly, usually at whichever sale is happening at the time, and we chat stallions, breeding trends and life in general.  Judy is immediately warm and friendly, with an incredible wealth of knowledge (as you’d expect from the Pedigree Database Manager at Darley!) and is generally one of life’s lovely people. Her good sale lot at the recent CTS presented an opportunity to scratch below the surface and find out how someone with a horse allergy managed to produce a top lot for CTS 2013!

Who is Judy Brannigan?

Judy was born in Kent in 1960 and her parents emigrated to SA in 1964.  Initially settling in PE, her father found a job in Cape Town and they moved to Somerset West a few years later.  She completed her schooling here and despite now being based in the UK, has maintained strong ties with South Africa.
Judy says she’s been passionate about horses since she was “knee-high to a grasshopper.  No idea why as there are no horsey people in the family”.  Sadly, there was no money for riding lessons, so Judy improvised.  Her father bought the Cape Times every day and Judy used to collect the racing section and started her own little stud book, meticulously recording the sire and dam and collating the results for every runner.
After school, she was determined to find a job in the racing industry.  However, not having any local contacts, Judy aimed big and went to Newmarket.  She ran a newspaper ad saying “position wanted, no experience but hugely enthusiastic”.  Woodditton Stud replied and offered her a job as stud secretary.  Two years later, Darley came knocking.  They were looking for an assistant to their pedigree manager and had heard about Judy and her enthusiasm for pedigrees.  They invited her for an interview and hired her on the spot.  “It will be 26 years this September”, she says proudly.  From humble beginnings as the pedigree assistant, she’s now the Pedigree Database Manager at Darley.

A day in the life of pedigree database manager

Judy is based at the office at Dalham Hall Stud in Newmarket.  She is responsible for recording and keeping pedigrees for all the horses owned by Darley enterprises worldwide and every entry is logged on their custom built database.  She also records the particulars of every mare visiting Darley stallions worldwide (this includes England, Ireland, USA, Australia, Japan and France) as well as their offspring and subsequent racing histories and she estimates that the numbers stands in excess of 1.25 million horses.

Every day is different, but she starts by checking her inbox and responding to all requests from Darley offices worldwide.  She follows racing worldwide and black type results in particular.  She scans a variety of breeding and racing publications and a host of websites for stud book research, filing any winners sired by Darley stallions as well as any wins by horses bred by the Darley operation.
“When you start looking at worldwide results, you get an idea because certain stallions keep reappearing either as sire or broodmare sire and you get a general idea of each horse.  It gives you a good overall view.”

When did you buy your first horse?

Judy is a huge fan of our local industry and promotes it at every opportunity.  She is always bringing visitors and is accompanied on this trip by Walter Cowe from Arran House Stud.  Judy obviously makes a good tour guide, because this is Walter’s 4th trip and he now also has a South African broodmare (also at Winterbach).  Judy was also instrumental in encouraging a visit from Roger Varian, but more about that later.

Judy always dreamed of being a breeder, but never thought it would happen.  But life moves in mysterious ways.  In around 2003, a friend gave up breeding.  She had a Mtoto mare named Rehaab (meaning ‘welcome’) that she was going to put down.  Judy says Rehaab was badly named as “she was rather a difficult soul”, but she saw the opportunity to combine her love for SA with her love for breeding. She took Rehaab (and a loan from the bank!) and shipped the mare to long-time friend Pippa Mickleburgh at Avontuur.  “She bred 4 little winners”, says Judy.

Her next mare was also a gift.  This time from Darley and she was a German group winner named Kronengold.  Although Kronengold died in foal, Judy had insured the mare and managed to replace her with Mysterious Land, who from her first three foals has produced Listed winner (Lochlorien), Group 3 placed Tandragee, and recent maiden winner Gothic.

In around 2010 Rehaab produced a beautiful Rebel King, but took the foaling rather hard.  Judy had already lined up a Dynasty cover, but didn’t feel Rehaab was up to it.  However, she didn’t want to lose the booking either, so she started asking around for fillies.  The very next day, friends notified Judy of a mare coming off the track.  Judy asked for the name and it came back “A Star for Maria”.  She knew the name, knew the family and took her on the spot.  The Dynasty mating was a success and the result was Maria Theresa.

How do you cope being so far away?

Judy says she is very attached to her horses.  In fact, apart from wanting to support South Africa, having her horses here helps her keep a little more distance!  But she loves every minute.  She currently has one mare at Avontuur and two at Winterbach.  “You have to trust people implicitly with your horses, but the phone and computer are always on.  I’m like an expectant mother when my mares are due and I try to be there if at all possible.  I like to see them when they’re very young.  I missed the Var baby by 10 minutes!”

Despite this, Judy was hiding outside when Maria Theresa was led through the ring.  She said she’d come in at R300,000 and when the number flashed up, Walter whistled and called her in.  As the number kept climbing, she had to have a team of friends to hold her up.  She says having so many people around her and wishing her well afterwards was just fantastic.

So how does it feel?

“Selling the filly has been the most exciting day of my life”. Everyone had said she was beautiful, but Judy didn’t have much confidence, much less expect a big price.  “Selling is hard and seeing them go is difficult, but seeing them go to someone nice who will treat them well helps”.  The bidding was fierce, but Maria Theresa was bought by Blandford Bloodstock, rumoured to be for a partnership between Andreas Jacobs and Coolmore and destined for Mike de Kock.

Judy’s other half, Glyn Davies “has been dragged kicking and screaming into horse ownership.  But he’s been my rock, through thick and thin”.  Sadly he’s wasn’t able to make the sale due to work , but they’ll celebrate when she gets home.

What does it mean?

Judy says she’s a hobby breeder and sells to cover costs.  But in the last 3 years she’s lost 3 foals and a yearling.  For a small breeder that’s financially crippling, not to mention soul destroying. She admits the sale was make or break for her.
Achieving a solid sale price has lifted a weight off her shoulders, and means she can send all her mares to Avontuur stallions this year! Judy wanted to say special thanks to her good friend Pippa, who has been with her through all the ups and downs.  She was also full of praise for relative new kids on the block, Winterbach Stud who she says are consummate professionals.  “Hendrik did a superb job, the filly couldn’t have looked better”.
The father and son team have only been going for two years out at their new Klapmuts base, but it is clear that their hard work, dedication and commitment to detail are paying dividends.  One would expect no less from the team that produced Irridescence and Perfect Promise and I have already pencilled in a visit to their stud.

General impression of the sale ?

Judy says it was a strong sale for good horses, and that a lot of buyers going for same sort of horse.  She feels the sale is following international trends.  “The recession did not seem to affect the UK sale prices and it seems to be the same here”.  Judy feels that the standard of South African horses is on par with the rest of the world and it is noticeable by the numbers of foreign buyers.

However, she cautions that the industry needs to acknowledge the importance of the small breeder.  As international statistics are starting to verify, an increasing percentage of ‘big’ horses are coming from private establishments and the small breeder remains an integral part of the breeding fraternity.  As any first year economy student knows, big numbers may look impressive, but they pale into insignificance in comparison with the combined contribution of smaller players.  We would do well to remember this fact.

What’s to come ?

Judy’s Badger Land mare has a 2012 Horse Chestnut filly and is currently in foal to Var.  When I ask why Horse Chestnut, Judy says that she’d had no live foal for last 2 years, she wanted something commercial but not too expensive.  She rates Horse Chestnut and feels he’s vastly underrated.  She likes Sadler’s Wells on Ribot and thought the mating suited on blood.  Her Diesis mare, Scent from Above, is in foal to Pathfork (Distorted Humor –out of a Sadlers Wells mare), both lines which Judy feels work with Sharpen Up and A Star for Maria has a beautiful, strong Var filly foal and is due to Silvano this season.

Of more immediate interest is the fact that she has a chestnut Var colt on the Nationals (out of Scent from Above) called Shoshone “because he looks like an Indian paint pony and can be seen from miles away”.  He will also be consigned under the Winterbach banner.

My thoughts
I like the venue and thought a lot of logistical kinks had been ironed out this year.  I liked the opening ceremony and Oscar Pistorious’s address – in particular his comments about the mental demands of sport at moments of extreme pressure.
Having once autographed my torso after a gig in London, I may be biased, but I loved Ard Matthews (that ‘bloke on the guitar’) singing the Redemption Song. Just Jinger are an instantly recognisable South African brand and the Redemption Song is an international anthem of aspiration and change.  I was just sorry I’d left my marker pen at home!

I caught up with David Raphael in the stable area, who was impressed with the overall quality of the draft and put his money where his mouth is by sticking his hand up for Lot 80. Kip Elser bought a Tapit, Angus Gold made several purchases for Shadwell and as has become habit, Adriaan van Vuuren walked off with the top lot.

Roger Varian & Dancewiththedevil

When Dancewiththedevil recently moved to the UK, Judy recommended that St John Gray contact Roger Varian.  Dancewiththedevil has obviously made an impression, because Roger and his charming family flew in to attend the sales. For those who don’t know, Roger was assistant to Newmarket trainer, Michael Jarvis for 10 years and took over the beautiful Kremlin House premises when Jarvis retired in 2011.  When I ask whether he felt any pressure taking over such an established and respected string, Roger smiles and says “Sure, but it’s good pressure.  If you don’t relish that, you’re in the wrong business.”

It is a measure of the esteem in which he is held that every single client opted to stay with him.  He has a capacity string of 120 and is currently full up.  He said he was excited to be conditioning the South African mare, although he is still evaluating her and has not made any decisions at this stage.
However, he has studied her races and hopes she will translate her Group 1 form to the UK.  Jarvis was a famously placid, soft-spoken character and Roger is much in the same mould.  I found him immensely charming and likeable and will be following Dancewith-thedevil’s UK campaign with renewed interest.

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