Abacus Counts the Cost

Another month of Summer has passed by in a flash – but at least with the increased

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Yearlings are being fed hay in August

rainfall we now have something resembling grass on the paddocks.  As with all livestock owners, the stud industry has been feeding both hard feed and hay to the horses which would usually be enjoying the green stuff at the moment.  This will inevitably increase production costs, at a time when the initial sales figures for 2019 are not looking promising.

The BHA have recently increased the number of races, and therefore the demand for horses, to record levels for 2019 and yet the market for horses seems to demand the cheapest possible price.  We received an offer for a yearling recently for £2000 – on a covering which cost £5000 – let alone the associated costs!  How can that be sustainable

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Fixtures increased & sale prices under pressure – not a good combination

for breeders?  The increase in races, together with the slump in market prices will lead, in my opinion, to one of three issues (or a mixture of all of them) –

  • either the same horses will race in them and increase the risk of injury as a result,
  • or field sizes will be small due to lack of fresh runners,
    • Both of the above due to breeders cutting their production
  • or breeders will breed cheap horses  for the lower level market leading to a reduction in the quality of the pedigree and a potential chasm between the group / listed races (10% of the calendar) and handicaps (the vast majority of races) by way of breed quality and accessibility to non-millionaire owners.

The last point will inevitably lead to lower prize money and an even greater feeling of “them and us”.  It will also reduce the number of good stallions, at currently good prices, as many stallion handlers will find it unprofitable to keep them.

Syndicate buyers and smaller owners must realise that whilst they dream of “bought cheaply and wins a Group 1” horses, the reality is that there is a difference between cheap and unsustainable prices.  It seems that buyers and their trainers are happy to drive prices down from breeders, but then make few allowances in their own training fees.  As the old saying goes “it costs as much to train a bad horse as a good one.”  Look at the horses which win the classics – few, if any of them are cheap buys!

Goodbye Little Mo

As some of you who follow me on Twitter will have seen, we sadly had to say goodbye to our broodmare Littlemoor Lass.  She suffered a training injury which prevented her

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Littlemoor Lass as a yearling – she will be missed.

racing, and was retired to stud by  us as a result.  The daughter of  Derby-winner Motivator, she was a beautiful looking animal who produced two colts and two fillies in her all too short career.   We loved her from the day I bought her as a 9 month old, to the day I held her for the vet.  The pain of loss is a measure, I hope, of the affection we had for her.  Rest easy lass.

 

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Sizzling Summer

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Masar – Godolphin’s first Derby winner

Last time I wrote we were reaching for the snorkels and wishing for the good weather – and the wish has come very true!  The flat season has also got off to a sizzling start with no clear leader in the classic generation, but instead a wide open, and therefore very interesting outlook at the higher levels of racing.  It is always good to see healthy competition amongst the training elite, and some great results for the “smaller” names too.  Does this mean it’s not a great generation of horses, or are they all so good that there is no clear leader?

Royal Ascot was superb as usual (with Frankel really showing his prowess as a sire), the Derby threw up a potentially great horse for Godolphin in Masar – their first winner in the famous blue silks.

Abacus Horses & news

Meanwhile back at Lower Linbrook Farm all the horses are going well.  The three foals are growing really fast and showing early signs of some athleticism.  The yearlings meanwhile are blossoming and working well in preparation for the sales and racing.

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Cityscape – a sire on fire!

Of note is the superb record of stallion Cityscape.  The Dubai record holder is proving real value and as a result we are hopeful that our colt yearling by him will do well for prospective owners.  He, like all our yearlings, offer great value for the prices we are asking and can be seen at our website.

Our Abacus Bloodstock bred runners continue to impress on the track, with the youngsters performing well for their connections, and the ever reliable Roll on Rory continuing his winning ways with a runaway success at Newmarket last month.  He is entered in the Bunbury Cup at the July Festival so we hope he makes the cut.

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Rory continues to win EVERY year!

We have acquired yet more land in the last month so our expansion continues.  Work on fencing and securing the new paddocks is a little held up with the dry ground, but at least hay making is going well!

Retirement from Racing

As many of you will know, the highly successful Pancake Day returned to us following a superb career – with 8 wins in the UK and Europe for his

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Fangfoss Girls – retired to stud

connections.  He joins a number of retirees we have, including his mother, Fangfoss Girls, and Imperial Bond who was injured as a 3 year old and therefore never got to fulfil his potential.  As a stud, we can offer our mares a retirement in the breeding program where possible, and if not we have space to accommodate the horses on our farm.  We have also sent Elegant Joan (“Treacle”) to the Northern Racing College, where she is a great favourite and is training the jockeys of the future – as she is still only very young she will have a hopefully long and successful career.

Sadly many horses do not make the grade as racers, and even if they do, they all eventually need to retire.  Whilst we, and therefore our horses, are fortunate, many are not.  The growth in syndication means that there is now a widening number of owners, most of whom have neither the facilities, or the ultimate ownership, to enable them to look after retired horses.  There is a market for thoroughbreds elsewhere in equestrian sport, but supply outnumbers demand.

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Treacle now working for the NRC

There are some excellent initiatives in UK racing to find new homes for retirees.  Indeed owners now pay an increased levy for all race entries, which is dedicated to the retraining of racehorses.  The Retraining of Racehorses and other charities work hard to support owners and trainers in finding new careers for what are very often still comparatively young horses at the end of their racing careers.  Therefore I would urge everyone to support these initiatives and make sure we give these horses the very best reward – a safe and enjoyable retirement.

Staff Dedication

Finally, a word for the staff we have here at Abacus Bloodstock.  We are a family run business and therefore our staff are mainly family members.  Sadly, due to this we cannot nominate them for the excellent Stud & Stable Staff Awards due to the rules.  Therefore I wanted to write, as we near the end of the stable staff awareness week, to thank everyone who works for and with us here.  We know we could not do it without your efforts – much of which is done in your own time and through a real professionalism and love of the horses.  Thank You!

O’Brien – Oh Boy!!

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Aiden O’Brien – Master of Ballydoyle

As I write, Aiden O’Brien has seven entries in the Epsom Derby this coming weekend.  SIX of those entries are sired by the currently unassailable Galileo, a stallion seemingly on track to beat even his sire Saddlers Wells’ stud record.  The only Ballydoyle runner not by him is Wings of Eagles – by Pour Moi who’s grandfather was Saddlers Wells.  You see the connection?

Add this to the fact that the four classics to be run in the UK and Ireland thus far in 2017 have ALL been won by O’Brien trained horses, all sired by Galileo!  And all owned by the various partners who also have interests in the seat of this great breeding empire; Coolmore, in Ireland.  It makes sense that when you have access to the best sire in the world, of course you are going to exploit that advantage.  But do not forget that you also need the trainer to get

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Churchill ( Galileo)  – a double classic winner for Team Ballydoyle

the horses into the frame.  And boy have they found him in Aiden O’Brien.

No relation to the great Vincent O’Brien who previously oversaw the many successes of the team in the 70’s and 80’s, Aiden has delivered more success than any other trainer currently in business anywhere in the world.  From his training base at Ballydoyle he has consistently won the best races in both the UK and Ireland, but also around the world.

In so doing he has been able to show Galileo, and his sire sons, can produce horses capable of winning over sprint distances as well as marathons.  That makes him not only

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Galileo – undisputed champion sire

key to the racing interests of his employers, but also to the continued success of their Coolmore operation throughout the world.

Some say that the grip on the Group races which O’Brien enjoys is unhealthy for racing; that the almost certainty that an O’Brien horse will win every Irish group race (to the extent that a number of races attract an exclusive Ballydoyle field!), and that he looks set, even at this early stage of the UK flat season, to be champion trainer for 2017.

However, it is hardly the fault of O’Brien that there is no Irish trainer other than perhaps Dermot Weld, who can compete at the highest levels on the flat.  Even David Wachman, related to O’Brien through marriage and supplied with a string of horses from Coolmore, gave up his licence last year.  It is more likely a reflection on the issues facing racing in Ireland as a whole not the fault of Team Ballydoyle.  Particularly given the number of trainers from over the water who have given up in the last year alone.  Indeed it is this team which is in all likelihood keeping much of Irish racing in business and of importance to the racing world.  Without this awareness it would not take long for Irish flat racing to suffer the same death throes we are seeing in the increasingly troubled, and less high profile Italian racing scene.  Happily Irish jumps are in a better state but this is seeing a crystallisation with major studs and owners polarising with only a small band of trainers.

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Frankel in full flight

In Britain, there are of course trainers and owners who can compete with – and indeed beat- the Ballydoyle / Coolmore steam-roller.  But even these compete with horses who have pedigrees dripping with Galileo and his sons – Frankel, Galileo’s most successful son, being the next most “popular” sire of the 2017 Derby entries!

For me there are a number of trainers who epitomise the characteristics of what a trainer should be.  Yes winners are a good measure, but there is also the ability to talk to

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Joseph – a chip off the old block – and with the same quality of humility

the public, to develop a story to follow, to combine passion whilst speaking with humility and professionalism.  And when Aiden O’Brien speaks he does so with all this and more.  He is a real ambassador for Irish, and increasingly International racing.  Never slow to deflect the glory onto his owners, or jockeys or staff he is quietly spoken and avoids any suggestion that his input has had anything to do with it.  Ballydoyle are THE team to beat, from the breeding sheds of Coolmore to the raceday successes – many ridden by the best jockey in the world, Ryan Moore.  Indeed as with the Coolmore stud line, O’Brien himself has bred another successful trainer in his son Joseph – at 24 a Group winning jockey and trainer with the same brand of humility and determination seen in his father.

BUT – as readers may recall from my article back in February, breeders increasingly face a narrowing choice of stallion pedigrees to choose from.  Danehill (Coolmore again) and coolmorehis sire line are cornering the market in sprinters, whilst as mentioned above Galileo and his sire line are competing at the classic distances.  This is where the concern should be focused, not at a trainer who has a gift – albeit with the best bred horses – to deliver winner after winner at the highest level.  As already stated, it makes sense for Coolmore to exploit the successes of Galileo’s offspring but we must not end up with even less choice for breeders, and a gene pool which will inevitably become so shallow that it will jeopardise the future of the thoroughbred racehorse.  Non-Galileo sires are out there and should be used too.   Their success as sires will come with numbers, as they have with Galileo for he too has had his failures on the racecourse, but he has the numbers, and the trainer, to outweigh these.

 

New Beginnings at Lower Linbrook

April is perhaps the most exciting time of the year for us all in the bloodstock and racing industry.  Not only are we seeing the start of the turf season here in Europe and

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Littlemoor Lass with her 2017 filly by Fast Company – born 12th April

therefore the appearance of the youngsters we have bred in previous years -including the 2 year olds, but we are also at the culmination of the breeding cycle with new foals being born, and the mares visiting their next stallion.

 

All the work of researching pedigrees, choosing the best match for the mares, seeing all the theory actually become flesh and blood reality – whether as healthy foals here at the stud, or the

equine athletes we hoped they would be as they step foot for the first time on a racecourse – is happening right now here at Lower Linbrook Farm and across the industry.  So for that “aah how cute” moment here are our new arrivals.

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Another colt foal – this time a son for Makindi by record breaker Cityscape born 17th April – 2 in one day!

 

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Colt Foal born 17th April Mazameer x Rainbows Destiny

 

 

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Fangfoss Girls has a colt by first season sire Telescope – born 8th April

And the job never stops as we are now finalising our plans for coverings this year, for the 2018 crop.  Once again this has been based on scouring pedigrees and stallion books as well as looking at the commercial and racing value of prospective sires.  So one set of sleepless nights ends and another one starts as we try to fit in the stallion visits before the middle of May to ensure reasonably early and therefore commercially attractive foals.

But as with everything we do, it is done with a sense of excitement and that we are writing another chapter in the history of the racing thoroughbred.  Good luck to all the owners of our horses this season – we will be following with great interest.

Pancake Day – First out of the stalls

In the first of our look at the Abacus Bloodstock bred runners for 2017, it is only right that we start with our first runner and winner as breeders –  Pancake Day.  Born in February 2012, on Pancake Day, his name was almost assured from that day.  His dam is successful sprinter Fangfoss Girls, who as a double

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Pancake with his dam as a foal

winning 2 year old was her father Monsieur Bond’s first winner.  She was always going to be a good choice to kick off our breeding program and so she has proven to be.

 

Pancake Day is the son of Mullionmileanhour and part of that sire’s first season crop.  He was to go on to copy his dam and deliver his father’s first winning 2 year old – and then to do the same as a three year old, a four year old, and earlier this year he did the same as a five year old!  That in itself is a massive feat and probably unique in the thoroughbred racing world.

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A day old – born on Pancake Day

As a foal, Pancake was a placid type.  He was very friendly and loved a fuss – something which was to prove a massive boost to his career as a racehorse.  Stable staff and trainers like nice horses with manners and indeed Pancake proved so easy to train that it was only when he reached the end of his fourth year that he was gelded – and then only because it made him easier to house next to fillies rather than for any behavioural reasons.

 

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Delivering another win at Southwell in the colours of Abacus Bloodstock owners Stuart & Sarah Matheson

Initially trained in Yorkshire by Jason Ward and running in the colours of our senior partners Stuart & Sarah Matheson, Pancake Day made his debut at Ripon coming last behind subsequent group 2 winner Toocoolforschool.  Not the most promising of starts but as it was to prove, Pancake would go on win his ninth race earler this year – scraping into his 2 year old season by just a few days with a first win at Southwell in December 2014 – and race in the UK a total of 42 times.  24 runs on the all weather have yielded 4 wins, 3 seconds and 3 third places – in the money 14 times in total.  His turf runs totalled 18 and led to one win at Leicester, one third and a further 4 runs in the prize money.  In total Pancake has won over £18000 in the UK and was the punters’ favourite due to his frequent placings and wins – particularly at his favoured track Southwell – returning each way dividends in over half his runs. Having moved to new trainer David Griffiths in November 2016, and winning yet again, he was sold at Doncaster sales in January of 2017 and travelled to Germany to join champion trainer Christian von der Recke, and owned by Mr. & Mrs. Berg.  Within 10 days he was to come third at Dortmund followed by a second place a few weeks later.  Another first for Pancake Day as his sire’s first overseas runner and also the first horse bred by Abacus Bloodstock to do so.

 

Pancake Day continues to be a great favourite with everyone who meets him.  He has proved

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Enjoying his new German home

consistent, albeit not at the highest levels, but he has given his owners regular visits to the winners’ enclosure.  He has led the way for us at Abacus Bloodstock, and has remained the genuine, never-say-die racehorse he shows himself to be in all his races.  His tenacity and fight to the line, usually leading from the front, is a pleasure to watch and we are so proud of this little horse, with a massive heart.  Still going strong with 45 races in just three seasons, we await his return to the track after a well deserved rest in the last few months.

 

Good luck to him and to his owners and connections.  We will watch with pride and much love.

 

 

Don’t Exceed to Excel

With the breeding season about to start, it is timely to take a look at the growing number of “speed” sires now available to breeders, a large number of which come from two sires of sires;   Exceed and Excel (Danehill – Patrona) and Invincible Spirit (Green Desert – Rafha).

There is no denying that both horses deserve their place as top stallions, and the resulting

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Exceed & Excel – standing @ Darley

male progeny in turn also can lay claim to their positions in the world’s breeding barns given their prestigious wins.  The worry however is that the very success that attracts mare owners to sires – multiple top class winners – also threatens to flood the market with bloodlines of ever narrowing diversity.  Invincible Spirit has himself and 12 stallion sons at stud (ref Weatherby’s Stallion Book 2017), whilst Exceed and Excel has 8.  This excludes those standing outside the UK, US and Europe and those who choose not to use the Stallion Book to     advertise..  The same source tells us that 18 sons of Galileo can be visited.

A perfect storm

From a breed perspective this proliferation of horses from the  Northern Dancer line has long been an issue but one which has been counteracted by using mares with no connection to this great sire-line, or with a healthy mix of stallions providing an outcross.

Certainly these opportunities still exist with new stallions only this year including Pearl Secret (Compton Place)  – one of only a few remaining descendants of foundation stallion

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Pearl Secret – one of few remaining descendants of Byerley Turk

The Byerley Turk.  BUT the issue facing the industry today is the result of a cocktail of circumstances which can only lead to a perfect storm.

  1. Speed v. Stamina – As mentioned by trainer John Gosden before the 2016 St. Leger, the lack of good middle distance horses is threatening the long term future of the breed.  Speed in middle distance is important of course but this has increasingly been bred to produce speed over shorter
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    John Gosden

    distances, rather than the careful mix of “fast and durable”.  It is for this reason that Dubawi and Galileo, perhaps the only consistent producers of classic distance horses, seem to hold the top spots in the sire lists by prize money and are the go to horses for breeders wishing to produce classic hopefuls.

  2. Sales Demand – Top lots seem to continue to come from the ranks of classic producing sires but for breeders without £100K to spend on a covering, the market offers lower priced stallions with some credentials as winning progeny producers.  In turn, the rising cost of training a racehorse coupled with proportionately lower prize money in mid to low range races (class 4 and below being the largest proportion of UK races), means that purchasers want precocity – which for the reasons above invariably means sprinters.
  3. Reduction in owner breeder numbers – The rising costs of breeding and training means many breeders can no longer afford to do both.  Historically breeders have had more time to play with and of course more patience in getting their mares’ progeny to deliver winners even if it takes longer for them to achieve that.  After all the long game is the success of the mare, not just her racing offspring.    This is not the case when the mix and type of ownership is changing. Shared owners, particularly success hungry, value for money, quick return on investment syndicate or  racing club members want to see success in the fairly short term of the syndicate.  This is generally a year or two of racing and then straight to the sales ring.  As such the type of horse has to be precocious, race often, win and have a residual value at the end of its 3 year old season if it is lucky.  That means as a stud owner breeding that type of horse if you want to make even a small profit – and where better to go to than a proven stallion at a cheap fee.
  4. Mediocre Pattern winners – There are a record number of pattern races in 2017 in the UK.  Many of these are little more than handicaps made up to look better than they really are.  Trainer Tom Dascombe said that it is harder to win a 0 – 100 handicap than some Group 3 races, and as a result a stallion which would have historically not made the grade is now able to stand as a Group winner.  Add this to being a close relation to a proven sire of sires and we have a market flooded by stallions which have no business being at stud, but offer the market a chance of success “by association”.  A prime example being two horses currently standing in Britain – one of which a full brother to Frankel which failed miserably in his ONE racecourse appearance, and the other, whilst a beautifully put together specimen, covered over 100 mares in his first season despite winning only a maiden and a listed sprint before retiring at 2! – both yet again from the Northern Dancer sire-line, but neither of whom would have been considered as stallion prospects 10, or even 5 years ago.  Indeed at the recent TBA stallion parade at Tattersalls, only 1 of the stallions on show had achieved a Group 1 win!
  5. Shuttlers – The world is an ever smaller place and with the major studs having global interests, it is increasingly common to see stallions from the Southern Hemisphere standing in Europe.  Certainly the Exceed & Excel group of stallions has therefore got double the exposure that other stallions had in the past.  As such, his sons are able to spread the dynasty far quicker and wider than preceding dynasties such as Saddlers Wells and even Northern Dancer.

Storing problems for the future

I feel certain that some readers will be upset by some of the comments, but the situation is in a way no one person’s fault.  Indeed anyone in business has to make the most of market demand and return on investment.  Whilst the issue may not be immediately apparent however, it certainly will become so in the next few years when we are left with a choice of stallions all of whom are inter-related.  Not only will this lead us to seeing the type of races common in Australia and elsewhere with 5 furlongs to a mile being a majority of races and anything over 10 furlongs seen as a marathon, but it will invariably damage the thoroughbred as a breed.  In-breeding is not something I personally steer entirely clear of, but I do make selections based on what is best for the pedigree of the offspring, not what will sell.  Although a major consideration has to be a return on investment, it should not be the primary concern.  But as the choice of stallion narrows, so will the resulting next generation of sires and mares and the healthy if diminishing sprinkling of outcross pedigrees we see today will be a thing of the past.  Not only that, but the racehorse will become a lesser animal.  A clone of its predecessors and the result of a poorer gene pool.  As breeders, as owners, as race-goers and as animal lovers we all need to look at where we are now and look also at the evidence.  Class is in the proven stallions producing horses that train on and run at classic distances.  Champion trainers win titles not at a 5 furlong seller at Southwell but at York or Ascot or Epsom, running horses with classic bloodlines, owned invariably by owners with time to let them progress.

I love breeding fast horses – indeed our best mare is an out and out sprinter producing sprinters.  But they also train on to 7 furlongs and then further.  We have also put her to Telescope and await the foal any day. Why you may ask?  Because we do want speed and precocity most certainly, but also because the heady mix of Danehill and Galileo lines was

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Galileo’s son – Telescope

the best for the mare and the best for the foal – and hopefully will add some endurance to the speed.  We could have gone to Dark Angel or Outstrip, or any other guaranteed sprint maker,  and probably made a killing in a few years, but we live in hope that quality will shine through and someone will see the value in our approach and enjoy running a horse bred on its merits as an athlete and potential winner, not on its potential selling price.  After all its easy to see the cost of everything, not so easy to see the value.

New Year – New Blog

Welcome abacus-logo

Hello and welcome along to our blog & news site.  We hope you will keep up to date with all our developments at Abacus Bloodstock, as well as enjoy our take on the world of horse racing, breeding and life in general – although when you have horses that kind of IS your life!

2017 so far

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Linbrook Oak

The year has started with continued work on the farm.  We moved into Lower Linbrook Farm in December 2015 and have been developing it into a top stud facility since.  At least the horses are used to tractors and diggers – so the yearlings have gone off to their training fairly bomb proof at least.

New additions include a new 4 stable block to accommodate the mares and foals once they are moved out of the foaling boxes.  We have also invested in stud fencing and re-fenced and ditched the hedge borders around the property, as well as installed improved drainage.  Next phase will be a walker and all-weather area for backing and sales preparation – all work and meantime lots of moving piles of mud from one place to another.

Horses

In the last few months we have sent yearlings (now 2 year olds)  to new owners with trainers including Kevin Frost and Mark Usher. One of them is the half sister to our two

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Assertive x Fangfoss Girls filly – half sister to prolific winning brothers.

most prolific produce Pancake Day and Roll on Rory.  Very exciting times!  Good luck to all connections and thanks for choosing Abacus Bloodstock.

We have also had lots of demand for our 2016 foals and all but one has been purchased already.  They are currently growing well  in their new homes – including the first and only colt foal for Ritchie Fiddes’ stallion Albaasil and a stunning colt by Mawatheeq who will go to Iain Jardine in 2018.

Foals due soon

We have 4 foals due this year – all in March – and these are really exciting prospects.  Sires include new boy Telescope, Irish super stallion Fast Company (now with Darley), Mazameer and UAE record holder Cityscape.

 Of course we will keep you up to date with developments.