INTERVIEW: VICTOR CONNOLLY OF BURGAGE STUD

INTERVIEW: VICTOR CONNOLLY OF BURGAGE STUD

30 April 2018

Victor Connolly's Burgage Stud has two horses catalogued at the inaugural May Store Sale, one being by his ultra-successful resident stallion, Shantou. We spoke with the talented stallion master to learn more and hear about newer recruits Sea Moon and Jukebox Jury (IRE).

 

You must be thrilled with The Storyteller (IRE) providing Shantou with yet another Grade 1 winner during the Punchestown Festival?

I’m delighted that Shantou has sired another Grade 1 winner, however fortuitous it was. Gordon Elliot has always spoken highly of The Storyteller (IRE) and within six weeks, this horse has won at the Cheltenham Festival and a Grade 1 at Punchestown.  It was also a great day for the horse’s owners, breeders and bloodstock agent Kevin Ross, who recognized the worth of Shantou early in his Irish stud career.

   

Shantou, himself, is quite a small horse. What convinced you he’d be a successful jumps sire?

Even though Shantou is not a big horse, he is well-made and full of quality. He has a great walk and usually breeds this on to his progeny. He has a great attitude, a real fighter. Deep Run , King’s Theatre (IRE) and Roselier were great sires and were not so big either. If you go back to Vulgan in the 1950’s and 60’s, he was a neat, compact stallion who was Champion Sire nine times and who sired three Aintree Grand National winners. 

We knew Shantou was a highly-rated St. Leger winner and he was by Alleged, the then emerging national hunt sire-of-sires. When we saw the class he showed in siring a filly as good as Sweet Stream, who won the Group 1 Prix Vermeille 2004, and so early in his career, we thought he would be a suitable recruit to cover jump mares. Happily, it has worked out.

   

Would you see any similarities between him and your old resident Bob Back?

Both stallions sire horses that are tough and willing. Both were sires of Group 1 winners on the flat which must indicate a certain class. These two stallions were never asked to cover very big books of mares, relatively speaking, but yet feature highly on lists of leading sires of quality winners-to-runners. A recent edition of Thoroughbed Breeder magazine published such a list and both Bob Back and Shantou were not far from the top. If you take Cheltenham Festival winners as an index of stallion success, then both these sires have done well. Most importantly, trainers liked their winning attitude.

   

You must be delighted to see their progeny work well together, with The Storyteller (IRE) the most recent success story of Shantou covering a Bob Back mare. Why do you think this cross works?

It is satisfying to see two stallions that I have been fortunate to work with crossing successfully at the highest level. Bob Back was a class sire on the Flat and this ability must be considered an asset when mated with jumping mares. Both Shantou and Bob Back became successful the hard way, through continued racecourse success without large numbers of runners. Both sires also regularly upgrade their mares and so when crossed together must represent a potent mix.

   

Victor, you also bred Briar Hill (IRE) using this cross, and he comes from the same family as Boston Bob (IRE). How would you describe the family?

The Boston Bob/Briar Hill pedigree has been producing high-class jumping winners for several decades. From the 1940’s, through to the 1960’s, Charlie Balding from Castledermot bred and raced numerous good winners from this pedigree which were mainly trained by Paddy Sleator. In the 1970’s and 80’s, Ted Walsh’s father Ruby trained several from this pedigree, notably Golden Freeze and Danny Harrold for PJ Donavan who was by then developing the pedigree. They were both sold on to Jenny Pitman for further high level success in England.

I had always admired this pedigree and in 1998, had the chance to buy a three-year-old filly by Over The River at the Derby Sale from Martin Donavan (son of PJ Donavan). Named Belle Away (IRE) and trained by Pat Fahy, she won two races and achieved black-type over hurdles. Sadly, she was fatally injured on the racetrack. So we bought her dam Bavaway, also from Martin Donavan. She was barren and we covered her by Bob Back, producing Boston Bob (IRE), who we sold as a foal at Fairyhouse to Martin Donavan. 

Bavaway also produced a full-sister to Boston Bob (IRE) named Backway, who in turn bred Briar Hill (IRE), the winner of two Gr.1 races but whose career was severely interrupted with a facial injury following a fall at Cheltenham Festival. This pedigree is a good example of how a strong tap root can successfully re-emerge in later generations.

     

Looking to follow in Shantou’s footsteps is Sea Moon, whose first foals arrived last spring. How would you describe his stock so far?

Sea Moon is a very good-looking horse with plenty of scope, and we are very pleased that he is passing on these characteristics to his foals. Breeders are happy with their Sea Moon foals and many have sent mares back to the horse. Repeat business is a good sign. Some of his foals offered last year were also sold to astute judges.

   

You also recently acquired Jukebox Jury (IRE), just before Farclas won the JCB Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. He must be very popular with breeders since then?

Not only has Jukebox Jury (IRE) sired a Cheltenham Festival Grade 1 winner from his first crop, but he has also sired three black-type hurdlers from the same crop, when he covered 72 mares. He has made a highly promising start to his stud career and this is reflected in the quality of mares he has covered so far, with a lot of good breeders using him.

 

They like the fact he is by Montjeu, who is to-date the sire of at least six stallions who have sired Grade 1 winners. A good looking horse with a sound temperament, he also has a high percentage of winners to runners and trainers reportedly like working with his stock.

   

Champion flat sire Sovereign Path stood at Burgage many years ago, under the ownership of Terence Vigors.  Do you own any flat mares or have any interest in that side of the industry?

Good stallions are the soul of a stud. Sovereign Path was very important at Burgage in the 1960’s and 70’s. We have always had an interest in some Flat mares, either owned in full or in partnership. But because we have had successful national hunt sires on site, it makes more sense to concentrate on jumps mares.

   

You have two horses catalogued at the upcoming May Store Sale at Tattersalls Ireland, including a well-bred son of Shantou (Lot 31). What can you tell us about him?

He is 16.1hh and a good-moving horse. He is out of a Grade 3 winning hurdler, who has bred a prolific black-type winner on the Flat, from a solid German family packed with black-type horses. He ought to be of interest.

   

The other, Lot 3, is a half-brother to Grade 2 winner Jimmy Two Times (IRE). Would he remind you of his sibling?

We sold Jimmy Two Times (IRE) as a three-year-old to Brian Hamilton. He was a medium-sized horse, but a great mover, and is now a black-type winner of four races and has given owner Sean Graham many good days out. This gelding is a similar-sized horse, a solid, well-made type and I hope he will be well-received.

The performance and market for national hunt fillies is very much topical at the moment. Do you believe their opportunists, both on the track and in the sales ring, has improved of late? Would you have any suggestions or recommendations for further improvements?

It makes so much sense for an owner to purchase a national hunt filly to race. If she proves good enough to win races and get black-type, her value immediately increases. If such a mare is then injured or has to be retired, she then has a second commercial, if not lucrative career ahead of her. Even if her owner has no interest in breeding, there is always a ready market to sell at the breeding stock sales, as breeders always need to re-stock. The same cannot be said for a gelding, no matter how talented, once he is injured. 

A lot has been done in recent years to encourage greater investment in national hunt fillies. William Flood and his ITBA NH Committee have put a lot of effort into creating the ITBA NH Fillies Bonus Scheme, which commenced in 2013. In theory, a nominated NH mare can earn her owner a bonus of €15,000, in addition to prize money, if she wins a maiden race in each category - bumper, maiden hurdle, beginners chase. 

There is little doubt that a well grown, good moving filly with a respectable pedigree is getting easier to sell. This is gradually filtering down to the foal sale stage. With each good sale of an impressive point-to-point winning mare, the demand for replacements will improve, though this gradual change of mindset takes time. It was not that long ago that Gigginstown House Stud had no obvious interest in racing NH mares, but now they see the opportunities and invest accordingly.

The national hunt race programme for fillies has also been opened up. So much so, that a NH mare need never have to run against a gelding, such are the options. Usually the fields for Mares Bumpers are well supported, as the numbers of mares in training increases. Thoroughbreds are bred to race and the success of the French system is that mares are encouraged to race. This in turn enhances and reinforces pedigrees, by proving that these mares have ability and that they are sound in wind and limb. 

Similarly, the point-to-point race programme has been expanded by The Turf Club to encourage the racing of mares together with the mares sex allowance increase. Some smart point-to-point handlers have focused on the opportunity to buy suitable fillies at the store sales and campaign them in the same way that other handlers buy comparatively expensive geldings. Aidan Fitzgerald springs to mind as a handler who has had some notable successes racing and selling mares. If a national hunt filly costs €9,000 and a year later, after winning, sells for say €80,000, then its good business with much less risk. It’s all about the margin. 

The continued promotion of investing in NH fillies to race, and which is aimed at the owners/trainers prior to store sales and at major racing festivals, needs to continue. The feel-good stories of mares that have excelled on the track needs continued coverage in the press. The last two runnings of the ultra-competitive Grade 1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham Festival has been won by mares – Fayonagh (IRE) in 2017 and Relegate (IRE) in 2018. Is this not the best advert?

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