Breeding special - a unique insight into life at Whitsbury Manor Stud

Posted 5 years ago

Although we may be in the heart of the jumps season this time of year is also crucial in the breeding side of the sport as many studs start their covering season at the beginning of February.

At Whitsbury Manor Stud it, rather romantically, gets going on 14 February and the stallions will have every mating slot arranged through until June.

Home to Group 1 stallion Showcasing, Whitsbury has been producing high quality thoroughbred racehorses since 1948. Based near Fordingbridge in Hampshire there 550 acres of secure post and rail paddocks situated on the chalk, giving plenty of space and ground to develop good growth in young foals. Other facilities include a horse walker, dry all-weather wood chip paddocks and on-site laboratory run by Pinkham Equine Resident veterinary service.

Showbizzy x Swiss

Showbizzy with colt foal at one day old

There are four stallions standing at Whitsbury currently – with Due Diligence, Swiss Spirit a Group 2 stallion and Adaay joining Showcasing.

The Racegoers Club have an exciting link to Whitsbury having had three of their home bred fillies race in our colours. The best of them so far was Clouds Rest, winner of three races and a runner in the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot in 2014.

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Clouds Rest ahead of her performance in the Queen Mary

Showbizzy and Glacier Point also recorded wins for us and will hopefully now produce exciting offspring to follow. Showbizzy has recently had her first foal - a colt by Swiss Spirit - while Glaicer Point has been covered by Adaay.

Having ended her racing career as a three-year-old Clouds Rest was covered by Swiss Spirit in 2016 and gave birth to a filly foal in February 2017. A year on from that date we caught up with Stud Director Ed Harper to find out how she’s getting on and to get an insight into life at Whitsbury.

So, Ed, how is the little Clouds Rest filly foal and do you have high hopes for her?

She looks like a little cracker and is the spitting image of Clouds Rest at the same stage, but even stronger. She has the hind quarters of a cook and the feistiness of her mother. I’d say the jockey better hold on tight when the stalls open!

What made you choose Swiss Spirit to cover Clouds Rest?

Clouds Rest is perfectly put together for a sprinter except that she is rather small. So we wanted to keep the electric speed, but put in a lot more size which is Swiss Spirit in a nutshell.

Clouds Rest Oct 17

Clouds Rest's filly foal at 8 months old

What kind of routine does a young foal like her go through in the early months of life?

A young foal will be weighed on its first day, and every two weeks thereafter until a few months old, so as to keep an eye on its progress. They will have a head collar put on straight away as it is better for them to learn how to be led from early on. A foal born in January will have a very different first few weeks of its life than a foal born in May. When the weather is nice, the young foals will get the morning out in a nursery paddock with just their mother. Once they have reached a week old they will usually be turned out into a bigger paddock with another mare and foal so that the foal can learn to avoid another mare before being turned out in a paddock of five or six mares and foals.

How many foals are you due to have this year?

We are due to have approximately 80 foals. We have built a new isolated foaling unit for this season, so it will be interesting to see the new system in action. It has been designed to free up paddock space around the main stud area, and improve bio-security of the pregnant mares.

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What got you into the breeding side of horse racing in the first place?

I have taken over a family business. My father purchased the farm in the 80’s having previously managed it for his uncle William Hill (the bookmaker). I did get qualified as a chartered surveyor, but found I was spending more time thinking about breeding than I was about my surveying.

What’s been the highlight of your breeding career so far?

The first mare I ever bought called Marie La Rose. I paid for with my entire student loan. Luckily, she had a lovely colt foal and we resold him very nicely, but I wouldn’t recommend that to other students!

What does a typical day look like at Whitsbury?

In the season, I might wake up to find a text message from our foaling manager to say we have had a foal. In which case, I would go and inspect the new foal before heading to the office. I would be on the phone most of the day, either selling and arranging nominations to our stallions, or booking in covering times for “walk-in” mares to visit our stallions. The stallions have a maximum four covering times during the day when they are busy. 8am, 12pm, 4pm, 9pm. I also like to catch up with the vet to see what progress has been made with the day’s ultrasound scanning.

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Glaicer Point wins at Chepstow

How many horses do you currently have at Whitsbury?

There are currently approximately 150 horses on the stud. But come March to May there can be closer to 250 or 300 if you count all the foals on the ground. We have a lot of visiting mares during the season who stay for a couple of months and leave once they are in foal.

How many staff do you need for the foaling season?

We have 16 members of staff on the stud. However, the stud also benefits from having help from the Arable Farm staff with the large machinery and paddock work.

Who is your favourite stallion/broodmare?

My favourite stallion is Showcasing, which is rather obvious as he is our most successful stallion, but he was also the first one that I had a major hand in acquiring. My favourite mare tends to change every season, but “Place In My Heart” is rather special as she bred us the Queen Mary winner “Heartache” in 2017. She also has an amazing temperament which she gets from her sire Compton Place.