February is always a tough month for our family. Still waiting December invoices to be paid, despite Mr Visa’s cheque being promptly dispatched, there’s generally a financial summit mid-month, when the boss announces that life, as we know it, is over. Cards are filed away, ponies are put on sugar beet, piggy banks emptied and even the Aldi shop is scrutinised. Austerity is all too real.
Kids are expensive, there’s no doubt. Between them, the cheque for this term’s activities adds up to €740, and I wince each and every time I fill in all those forms. But they are the last thing to go. We’ll eat shepherds pie for a week before ballet gets canned! The last thing that is, apart from covering our mare. Of course that just has to happen or we miss the chance to make another enormous loss on her filly foal, who will probably be a bit offset of her near fore. A 3K foal or 6K yearling, depends how much of a cutie she is.
Quite how our mare has survived the recession I don’t know; the lucky one with a tiny bit of page, just in case we get the perfect colt that Ross Doyle adds to his shortlist. We live in fantasy land of course. We have downsized though, so abiding by industry rules of a fashion. In 2008, we had two mares and foals, one club-footed yearling and half a horse in training – all costing around €30,000 a year. Now it’s dear old Dally and half a foal with a friend.
Hobby breeders eh – dont you just love ’em. Why do we do it I wonder? What is that urge to produce a black-type winner and why are we afflicted? (hubby too thank goodness or I’d never get away with it). I guess it’s in the blood as both our folks were farmers and bred a variety of horses – some in the ribbons, some very slow. But I wonder sometimes if our category has become a nuisance to the professionals; “dont breed from this and upgrade that” is the mantra of the day, with a whiff of a sneer from the big boys when explaining the merits of our three-grand mare’s pedigree.
But I think we are actually important for diversity. Without us fools, many of racing’s superstars simply wouldn’t be bred – cue the late St Nicholas Abbey’s dam who sold for buttons at Tatts July sale. We continue to somehow survive on the crumbs from the master’s table and hope that some day we might just land a touch (ideally at Royal Ascot, with a sibling colt to sell at Book 2).
But it’s at this crisis point we must decide which stallion to use on our Great White Hope? Even five grand is a stretch this year – assuming we dont disappoint our budding Darcey Bussell – but we think we’ve spotted some value. At a really tiny fee, with most of it back if – God forbid – she’s barren, we can use a horse that was a Gr.3 winner at 2 and 3 and was second to St Nic himself in a Gr.1, had a decent small crop of first foals and stands at a commercial stud. How can this be so, what’s going on?
Thank heavens for Mrs Patino of Big Bad Bob fame. She’s decided to stand Elusive Pimpernel at the INS this year and has kept his stud fee at an incredibly commercial €1000. What a great move and why shouldn’t this be a successful strategy? Give the stallion a big book of mares (I believe he is nearly full) and who knows, maybe Lady Luck will oblige. It certainly did with Gr.2 winner Indian Ridge, Coolmore’s Night Shift who won nothing but a 6f maiden and more recently the much lamented handicapper Danetime. As a simple hobby breeder aspiring to be a commercial one, I truly wish other vogue stallion masters would allow more of these types of horses a chance at stud for realistic fees. I guess they’d cite overproduction, but then someone has to nurture tomorrow’s breeders, especially if they don’t make it as ballerinas!