There’s one thing you immediately notice upon arriving at Dalham Hall Stud – home of Darley’s English breeding empire in Newmarket.
The place is spotless. Absolutely spotless.
The 400-metre drive from the monitored front entrance to reception office sees you pass day paddocks with trees, standing in mounds of mulch, carefully dotted around the perimeter.
The lawns are patterned. The gardens are manicured and symmetrical. Pavements are clean; you can’t spot a fallen leaf, rose petal or markings of manure.
Everything is immaculate.
Granted, Sheikh Mohammed has enough money to maintain a neat facility.
But wealth doesn’t prevent an apathetic approach to work from staff.
You’ve only got to gaze towards the government sector to witness how mediocrity can manifest itself.
Success on the racetrack starts in these breeding barns and all their staff know it.
Sheikh Mohammed purchased Dalham Hall Stud in 1981, the first of 12 stud properties in Newmarket which were amalgamated to form the Darley empire of today.
The purchase of Dalham Hall came with ten mares, including Oh So Fair who at the time was in foal to Oh So Sharp, winner of the Thousand Guineas, English Oaks and English St. Leger in 1985.
The following year saw Sheikh Mohammed grow his breeding interests into Ireland, acquiring Kildangan Stud, located in Kildare.
“These days, between England (Dalham Hall) and Ireland (Kildangan) we’ve got just over 400 mares with around 220 mares in England but that number fluctuates very quickly,” said Darley’s David Walsh.
“The whole area at Dalham Hall, after purchasing the 12 surrounding farms, is 3500 acres.”
Dalham Hall is Darley’s international headquarters and consequently their best sires are housed within the Newmarket property.
The jewel in the crown is Dubawi, son of 2000 Dubai World Cup winner Dubai Millennium.
Dubawi is the fastest sire to ever produce 50 Group winners and ten per cent of his progeny are Group winners. His service fee is within range of premium breeders only at £250,000 ($440,000).
Dubawi covered approximately 170 mares this season, serving mares up to four times a day (8am, 1pm, 7pm and midnight).
“At Dalham Hall we’ve got two covering sheds operational at the same time. Say for instance Dubawi is scheduled to visit a mare at 8am, we’ll have another stallion in the other covering shed at the same time,” Walsh said.
“There will then be another two stallions on standby, roughly at 10 minute intervals. All going well, it’ll take less than an hour for us to get eight stallions serving mares on the one rotation.
“It’s important to keep stallions in a routine and afford them enough time to rest between each mating.”
Darley’s stallion of the moment is New Approach, sire of this year’s third generation English Derby winner Masar (Galileo won the Derby in 2001 and is the sire of New Approach who won the Derby in 2008). It’s only the third time in history the Derby has had a third-generation winner.
New Approach produced three Royal Ascot winners in his first crop of two-year-olds in 2012 (Dawn Approach won the Coventry Stakes, Newfangled won the Albany Stakes and Tha’Ir won the Chesham Stakes), a feat never previously achieved but then repeated by Zoffany in 2015.
New Approach followed that up by producing two Classic winners the following season as Dawn Approach won the English 2000 Guineas and Talent claimed the English Oaks.
That saw New Approach cover full books of mares up to £80,000 ($140,000). His early success wasn’t sustained and his fee stands at a respectable £30,000 ($53,000), with a managed workload of 120 mares a season.
Another English Derby winner on Darley’s stallion roster is Golden Horn. He won four Group 1 races, including the Arc, during an incredible three-year-old season which saw him rated the world’s best turf horse in 2015.
Standing at a fee of £60,000 ($105,000), his first foals averaged triple that at European yearling sales.
“He’s the first horse out in the morning to exercise, he’s always wanting to be active,” Walsh said.
Darley staff are also particularly proud of their dual Group 1-winning stallion Farhh.
“His oldest progeny are three and he’s had Dee Ex Bee (runner-up to Masar in the English Derby) and Group winners Wells Farhh Go and Nocturnal Fox. He had seven two-year-old winners, three of those were at stakes level.”
The son of Pivotal stands for just £10,000 ($18,000) as, unfortunately, he has limited fertility.
As a suburban-raised punter, I departed Dalham Hall with greater respect and appreciation for the series of complexities that breeders combat in order to establish a successful operation.
As my car moved slowly towards Dalham Hall’s exit, I saw a horse on his lonesome in a lush green paddock.
Poking his head through the fence revealed the name ‘Barney Roy’ on his headcollar. I’d instantly remembered him winning the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot last year.
What was Barney Roy up to these days?
A quick internet search upon returning home revealed Barney Roy was removed from stud duties at Dalham Hall just a month earlier after proving subfertile.
Another salient reminder that stallion life, and being a breeder isn’t simple.
~ Also published in Winning Post newspaper.