Saying goodbye to Ballymacoll

By the end of 2017, one of the most famous and successful names in breeding and racing over the last fifty years or so will be no more. Ballymacoll Stud – both the property itself and its bloodstock – is due to be sold, the latter at Tattersalls later this year, the process having already begun with the sale of some fillies at Goffs in February.

Ballymacoll’s name is known today as both a racing and breeding operation, though older readers will remember the stud’s horses running in the name of its owners Sir Michael Sobell and his son-in-law Lord (Arnold) Weinstock, as well as the latter’s son Simon Weinstock. The names behind the colours may have changed over the decades (the stud’s horses have run under the Ballymacoll name since Lord Weinstock’s death in 2002), but the pale blue silks (a shade so pale they often appeared white), with a yellow and white checked cap, have been a constant, as has, for well over forty years, Ballymacoll Stud’s manager Peter Reynolds.

The stud has bred the winners of all the English classics, bar the 1000 Guineas, at least once, while the typical Ballymacoll product has been a late-developing horse over middle-distances or further. Beyond the classics, and races like the King George at Ascot, Ballymacoll-bred horses have made their mark in newer international events such as the Japan Cup and Breeders’ Cup, and most recently have had success in Australia, notably in the Melbourne Cup. While the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is one major race which has eluded Ballymacoll, a number of its products have gone close in it as we shall see.

All this success has come from a broodmare band that’s a mere fraction of the size of some of the breeding operations with which Ballymacoll has held its own. The 2004 edition of its studbook, for example, was a slim volume listing fewer than thirty mares (each illustrated with a black and white portrait, a rare feature for a studbook), while the latest online version of the Ballymacoll studbook numbers just nineteen mares.

The Ballymacoll broodmare band may have become a select group in its latter years, but when Michael Sobell and Arnold Weinstock acquired Ballymacoll in 1960 for £250,000, it came with around a hundred and thirty horses that were formerly owned by the late Dorothy Paget who had bought the stud in April 1946. However, the majority of the current Ballymacoll mares, and the horses which have earned the stud its most important wins, are descended from just two broodmares bought by Miss Paget in the 1930s.

Jamaica was purchased as a yearling in 1931 for 900 guineas and was a daughter of Lord Derby’s leading sire Phalaris who had died earlier that year. We will return to Jamaica’s part in Ballymacoll’s success later. Phalaris was also the sire of the dam of Coventry Belle (by Lord Derby’s Derby and St Leger winner Hyperion) who was bought as a foal for 2,300 guineas in 1938. As it turned out, her year-older sister Godiva went on to win wartime versions of the 1000 Guineas and Oaks in 1940, while their dam Carpet Slipper’s next foal, Windsor Slipper, completed the Irish Triple Crown. Carpet Slipper proved an important broodmare in the longer term too, with the 1966 Oaks winner Valoris and the 1992 Irish Derby and King George winner St Jovite among her descendents for other breeders.

In two further articles on Ballymacoll, we will trace the development of the Coventry Belle and Jamaica families.

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