Ballymacoll Stud: the Coventry Belle family

On Tuesday 27th June at Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel, Ballymacoll Stud was auctioned for €8.15m to a buyer whose identity is yet to be made public. The 294-acre property, famous as the birthplace of Arkle, was for more than fifty years a nursery for the racing operation founded by Michael Sobell and Arnold Weinstock following their purchase of the stud for £250,000 in 1960. In this follow-up to the first in this three-part series Saying goodbye to Ballymacoll, we trace the development of the family developed at Ballymacoll from the 1938 purchase of Coventry Belle.

It was Coventry Belle’s great grandson Reform who became the first top-class horse for Ballymacoll’s new owners. He won eleven of his fourteen starts, among them what are nowadays three of the top mile contests, the St James’s Palace Stakes, Sussex Stakes and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, and ended his career by winning the Champion Stakes.

Reform went on to sire a couple of notable winners of his own for Ballymacoll in Prix Ganay winner Lancastrian and the gelding Admetus who was their first big winner outside Europe when successful in the Washington D.C. International in 1974. Five years later, Admetus’ half-brother Troy became the first of Ballymacoll’s Derby winners when winning the two hundredth edition of the race by seven lengths. Troy gained further success that summer in the Irish Derby, King George and Benson & Hedges Gold Cup, and was beaten into third in the Arc behind the filly Three Troikas on his final start.

Reform’s dam Country House had two daughters who were to found their own highly successful families for Ballymacoll, namely Queen’s Castle and Knighton House, the latter runner-up in the Coronation Stakes and a full sister to Reform. Queen’s Castle became the great grandam of Ballymacoll’s other Derby winner, North Light, who was successful in 2004 – he was out of the Prix du Cadran winner Sought Out. North Light is the sire of one of the current crop of Ballymacoll two-year-olds; named Oxford Thespian, he’s out of a half-sister to Blandford Stakes winner Eleanora Duse and Irish Oaks runner-up Scottish Stage.

2004 winer North Light was Ballymacoll’s second Derby winner after Troy in 1979.

Sought Out’s half-sister Greektown, a listed winner in France over a mile and a half, also became a Group 1 producer when her son Gamut won the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud. Scots Lass was a third notable half-sister to Sought Out and Greektown; she bred the Great Voltigeur Stakes winner and St Leger third Bonny Scot and became grandam of the brothers Golan and Tartan Bearer. This pair were by Ballymacoll’s homebred Spectrum (more of whom in the next article in this series) out of Highland Gift. Golan won the 2000 Guineas and King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (also second in the Derby), while Dante winner Tartan Bearer also finished second in the Derby and was runner-up in the King George.

Greektown, incidentally, was by Ela-Mana-Mou who was not bred by Ballymacoll but raced in Simon Weinstock’s colours as a four-year-old after being bought the previous winter; Ela-Mana-Mou had beaten Troy at two in the Royal Lodge Stakes and he was a grandson of Troy’s sire Petingo. He proved a top-class purchase for his new owners, with his wins including the Eclipse Stakes and the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and went closest of all in the Arc among Ballymacoll’s near-misses in that race, beaten half a length and a short head. Besides Greektown, Ela-Mana-Mou also sired Ballymacoll’s Futurity Stakes winner Emmson.

The Prix des Reservoirs winner Edinburgh, the dam of Sought Out, Greektown and Scots Lass, was one important daughter of Queen’s Castle, while the other was City Fortress (by Troy) who had a couple of sons who went on to make name for themselves outside Europe. Fastness became a top miler in the USA, winning the Eddie Read Handicap twice and finishing second to Ireland’s Ridgewood Pearl in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, while Desert Boy, renamed Oriental Express in Hong Kong, won the Hong Kong Derby and the Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup.

As we said, Reform’s sister Knighton House founded another successful branch of the Coventry Belle family for Ballymacoll, principally through her great granddaughter Hellenic. She was out of Grecian Sea, a daughter of another colt who had carried the Ballymacoll colours to third place in the Arc, Homeric, also runner-up in the St Leger and Coronation Cup. Hellenic was also second in the St Leger, after winning the Ribblesdale Stakes and Yorkshire Oaks. By Darshaan, she was mated repeatedly with Sadler’s Wells for much of her stud career, resulting in, among others, the Gold Cup third Election Day, the high-class mile and a quarter performer Greek Dance (Group 1 winner in Germany in the Bayerisches Zuchtrennen) and one of the most successful Ballymacoll fillies Islington. In addition, Hellenic is the dam of Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud winner Mountain High, a son of Danehill who was bought by the Coolmore partners as a yearling, and the Brigadier Gerard Stakes winner New Morning, another daughter of Sadler’s Wells.

Islington, though, was the pick of Hellenic’s foals, with her biggest wins coming in the Yorkshire Oaks (twice), the Nassau Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf. Following on from her own dam, Islington has become a significant broodmare for Ballymacoll and one with an extraordinary record – in January she produced her eleventh filly (this one by Oasis Dream) from as many foals! We calculate the odds of such a sequence to be 2,048/1. Islington’s unraced three-year-old filly by Dubawi, named Edith Wharton, fetched €200,000 at Goffs in February. She also has a two-year-old filly by Shamardal named Floria Tosca.

At stud, Islington has actually been outshone by her unraced sister Olympienne who is the dam of September Stakes winner Modun and the Gold Cup runner-up Patkai whose wins included the Queen’s Vase and Sagaro Stakes. Modun and Patkai’s brother Saptapadi, incidentally, both finished down the field in the 2011 Melbourne Cup, but two years later, their relative Fiorente (a grandson of another of Hellenic’s daughters, Desert Beauty) won Australia’s most famous race having finished runner-up in it in 2012. Coincidentally, another Ballymacoll-bred gelding, Ruscello (from the same family as Fiorente, out of Hellenic’s half-sister Sea Picture) also ran in the 2013 Melbourne Cup. Desert Beauty is the grandam of Pivoine (by Redoute’s Choice) who was Ballymacoll’s only winning two-year-old last year, successful in a maiden at Kempton in October.

2013 Melbourne Cup winner Fiorente – one of Ballymacoll’s successful exports down under.

Fiorente’s pedigree is interesting because his unraced dam Desert Bloom was by one of Ballymacoll’s best-ever products Pilsudski, who was out of a daughter of Troy. The winner of top races in Britain, Ireland, Germany, Canada and Japan (Eclipse Stakes, Champion Stakes, Irish Champion Stakes, Grosser Preis von Baden, Breeders’ Cup Turf and Japan Cup), Pilsudski was also second – twice – in the Arc. Ending his racing career in Japan, there he stayed (bought for a reported $20m) to begin his stud career, though that didn’t stop Ballymacoll sending Desert Beauty to him. Pilsudski was a viable option for Ballymacoll to use because, although a homebred, he came from neither the Jamaica nor Coventry Belle families. Instead, Pilsudski was a great grandson of the American-bred filly Gaily (by Sir Gaylord), who was bought as a yearling in 1972 and went on to win the Irish 1000 Guineas and was placed in the Irish Oaks and Prix Vermeille. Another of Gaily’s great grandsons is Sir John Hawkwood who became the most recent Ballymacoll-bred Group 1 winner – another successful export down under – when winning the Metropolitan Handicap at Randwick in 2016.

In the final part of this series later in the year, we will look at the other great Ballymacoll family, the one developed from the foundation mare Jamaica.

[Images: North Light –, Fiorente – Chris Phutully]


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