Wiltshire’s Norman Court Stud was renowned as a nursery for top-class horses and is enjoying a revival of fortunes
Debate will rage through the remainder of the Flat season as to whether or not Camelot should be aimed at the St Leger. Those praying that he will attempt to become the first Triple Crown winner since Nijinsky will point to the success of first-season sire Sixties Icon as one of many reasons why it will do the colt no harm in his future career.
Sixties Icon, who won the St Leger in 2006, was certainly bred to be a Classic winner, being a first-crop son of Derby winner Galileo out of the Oaks winner Love Divine. To the commercial breeding world, however, he not only committed the sin of winning the world’s oldest and now much-denigrated Classic, but he remained in training at four and five, adding the Jockey Club Stakes and three more Group 3 contests over 12 and 13 furlongs to his CV. While such longevity should only enhance the appeal of a top-drawer pedigree for those wishing to breed durable racehorses, many with the sales ring in mind struck a line through him as a stallion prospect, imagining he would be a source of later-maturing staying types rather than sharp two-year-olds.
“The industry had a view of him as a St Leger winner but I loved his bloodlines and when I saw the videos of his races, I was very impressed with his turn of foot,” says Patrick Trant, who bought Norman Court Stud from his old friend Mick Channon in 2007 and pinpointed Sixties Icon as a future addition to the farm’s stallion roster the following year.
“Yes, he was a stayer but he had speed and that was backed up by Frankie Dettori, who said he was one of the easiest Classic winners he’s ever ridden. So we took a gamble on that at the time and it looks as though it’s working out. The success to date is wonderful, better than we could ever have imagined.”
From being given a quote of 250-1 to be leading first-season sire back in March, Sixties Icon has caught many by surprise by being not only the second freshman after another son of Galileo, New Approach, to record a winner this year, when Vanessa got off the mark at Musselburgh on April 8, but by sustaining that early lead with another five winners, including his first stakes winner Chilworth Icon.
Even more pleasing for the team at Norman Court Stud is that they bred Chilworth Icon and co-bred Vanessa with Mick Channon. The role the trainer has played in the early success of Sixties Icon cannot be understated. His West Ilsley stable has been responsible for eight of the stallion’s ten runners to date, Chilworth Icon and the Listed-placed Effie B among them, and sent out four for the Chesham Stakes, including runner-up Cruck Realta.
Speaking after Chilworth Icon’s Woodcote Stakes victory on Derby day, Channon said: “It’s an unbelievable story for Sixties Icon. People say I’ve been getting on with his two-year-olds but I can’t make the horses win. If they didn’t have the ability they wouldn’t be doing this.”
With Channon a non-executive director at the stud, he, along with the Trants and Stud Manager Stewart Bevan, is closely involved with the matings for the band of around 35 mares, which include a number of his own and those owned in partnership with the stud.
Patrick Trant says: “We did look at mares that had produced early types to send to Sixties. But if you look at Vanessa, for example, I wouldn’t have said that she had a particularly precocious pedigree but I think that’s come from the stallion. He wasn’t like a normal Leger horse.
“His offspring are definitely improving for their first run. It’s exciting to see how they’ve come on. How far can Sixties Icon go? Well, we’re shooting for the stars.”
The Trants’ hopes don’t end with Sixties Icon’s runners as they have also enjoyed notable success this season as the breeders of Irish 1,000 Guineas heroine Samitar and Prix de Sandringham winner Laugh Out Loud, and the pair, also both trained by Channon, gave the couple a thrill on the Friday of Royal Ascot when lining up against each other for the Coronation Stakes, in which they finished fourth and sixth.
“It’s Trant v Trant,” says Tania. “Patrick bought Samitar’s dam and I bought Laugh Out Loud’s dam.”
The fillies are both the produce of two relatively inexpensive mares. Laugh Out Loud’s dam Funny Girl, a beautiful dark brown daughter of Darshaan, was selected by Tania for just 12,000gns at Tattersalls in 2006, while Aileen’s Gift, the dam of Samitar, had been signed for by Gill Richardson at Goffs a year earlier for €17,000. The unraced daughter of Rainbow Quest was carrying Nijoom Dubai at the time and she would go on to be the first of the mare’s two Albany Stakes winners.
Patrick says: “Tania’s done very well with buying the mares. Mick and I will get involved with the sales strategy and decide what’s going to be sold. But the mares and purchasing are very much down to Tania.”
With thoughts already turning to the forthcoming yearling sales, the stud’s other young stallion Winker Watson will be put to the test when members of his first crop are offered this autumn.
“In 2010 we gave Winker Watson a good selection of mares to get him started; we had to support him with numbers like we did with Sixties Icon,” says Patrick. The son of Piccolo’s debutants include half-siblings to Chilworth Icon, Effie B and Queen Mary Stakes winner Ceiling Kitty, who is owned and bred by Andrew Black, who raced Winker Watson and has retained a quarter share in him at stud.
“His progeny look promising and his first yearlings go to the sales this year, so it’s a really exciting time here at the moment. With Sixties Icon we couldn’t wait for his first runners and I can’t wait until April or May next year when we see the first Winker Watsons out.”
Tania is also rightly proud that two of their Sixties Icon colts, including a half-brother to Samitar, have been selected for October Book 1.
She says: “His numbers will fall slightly in the next few years – he covered 52 mares in his first book, then 37, and 29 last year. But we’ve had 75 booked to him this season, which we’re absolutely delighted with. It’s rare that a breeder comes to see him and doesn’t book a mare to him. He’s very good-looking and sells himself.”
Having bought the stud just before the recession hit, one way in which the Trants have been pro-active in trying to encourage breeders and owners to take an interest in their stock is by holding stallion, foal and yearling parades.
“It was like the whole world collapsed on us in 2008 but one advantage we did have was that we didn’t go into it on borrowed money,” says Patrick, whose surname provides the title for his Southampton-based construction and engineering firm. He sold his interests in the casino industry to buy the stud.
“I run a business that turns over £100 million, so I know how important it is to build team spirit. I think we’ve got a great team here now. We brought in Stewart Bevan as manager and he’s very experienced in the stud world, and we have Tina Dawson helping with the nominations. The place is very relaxed – people work hard but there’s a good atmosphere.
“There are other studs around here but not to the density you find in Newmarket. We now have local syndicates that come to us and we give them private viewings of foals and yearlings, and they have bought from us without even going to the sales.
“The 7Rus syndicate, which includes my brothers and friends, has been going only two years but last year they had Chilworth Lad, who ended up rated 112. Next they bought Chilworth Icon. They are all local people and they didn’t want to go to the sales but they love coming here to see the horses.”
While former amateur jockey-turned-eventer Tania is obviously the more hands-on member of the partnership when it comes to day-to-day dealings with the horses, there’s no mistaking the passion her husband has for the world of racing and breeding.
“Any business plan you draw up is a bit tongue-in-cheek when it comes to horses,” he says with a glint in his eye as he outlines plans for the historic stud, which has been the birthplace of such great horses as Colorspin, Manado and Phil Bull’s Romulus.
“We’ll be hoping to add a stallion to the books, probably next year, which gives us time to have a proper look. What will really determine it for me is how the progeny of Winker Watson are doing next summer.
“We’re planning to invest in more broodmares and also to improve the offices here. We’re proud of what we’ve done so far but we know that the journey must continue. Our one objective is to make the place a success.”
For the Trants, the business plan – along with the dream – is well and truly on track.
Friends united in business and pleasure
A friendship that started in Mick Channon’s footballing days has developed into a thriving partnership over the last five years.
“I was one of Mick’s first owners along with Peter Taplin so we go back to when he started out,” says Patrick Trant. “I’m a Southampton lad and I knew Mick when he was playing football there so we go back a long way.”Trant also has Channon to thank for introducing him to his wife, a former work rider at West Ilsley who also rode on the Flat as an amateur under her maiden name, Tania Dzieciolowska. They have now been married for eight years and have two young children.
For Channon, the sale of Norman Court Stud, which had its name changed to Home Stud when owned by Jack Coggan during the second half of the 20th century, could not have worked out better. Not only did it pass to the ownership of friends, he was able to maintain his links with a place he has long held dear.
“I’ve always loved the stud,” he admits. “I’ve known it from Jack Coggan’s day. There have been a lot of good horses bred there. Phil Bull kept his mares there and I can remember when the stud had the top price at Tattersalls of 57,000gns, so that is going back a bit.
“It was a dream of mine to buy it but then I wanted to develop this place [West Ilsley] and Patrick was looking for a stud. Patrick’s my best mate and it was just fortunate that the situation arose.”
Despite being at the helm of one of the busiest racing yards in the country, Channon, whom Trant credits as having selected Sixties Icon as a suitable purchase, has had a long involvement as a breeder and keeps a keen eye on the stallion market.
“I came into racing from the breeding side and I’ve been lucky to be involved with some good stallions, such as Fraam and Piccolo, from the early days,” he says. “Sixties Icon has such a good pedigree and he was a really good racehorse. I’ve always believed in him – he was the right price and he fitted the bill for Patrick. The success he’s had has all been from reasonably modest mares really. If his horses weren’t any good I’d soon let you know.”
Modestly playing down his part in the success story, the trainer adds: “I’m just so chuffed for Patrick and Tania really. To have bred two fillies [Samitar and Laugh Out Loud] like that and for the stallion to be doing so well, with a stakes winner on Derby day, is just great.
“We try to be commercial but we’re all friends really. I couldn’t be more delighted for them with the success they’ve had. They’ve worked hard and they deserve it.”