'Every new foal is an absolute joy' - owner-breeder reveals all about new Manor Farm Bloodstock venture
Article and images by Raing Post
Craig Buckingham, who runs the operation with wife Laura, steps up to the Q&A plate.
1 Tell us a bit about your background, where did your interest in owning and then breeding horses spring from?
My mother’s family are farmers and I spent most of my childhood around farms and it developed from there. During the 80s and 90s, outside of the cricket season myself and two cricketing pals Andrew and Brian would go off racing for a few days and for many years went to Aintree for the three days of the National meeting. I became involved in owning when business commitments reduced and I knew I could spend the time on it and enjoy it. My wife Laura has been around horses all her life. Initially working from the age of 14 on a yard breaking in horses, helping to train polo ponies, dealing with problem and injured horses and stud work, before moving to Lynn Siddall’s racing yard in Tadcaster, which gave a fantastic education, and she puts that to good use running the farm at home. Once we bought our farm, it seemed a natural progression to move into breeding.
2 What have been the highlights, and the frustrations, on the journey so far?
In racing I think our frustrations are well known and shared by other owners; it’s the only industry I know where the person supplying the product is the only person in the chain that doesn’t make a profit. An industry built on the goodwill and generosity of owners will at some point fail and I’m afraid the powers that be will continue to stick their heads in the sand.
We have been lucky to have 131 winners over the past eight years or so, which we are very proud of, the highlights being our Listed Flat winner in France, Alexander James, our mare Desirable Court winning a Listed chase at Leicester (she now heads our National Hunt broodmares and her first foal, a filly by Walk In The Park, sells in May at Goffs UK in Doncaster), Moon River breaking the track record at Southwell (her daughter is now one of our broodmares) and this season Medyaf winning a Listed hurdle at Wetherby. Our horses have taken us to Cheltenham, Ascot, Aintree, York, Chantilly, Longchamp and many more good days out. We consider ourselves very lucky.
Royal Mogul in the process of providing a 131st winner for the Buckinghams at Newcastle on Thursday
Royal Mogul in the process of providing a 131st winner for the Buckinghams at Newcastle on ThursdayCredit: GROSSICK RACING 07710461723
In terms of the breeding, we lost a foal last year through a freak accident in the field in Ireland, which was heartbreaking, and also our older broodmare Stella Point passed away leaving a young foal by Iffraaj, which we had to rear ourselves; she is now a happy, healthy and strong yearling thanks to the team at Manor Farm. Highlights would be selling our first yearling at Book 2 and from this year we will sell all our own stock through Manor Farm Bloodstock, which is something we are looking forward to. Having our first homebred winner was very exciting too, and hopefully many more to come. But in reality, every new foal is an absolute joy and something we enjoy particularly as we watch them develop at the farm under Laura and her team’s excellent care.
3 Manor Farm Bloodstock certainly sounds like an exciting new venture; can you tell us a bit more …
We bought Manor Farm in north-west Lincolnshire around four years ago and our vision then was for Laura to be able to bring on at home the horses that we buy before sending them into training and then once set up start a small breeding programme, which has developed rather quickly! It had zero equestrian facilities and was listed, but with a great deal of perseverance and some good professional help we have been able to put up an eight-box yard, ten-box American barn, two quarantine boxes, three brick stables, a horse walker, a 45 x 35 arena with floodlights, a wash bay, lunge ring and convert the meadow into 12 turnout paddocks on site, with a further 30 acres of grazing nearby.
This year we managed to buy the large grain store adjoining the farm and have converted that into three large loose boxes, a store, tack room and staff room, as well as a store for all the tractors, straw and hay. We plan this summer to add two foaling boxes and another barn with five 25’ by 45’ loose boxes. The whole site including the boxes has CCTV that Laura watches more than TV! We have a fantastic, committed team working here with us and they are key to the success of the operation.
4 How many mares have you got and how is foaling season going?
We currently have 16 broodmares - 11 Flat and five National Hunt. We took the decision to develop a young band of broodmares and are prepared to be patient to develop the band. To that end, five are being covered for the first time this year and of the ten foals we are expecting, six are with first-time mares. We already have four on the ground. All 16 will be covered in the next three months.
5 And what about matings for this year, could you fill us in on plans…
Certainly, this is the breakdown with who the mares are in foal to and who they are visiting.
Flat: Aleneva (in foal to Magna Grecia, visiting Sioux Nation), Build Me Up (Kameko/Cracksman), Dragon Beat (not covered/Churchill), Flor De La Luna (maiden/Saxon Warrior), Glyndebourne (Footstepsinthesand/Space Blues), Harbour Beach (maiden/Magna Grecia), Outside World (maiden/Twilight Son), Puzzler (Saxon Warrior/Study Of Man), Restless Endeavour (Sioux Nation/Ten Sovereigns), Sweet Bonnet (Far Above/Stradivarius), We Reach The Shore (Calyx/Blackbeard).
Desirable Court (right), captured jumping at speed at Kempton
Desirable Court (right), captured jumping at speed at KemptonCredit: Edward Whitaker
National Hunt: Desirable Court (Dink/Soldier Of Fortune), Hala Princess (Maxios/Ocovango), Kalelula (maiden/Maxios), Sorry About That (Walk In The Park/Vadamos), Vandaly (maiden/Crystal Ocean).
6 How easy, or difficult, do you find stallion selection?
I thoroughly enjoy the process and the learning that comes with it, and we are particularly grateful to Gerry Aherne at Coolmore, Catherine Magnier at Grange Stud and Robin Sharp at Houghton Bloodstock for their help and support, and also to our trainers Dan Skelton, Fergal O’Brien, Donald McCain and Mick Appleby for their thoughts and input. I was always told never be afraid to listen to someone but also never be afraid to back your own judgement. That philosophy has served us well with our horses in training and we shall employ the same philosophy with the breeding programme.
7 What’s your buy/sell policy, if you have one, subject to getting any particular colt or filly?
We said from day one we would sell everything we breed and we will do that; the racing side of things is different and we don’t want to blur the lines. If we did, I’m sure some people would think we are keeping the best ones and selling the rest. This year we sold all the Flat colts as foals but I think moving forward we would prefer to sell all the Flat foals whether colt or filly as yearlings; there may be the odd exception to that but very much the exception. All the National Hunt-bred stock would be sold as stores when they are three, although if we had a sharp one we may go to the new two-year-old store sale at Goffs UK in Doncaster.
8 Could you give our readers a horse or two of yours to follow, Flat or jumps…
We have only one Flat horse at the moment and that’s King Of Bavaria with Mick Appleby, but we do think a lot of him and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t pick up a good sprint handicap through the summer. Over the jumps the Dan Skelton-trained Chilinlikeavillain is, I think, open to quite a bit of improvement now his wind is sorted. Donald McCain has a couple worth following; Ballygeary, a recent Catterick winner, was very green on his hurdles debut and will improve considerably for that, and we think the world of Royal Mogul, who won comfortably over hurdles at Newcastle on Thursday and should make up into a smashing chaser. Barnaleen is an unraced National Hunt prospect that we’ve had here at Manor Farm for eight months working on his conditioning and helping him be a happy horse; he went into full training last week, and the ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures are a testament to the care and work done here at Manor Farm.
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