Decades Of Planning Puts Meon Valley On Top

By Emma Berry

Forty years ago, a Jimmy Reppin (GB) filly who would later become known as Reprocolor (GB) was one of three yearlings purchased by Richard Galpin for Egon Weinfeld as he set about establishing his Meon Valley Stud in Hampshire. A year later, Home And Away (GB) was added to the nucleus of fillies, which included Odeon (Ire) and One In A Million (GB), who would go on to serve their owner and his family so well that only two outside purchases have been made to supplement the Meon Valley bloodlines in the intervening decades.

By the time Reprocolor’s great grandson topped the board at Book 1 of Tattersalls’ October Sale last year, this particular family’s achievements were so notable that his sale price of 2.6 million gns seemed only right. Reprocolor herself may have managed ‘only’ a third-place finish at Group 1 level, not to mention two Group 3 victories, but however talented she was herself on the track, it will be her exploits as a broodmare for which she will be long remembered.

In the case of last year’s co-top lot, Emaraaty (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}), he not only had a rock star sire to help him on his way but a Group 1-winning dam and grandam to boot, via Colorspin (GB) (High Top {GB}) and her daughter Zee ZeeTop (GB) (Zafonic). As Reprocolor’s most celebrated daughter, the G1 Irish Oaks winner Colorspin hit the bullseye with her first foal, Opera House (GB), who would claim champion older horse honours in 1992 and 1993 before being retired to stud in Japan.

And while he did plenty to hearten those who stick to the maxim that a mare’s first few foals are the best, Colorspin proved that at her elite level rules don’t apply. Her sixth foal was Opera House’s full-brother Kayf Tara (GB), the dual winner of the G1 Ascot Gold Cup among other top-class staying contests and now one of the most sought-after National Hunt sire in the British Isles. Then 11 years after Opera House came Zee Zee Top, who was retained to race under the Meon Valley nom de course of Helena Springfield Ltd and claimed the G1 Prix de l’Opera on Arc day in 2003.

Just like her forebears, Zee Zee Top has herself already given her owner-breeder a Group 1 winner in Izzi Top (GB) (Pivotal {GB}), while another daughter Jazzi Top (GB) (Danehill Dancer {Ire}) won the G2 Prix de la Nonette in Deauville.

This particular family has been kind not only to the Weinfelds who have nurtured it so carefully, but also to Sheikh Mohammed, who raced Kayf Tara and Opera House. And it looks as though another member of the Maktoum dynasty, Sheikh Hamdan, may well be about to strike further gold with Emaraaty, who posted one of the most eye-catching maiden victories of the season to date when shooting from the gates at Newbury to make all in a manner so bursting with exuberance that it was hard not to compare his style to the early days of Frankel (GB). Already quoted at 25/1 for next year’s Derby, Emaraaty has some fancy engagements in his diary for later this month.

“Fate seems to decide for us which horses we keep,” says Mark Weinfeld, who succeeded his father at the helm of Meon Valley. “We usually keep three fillies for ourselves–a daughter of Zee Zee Top, or something like that, and the rest go to the sales. But invariably something doesn’t sell and we will end up putting that horse in training.”

Fate, then, has smiled on the family. Among the recent ‘not-solds’ is Speedy Boarding (GB) (Shamardal), who failed to reach her reserve when offered at Book 1 in 2013 and went on to post two Group 1 wins in her breeder’s colours.

“Generally now if a horse comes home we think it might be a lucky omen,” Weinfeld adds.

But this week the focus will be firmly on the commercial side of the business–a necessity to ensure that a relatively small, private farm can continue to thrive.

Potential buyers will be both unwise and unlikely to overlook Speedy Boarding’s half-brother by Dansili (GB), who will be offered on Thursday as lot 422. The mood in the camp may well have already been set fair by then, however, as within the first hour of the sale on Tuesday, comes another Dubawi colt, this one out of Zee Zee Top’s daughter Izzi Top (lot 13). Her first foal Dreamfield (GB) (Oasis Dream {GB}) was unbeaten in two starts for Godolphin at two, while China Horse Club and the Mayfair Speculators teamed up last year to buy her colt by Dansili for 325,000gns.

Asked for his own selection among his draft, Weinfeld replies with the reluctance of a father asked to pick his favourite child.

“I don’t really like to single any out, ” he says. “But we do have some very nice colts this year. The Dubawi colt out of Izzi Top of course, and a smashing New Approach colt out of Shirocco Star, whose first foal ran well recently.”

That first foal, Starcaster (GB) (Dansili {GB}), appears as unraced on the page of his half-brother (lot 212) but he made a pleasing debut to be third at Leicester for Hughie Morrison, who trained Shirocco Star (GB) (Shirocco {Ger})–yet another descendant of Reprocolor–to finish runner-up in both the Oaks and the Irish Oaks.

“It’s still mostly the original families from the four foundation mares at the farm. We did buy a relation to Postponed but otherwise we’ve been lucky to have been able to keep building on those good families,” says Weinfeld.

That relative newcomer is Italian Connection (GB), a Cadeaux Genereux (GB) half-sister to Postponed’s dam Ever Rigg (GB) (Dubai Destination) and the dam of three winners to date.

In the Book 1 draft from Meon Valley, another of Zee Zee Top’s daughters, the unraced Zee Zee Gee (GB) (Galileo {Ire}) is represented via her filly by Farhh (GB) (lot 308), while Speedy Boarding’s half-sister Miss Dashwood (GB) (Dylan Thomas {Ire}) is the dam of lot 103, a colt by Nathaniel (Ire). The sires of both yearlings have enjoyed decent seasons–Farhh with his limited first crop which contains the exciting G3 Acomb S. winner Wells Farhh Go (GB), and Nathaniel with his first 3-year-olds, headlined by the dazzling multiple Group 1 winner Enable (GB).

For most breeders, keeping a keen eye on the commercial side of the market is a must, but its fickle nature can make planning matings a more difficult job than it should be.

Weinfeld says, “Some stallions will be totally unviable to use but I make a list of all the stallions I’d like to use well ahead of the season and then work out which mares will suit which stallions. I try to breed a racehorse rather than a sales horse and would always look at the mating from the point of view of performance.”

Such a sensible strategy generally pays off in the long term and at Meon Valley the ethos has always been one of pleasing continuity.

“We like to keep things as natural as possible and the horses live out as much as they can,” Weinfeld adds. “We start yearling prep round 1 August and they have to come in at that point but the horses are turned out every day for fresh air and a chance to stretch their legs. We walk them in hand for about an hour and a half every day and obviously we’ll lunge them as well but we keep things simple.”

Keeping things simple is undoubtedly in the best interests of the yearlings as they approach their first big public appearance in the sales-ring, but how does their owner’s temperament bear up as Book 1 approaches?

“Oh I do a bit of box-walking occasionally and of course I worry about something being injured or cast the day before but you can’t change anything,” he admits.

“Of course the sales are important but when you sell a horse the main thing is that you really want him to go on. Now matter how much they sell for it’s important that they perform and it’s so exciting when they turn out to be good. Kayf Tara’s is a fantastic legacy and his brother Opera House did pretty well in Japan. Now of course we hope that Emaraaty is going to be an exciting horse for next year.”

With Group 1 entries within the coming weeks, many breeders would be hoping that Emaraaty is going to be an exciting horse this month, but for Weinfeld and his team at Meon Valley, it’s all about the long term. And that surely is the key to their success.

 

 

 

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