F&I Association Report: Irish Day

On Tuesday, the 23rd of May 2023, F&I Association members had the pleasure of being welcomed to the beautiful Kildangan Stud in Monasterevin, Co. Kildare, Ireland. Famously, Kildangan is one of 7 studs within the wider Godolphin Ireland Limited enterprise, founded by his Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, and Ruler of Dubai). Kildangan’s own history can be traced back to the 17th century, and there were breeding operations in place since the early 20th century. However, it wasn’t until 1986 that it was purchased on behalf of Sheikh Mohammed. The picturesque operation at Kildangan extends to nearly 1,500 manicured acres, with capacity for over 400 horses, and a workforce of 240 people.

Guided by the endlessly knowledgeable Stud Office Manager, Mr. Tom Gallagher, members were initially brought to the location’s in-house museum, which was replete with trophies, documents, photographs, and ephemera relating to Kildangan’s equestrian successes both in Ireland and around the world. As well as explaining the Irish etymology of the site’s name (Cill, meaning church, and Daingin, meaning large fort), Mr. Gallagher provided an overview of the history of the premises, and the many individuals and families connected to the development of this now-renowned establishment. Namely, Mr. Gallagher stressed that future generations (both horse and human) are at the heart of Godolphin. He highlighted, for example, its worldwide Flying Start Programme, which provides 2-year, full-time training in equestrian management and leadership, with a particular focus on international thoroughbred racing and breeding.

F&I members then enjoyed meeting some of the stud’s notable stallions, who collectively cover up to 1100 mares per annum. Our guide was Nomination Manager, Mr. Eamon Moloney, who emphasised that Kildangan’s breeding strategies are very nature-focused and largely adhere to 28-day heat cycles. The first stallion we met was the impressive group winner Space Blues (2016, 15.3½hh) by Dubawi and Miss Lucifer, whose first crop are foals of 2023. Next was Blue Point (2014, 16hh) by Shamardal and Scarlett Rose, who was an exceptional sprinter with a formidable Ascot record. His first yearling was bought by Aidan O’ Brien for €420,000, and Blue Point’s crop of 2-year-olds now boasts 6 winners. Mr. Moloney informed us that our third stallion, Earthlight (2017, 15.3hh) by Shamardal and Winters Moon, was a particularly commercial type, who services around 100 mares in Australia each year, and who made members laugh with his wandering tongue during the viewing. Our next stallion, Naval Crown (2018, 15.3hh) by Dubawi and Come Alive (daughter of Dansili), was a first-season horse, who won the Ascot sprint in 2022, and who was incredibly “tough”, according to Mr. Moloney, having triumphed after 2 fractures as a 2-year-old. The penultimate stallion was Night of Thunder (2011, 16hh) by Dubawi and Forest Storm (daughter of Galileo). Mr. Moloney informed us that he was a relatively cheap yearling, bred by Frank Dunne and purchased for €44,000. Night of Thunder’s first crop produced 22% Stakes winners (an improvement on both his sire and his broodmare sire), and he is famously sire of Europe’s top sprinter, the 3-time G1 winner, Highfield Princess. Finally, F&I members were dazzled by Ghaiyyath (2015, 16.2hh) by Dubawi and Nightime. Costing €1.2 million as a foal, Ghaiyyath is Dubawi’s highest rated son. He came out a champion in the G3 Autumn Stakes at the age of 2, as well as becoming Horse of the Year and World Champion. Along with his many successes, including the G1 Juddmonte International and G1 Eclipse, Ghaiyyath’s strong shape and dappled bay coat make for an august impression.

After a refreshing break of tea, coffee, and scones, kindly provided by Kildangan Stud, the team took a drive around the estate, the original buildings of which were designed by William Jeffrey Hopkins (1820-1901) in the late 18th century, evidenced in the remnants of a previous Victorian walled garden, as well as in its red-bricked, church-like architecture throughout. However, there are a range of architectural eras to be seen around Kildangan, with some of the original buildings (such as the main house) having been re-rendered in grey. The various yards included the Training Track and Brookfield Yard, where we saw some of the 14 coloured, foster mares of the stud. Also featured was Richardstown Yard, which revealed Kildangan’s rotational grassland management strategies and its proclivity for cross-grazing with cattle. The estate also plays host to countless wildlife such as bats, hares, buzzards, and red squirrels.

One of the tour’s surprising highlights was a visit to the composting area, which uses very few chemicals. At Kildangan Stud, all compost is re-used by means of an Austrian-made top turner costing in the region of €250,000. This technology rotates and shreds used bedding 3 to 4 times a week. The composting process is relatively short, needing only a total of 12 weeks before it can be re-distributed accordingly.

Finally, before departing from Kildangan Stud, the F&I paid a visit to the foaling unit under the guidance of Mr. Ronan Hayden. This unit relies not on cameras or remote observations, but rather on 24-hour supervision by staff. The viewing station is deliberately dark and quiet, and the foals largely cannot detect the presence of their wards. Medical attention comes from a local, trusted vet. As part of this section of the tour, F&I members revelled in meeting one of the stud’s foals, who is by Blue Point and Lava Flow. At only the age of 18 days old, the foal was already very comfortable being handled (having been handled since birth), and he appeared very relaxed in this large group of new people, with both the mare and foal happily standing for photographs. Moreover, it was a joy to see afterwards a variety of mares and foals turned out in well-sheltered, spring paddocks.

Following a delicious lunch at the Irish National Stud and Gardens, the F&I then made the short trip to the Racing Academy and Centre of Education (RACE) at Curragh House, which was rented by RACE founder Stan Cosgrove (1927-2019) from the National Stud. Before touring the campus, we were invited to watch a short video explaining the pedagogical and training ethos of the facility, its combination of classroom learning and physical/nutritional education for its jockeys, and its focus on ensuring work placement for its riders. According to our guide, Riding Coach and Practical Training Tutor, Ms. Katie McManmon, RACE is funded by the Irish Department of Education. As well as offering a QQI Level 4 course in Horsemanship, RACE provides additional training in communications, media, and business studies, as well as Level 5 FETAC qualifications at the top end of the scale. Additionally, it is currently in the process of developing a Level 6 Green Cert. Unsurprisingly, 60-70% of RACE students are offered employment after their placement with one of the Curragh trainers. Indeed, Ms. McManmon reminded us that the Curragh is an excellent and unique training ground, at which horses and trainee jockeys are exposed to sheep, machinery, and all manner of day-to-day operations. These kinds of healthy stimulations and challenges mean that riders and horses alike are well prepared for a variety of environments before ever leaving the campus.

Ms. McManmon noted that enrolees at RACE are often very young, especially if they pursue the route of the 5-year Junior Academy Programme. This course starts trainee jockeys as young as 10 years old, and by the age of 14 the riders are schooling over fences. The programme often targets inner city communities who may not have access to the horse world otherwise. At a time when equestrianism’s social license to operate is at the forefront of public discourse, this is an admirable pursuit. Students in RACE’s central training programmes range in age between 15 and 19 years old on average, with a gender ratio of 40% boys and 60% girls. Trainee jockeys attend for 36 weeks and live at the campus for 5½ days a week, instilling the industry’s full-time requirements early. While in the educational care at RACE, students have no access to vending machines and are encouraged to eat healthily by the onsite chef and nutritionist. Equally, the campus is home to Farriery Ireland, which runs a 4-year phased training programme for apprentice farriers. We were able to glimpse students hard at work in their farriery, practicing their craft in a building whose charming entrance is shaped and painted like a hoof.

The final part of our day saw F&I members touring the 3-furlong gallops at RACE, where horses train over barrels and tractor tires. The current surface there is microfibre sand, which Ms McManmon noted is unfortunately quite a hard surface on which to fall, and on which horses do not seem to tire. This is obviously problematic and, alongside further funding for educational pursuits, RACE is actively seeking more capital investment for the future, as well as further collaboration with other horse sports and industries, including Horse Sport Ireland. Additionally, we paid a visit both to the gym and the indoor arena at RACE. While horses are schooled over a variety of fences in the latter, trainee jockeys undergo continuous fitness assessments in the former. RACE encourages a spirit of friendly competitiveness and resilience, running 3 beep tests each year to monitor the jockeys’ progress. It also uses Dartfish technology to improve physical performance, develop tactical strategies, and to reduce injuries. Moreover, RACE’s gym is going to be refurbished in the near future to offer a rehabilitation centre for injured jockeys, and RACE currently offers facility hire, as well as private jockey training at a cost of €90 for 4 lessons. Our last visit was to RACE’s simulator room, where 2 simulation horses awaited us. After an impressive demonstration from our guide, F&I volunteers had fun testing their balance, endurance, and leg muscles on each.

Overall, the day proved to be one of tremendously engaging tours, stimulating discussion, as well as informative and thought-provoking talks and demonstrations. Special thanks is owed to Faith Ponsonby and Brendan Bergin for their careful organisation of such a productive day, and thanks to guest Leanne Waters for producing a comprehensive report.

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