Almanack: Close encounters of the unkind kind

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The Independent Online
SOME say National Hunt horses have the toughest time; some that the stars of the flat work harder. But Almanack believes that the most arduous job a horse can do in the racing industry is to be a 'teaser' at a stud farm.

For readers unversed in racing terminology, an example of the teaser at work. Take Layal, teaser for the top stallion Mtoto at the Aston Upthorpe stud in Oxfordshire. It is Layal's job, in metaphorical terms, to go round to a mare's stable, give her a dozen roses, then take her out for a cocktail or two, a movie, dinner in a swish restaurant, dancing at a chic nightclub, then (a glimmer in her eyes, by now) it's back to her place - where Layal is devastated to find Mtoto, the stud's stud, reclining on the sofa, wearing nothing but a grin.

In other words, Layal gets the mares interested in the first place, and Mtoto has all the fun. 'You wouldn't want to 'tease' the mares with a top-class horse,' Frank Berry, of Aston Upthorpe, says, 'because he would get a little bit excited, and if you tease 40 mares in a morning with a top-class stallion, by the time he gets to cover his mare he'd be so keyed up that you probably wouldn't be able to get anywhere.' So Layal has 40 pointless encounters in a morning. 'It's an enormously frustrating job for him,' Berry concedes.

To prevent a nervous breakdown, Layal is given the occasional reward - an afternoon of passion with a comely show-jumper, or a buxom hunter, or a nubile pony. And the result of one of these treats, a get-together with a mare called Top of the Barley, is that rarest of creatures: a teaser-bred winner. For last Monday at Warwick, Wollboll, son of Layal, trotted up in the Hampton Juvenile Novices Hurdle. 'Lo and behold,' exults Frank Berry, 'his first runner, his first winner.' Now Layal can look his senior stallion proudly in the eye - and he might get some more fun on his own behalf in future.