Racing: Business a pleasure for Lily

1,000 Guineas: Stoute's filly can strike a blow for British owner-breeders and her future career
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The Independent Online

High on a hill to the south-east of Newmarket, one of the most ancient and beautiful factories in Britain plies its trade. The gates of Cheveley Park Stud, purveyor of high-class horses to the gentry, are exactly three miles as the crow flies from the winning post on the Rowley Mile. This afternoon in the 192nd 1,000 Guineas, two fillies bearing the company colours, Shanghai Lily and Echelon, will be trying to get to the latter in front of their rivals before, ultimately, joining the production line behind the former.

High on a hill to the south-east of Newmarket, one of the most ancient and beautiful factories in Britain plies its trade. The gates of Cheveley Park Stud, purveyor of high-class horses to the gentry, are exactly three miles as the crow flies from the winning post on the Rowley Mile. This afternoon in the 192nd 1,000 Guineas, two fillies bearing the company colours, Shanghai Lily and Echelon, will be trying to get to the latter in front of their rivals before, ultimately, joining the production line behind the former.

For all the dazzle and excitement of what most people at the races this weekend regard as a sport, the thoroughbred business is just that, a business. Sure, David Thompson and his wife Patricia, the owners of Cheveley Park Stud, are involved for the pleasure of it, but their hobby must pay for itself, and more.

A hugely successful entrepreneur like Thompson, founder of the foods conglomerate Hillsdown Holdings, would have no truck with the notion that the only way to make a small fortune in racing is to start with a large one.

Commerce, though, need not be ugly. In the bloodstock world, at the bottom line, horses may be no more than commodities to trade, but they are gorgeous ones. And as shop-floors go, there must be worse places to work than Cheveley Park. Its setting, nearly 1,000 lush green acres balanced by ancient native woodland, is incomparable; the buildings, red brick and dark timber, among them listed edifices most lovingly restored, compliment it perfectly.

A sense of tranquillity pervades the place; it is classic English parkland at its best. And that aura is entirely appropriate, for the stud farm is a bastion for the home side among the Arab-owned acres that surround it. The Thompsons, who bought the place 30 years ago, are of a species that is rare enough nowadays but was once the backbone of the sport, the British owner-breeder, a fact of which they are proud and which is reflected in the choice of their racing silks: red, white and blue.

Cheveley Park Stud is steeped in history. In the office there is a document showing that Aethelstan, the first Anglo-Saxon king of England, bred horses on the land a thousand years ago. The first Classic winners from the stud came early in the 19th century, when Sorcery won an Oaks, her son Cadland the 1828 2,000 Guineas and Derby, and Rhoda a 1,000 Guineas. In 1890 the great horse Isinglass, winner of the Triple Crown, was foaled and later stood at stud there, and his specially-built stallion box is still in use.

But there is nothing archaic about attitudes. For the past two decades the Thompsons have put every resource needed into upgrading their operation - from the science of the balance of calcium and phosphorus on pastureland to the art of analysing a pedigree - and have been rewarded with 16 Group One winners in their patriotic colours, a roster of eight stallions and a reputation that is second to none. The stallions, who include the country's most desirable young sire Pivotal, and the sale of selected young and surplus stock provide the income to run a string of nearly 100 horses, the best-performed of whom will be ploughed back into the business.

Pivotal, bred at the stud, was one of those. So was the first Classic winner in the Cheveley Park Stud colours, the 1,000 Guineas heroine of two years ago, Russian Rhythm. Now in foal to Pivotal, she was not a home-bred, but had been bought as a yearling for 440,000 guineas for her potential as a broodmare, with a racing career to be savoured en route to the paddocks. The same applies to Shanghai Lily, a first-crop daughter of King's Best who cost €300,000 at an Irish auction as a yearling.

But for inspired horse trading, it would be hard to top the purchase 18 years ago of Exclusive Order as a proven broodmare for $825,000. Her foals for Cheveley Park Stud have included the 1997 2,000 Guineas winner Entrepreneur, who was sold as a yearling to Michael Tabor for 600,000 guineas; and Exclusive, who ran third in the 1,000 Guineas, won the Coronation Stakes and produced as her first foal Chic, a candidate for top mile honours as a five-year-old this term, and as her third Echelon.

With none of the top juvenile fillies - the likes of Damson, Divine Proportions, and Playful Act - making the start this afternoon, the Guineas has an open look to it, and the field size has been exceeded only thrice in the past 50 years as the no-hopers gather for a go, but whether or not it proves sub-standard can be judged only in retrospect.

Shanghai Lily, winner of both her starts as a juvenile, can justify her purchase price and book her place in the élite Cheveley Park broodmare band in the future as a Classic heroine, give her trainer Sir Michael Stoute his third distaff Guineas after Musical Bliss 16 years ago and Russian Rhythm and rider Johnny Murtagh his first.

Maid's Causeway, as tough-minded as her sire Giant's Causeway, is another who has yet to appear in public this year but has reportedly strengthened markedly over the winter and her trainer Barry Hills has convinced her new American owners to leave her in this country. For an outsider, consider Sheikh Mohammed-owned, Michael Jarvis-trained Vista Bella, who did not run until this year but is improving daily.

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