Conduit, a motherless foal bound for stardom
Tuesday 16 September 2008
After any major success – indeed, any success at all – the factor most stressed by the victorious trainer is the teamwork involved to get the equine athlete into the position of honour. After Conduit's sparkling St Leger success, Sir Michael Stoute's first words were for his stable jockey Ryan Moore, who had done so much educational work on the gallops with the colt but had rejected him for the race. And his first pat on the back was for Umar Saleem, who tends to the latest Classic hero's everyday needs and whose pride in his charge was so evident.
But the behind-the-scenes plaudits go way beyond the training yard, particularly with an owner-bred horse like Conduit, who is an end product of 60 years of nurturing in the one spot, the sweet meadows at Ballymacoll Stud in Co Meath. And particularly in his individual case, for within half-an-hour of his birth his dam lay dead next to him, and if ever a newborn foal needed human efficiency, he did.
For all its rewards, both financial and emotional, the bloodstock business is not for the faint-hearted and the coming of Conduit was dreadfully difficult. Allanah Gilbert, in charge of the delivery ward at Ballymacoll, takes up his tale as the 16-year-old mare Well Head's ninth pregnancy reached its sad conclusion. "The foal was stuck half-way and we had been trying to help her," she said. "We pulled and pulled and pulled and, finally, he popped out.
"He was in a sorry state. His eyes were all bloodshot and he had blood in his nostrils, just from the pressures he had endured. His mum just never moved, just lay there in the straw. We brought him round to her head, and although she talked to him softly for a little bit, really she was out of it and she didn't last long. While we were tending her, he sat quietly in a corner, watching."
After Well Head died, she was milked to make sure her baby son had that vital first drink from his mother. "After we bottle-fed him we had to leave him, and he just cried and cried," said Gilbert, a 23-year-old New Zealander. "And he'd bang on the door with his little hoof. It was horrible and heart-rending, but for their own good you can't stay with orphans and cuddle them."
But for little Conduit – or Charles as he was known then – succour was on the way, in the form of a foster-mother. By the next morning she had arrived; not one of his sleek own racing kind, but a hairy-legged skewbald vanner in the best tradition of stout, matronly wet-nurses.
Mare and foal bonded almost immediately. "We'd bottle-fed him nearly 20 times, but it's not like the real thing and by then he was getting quite hungry," said Gilbert. "He'd have drunk a whole milk factory. He was sucking more than he could ever swallow and it was pouring out, all over his little face. Once he found her udder he was in heaven."
The youngster's early travails were not yet over, however. Once he was old enough to be put in a paddock with his contemporaries, his troubled start told against him, and he was bullied. Those picking on him included subsequent Derby runner-up Tartan Bearer. "We had to move him to be with foals younger and smaller than him," said Gilbert.
On the track, Conduit, a son of Arc winner Dalakhani, first burst on to the scene when he turned the 10-furlong handicap that opened Derby Day into a rout. "I'd gone that day mainly to watch Tartan Bearer," said Gilbert, "but after what Charles did, I almost forgot the Derby."
Horses have been reared at 300-acre Ballymacoll Stud, now managed by Peter Reynolds, for two centuries. Conduit's story there began when Dorothy Paget bought the place in 1946; the mares she moved in included his five-greats grand-dam Solana, whose daughter Sunny Gulf was among those acquired by Michael Sobell and his son-in-law Arnold Weinstock in their purchase of the estate in 1960.
Conduit's St Leger was the third for that family, after Sun Princess and Millenary, and the 48th Group One prize for the famous pale blue silks. And devoted Gilbert was on Town Moor to see it. "When he galloped past the post I had to double-check to make sure it had really happened," she said. "I'm proud of all of our horses, but this one has a special place in my heart."
Nap: Dialogue (Lingfield 3.20)
NB: La Adelita (Yarmouth 2.40)
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