An American In Newmarket: In The Shadow Of A Castle, Highclere Yearlings Prepare To Shine At Sale

by | 10.17.2017 | 6:33pm
Lady Carolyn Warren at Highclere's consignment for Tattersalls October

Flipping through the catalogue for Tattersalls' premier October Sale of yearlings is a slightly different experience than browsing offerings at an American sale. The horses' catalogue pages are different, with greater space dedicated to female family, but the consignor index also has a few more line items. While commercial consignors – those that offer client horses for sale in exchange for a commission – became fixtures in the United States in the 1980s, the smaller, off-the-farm consignment still makes up the majority of offerings at Tattersalls.

Highclere Stud is an exception to that rule as one of the larger commercial consignors at this year's October sale in Newmarket. It is consistently among the top consignors for the books in which it sells by gross and average. It has also sold Postponed, top-rated British horse of 2016 and multiple Group 1 winner, classic winner Camelot, and the top two finishers in this year's G2 Mill Reef Stakes.

Highclere's operations are divided between the sales consignment, the racing division, and the stud in Berkshire, each of which is headed by a different member of the same family.

If you're an avid watcher of British dramas, you may be wondering if the name Highclere is a coincidence to Highclere Castle (filming location for the award-winning television series Downton Abbey). It's not: Lady Carolyn Warren, who runs the stud's sales division and daily farm operations, is daughter to Henry Herbert, seventh earl of Carnarvon, whose family has made its home at the castle for generations. Highclere's Thoroughbreds graze a couple of miles from the front door of the fictional Granthams.   

Having a title and a castle in the family does not mean Lady Warren is inclined to manage Highclere business from a lofty distance, however. As Highclere's Book 2 horses were arriving in Newmarket, Lady Carolyn was busy supervising their reactions to their new surroundings and advising staff on which horses should go in which types of equipment for their shows to buyers.

“I've always been quite hands-on,” she said. “I hope that if I'm involved, I know the horses very well; the more eyes that are on it, the better. I enjoy the hands-on bit. I'm never happier than when I'm with the horses. I'd much prefer to be with the horses than to sit in an office.”

Highclere's sales consignment business focuses on Book 1- and 2-type horses at upper-end sales, as well as selected mares in the winter. At this year's Tattersalls October, the consignment had a total of 45 yearlings on offer between the two books. The stud itself only has about 25 mares and sells its own yearlings, while offering its weanlings through other consignors.

A yearling parade at Highclere Stud, not far from the famous Highclere Castle

The prep process for Highclere yearlings spans about nine weeks, with occasional private shows for agents on the farm to demonstrate the horses' development. Hand-walking is a primary focus, just as it often is in the States, to build fitness and teach horses what to do at the sale.

“We've only got a certain amount of boxes [stalls] at Highclere and I like to have them all prepared at home,” she said. “We put a tremendous effort into the fact that each horse is an individual, so every horse has got its own individual program. We do plenty of walking in hand, which means it is very labor-intensive, but I feel it pays off because the horses are well-educated. They have to be fit. Some of the horses we're showing, 30, 40, 50 times a day.”

One of the reasons for that is to improve the staff's familiarity with each yearling before it comes to sale.

“As far as we're concerned, I think it's very important that the buyers and the vets who are acting on their behalf are able to talk to me directly about each horse and we know them,” she said.

Horses have been in Lady Warren's blood for generations, and she says she can't remember a time when she didn't want horses to be her life. She grew up riding eventers as a child and despite discouragement from her father, was determined to have a hand in the family business.

“My father did his very best to put me off, but he didn't succeed. I think he longed for me to go and do something else, but horses were my passion. I've always been very interested in nutrition and diet and all of that kind of thing. This was a natural progression, but one is hugely dependent on people you have working for you,” she said, acknowledging Highclere could not function so well without its team of managers.

Highclere was established in 1902 as Siddown Warren Stud by the fifth Earl of Carnarvon (Lady Carolyn's great-grandfather), who purchased a mare called Grand Prix for 700 guineas (roughly $973). Grand Prix became the dam of Malva, who was the dam of 1930 classic winner Blenheim. The sixth earl was a well-known amateur jockey, and the seventh earl, Lady Carolyn's father, was racing advisor to Queen Elizabeth II. Upon her father's death in 2001, Lady Carolyn's husband John Warren took over the racing advisor role and the couple opened the consignment business to outside clients.

“It was an established stud farm and has been for a long time, but we needed to make a commercial business of it, so as far as the stud is concerned, John and our son, Jake, are very much involved in the stallion business,” she said.

Besides his duties advising on the Queen's horses, John Warren focuses on the purchasing of mares for Highclere. Lady Warren's brother, Harry Herbert, manages Highclere Thoroughbred Racing, which syndicates racing prospects purchased at sale. Through the start of this year, the racing arm has seen 26 percent of its syndicates produce black type horses and has campaigned champions Harbinger, Memory, and Motivator. The family makes an effort to keep each component of Highclere operations separate, though family members do gather to choose matings for mares together.

Although Lady Warren loves the hands-on work of Highclere Stud, she admits the racetrack is the real source of thrills for her. That is where she receives her final grades for her work at the sale grounds.

“Ultimately, this is only a very small part of the life of a racehorse. What we're trying to do is breed and consign good racehorses,” she said. “This moment is a beauty contest. You're really judged on what you sell as performers.

“It's the racecourse that gives us the deep satisfaction. This is just the beginning of the process, really.”

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