Amy Bennett, the Racing Post
WHILE it is not uncommon for racehorses to enjoy a mid-season break from training, it is rather more unusual to find them taking time out to cover a full book of mares before returning to their day job.
Such is the case with Gentleman’s Deal, winner of last Sunday’s Listed Ladybird Stakes on Kempton’s Polytrack, in which he broke the 1m course record.
Trained by Mick Easterby for owner Stephen Curtis, the six-year-old stallion last year took three months out of training to cover 40 mares at Richard and Maggie Lingwood’s Norton Grove Stud near Malton, North Yorkshire, before resuming his racing duties, and will follow the same pattern again this season, standing for an advertised fee of £1,200, before returning to the track. An impeccably bred son of Danehill, Gentleman’s Deal is the third foal out of the 1997 1,000 Guineas heroine Sleepytime, herself closely related to the outstanding performers Ali-Royal and Taipan.
On pedigree, Gentleman’s Deal fits the profile for Classic success but he was unraced at two, and opened his account on his second start at three, winning a 7f contest at Chepstow in August for trainer Ed Dunlop. He followed up with a victory on the all-weather surface at Wolverhampton in October, 2004.
Having missed the 2005 season, Gentleman’s Deal next appeared at the Tattersalls Horses in Training sale where Mick Easterby snapped him up for 26,000gns, a far more modest sum than the 460,000gns shelled out for him as a yearling by Gainsborough Stud Management.
The horse quickly began repaying his price tag, running out an easy winner at Southwell on New Year’s Day 2006, and he won again before failing to fire in the Lincoln Handicap.
It was then that he embarked on his second career, moving to Norton Grove Stud to cover 40 mares before returning to training at the end of June. He failed to show his best on turf in several runs after that, but a return to the all-weather yielded better results, and the six-year-old is now unbeaten in six starts on that surface, including Sunday’s record-breaking victory at Kempton.
The Lingwoods’ association with Easterby is long-standing as the trainer used to be a part-owner of the stud, and still sends his mares to be foaled at Norton Grove.
Richard Lingwood says that plans always called for Gentleman’s Deal to be returned to training last year after his initial season at stud.
“The plan from Mr Easterby was for the horse to come to us after the Lincoln – he was among the favourites for the race but he didn’t run too well – and then after he was finished covering, the plan was for him to go back into training, the same as this year.”
While many stallions would be reluctant to resume their racing careers after covering mares, Lingwood believes that Gentleman’s Deal’s character allows him to thrive in his dual role.
“He’s such a laid back horse, a real gentleman,” he says. “I thought going back into training after he had covered mares might unsettle him and I wondered what his reaction might be if he had to walk behind a mare in the paddock before a race, but the team at Sheriff Hutton said that he’s been fine and has taken it all in his stride.
“He covered one or two mares last season while he was still in training before the Lincoln just to show him what it was all about. He was so quiet and he wasn’t really a natural coverer. He was such a gentleman he couldn’t believe it when he was shown a mare!
“By the end of the season, though, he was covering like a professional. He came to us the week after the Lincoln last year and he was here until the back end of June. It was just a bit of a holiday for him really.”
Such was Gentleman’s Deal’s aptitude for the job that he managed to get 38 of his 40 mares in foal last season, although two mares have since died, so a crop of 36 is expected.
Lingwood is convinced that being race-fit helps the stallion’s fertility, although the team at Norton Grove do not have to keep him in racing condition.
He explains: “He doesn’t have a special exercise regime. Mr Easterby didn’t want him out in the field galloping around on firm ground as he’s had a bit of leg trouble in the past, so he goes on the walker and is led out in hand. Covering the mares keeps him fit as well.”
Remaining in training to contest the Lincoln last year meant that Gentleman’s Deal did not begin covering the bulk of his book until well over a month into the breeding season, and consequently his first foals are not expected to be on the ground until mid-March.
In light of his recent black-type success, Lingwood is confident that Gentleman’s Deal will once again prove popular with breeders.
“We’ve had a lot of enquiries about him, and after how well he’s been doing, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets over 50 mares this season,” he says. “Our other stallions are all getting on a bit and so it’s nice to have a young horse coming in who could do well.”
Norton Grove Stud is home to four stallions in addition to Gentleman’s Deal. Timeless Times and Presidium have enjoyed the most success, both proving a good source of juvenile winners over the years.
Among the best progeny of Timeless Times is the filly Aurigny, bred by the Lingwoods, who landed the St Hugh’s Stakes, while Presidium, a half-brother to Kris and Diesis, is responsible for such smart performers as the Group 3 winning sprinter Andreyev, and the multiple Grade 3 winner Mighty Forum.
As well as their stallions, Lingwood and his wife Maggie own a number of broodmares. Around 20 mares are full-time residents at the stud, with boarding mares joining those owned by the Lingwoods. A staff of five, including the Lingwoods’ daughter Tina, assist the couple.
Lingwood has been at Norton Grove Stud for over 40 years. He explains: “The stud was set up by Major Hudson, and I came up here in 1960 to work for him as stud groom.”
Although keeping five stallions is time consuming, mares form the bulk of business at the stud. “Our main job is doing the mares,” says Lingwood. “We foal about 70 mares a year, and walk them in to studs all around the country. We do sales prep as well, so we’re kept busy – there’s never a slack moment.”