A tarmacked laneway and a couple of well-placed signs took me to the rest of the visitors’ cars parked in front of bales packed to the rafters in an average sized barn.
Straw bedding fills up the walled space visible through an opened gate to your rear as the world-class sires - who reside just a short distance away – have earned their keep.
I didn’t know a gelding from a stallion but it dawns on me quite quickly that I’ve come to a magical and pristine place. There’s a short walk around old stables, sheds and a staff canteen, all of which fill up the place like arteries keeping the rest of the stud beating.
Eventually, you’re greeted with a marquee which is fitted out with chandeliers and a spread of food that would sate any appetite.
Mark Byrne of Ballylinch Stud is taking a timely tour out to the stallions; so the food will have to wait.
In truth, the experience had begun as soon as we arrived, for me anyway, as the setting alone is worthy of an open day in its own right.
Located just outside Thomastown, stone walls and expansive fields; dotted with lone trees, set the tone nicely for the powerful specimens that are about to emerge. Mark takes us up to the stables that house the first few stallions we’ll see.
The rain came just as New Bay was paraded for the over 20 visitors there at the time. The stallion – like all of the horses – had his name printed on a gold plate on his head collar.
He was a champion three-year-old and won the Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club in France and has a covering fee of €20,000. To hear the life narrative of the horses was intriguing and their long list of accomplishments and that of their off-spring.
Then there was the prized and spirited Lope de Vega who costs €60,000 to cover a mare. Mark said he could cover between 160 and 180 mares a year.
Lope de Vega is a poser (pictured above) and was fond of the camera. He looked right down the lens of the camera as if to say, “Be sure to get my good side!”
Lawman then emerged and was a horse that could easily have been cast as the lead equine protagonist in the film, ‘Black Beauty’. Make Believe has speed to burn, apparently. He broke the track record when he won the Group 1 Prix de la Forêt.
Other stallions, Fascinating Rock and New Bay, are due their first foals this year. The beauty of the open day was apparent; it removes the mystery between the high walls and the adjacent public road.
People – including members of the local community - get a look into the local, but world renowned stud.
We then walked down to the sixth stallion, Beat Hollow, but along the way we got to see the final resting place of The Tetrarch.
The stud became home to the famous “Spotted Wonder” in 1914. Mark said that The Tetrarch’s “head, heart and hooves” were laid in the ground where we stood after the legendary stallion’s death in 1935.
A tablet was erected in his memory by his owner Dermot McCalmont and it described The Tetrarch as a “dapple grey”. The “Spotted Wonder” was an unbeaten champion two-year-old. Though he struggled with fertility, his progeny included the 2,000 Guineas winner Tetratema.
Beat Hollow now resides in “Tetrarch’s Box” as it is affectionately known with managing director of the stud, John O’Connell, adding: “This is a famous, historic yard.” Beat Hollow meanwhile has achieved his own success and is a four-time Group 1 winner.
Over 130 people visited on the open day last Friday at Ballylinch with nearly double that expected on the Saturday. Since it was established in 1914 by Major McCalmont it has been a leading stallion stud.
Ballylinch was sold in 2014 to John and Leslie Malone, who also own Bridlewood Farm in Florida.
There were three more Kilkenny studs that took part in the open days and they included: Michael Shefflin’s Annshoon Stud in Mullinavat; the Kinsella family’s Knockhouse Stud in Kilmacow and lastly, Whytemount Stud in Kells, which is run by Ronnie O’Neill.
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