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Q&A with Fernrigg Farm

7 min read
Fernrigg Farm, run by Rae-Louise Charlton and Padraig Kelly, is a 70 acre property located in the heart of the Hunter Valley. The farm has made a strong start at some of the major bloodstock sales under the tutelage of Charlton and Kelly.

TDN AusNZ's Gary King sat down with the couple to discuss all things Fernrigg.

TDN AusNZ: You've achieved a lot at Fernrigg Farm in a relatively short period of time. What has been the highlight?

Padraig Kelly: It has been an action-packed first year at Fernrigg Farm. Our biggest highlight was achieving a 100% clearance rate at our first-ever sale at Magic Millions in January. Our draft included the highest-priced Star Witness yearling sold at public auction last year which was purchased by Spendthrift Australia (lot 853 for $360,000).

Our yearlings were very well received and it was fantastic for us that they were purchased by some of the best judges in the industry including Duncan Ramage, Bill Mitchell, Prime Thoroughbreds, Blue Sky and Waterford Bloodstock, who will give them every opportunity to succeed.

"Our biggest highlight was achieving a 100% clearance rate at our first-ever sale at Magic Millions in January." - Padraig Kelly

The highest priced Star Witness colt sold at auction in 2018, sold by Fernrigg Farm

TDN AusNZ: Could you briefly describe your career path to this point?

Rae-Louise Charlton: I began my career in this industry at the age of 16 on a National Hunt stud on the Scottish border before moving down to Watership Down in Newbury. During my three years there I learnt about nutrition, preparing yearlings for sale and developing top-class bloodlines. I was then advised to take a trip overseas to broaden my knowledge and further my career, and so I travelled to Lexington, Kentucky. I spent five years at Lane’s End Farm, a 12-time leading stud farm, and gained a wealth of knowledge about exercising yearlings, conformation exams, bandaging, treatments, etc.

My final journey led me to Australia where I made Widden Stud my home for five memorable years. During my time as yearling manager I had the privilege of preparing and selling champions such as Dissident, Star Turn, Stratum Star and Sunlight, to name but a few.

Rae-Louise and a Fernrigg yearling

"During my time as yearling manager I had the privilege of preparing and selling champions such as Dissident, Star Turn, Stratum Star and Sunlight, to name but a few." - Rae-Louise on her time as yearling manager at Widden

PK: My passion for the Thoroughbred industry can be attributed to Mr. J.P. McManus and those at Martinstown Stud in Kilmallock, Co. Limerick, where I worked during my Christmas and summer holidays from veterinary college. It was incredible to work with horses of the calibre of Istabraq, who won three Champion Hurdles and Risk Of Thunder, who won an unprecedented seven La Touche Cups.

Following my graduation from University College Dublin in 2007 I completed a surgical internship at Hagyards Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Kentucky. I am currently the Head Veterinarian at Coolmore Australia and this will be my 11th season at the farm.

TDN AusNZ: Have you any advice to someone wanting to start out on their own?

PK: It has been a steep learning curve for us in our first year. We would advise anyone who is contemplating starting out on their own to, firstly, gain as much experience as possible in all facets of the industry and be prepared to work extremely hard to achieve your ambitions. There will be some very tough days that can be challenging to deal with, so it is important to recognise and appreciate all the good ones when they come along.

The Fernrigg Farm team at the Magic Millions

"We would advise anyone who is contemplating starting out on their own to, firstly, gain as much experience as possible in all facets of the industry and be prepared to work extremely hard to achieve your ambitions." - Padraig Kelly

TDN AusNZ: How involved are you with helping clients on their mating plans? Or does it differ from client to client?

RLC: It does depend on the client. Some of our clients have done their own successful matings for many years while others have established relationships with bloodstock agents who do their matings each year. We do all our own matings for our boutique band of broodmares and we also help and advise a growing number of our clients regarding their matings, especially with the physical match-ups. We are very conscious of trying to breed a horse that not only will be a commercial sales proposition but more importantly a successful race horse.

PK: When we took over this property from Martin Byrne, something that really impressed us was the number of stakes winners he had achieved from a small broodmare band in a few short years. For example dual Group 1 winner Yankee Rose was born and bred on these paddocks, as was Acatour, Well Sprung, Tawteen and Moss Trip. We hope we can continue the success Martin has achieved and that many more group winners will be bred at Fernrigg over the coming years.

Dual Group 1 winner Yankee Rose was raised on the same paddocks as Fernrigg Farm, pictured here winning the G1 Spring Champion Stakes

TDN AusNZ: What stallions do you think represent good value this season?

RLC: One stallion who we really like is Dissident. I actually led him through the ring during my first sale in Australia and therefore, followed his success on the track with great interest. He certainly proved himself to be a champion, winning five Group 1s and being crowned Horse of the Year.

There aren’t many Australian horses being retired to stud with that proven performance record. We have been extremely impressed with his yearlings and weanlings we inspected at the sales, and last year we sold four of his progeny.

Rae-Louise believes Dissident represents good value this season

One of those was purchased by the syndicate that raced Dissident himself. He was a cracking type and my favourite horse in the draft so I asked if I could stay in for a small percentage. Darren Weir trains him and he has done everything correct to this point, so I hope we have a lot of fun and success with him.

We have another really nice, forward colt by him this year which will be aimed at the Magic Millions in January and one of our best foals on the ground this season is a Dissident filly who is a first foal out of an Exceed and Excel mare.

Coincidentally our first mare covered this season went to my old friend too and she scanned in foal on Monday, which hopefully bodes well for a successful and fertile breeding season ahead.

"There aren’t many Australian horses being retired to stud with that proven performance record." - Rae-Louise on Dissident

PK: There are some exciting first-season sires to choose from this year but one I have been fortunate to spend time with, and study at close quarters, is Merchant Navy. I accompanied him on his return flight to Australia to commence stud duties, along with his sire, Fastnet Rock. His temperament was impeccable and nothing fazed him during the entire trip.

As a racehorse he possessed an explosive turn of foot, that which he displayed down the Flemington straight in the Coolmore, and then again at Royal Ascot. One funny quirk he displays at feed time is, if anybody looks in over his stable door while his head is in the feed bin, he pins his ears back, as if to say “Please do not disturb”. He has let down into a beautiful horse over the past six weeks and we are delighted to be sending a couple of mares to him this season.

WATCH: Merchant Navy is Padraig's pick of the first season sires

TDN AusNZ: What does the future hold for Fernrigg Farm?

RLC & PK: We hope that the next few years will be just as exciting and rewarding as our first. The feedback has been extremely positive from those that purchased yearlings from our drafts this year. To hear that they broke in early and were so well mannered is very pleasing to hear and a credit to our staff who do such a professional job in educating these young horses at home and preparing them for the sales. We cannot wait to watch the first Fernrigg graduates hit the track this year and we will be cheering them home for their new owners.