The recent fine effort from Magic Dawn, in a big Newmarket handicap, underlined the growing prowess hailing from Hunting Hill Stud.
Located in Castletownroche, in Fermoy, County Cork, the stud farm covers almost 100 acres.
Run by Connor Quirke and Kathryn Birch, the stud farm has a long history.
Course Specialist recently caught up with Conor to get a flavour for the challenges and exciting aims for Hunting Hill Stud.
Who does what at Hunting Hill Stud?
Kathryn Birch and myself run the farm day to day, with my father Walter assisting with the bovine and tillage portion of the farm. It’s very much a family affair and we concentrate on the unparalleled one-on-one treatment of the horses. We own and run the farm but have no set titles!
What is the history of Hunting Hill Stud and how did it get its name?
The name of the property originated in the 17th century when the property served as a deer farm for the neighbouring Annes Grove estate. We are just writing the latest chapter of what has been a rich history.
The property itself is steeped in family history. The Quirke name has been over the door for close on 300 years now, the old house, which would have been the main dwelling up until the middle of the last century, still stands proudly in the middle of the yard, so it is hard to forget the blood, sweat and tears that have been shed to improve the place.
My great grand uncle left the farm in the late 1800’s to become a priest in America, himself a venerable horseman. His photo still adorns the mantelpiece; the story goes that he traded horses with famed outlaw Jesse James!
Where is it located and how many acres does the stud and facilities cover? What advantages do you have from the location?
We’re based in the Blackwater Valley in North Cork, on rich limestone land spanning close to 100 acres. The farm has been nurtured as a rich arable and livestock unit up to our takeover. We still keep an angus herd and crop production ensures we produce our own top quality straw bedding along with our own hay. We can take very little credit for the great management of previous generations, the rewards of which we are reaping today!
We are very lucky to be situated in a thoroughbred breeding hotbed and as a result we have access to the very best of farrier and veterinary care.
To date, investment, conversion and refurbishment has already taken place to ensure that peak results can be achieved by the equine residents! Our main asset is the broad exposure and experience myself and Kathryn have gathered globally, also our low stocking rate allows us to grant greater individual treatment to our residents.
What facilities do you have, how many employees – and what are the primary functions of the stud?
We are very much a family run entity. Myself and Kathryn tend to the day to day care of all the animals. We are present for all foalings and just about every first thereafter! My father Walter is never too far away and his agricultural and animal husbandry knowledge is invaluable, whilst not a horseman, he has thrived on his late introduction to the thoroughbred!
We have refurbished and customised old stables and converted the majority of existing buildings for the benefit of the horses, including a purpose built foaling box and vetting area. Plans are afoot to install a horse walker and lunge ring but for now we are concentrating on consolidating the quality of our stock, which, on a budget is no mean feat!
How many horses do you have based there?
At the moment our own herd numbers twelve, including young stock. That swelled during the breeding season as we took on some clients, which happily resulted in a 100% conception rate!
We are in our infancy having bought two mares at the sales in late 2017, with one foal born here last year and four this year (of which only one was conceived here). We are excited for next year’s crop which will be the first which has been conceived on the farm and contains some exciting matings.
Tell me about your own background, were you raised with horses and what work have you done prior to joining Hunting Hill Stud?
My father took over the farm soon after I was born and obviously my exposure to animals and farming has stood me in good stead. It was not until much later that I developed a passion for horse racing. A memorable gamble on Hurricane Fly certainly helped me to delve deeper into the complexity of racing. Having completed an equine course in 2014 I was lucky enough to work with Tony Williams (now Managing Director of Goffs UK) in Australia, I couldn’t have learned from a better man at that early stage!
Kathryn grew up around horses, her family kept ex-racehorses and her love and empathy for animals meant she was always destined to work with them in some capacity. She completed a stint at the British Racing School along with spells at Donald McCain and Paul Green. Following an injury received from a fall she was forced to take a sabbatical from racing. We subsequently met on the National Stud breeding course in 2015.
From there we completed consecutive breeding seasons in both hemispheres working at world renowned farms including Arrowfield Stud, Yarraman Park, Gilltown Stud, Haunui Farm and Lanes End farm among others. Working in all facets of operations the world over has been amazing, it’s a tremendous industry for young people.
What are the biggest successes you have enjoyed to date?
Obviously for a small fledgling operation on a limited budget, the victories have been small to date. We believe we have been astute in our early purchases but the market will soon judge us!
Our clients’ positive response to early results are definitely rewarding.
What are the economic challenges you face?
Obviously trying to generate income to run the farm and invest simultaneously has been difficult but it is a passion and with this year’s crop headed for the sales very soon, opportunities abound!
It is said that breeders are selling the dream, however I am certainly a dreamer myself! We stand over the fact that we do not breed anything we wouldn’t be happy to race ourselves so hopefully not too many economic challenges await us in the future!
Has Brexit had an impact?
I think it is more the uncertainty of Brexit which has cast a slight shadow over us but we are part of a very resilient industry and greener pastures are never far away.
What for you are the secrets of your success?
Passion, positive attitude and a genuine love for the animal! Kathryn is also somewhat of a perfectionist!
From your time travelling what are the main things you have learned?
Each nation views the horse differently and ours is a blend of what we feel has been done best. The horse is a flight animal and roams wild naturally and for us, that is the key, creating a natural and safe environment for the horses to develop. We are blessed with a perfect habitat to grow out youngstock and we harness that to get the best results.
The prime example L can draw on is the contrast of yearlings wintered in Kentucky against those wintered in Florida. The Floridian yearlings were obviously more forward in their coats but on average had less established “bone” through there foreleg. This is assumed to be down to the lower impact sandy soils of Florida against the bedrock of Kentucky!
It sounds complicated but without nature, it is harder to nurture and thankfully we have the ideal environment here at Hunting Hill.
Since taking over Hunting Hill Stud, what have been the main things you have learned or adapted?
Having previously been a livestock farm we have primarily replaced fencing and refurbished buildings for the use of horses.
Are there particular bloodlines or stallions that attract you?
We have mares sired by what some would consider obscure stallions! Pedigree analysis and nicking is a personal passion. Matings are not taken lightly and each sales catalogue is pored over for hours. We took time to visit farms around the world and view stallions at every opportunity, our perspective is truly global.
While it is a very fickle market, I believe fashion is temporary and class is permanent. “Hope value” is just that and nothing can take away from achievements gained by a proven stallion or a blacktype relation.
Thoroughbred breeding is not a “get rich quick” scheme and in the long run it pays to breed for the racetrack as opposed to the sales ring.
Outcross mares and stallions hold a very important place in the breed moving forward!
What can we look forward to from Hunting Hill Stud over the coming months/year?
This season will see our maiden consignment at the sales.
Hopefully we will have four homebred foals heading to the sales, including a half brother to highly rated Majestic Dawn and a full sister to the exciting Reloaded.
Quickly following on from that will be a busy foaling season, as the cycle repeats itself! Hoping to welcome another crop of exciting prospects.
What are your hopes and aims for the next five years?
As our first homebred crops reach racing age it will be great to see all our efforts come to fruition.
Consistent growth and development of the farm and client base would be great.
Where can people find out more about Hunting Hill Stud?
We have a Facebook page for all updates on the farm and we would be happy to field any enquiries at email@example.com