By Ken Nicol/Turf Talk
South Africa: We live in uncertain times, something which perennial high achiever Craig Kieswetter of Ridgemont Highlands knows only too well.
In 2014 the now 33-year-old one-day specialist was an established England cricketer with 71 internationals behind him, and the wicketkeeper/batsman had been named man of the match when his 63 helped the Three Lions win the ICC Twenty20 World Cup of 2010.
But all that ended in a moment while playing for Somerset that summer. A delivery from Northamptonshire paceman David Willey caused severe eye damage which ultimately led to retirement.
“It was devastating at the time, but I’m truly fortunate that I still have vision in that eye,” he recalls.
“But when one door closes another opens. It created the opportunity for me to get involved and keep dad in check and on a tight rope here on the farm,” he adds jokingly (I think) about family patriarch Wayne Kieswetter.
Craig is talking about the much decorated Robertson stud farm, which is the local flagship of the Ridgemont Highlands operation, a leader in South African breeding and racing. Among others, the stud stands three-time Royal Ascot winner Canford Cliffs.
“Ridgemont Highlands encompasses the original Highlands Stud Farm, and the farm we have purchased in Wellington, which is a breaking in, pre-training and spelling operation,” says Kieswetter.
“Malan du Toit (equine behaviourist) comes in three times a week there to work with all the babies. It offers a really good grounding, not just for our horses, but for other clients who want to send their horses to a proper state-of-the-art facility.
“We tried to build it on similar lines to a place called Longholes, which is just outside Newmarket in the UK. We also own a stud farm in Tipperary called Barnane and there are a few in training in the UK, including Urban Fox, who won the G1 Pretty Polly in Ireland, and has three G1 seconds in England and France.
“There are four mares there in foal to Southern Hemisphere time, and we will bring the progeny back here.”
Whisky Baron, the 2017 Sun Met hero, lives on site as well. “He’s basically the king of Barnane and enjoying a very luxurious lifestyle,” says Kieswetter. “He’s in stable number one, which has an open window into the office.”
Craig and younger brother Ross weren’t necessarily born into a life in racing.
“My paternal grandfather owned horses trained by Chris Snaith and my father rode work there when he was young,” the former cricket star says.
“But my parents only got back into racing and breeding when my brother Ross and I left home, and they had more time.
“Obviously it’s grown exponentially in a relatively short period of time and it’s a family business. My father is still very much involved and Ross runs the farm in Wellington, along with his fiancée Julia, and we’’re very lucky to have Craig Carey in Robertson, who has been an integral part from the very beginning.
“His blood is Ridgemont blue, and he has a wealth of industry knowledge and experience unrivalled in this country.”
The Kieswetters have certainly bought some prime breeding stock overseas, with recent G1 Cape Flying Championship winner Run Fox Run a prime example.
“Since we took over in 2017, there have been around 50 black-type horses that have raced for, or been bred on the farm,” says Craig.
“For this coming breeding season we have six full black-type maiden mares, including names like Front And Centre, Miss Florida, Freedom Charter and Nastergal, which is very exciting.”
Front And Centre is in-foal to their exciting young stallion Canford Cliffs, whose first Ridgemont Highlands-bred progeny go to the CTS National Premier Yearling Sale on March 14.
“The quality of his foals and yearlings is quite outstanding,” says Kieswetter. “But he won five G1 races in Europe so it’s not surprising. He really stamps his progeny, and what impresses us the most is their athleticism.”
Rafeef has also got off to a flyer with his first juveniles to race. “Rafeef is impeccably bred and an absolute monster of a horse,” says Kieswetter.
“All of his two-year-olds to have raced so far have won or placed and it’s all there for him to be a brilliant pure speed stallion, which this country obviously enjoys. With Potala Palace we have three great young stallions, and Jackson is still here as well.”
Looking to the future, Kieswetter has a vision: “Everyone wants to achieve the holy grail of champion breeder, but that is very much a numbers game. The end goal is to breed strong, healthy, happy horses that want to race and can be champions.
“We are driven to be the best breeding and racing operation in the country. Not necessarily in terms of numbers – but we want a full black type producing broodmare band who ultimately can produce stock good enough to compete and win overseas, when that is possible again.
“We want to create the perfect product.”
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