Magical Dream

18 November 2023

What started as a dream is now a thriving business as WH Bloodstock for friends Mimi Wadham and Violet Hesketh.

We were really good friends and thought it would be really good fun to set up a business together but it was a dream rather than an actual plan.

What started as a dream is now a thriving business as WH Bloodstock for friends Mimi Wadham and Violet Hesketh

Like all good friends, Mimi Wadham and Violet Hesketh have a tendency to finish each other’s sentences. That is not the only evidence of the synchronicity that exists between the pair, either, as their joint efforts under the WH Bloodstock banner show they possess a flourishing talent for raising and trading high-quality thoroughbreds.

In relatively short time and from only select numbers they have already sold eight black type winners, most notably the Irish Oaks heroine Magical Lagoon and this year’s Nell Gwyn Stakes scorer Mammas Girl, as well as yearlings that have cost as much as 650,000gns. Their list of achievements grew further at this year’s Tattersalls July Sale when they sold the top lot, Seventh Heaven’s sister Sweet And Lovely, to BBA Ireland for 350,000gns.

The pair, both 32, established WH Bloodstock in 2018 after meeting on the Godolphin Flying Start programme. Although they have rapidly become serious players on the sales scene, they concede the notion of setting up a business together began as little more than a distant ambition.

“We were really good friends and thought it would be really good fun to set up a business together but it was a dream, rather than an actual plan,” says Wadham, before Hesketh picks up the thread, saying:

“We were both interested in consigning and pinhooking but we left the Flying Start and went to do different jobs respectively; Mimi went to Highclere and I worked for Charlie Gordon-Watson, amongst other things.

We thought it would be really good fun to set up a business together but it was a dream, rather than an actual plan

“It wasn’t until about a year after the Flying Start that we decided we definitely wanted to do it. We’d both moved up to Yorkshire, Mimi to work for Kevin Ryan and I was working a breeze-up season with Roger Marley, and that’s when we started putting the plan together.”

Having devised their strategy in Yorkshire, Hesketh and Wadham decamped to Berkshire to set up base at Hollington Stud just a stone’s throw from Highclere. The importance of finding suitable premises is not to be underestimated, and the WH team had something of a Sliding Doors moment before signing the lease on the place they call home. They have since added to their capacity by renting additional paddock space from their neighbour, Georg von Opel of Westerberg, taking their patch to 120 acres.

“We’d looked at a few places that just didn’t have the right feel,” says Wadham. “Then I bumped into a friend of my parents called Sue Huntingdon, who I told we were on the lookout for a place.

“It almost feels like fate as the very next day she went to a dinner party with our now landlord and found out about the stud. She rang me straight away and when we saw it, it was hard not to fall in love with it. It’s incredibly beautiful and has great land. We’re so lucky that the opportunity to rent from Georg came about too, otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to expand as we have done.”

WH Bloodstock’s steep upward curve has been, at least in part, underpinned by some astute, and not to mention bold, pinhooks. The signs were there from the start as the very first public offering under their own name, a 35,000gns Tamayuz colt, went the way of Shadwell for £110,000 at the Goffs UK Premier Sale.

That initial outlay is comfortably eclipsed by the kind of investments the pair have become accustomed to in more recent years, such as the 375,000gns they gave for the Invincible Spirit colt subsequently named New York City. That six-figure gamble paid off in style when the youngster was knocked down to Coolmore’s MV Magnier at 600,000gns the following year.

It is tempting, then, to think the transformation from rookies to high-rollers has been little short of seamless, but the pair are quick to set the record straight.

From then it feels like we’ve progressed each year as we’ve fine-tuned the process

“We’re not afraid to admit we were very green back in 2018,” says Wadham. “We did actually have a lovely touch that year with a Tamayuz colt, which helped put us on the map, but the following year was a bit disappointing. From then it feels like we’ve progressed each year as we’ve fine-tuned the process.”

“You certainly learn from your mistakes,” Hesketh adds in a tone that suggests there have been plenty. “Touch wood, we don’t seem to be making the same mistake twice.”

Although there may have been some harsh lessons along the way, the market gave Wadham and Hesketh’s work an A star grading during a buoyant sales season in 2022. Among a host of fruitful results they doubled their money on a Wootton Bassett filly who went the way of Justin Casse, acting on behalf of MV Magnier, at 500,000gns, while the promising New Bay colt Devil’s Point went from €200,000 foal to 475,000gns yearling when signed for by Richard Knight.

“The expensive pinhooks are tough because all eyes are on you and if it doesn’t go well you know everyone is talking about it,” says Wadham. “But when it does go well you get serious kudos for having the balls to actually try. Last year we had two that cost over 200,000gns and both doubled their money, which is fantastic.”

Having refined their pinhooking formula, one success has quickly led to another. They have not only been able to increase the scale of their investments but their slice of the action too.

Reflecting on their pinhooking triumphs Hesketh says: “We’ve increased our numbers every year and each year we’ve managed to turn a profit. Some years it hasn’t been a massive profit, but last year was particularly good so we piled in again and bought 12 foals.”

“We’ve got a few syndicates but what’s fantastic about the successes is that we’ve been able to put more of our own equity in,” adds Wadham. “Yes, that means more risk but also more reward, whereas in the early days we were very much the minority shareholders.”

Selling such valuable young thoroughbreds is not without its pressures, even if great risk can mean great reward. So how do the pair cope with the tension?

“Violet used to be a terrible box-walker but she’s got better…and I’ve got worse!” says Wadham, while Hesketh adds: “You’ve got to have thick skin to do it but I can still get very, very nervous before they head into the ring.”

Not all of WH Bloodstock’s offerings are pinhooks, though, as they have also been entrusted with the stock of a growing number of significant breeders.

Their expanding clientbase includes Coolmore, for whom they sold Magical Lagoon. The daughter of Galileo was purchased by YuLong Investments through BBA Ireland’s Michael Donohoe for 305,000gns.  She went on to win the Group 1 Irish Oaks and the Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot.

“She had the most amazing temperament,” says Hesketh, before Wadham continues: “She was a stunning filly; she had that proper Galileo walk, a real swagger, and she was absolutely bombproof at the sales. You never know, do you, but she had all the right attributes to be a proper racehorse.”

These two new clients came to us via bloodstock agents, and I think that came about through them seeing our horses at the sales, recognising that they look well and that we do a good job and then recommending us to their clients

It is clear how much the pair value the backing of their various clients. So too is the satisfaction that their results are being recognised. Although they are unable to name names, WH Bloodstock will be selling on behalf of two new “significant” breeders in 2023, business they believe has been picked up on the back of their successes in the ring and on the track.

“We don’t want to be a massive consignment but it’s great consigning for a range of different clients,” says Hesketh. “That’s something we’ve been working on and is picking up. We’ve been very lucky to know Jamie McCalmont, who’s been a big supporter of ours. He’s introduced us to a lot of good clients, namely Westerberg, who we’re fortunate to consign some horses on behalf of.”

“These two new clients came to us via bloodstock agents, and I think that came about through them seeing our horses at the sales, recognising that they look well and that we do a good job and then recommending us to their clients,” says Wadham. “It’s a huge compliment to get business that way and we’re fortunate that we don’t have to go out looking for it too much. This isn’t meant to sound complacent, but the better clients tend to come to you.”

When WH Bloodstock was founded they initially offered breaking and pre- training, but that has been shelved and the focus shifted solely to the mares, yearlings and foals that reside at Hollington. They have also begun breeding their own stock and the pair’s first homebred, a Kodiac colt out of Sky Lantern’s relation Forty Four Sunsets, is among this year’s juvenile crop.

“We have two broodmares,” says Hesketh. “Forty Four Sunsets is in foal to Havana Grey and has a Kodiac in training with William Haggas. We’ve also bought our first stallion share in Dubawi Legend. We bought a mare by Harzand especially to go to him so she’s in Ireland with Luke Barry at Manister House. If we have a good year we’ll definitely look at buying more mares.”

They have also dabbled in the horses- in-training market having bought into Nizaaka, a daughter of New Bay who rattled off a hat-trick at the July Course last summer and took her official rating from 72 to 98 in the process.

“We bought into her with clients of ours called Jastar Capital and sent her to the best trainer of New Bays around in Jane Chapple-Hyam!” says Hesketh. Wadham adds: “We’ve had great fun and that’s been a really enjoyable experience. She’ll stay in training this year and then head to the breeding shed, or possibly the sales. We wouldn’t rule out doing something similar again, provided we can find the right filly at the right price.”

The operation is boutique in the truest sense of the word, with the emphasis firmly on quality over quantity. This means that WH Bloodstock runs with the support of just two full-time staff in stud groom Masawwer Alam and stud hand Jamie Howarth, and a sales team headed up by the experienced Brian Cahill.

“We’re so lucky that we have a really good team,” says Hesketh. “They’re amazing and it’s great to know that when we’re at the sales everything is being really well looked after at home. We all muck in together, mucking out, lunging. We try to split it up evenly so everyone does a bit of everything.”

On the future direction of WH Bloodstock, Wadham says: “We’re determined to stay a boutique operation. Although we’ve expanded since 2018, the quality has also improved and I don’t think we’d ever want to get too big. We’re boarding seven mares at the moment and I think we’d like to get that up to around 15, with maybe five of those being our own. That’s the level we’d like to be at. Not too much bigger.”

Hesketh joins in to add: “We’d like to up the quality of our broodmares though as it would be great to be selling some Dubawi and Frankel yearlings down the line!”

While running a business invariably means focussing on matters like clientele and profit margins, there remains an essential quality at the heart of WH Bloodstock: a deep bond between friends who are committed to their craft.

Given how far they’ve already come, there’s no telling what the future holds.

“I couldn’t believe the strength of trade last year”

WH Bloodstock will be busier than ever during the upcoming sales season with 40 yearlings to sell between the key auctions in Britain, France and Ireland. Proceedings begin at Arqana, with their debut Deauville draft consisting of colts by sire on fire Wootton Bassett and the exciting first-crop representative Pinatubo. 

The former, the first foal out of Airlie Stud Stakes runner-up Precious Moments, cost 250,000gns as a foal, while the latter, a half-brother to Pavilion Stakes scorer Dubai Station, fetched 140,000gns when sourced in conjunction with Atlas Bloodstock. 

“It’s slightly unknown territory but we’re really looking forward to it,” says Hesketh. Wadham chimes in to add: “Violet made a valid point the other day that these yearlings were conceived the year that France wouldn’t allow mares to travel out of the country, so there might be a bit more scarcity value selling stock by British or Irish sires. They both look like nice, solid two-year-old types with very good pedigrees.” 

There will also be consignments offered at Goffs UK in Doncaster and at Goffs in Ireland, with a well-related Zoustar colt leading the line at the latter. “He’s a lovely, strong, strapping colt and the stallion is doing well,” says Hesketh, before Wadham adds: “This colt is an absolute beast so he could be the type who’ll appeal to American buyers that come to the Orby Sale.” 

WH Bloodstock have enjoyed some memorable days at Tattersalls and are set fair to bring another strong draft to Book 1 of the October Yearling Sale, where their pinhooks are a 130,000gns son of Kitten’s Joy and a €95,000 daughter of Dark Angel. 

“I think we have five or six for Book 1, of which two are pinhooks,” says Hesketh. “There’s a Kitten’s Joy colt who was bred by Ringfort, who are very good breeders. He’s very, very nice. And we have a Dark Angel filly from the family of Tahiyra, so she’s from a lovely Aga Khan pedigree. Then we have three or four for clients. Hopefully we might be selling one by Justify too. He can do no wrong at the moment so that’s exciting.” 

An optimistic outlook is essential for anyone who trades bloodstock for a living, but there are plenty of solid reasons for positivity too as the market continues in seemingly rude health. 

“I couldn’t believe the strength of trade last year. It was across the board but I’ve never seen Doncaster so busy. We barely sat down, we were just showing all day,” says Wadham, before Hesketh adds: “Looking at the results from this year’s breeze-ups has to bode well for the yearling sales. It looks like everyone got well paid there so they’ll certainly be looking to fill up their stables again.” 

Magical Lagoon as a Yearling, when she sold for 350,000 Gsn

Article: Owner Breeder August 2023