April 17, 2008

by Neil Clarkson


Half brothers Lightning, left, and Ben, are best of mates.

Only time will tell whether best mates Ben and Lightning will be world-beaters on the racetrack, but one thing is certain - the two coloured thoroughbreds will certainly make a splash.

The two yearlings are blissfully unaware that they stand out from the crowd, playing on Paul and Shena Halliwell's West Down Stud in the rolling countryside of North Devon in England.

Ben was born on February 26 last year, becoming the first coloured full thoroughbred born in the United Kingdom. Lightning, his half-brother, was born about two months later.

"They are best buddies; really close," says Shena. They were stabled together when weaned and then had adjoining stables.

"When they're turned out for exercise, they follow each other everywhere, even when they race up and down the field."

The striking duo were sired by a US-imported stallion, I was Framed, who was the first coloured thoroughbred to be registered with British thoroughbred registry Weatherby's.

I Was Framed was sold to the Republic of Ireland after covering eight mares in the UK. Four of the resulting foals were coloured, four were solid.


Ben has proven to be an extrovert in the paddock.
The bloodlines of I Was Framed are impressive. His dam was Dance Spot, who won $US48,000 in stakes over a mile. Her dam, Dancebell, won more than $US200,000 during her race career.

On paper, Ben, who is a bay-coloured frame overo, has the most proven racing credentials of the pair. He is out of Fascimile, whose offspring have all been winners, including Picot de Say, who won three races in the space of 17 days.

All of this, of course, is over the head of Ben and Lightning, who is a black frame overo.

The pair are content to enjoy the comfortable life on offer at West Down Stud.

Shena admits the stud enjoyed the kind of luck in breeding the pair that would encourage anyone to buy a Lotto ticket.

For a start, they were lucky enough to breed two of the four coloured foals in the UK - and striking colour at that. Second, they are both colts. Third, they both carry the overo gene, meaning they should throw colour in half their offspring.

Both boys are nicely put together and are unmistakable as thoroughbreds.

Ben is slightly stronger in his build. He was a bold and cheeky foal who would not hesitate to canter up to the fence to greet visitors. Shena says he has mellowed a little since then, but still shows a lot of confidence.

"Lightning is a little bit quieter; he's not quite as confident," she says. He's friendly and has a nice temperament, but always takes a back seat to the extroverted Ben around people.

When they play, however, Lightning gives as good as he gets.


Lightning and Ben cruise their pasture in North Devon.
Paul and Shena have recently made the decision to sell Ben. They had considered selling shares in the horse, but were recently approached by a national magazine to update Ben's progress.

The approach prompted Paul and Shena to discuss the issue and they decided they would sell him, especially given that they would still have Lightning.

What price do you put on such a unique horse which, at the tender age of two weeks, already had three mares booked in for services?

Shena admits they don't really know. "We haven't got a price in our head," she says.

She said they had barely made the decision to sell when a couple of potential buyers got in touch. Some promotion is planned for next month and they will see how it goes.

His colouring and genes makes him unique enough, she says, but success on the racetrack would lift his value even more.

The Halliwell's stud is on 12 hectares of lush English countryside, where they breed not only thoroughbreds but Irish draughts and sport horses.

Shena said she became fascinated by the prospect of breeding a coloured thoroughbred when she first heard that I Was Framed was coming to the UK.

"I thought it would be nice to produce a successful racehorse that was different."

While some racing purists may curl their lip at the prospect of coloured thoroughbreds, Shena says: "There is no reason whatsoever that a coloured thoroughbred can't be as successful as a solid-coloured horse.

"A lot of greys have white patches," she points out.

For now, we can only look at their breeding and guess on the future racing fortunes of Ben and Lightning.

But win or lose, the pair will undoubtedly be adding some much-talked-about colour to future race meetings.