52 stallions and counting…

Dalham Hall Stud’s head stallion man Ken Crozier discusses his years with the Darley stallions
Ken Crozer with former Dalham Hall resident Halling

1983. Breakfast television started on BBC1, Margaret Thatcher won a second General election and seatbelts for drivers became compulsory. In the smaller world of racing, Lester Piggott landed his ninth and final Derby on Teenoso, a two-year-old colt called Sadler’s Wells made a winning debut at Leopardstown, and Touching Wood stood his first season at Dalham Hall Stud for 7,000 guineas.

The St Leger winner’s first season at stud was also the first full year at Dalham Hall Stud for Ken Crozier, head stallion man for nearly 30 years. In that time, Ken has seen the operation grow from small beginnings with just one or two stallions to a thriving commercial business.

A native of Roxburghshire in the Scottish Borders, Ken’s first job in the industry was at the Duke of Roxburghe’s Floors Stud.

“My older brother had been down in Newmarket for years, working with horses, and I always wanted to work with the horses too. I used to go to Floors after school and at weekends and they eventually offered me a job there. I left school at 15, much to the disgust of my teachers, and started working there full-time,” Ken explains.

“They used to have everything there, stallions, broodmares, hunters, point-to-pointers, polo ponies… We did everything and it was a sound grounding. The stud groom there was a great man.”

Ken’s first experience with stallions came at Floors Stud, then owned by the 9th Duke, father of the current Duke, Guy, who succeeded to the title, and to ownership of the stud, in 1974.

When Ken joined the stud in 1969, it was home to Guide, a useful Stakes performer in his own right and a half-brother to the supremely talented Ballymoss. He was followed by Sweet Story, a Roxburghe homebred closely related to the smart sire Sovereign Path.

It was through Floors Stud that Ken made his first visits to Newmarket.

“I used to come down to Newmarket for the sales a lot and funnily enough, I thought it was a place I never wanted to live!” he says now. “But then Alec Notman, who was stud manager here offered me a job and I came in as stallion man.”

Ken casts a watchful eye over the annual stallion parade at Dalham Hall

Ken started work at Dalham Hall Stud on 18 October 1982. The 160-acre site had been purchased by Sheikh Mohammed 13 months previously, and was home to just one stallion, Great Nephew, whose son Shergar had won the previous year’s Epsom Derby and was now settling into his own stud career in Ireland.

“The horse that they thought they were going to get didn’t materialise so I came here as a stallion man without a stallion!” Ken recalls. “But then Sheikh Hamdan retired Touching Wood, who had just won the St Leger, and he stood here for the 1983 season. He then went to Aston Upthorpe and Shareef Dancer came here in the autumn of 1983.”

During the 1980s, there was never more than two or three stallions based at Dalham Hall Stud at any one time, although those that did stand there were among the greatest racing talents of the decade; such as Dancing Brave, Reference Point and the champion sprinter Ajdal.

Ken took over his current role as head stallion man in 1987, following the retirement of Tommy Frood, and believes that the turning point in Dalham Hall Stud becoming the commercial operation that it is today happened around four years later, when Machiavellian retired to the stud.

Shareef Dancer

He estimates that during his time at Dalham Hall Stud, over 50 stallions have come under his care. Of all of those, he nominates Shareef Dancer (above) as his favourite. 

“He came here with a bad reputation, but he and I just got on. He didn’t mess me about and I didn’t mess him about,” Ken recalls of the Irish Derby winner.

“The first week he came here he took a chunk out of my arm, but after that we got on well, he and I. He was mischievous more than anything, but he was a handful. He was here until he was 19, when he broke a leg in the covering shed and had to be put down.”

With the ever-increasing number of mares that visit the Dalham Hall Stud stallions during the breeding season, the routine of Ken and the other stallion men must run like clockwork.

“I feed the horses at quarter to six in the morning, and then I’m back to the yard for 7.15am, by which time the lads are here and getting the horses ready for the 8am coverings,” Ken explains. “I give a hand getting them ready and mucking out and then it’s time for covering. After the coverings are finished, I’ll tidy up the covering yards and the washrooms, while the lads turn out the stallions that go in the paddocks and go out with the ones that are exercised in hand.

“I’ll then finish the mucking out while they’re out and prepare the evening feeds – the horses are fed three times a day at the moment - and then go to the office to update the covering diary so I know which mares are booked in.

“Then it’s the 1pm coverings, and between that and feeding at 4pm, there is grass to cut, cleaning to do; all the maintenance work. We leave at 4.30 and are back again for 6.30pm for the 7pm coverings. And then it’s back again at 11.30pm to get the stallions ready for any coverings at midnight.”

Once the busy covering season ends, many of the stallions under Ken’s care shuttle to Australia for the southern hemisphere breeding season. In almost all of the 14 years that Darley has shuttled it’s stallions, Ken has accompanied his charges into quarantine in Australia, returning to Britain only once they have been settled in at their southern hemisphere studs.

While the basic routine of caring for stallions has altered little in the 33 years Ken has worked at Dalham Hall, a significant change is both the number of stallions standing at the stud and the size of the books they cover.

New Approach, one of six Derby winners to retire to Dalham Hall during Ken's time at the stud

From just two stallions in his very first year, the largest number to come under Ken’s care in one season has been 13, while this year he has charge of 11 stallions. These of course include Golden Horn, who is now the sixth winner of the Epsom Derby to stand at Dalham Hall Stud during Ken’s tenure, following on from Dancing Brave, Reference Point, Lammtarra, Authorized and New Approach (pictured above).

“When I came here, stallions only covered 50 mares a season and a first-year stallion only covered 45. From covering 50, we went to 100, then to 150… That’s probably the biggest difference I’ve seen in my time here.

“Also, you used to cover a mare when she came in season, leave her a day and then cover her the next day, and just keep doing that until she went out of season; there was no scanning or anything.”

Exercising the stallions in hand remains a part of the daily routine at Dalham Hall Stud, although the route has varied somewhat over the years as the stud has expanded. Where once the stallions were led in hand along the quiet Suffolk roads surrounding the property, the stud is now so large that the stallions do not leave the site.

For all of the changes that have occurred during Ken’s years at Dalham Hall Stud, one thing has remained consistent – the superb level of care he and his team give to the stallions they work with, ensuring the continuing success of the Darley stallions.

“It’s a privilege to work for Sheikh Mohammed,” he says, “and to have worked with all of his great stallions over the years.