The Story of Ceiling Kitty
Ceiling Kitty had been foaled on another stud in February 2010 as Chasemore Farm, a 330-acre patch of bucolic bliss located in the otherwise bustling stockbroker belt in Surrey, was brought up to scratch after its purchase by Andrew and Jane. It was around 18 months later, when the filly was a yearling, that Andrew, co-founder of Betfair, left the company that had transformed the betting landscape.
Andrew remembers the period, in his own words.
“I left Betfair when the company floated on the London stock market, in November 2011. I was on the board the day before it floated and had attended all the float parties, but as soon as it did I immediately left and that was that. I was on the board of various other companies related to Betfair, such as Timeform, but I cut all my ties with the business at that point. I hadn’t seen eye to eye with the board on certain things and I didn’t want to stay on it when it became a public company.
“It was a difficult decision for me. I didn’t realise how miserable I would be when I cut ties with Betfair. The company had been my life. I'd been in the office every day, with all my colleagues around me. It was my life. I felt a very strong connection to all things Betfair. It was a bit of a soap opera, there was always some drama happening, something crazy being said in the chat rooms. To cut myself off was a shock to the system. I was a bit depressed for six months or so, getting over it and restarting my life in a different way.
“Chasemore Farm started up at the same time and it saved me as it gave me something else to spend my time and energy on. The animals we had here had been born on other studs, but we moved the mares and young stock across when we got the stud up and running, I only had two foals that year and one was Ceiling Kitty, who hadn’t been named at that time, and the other was called Wall Of Sound.”
“Someone I knew at Betfair was having a leaving party early in the new year of 2012 and Steve Morana, chief financial officer at the time, called me up and asked if I wanted to come up for a drink. So I popped in for an hour or so, had a chat with Steve, and he said they need to do something to keep me involved as they missed me - so they asked me to give them some ideas.
“The Cheltenham Festival was coming up, so I thought why not do a tipping competition for Betfair employees over the four days for and the winners can come into ownership with me on one of the two foals I had, with all costs paid up front. Also, the person with the biggest winning margin would have the right to name her.
“I chose the Red Clubs filly out of Baldovina as she was the result of a cheap cover, I’d claimed the dam when she’d come third in some random race on the all-weather and she didn’t have a lot on her page at the time. Basically, she was a bit of a punt but actually I really liked her. She was small, compact but just really well built - a solid ball of muscle.”
The overall winner of the tipping competition turned out to have a similar sense of humour to Andrew, as he gave Baldovina’s second foal a moniker that fitted in with Chasemore Farm’s proud history of giving its produce offbeat names. Ceiling Kitty was in honour of a popular internet meme of the early noughties showing a feline poking her head through plastering with the saucy strapline - and sensitive readers should look away now - Ceiling Cat Is Watching You Masturbate.
In truth, the reference was a bit close to the bone even for Andrew, but he went along with it and got into the spirit by calling his new syndicate of competition winners Andrew Black and the Master Bettors.
“She went up to Manor House Stables and they do a five to follow competition each year. I had a look at the entries and noticed that of all the two-year-olds in the yard, the staff had put her in their entries more than any other horse.
“I rang Lizzie, the stud secretary there, to ask what was going on and she said: ‘They all love your horse, she’s got a lovely action on the gallops and has a lot of natural speed. All those more expensive animals here, but your funny little homebred is the one they all like.’”
Ceiling Kitty did not reveal her immense talent on the track immediately, though, and her first two starts left connections scratching their heads wondering whether she just wasn’t as good as had been hoped. Making her debut on the first day of the Flat season at Kempton she ran green but stayed on well to finish second, and next time out on rain-softened ground at Beverley she led but weakened quite tamely into fourth.
It was on her third start that we got our first glimpse of the immense talent Ceiling Kitty would be remembered for. Lining up against four colts back at Kempton, she won decisively despite being badly hampered in the final furlong of the race.
That effort earned the filly a crack in black-type company and she headed to York for the Listed Marygate Stakes at the Dante meeting, but was sent off at 20-1 in a race dominated by Mark Johnston’s filly Baileys Jubilee, long odds-on after winning both her starts by an aggregate of 12 lengths. Horses don’t know their odds, though, and Ceiling Kitty was an emphatic two-length winner while Baileys Jubilee flopped in sixth. The Master Bettors had filled their boots with the 44-1 available on Betfair.
Ceiling Kitty’s next assignment was the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot, where Andrew had divided loyalties. He had also owned a small share in Upward Spiral, another filly housed at Manor House Stables who had won her maiden impressively at Sandown and had subsequently been sold to Qatar Racing.
Andrew remembers a surreal day at the royal meeting.
“On the day of the race we were invited to lunch with the Qatari royals behind Qatar Racing and we watched the race down in the parade ring with our hosts. To be polite we were supporting Upward Spiral, who was much more strongly fancied than Ceiling Kitty.
“But obviously I was watching Ceiling Kitty intently and cheering her on under my breath. Our filly led from pillar to post, drifting across the course in the closing stages, to win at 20-1 again - 66-1 on Betfair this time. I’d had a couple of grand on her and was ecstatic, but I ended up having to apologise to the Qataris after the race.
“I can’t remember a more emotional day in racing in my life. If I look back on all my days in racing, none made more of an impact on me than seeing my small, muscular horse with her beautiful action serve it up to the bigger, more powerful horses. She just had that willing attitude and natural athleticism.
“It taught me a lesson that has lived with me ever since. Before Ceiling Kitty I wanted the strongest, most power-packed horses, but now I look at stock in a different way: I look for that athleticism. I should have already known that, but it took Ceiling Kitty for me to realise it.”
Ceiling Kitty had given her all in those two stakes victories and she never hit the same heights again. After finishing a respectable fourth in the Flying Childers Stakes and a fair seventh in the Cheveley Park Stakes, she was beaten out of sight in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint at Santa Anita.
Not blessed with the cleanest of limbs, and it looking as though the intensive preparation for Royal Ascot had come at the sake of her longevity, the decision was taken to retire Ceiling Kitty at the end of her two-year-old season. The filly had burned brightly but briefly.
So Ceiling Kitty arrived at Chasemore Farm at the start of 2013, the stud now fully operational and having welcomed its first crop of foals the season before. The first mating assigned for her was Cheveley Park Stud stalwart Pivotal, the source of more than 30 Group 1 winners and a broodmare sire of serious consequence but chosen by Andrew for a very specific reason, as he explains.
“I’ve got a theory about small mares like Ceiling Kitty. You would think that a small mare can only produce a smallish foal; it would be impossible to get a larger foal out of her, as there is only limited space in her womb.
“But there is a way around that problem. There are certain sires who will not necessarily give you a big foal, but will give you one who has a longer growth trajectory, so you end up with a larger foal in the end. Some stallions produce offspring that are pretty much set as a late two-year-old, or they just produce big foals from birth. You wouldn’t want one of those out of a small mare as they just can’t incubate it.
“The classic stallion who produces stock with that longer growth trajectory is Pivotal. They are generally normal size foals but they mature more slowly. They’re the types of foals Kitty needed.”
The result of the Pivotal-Ceiling Kitty mating was a filly - phew! Just what all owner-breeders want from their star mares - who was named Eartha Kitt and sent into training with Tom Dascombe.
The theory behind the mating that produced her was correct, as she was later to bloom than her dam, breaking her maiden in the October of her two-year-old season. She progressed steadily at three, winning a York handicap, finishing placed in black-type races at York and Pontefract, and ending the season with victory in the Listed Boadicea Stakes at Newmarket.
Ceiling Kitty’s second foal was another filly, this time by Invincible Spirit. Formidable Kitt was not nearly as talented as her dam or half-sister although she did win a competitive Newmarket maiden on debut and ran fourth to future Group 1 scorer Havana Grey in the Listed Dragon Stakes.
Andrew had long been hatching a plan to send Ceiling Kitty to Camelot, believing the sire produced his best runners when matched with speedier mares, but had delayed putting it into practice as the mating would likely produce a larger foal and Ceiling Kitty would need to have produced a number of offspring beforehand to have the best chance of carrying and delivering it successfully.
Ceiling Kitty therefore travelled to Coolmore to be covered by Camelot in her third year at stud. Tragically, Andrew’s fears over complications caused by the size of the foal when in-utero were realised. He takes up the story, which is clearly still raw four years later as he chokes up in the retelling.
“I put too big a foal in her. He was a dog sitter, with one of his back legs braced behind his neck. It’s the worst thing and a condition that would strike fear into even the most experienced vet. A mare almost never survives a dog sitter.
“The foal kicks and kicks trying to free himself, and he kicks through the amniotic sac and kicks his mother’s internal organs, bursting blood vessels and causing irreparable damage as he does so. He is inevitably going to kill her. Meanwhile the mother tries to push the foal out, and the more she pushes, the further the foal’s legs push into her own organs.
“There is only one thing you can do, which is what our resident vet Pat Sells had to do in his first week with us, and that is to make an immediate decision to put the mare down and cut the foal out by caesarean. It’s an unbelievably difficult thing to do.
“Pat managed to get the Camelot foal out but the colt was lying there not breathing, so he started giving it mouth to nose resuscitation. He had never saved a foal from being a dog sitter before and after about five minutes Paul Coombe, our stud groom at the time, shouted at Pat to leave it.
“But Pat still had a heartbeat so he carried on pumping - it must have looked as though he had gone mad, he was just not prepared to give up. After six and a half minutes the foal suddenly opened his eyes and was alive. It was a miracle.”
You might think that the Ceiling Kitty story was emotionally exhausting as it was up to this point. But there was another bittersweet plot twist that would deliver yet more tears of joy and sadness in the years ahead.
The Camelot colt was successfully paired with a foster mare and given the name Arthur Kitt, cleverly recognising both his sire and dam, before following his late mother and siblings into Manor House Stables.
After winning easily on debut at Haydock the horse whose very existence had hung in the balance just over two years earlier emulated Ceiling Kitty by winning at Royal Ascot, sticking on bravely to take the Chesham Stakes by a neck - even drifting a little to the left just as his dam had done at the meeting. News of the miracle foal’s victory was carried by all the world’s racing press. ‘From Tragedy to Triumph’ was the Racing Post headline.
Arthur Kitt found only champion Too Darn Hot too good in the Solario Stakes and ran a brilliant fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf but has failed to win again since his royal meeting heroics. He is currently in training in America with Christophe Clement.
The idea of breeding from Arthur Kitt has not been ruled out, especially as he is likely better than he has been able to show on the track but is unable to show it due to a leg issue caused by his traumatic birth. But by and large the continuation of Ceiling Kitty’s name in Chasemore Farm pedigrees hangs on her two daughters Eartha Kitt and Formidable Kitt.
It is, as Andrew says, a fragile legacy. But he has high hopes in particular for Eartha Kitt, who was retired at the end of her three-year-old season to take the place of her mother after her sad demise.
"If we manage to keep Ceiling Kitty’s bloodline going here, it’ll be a big thing for us. Eartha Kitt is a beauty: very good looking with a lovely head, not as muscular as mum but similar and bigger. If you asked me for any mare we’ve got here who ticks every box and could produce a champion, it would be her.
"I look at her and she takes my breath away. Someone else might see her and say she’s an ordinary looking mare but she isn’t to me, she’s everything I want a broodmare to be. She’s the right size, has a wonderful temperament and when she ran her races, she cruised beautifully and had amazing tactical speed, pouncing right at the end of the action.
“If we’d kept her in training as a four-year-old she would have won Group races I’m sure, but we retired her as Kitty had just died and we felt emotional about the family. Eartha could be an even better broodmare than her dam.”
And that brings the Ceiling Kitty story right up to date. She is far from the only good horse produced at Chasemore Farm, of course; there have also been stakes winners Boomer and Brad The Brief for example.
But hopefully by now it is apparent why she was such a talisman for Andrew, Jane and all the staff on the stud.
Nine years since Ceiling Kitty arrived at Chasemore Farm as a yearling, when the stud was still in its early days of development, the operation has been transformed into a state of the art nursery with no expense spared on building work and facilities. There have also been changes in personnel, with the stud now managed by Andrew and Jane with staff treated as a community, with everyone's opinions valued and contributing to decision making.
Ceiling Kitty would however still recognise some of her old friends from Chasemore Farm and Manor House Stables including her first companion at the stud, Wall Of Sound - now an accomplished broodmare herself having produced Prestige Stakes winner Boomer and the exciting Uncle Bryn.
Another thing that hasn’t changed, from Ceiling Kitty’s adolescence to her afterlife, is Andrew and Jane’s determination to produce champion broodmares and racehorses.