Rogers, Tim (1921–84), stallion master, was born Anthony Dominick Dyke Rogers on 28 November 1921 at Sparsholt, Berkshire, England, the eldest of two sons of Captain Thomas Duggan ('Darby') Rogers, a horse trainer, of Sparsholt, and his wife Doreen (née Dyke Dennis). He took the name Tim from his childhood hero, the racing driver Tim Birkin.
His Yorkshire-born grandfather John Thomas ('Jack') Rogers (1866–1940) was also a horse trainer, who relocated from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, to the Curragh, Co. Kildare, in 1915, when horse racing was suspended in Britain, but not Ireland, for the duration of the first world war. Ireland's champion trainer (1935–7), Jack sent out the winners of eleven Irish classics, including an unprecedented sweep of all five classics in 1935, a feat not repeated for another seventy-three years. Despite marrying into a wealthy Cheshire family, Tim's father, Darby Rogers (1894–1970), spent much of his training career struggling with a small, mediocre stable and fleeing debts incurred from betting on his horses. He was in the Curragh from 1927 until a failed gamble prompted his retreat in 1932 to England, where he was based first in Wiltshire and then in Salisbury.
Tim attended Sherbourne Preparatory School and Sherbourne School (public) in Dorset, but spent a significant part of his youth in Ireland either with his father or grandfather. His education ended at age 16 after a horse threw him and he endured a long recovery from a smashed ankle. Following in his father's footsteps, he enlisted in the British army and served in an anti-aircraft artillery unit in Northern Ireland before transferring to the Royal Armoured Corps and passing through officers' training at Sandhurst. Commissioned in 1942 to the 4th Hussars in Cairo, he participated in the north African and Italian campaigns, was awarded an MC in 1945, and was discharged as an honorary captain.
When Winston Churchill toured the British troops in north Africa in August 1942, Rogers was assigned as his temporary aide-de-camp. Churchill appreciated Rogers' capacity for mixing levity with solemnity and reappointed him as his aide for all his subsequent wartime visits to the Mediterranean theatre. In September 1945 Rogers also accompanied Churchill on a holiday in Italy and Monte Carlo. This friendship provided Rogers with an invaluable entry into British high society. Stationed in northern Italy after the war, he rode in British army race meetings in Italy and Austria.
Darby Rogers had returned to the Curragh in 1940 and developed a stable good enough to win eight Irish classics. On leaving the army in 1947, Tim wanted to go into horse training, but found his younger brother Mick installed as his father's assistant, and settled for managing Darby's stud farm, the Airlie Stud, near Lucan, Co. Dublin. Responsible for two inferior stallions and for any sick or lame horses sent from his father's yard, he concentrated on attending as many parties as possible and accomplished little over the next decade aside from buying Airlie in partnership with a Belfast miller. He advised Churchill on buying or leasing racehorses, including Dark Issue, who was trained in Ireland by Darby Rogers and won the 1955 Irish 1,000 Guineas.
Spurred on by the success of his brother Mick Rogers (1925–85), who won five Irish classics and two Epsom Derbies with a tiny stable, Tim and two partners bought the French-trained, Irish St Leger-winner Ommeyad in autumn 1958, a period when stallions of that calibre were rarely imported into Ireland. He bought Churchill's two best racehorses, High Hat (1961) and Vienna (1962), and also brought his brother Mick's star horse Santa Claus to Airlie in 1964. Although none of these sires fulfilled expectations, they raised Airlie's reputation and were syndicated successfully. His purchase in 1951 of Discipliner paid dividends in the early 1960s as she blossomed into Ireland's leading brood mare. The choice prices fetched by her progeny, along with Rogers' astuteness in trading foals and yearlings, funded Airlie's transformation into a rigorously professional and commercially ground-breaking stud.
Rogers married (1965) Sonia Pilkington, who hailed from a Yorkshire gentry family. He had gained full ownership of Airlie a year earlier and, with the help of his bride and mother-in-law, bought the Grangewilliam Stud, near Maynooth, Co. Kildare. Throwing all his resources (financial and otherwise) into the business, he undertook the most basic errands and travelled continuously looking at or buying horses at sales and race meetings. An abrasive taskmaster, albeit one who provided staff with an excellent training, he was fanatical about cleanliness and good care, dispersing his horses across different farms to limit the spread of disease, and building a modern veterinary laboratory, which used advanced fertility techniques.
The first European stud master to exploit fully stallion syndication, he refrained from public advertising in favour of tapping his wealthy and often politically influential social connections in Britain, Ireland and, increasingly, France. A skilful promoter, he built up a select group of investors capable of underpinning his purchases, often through partnerships, of superior European racehorses nearing the end of their careers; then, upon retiring them to stud, he sold shares conferring the annual right to nominate a mare for covering by the relevant stallion. There were forty shares in each stallion, with stallions covering forty to fifty mares yearly. As shareholders could trade their nomination every year to a breeder, he insisted on controlling the selection of mares and the fee charged.
From the late 1960s, Ireland's minister for finance, Charles Haughey (qv), sent his mares to Airlie, and also invested in Rogers' stallions and in one of his farms. A relentless and normally undiplomatic advocate of the Irish bloodstock sector, Rogers handled Haughey subtly and persuaded him to introduce a tax exemption for income from stallion fees and shares in 1969. (Rogers is believed to have provided Haughey with some financial assistance.) The ensuing influx of foreign investment sustained Rogers' and other Irish stud masters' rapid growth, turning Ireland into Europe's principal stallion base by the 1980s. Accordingly, from the late 1960s he either leased or bought through partnerships another five Irish farms. His studs lay within a rich vein of limestone grassland in the Dublin–Kildare region, ideal for developing bone in young horses.
Never letting his rapport with animals cloud his judgement, he excelled at serially buying, syndicating and selling stallions thanks to his uncanny sense of their breeding potential and financial value in a market skewed by tax-laundering, fashion and Japan's emergence as a lucrative dumping ground for second-rate European bloodstock. Waiting until the second crop of two-year-olds, he protected his investors' profits by then being prepared to sell all bar his most outstanding sires if offered more than he thought they were worth. He kept numerous mares of relatively mediocre quality to occupy his less popular stallions and sold almost all his homebred stock, retaining a handful for racing.
His purchases of Petingo (1968) and Habitat (1969) confirmed Airlie as Europe's premier stud. They were the dominant European sires of the 1970s, with Habitat being the foremost producer of European stakes winners from 1975 to 1987. Rogers syndicated Habitat for £400,000, which was considered excessive, but the £10,000 shares were snapped up, and by the early 1980s interested breeders had to pay £30,000 up front and another £30,000 if the mare got in foal.
Such sums were beyond most Irish breeders, and an increasing majority of the mares visiting Habitat and his peers came from abroad. Keen to uphold Ireland's attractiveness as a stallion base, he encouraged struggling Irish brood mare owners by selecting some of his sires with their needs in mind and by either charging below the going rate for nominations or waiving the fee in return for joint ownership of the foal. As president of the Irish Bloodstock Breeders' Association in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he pushed through the stallion incentive scheme, wherein stallion masters shared some of their outsized gains with brood mare owners. He contributed further to Irish bloodstock by initiating an overhaul of the Irish National Stud after joining its board in 1967, and by investing in the sales complex established by Goffs at Kill, Co. Kildare, in 1975.
From the late 1960s he was among the first Europeans regularly to buy foals and yearlings at the Keaneland sales in Kentucky – in his case, for resale in Europe. Although he imported US stallions throughout the 1970s, he shrank from competing with the wealthiest Kentucky stud farms and so mitigated rather than reversed the westwards flow of equine talent. In 1978 he initiated a fruitful Airlie partnership by buying a farm in Kentucky with local breeder Henry Clay, who modelled himself on Rogers in subsequently achieving prominence as a stallion master.
Desiring a refuge should the violence in Northern Ireland spread south, in the mid 1970s Rogers established a stud in New Zealand, which boasted a soil and climate similarly ideal to Ireland's for raising horses. This investment had required negotiations with the New Zealand government, as foreigners were prohibited from buying land. The first significant international player to grasp New Zealand's potential as a thoroughbred nursery, he overcame initial local hostility and advanced its bloodstock sector by importing European stallions, yearlings and mares in foal, and by sending indigenous mares to his studs in Ireland for covering.
In the early 1970s he was drawn into bidding wars with the emerging Coolmore syndicate, which adopted and further developed his methods by establishing a combined stud and racehorse training operation in Co. Tipperary, lavishly bankrolled by the British tycoon and sometime Airlie investor Robert Sangster. Rogers declined to join this syndicate, instead agreeing that Airlie and Coolmore would share ownership of certain horses and avoid bidding against each other. His relative conservatism made Airlie more consistently profitable but doomed it to decline once Coolmore expensively cornered the key North American bloodline – that of Northern Dancer – for producing the all-important middle-distance champions. Of Rogers' best stallions, Habitat begat sprinters and Ela–Mana–Mou stayers, while Petingo died prematurely. Northern Dancer's dominance meant none of this trio established an enduring sire line.
Diagnosed with leukaemia in December 1977, Rogers was given months to live, yet maintained a punishing schedule for another six years, exercising responsibility for one hundred employees, fourteen stallions and one hundred mares on seven farms in Ireland, the USA and New Zealand. There was some loss of efficiency, as he necessarily delegated work, and his more ruthless partners and rivals exploited his illness to extract concessions. Airlie thrived regardless amid a prolonged boom in premium bloodstock prices from the mid 1970s.
After contracting pneumonia, Rogers died on 1 January 1984 in St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin. His will disposed of £3.2 million. Tax-evasion investigations later revealed that he had set up an illegal offshore trust for his wife Sonia and their two sons. Lacking the expertise and investor support to continue Airlie as a stallion farm, Sonia gradually wound down that side of the business and assembled a stellar collection of brood mares. Her son Anthony later took over Airlie.