Patrick McCann
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Ireland and the Thoroughbred

  • Introduction
  • Breeding
  • Sales
  • Racing
  • Investing

September 1, 2015

Irish mythology is replete with references to the horse and its importance to heroes and historical figures. While it is believed that chariot races took place on the plains of the Curragh as far back as the third century, the first documented evidence of horse racing is a royal warrant from 1603 entitling the governor of Derry to hold fairs and markets at which horse races could be staged.

This longtime association between man and beast, however, goes far beyond mere racing. The horse is integral to Irish culture, interwoven into daily living. To the rural Irishman especially, the horse has been a constant pivot in a centuries-old way of life.

The horse is often cited in Irish art, poetry, and film, prominent in the literary works of iconic Irishmen from Samuel Beckett and W.B. Yeats to Jim Sheridan and Roddy Doyle. “There where the course is, Delight makes all of the one mind, The riders upon the galloping horses, The crowd that closes in behind,” Yeats once penned. But much more than merely providing sporting entertainment, the horse has historically been the Irishman’s partner—his worker on the land.

Patrick McCann

In Ireland today there are more horses per head of population than in any other country in Europe. Many of the fairs and shows that take place have origins so deeply embedded in history that nobody knows their genesis. Much like Ireland’s relationship with the horse — we are not quite sure when it began or why, we just know it did.

Tourism Ireland

Perhaps in these mystic origins lies the root of the Irish people’s affinity with the horse. They have developed a unique understanding of the animal, an understanding passed from generation to generation. This relationship has fused through time to form the bond of mutual dependency that exists today. It’s an Irish thing.

Patrick McCann

Breeding in Ireland

Ireland is a nation of horse breeders—from the farmer with two mares who produces a couple of horses as a hobby, to some of the most commercially successful Thoroughbred operations in the world. The Emerald Isle was also home of the Byerley Turk, one of three foundation stallions who shaped the modern Thoroughbred.

Peter Mooney

Ireland is blessed with the perfect environment for breeding horses. The soil, heavy in limestone, provides calcium-rich grass, essential for health and strength of bone in growing foals. The temperate climate—not too cold in the winter nor too hot in the summer—provides plenty of rain and daylight. Then the famous Irish horsemanship skills ensure young horses receive the best care and attention as they grow and mature.

Coolmore Stud

Fiscal measures introduced in the late 1960s and early 1970s allow Ireland to compete on the global bloodstock stage. These measures prompted visionaries such as Coolmore kingpin John Magnier—assisted by Dr. Vincent O’Brien’s legendary judgement and Robert Sangster’s financial backing—to acquire well-bred yearlings from around the world, a plan that facilitated the ultimate objective of having some of the best Thoroughbred stallions stand in Ireland.

Coolmore Stud

The Irish formula for success: Combine the best broodmares with the best stallions, entrust their foals to an Irish-horsemanship education, and raise them in a temperate climate on limestone-enriched pastures. Is it any wonder then that some of the best racehorses in the world are Irish-breds?

Peter Mooney

Ireland is home for many of the world’s leading breeders—Coolmore, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Darley, Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s Derrinstown Stud, HH the Aga Khan’s Studs, The Haefner family’s Moyglare Stud, and Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms. Darley’s Kildangan Stud (above) is home to 10 stallions including leading sire Shamardal.

Kildangan Stud

Many of the world’s leading sires stand in Ireland, headed by Coolmore’s outstanding Galileo (IRE) (above), sire of many multiple champions and important sons such as Frankel, New Approach (IRE), and Rip Van Winkle (IRE) standing at stud. Coolmore Stud is now home to five Epsom Derby winners.

Coolmore Stud

The Irish National Stud belongs to the people of Ireland. It has been home to some of the most successful stallions in Ireland, including Invincible Spirit (IRE), who also has numerous sons at stud.

Irish National Stud

Gilltown Stud, the Aga Khan’s public stud in Ireland, is home to champion Sea The Stars (IRE).

Patrick McCann

Commercial family-run farms are the core of Irish breeding with Ballyhane Stud (above), Morristown Lattin Stud, Rathasker Stud, Rathbarry Stud, and Tally-Ho Stud recognized as some of the leading breeders and consignors.

Jennifer O'Sullivan

Sales in Ireland

Ireland’s bloodstock sales have long been a source of top-quality Thoroughbreds. There are three bloodstock sales companies in Ireland: Goffs, Tattersalls Ireland, and Goresbridge.

Caroline Norris

Located in the very heart of the Irish racing and breeding industry, Goffs has established a worldwide reputation built on the success of the top-class horses it sells and its quality service. The company holds eight bloodstock sales a year, including the Orby (Ireland’s premier flat yearling sale) and the Premier Breeding Stock and Foal Sale, which takes place in November.

F Stop Press

Tattersalls Ireland, particularly renowned for selling top-class National Hunt horses, also sells quality horses for the flat. The September Yearling Sale consistently provides excellent value and success for flat-bred yearlings, its graduates having reached the highest echelons.

Caroline Norris

Situated on the banks of the River Barrow in County Kilkenny, Goresbridge has been run by the Donohoe family since its establishment in 1968. In May, Goresbridge Bloodstock Sales offers Ireland’s only flat breeze up sale.

Amy Lynam

Irish Thoroughbred Marketing is the first point of contact for overseas people seeking information on the Irish Bloodstock Industry. ITM exists to make coming to Ireland as straightforward as possible and provides a wide range of services: organizing full itineraries, scheduling exclusive trainer and stud visits, and booking hotel accommodations at reduced rates. ITM can even offer financial assistance with the travel expenses of buyers shopping for Irish bloodstock through the Inward Buyer Programme. ITM will contribute €800 to any U.S. buyers who purchase at the sales or privately.

www.keithjackphotography.com

Racing in Ireland

In addition to its first-class breeding industry, Ireland also boasts a thriving racing industry, and a visit to the Emerald Isle is not complete without a trip to one of the 26 racecourses. There is one all-weather track at Dundalk, which stages a flat winter championship, and nearby Laytown provides a particularly unique once-a-year experience, the unforgettable spectacle of racing on the beach.

Patrick McCann

The remainder of Ireland’s racecourses run on turf, each with its own unique terrain, atmosphere, and charm. The historic Curragh Racecourse is racing’s headquarters and home to all five Irish Classics. The Curragh training grounds have been developed into a world-renowned training centre.

Patrick McCann

People from all walks of life have supported Irish racing through the years, with many owners choosing to have their horses trained by internationally acclaimed Irish trainers. From Cheltenham to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I), to the Melbourne Cup (Aus-I), Irish-bred and -trained Thoroughbreds continue to define the word “excellence” on a world stage.

Healy Racing

Richard “Boss” Croker, originally an Irish-American politician, returned to Ireland and set up a training operation at Glencairn Estate. He conditioned the first Irish-trained horse to win the English Derby, Orby (right), who took the storied event in 1907. His endeavors so raised the spirits of the Irish people that Orby was paraded through the streets of Dublin to cheering crowds. In the same year he became the first horse to complete the English-Irish Derby double. Nearly 50 years passed before another Irish horse — Joe McGrath’s Arctic Prince — won the Epsom Derby in 1951. Croker was made a Freeman of the City of Dublin, an accolade given to the likes of George Bernard Shaw, John F. Kennedy, and Bill Clinton.

Irish Thoroughbred Marketing/The Irish Field

Trainer Vincent O’Brien (right) continually raised the bar of Irish racing throughout his career. Breaking one record after another, he dominated both the worlds of jumps and flat racing. He trained six Epsom Derby winners, was twice British champion trainer, won three editions of the Grand National in succession, and trained the only British Triple Crown winner since World War II. Readers of the Racing Post voted him the greatest, most influential racing figure of all time. O’Brien died in 2009 at age 92.

Coolmore Stud

During the 1970s O’Brien (left) and owner Robert Sangster (right), along with O’Brien’s son-in-law John Magnier, established the genesis of the Coolmore syndicate. O’Brien’s incredible gift for picking world-class horses paired with Magnier’s business mind propelled Coolmore Stud to the pinnacle of the racing world. O’Brien’s pioneering in the art and science of training transformed what was essentially a Tipperary farm into the world-class training establishment, Ballydoyle.

On the flat O’Brien trained such legendary racehorses as Ballymoss, Gladness, Sir Ivor, Roberto, The Minstrel, Alleged, Storm Bird, El Gran Senor, Royal Academy, Sadler’s Wells (arguably the greatest stallion in modern turf history), and Nijinsky II.

Coolmore Stud

Owned by American businessman Charles W. Engelhard Jr., Nijinsky II had the speed to win the 2,000 Guineas over a mile, the pace and the temperament to take the English Derby over a mile and a half, and the stamina to excel in the St Leger over an extended mile and six furlongs in 1970, becoming the first horse in 35 years to win the English Triple Crown. No horse has done so since. O’Brien claimed the son of Northern Dancer, unbeaten in five runs as a juvenile, to be the best horse he ever trained.

Coolmore Stud

Sadler’s Wells (above), also trained by Vincent O’Brien, was a top-class racehorse who won the Irish 2,000 Guineas (Ire-I), Eclipse Stakes (Eng-I), and the Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I)—but his place in racing history is as one of the most influential stallions of modern times. He was champion sire in the UK and Ireland on no fewer than 14 occasions. Coolmore’s former resident died in 2011 at age 30. His illustrious progeny include Montjeu (IRE), Galileo (IRE), High Chaparral (IRE), Yeats (IRE), and Barathea (IRE).

Courtesy of Coolmore

Turn the clock forward: Aidan O’Brien has defied all conventions and (like his non-related namesake Vincent) reached the top echelons in both jumps and flat racing since he took out his training license in 1993. As his frequent 1-2-3 finishes in the Irish Derby and numerous other group I wins demonstrate, he is simply a genius. To date, O’Brien has been champion trainer in Ireland 17 times and four times in Britain.

O’Brien trainees include, Galileo (IRE), High Chaparral (IRE), Dylan Thomas (IRE), Giant’s Causeway, Rock of Gibraltar (IRE), St Nicholas Abbey (IRE), Yeats (IRE), Henrythenavigator, Mastercraftsman (IRE), a litany of top-class horses that seemingly never ends. Further afield, O’Brien has won both the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) at Arlington International and the W.S. Cox Plate (Aus-I) in Australia with Adelaide (IRE). He twice has taken the Arlington Million Stakes (gr. IT): Powerscourt in 2005 and Cape Blanco (IRE) in 2011. In addition, Cape Blanco (IRE) captured the Man o’ War Stakes (gr. IT) and the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes (gr. IT) at Belmont Park. O’Brien has an impressive eight Breeders’ Cup races on his resume. Only recently O’Brien won the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) with Highland Reel (IRE).

Caroline Norris

A contemporary of Vincent O’Brien, Irish trainer, Paddy ‘Darkie’ Prendergast (left), also made a name for himself, becoming the first non-British-based trainer to be champion in Great Britain for three consecutive seasons (1963-65). Quartered on the Curragh, the centre of flat racing in Ireland, he was especially gifted at training 2-year-olds. His two best horses during an illustrious career were Ragusa and Irish-bred Meadow Court, both winners of the Irish Derby and the prestigious King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

The Irish Field

The Weld name has had a long association with the Curragh. Charlie Weld established himself as a top-class trainer at Rosewell House before his son Dermot (above) took the reins in 1972. With the famous yard located just metres from the entrance to the Curragh racecourse, the younger Weld has consistently been one of Ireland’s most successful trainers, with multiple Irish trainer’s championships. Acclaimed as one of the best trainers in the world, he has saddled big-race winners on four continents.

www.tattersalls.com

Trained by Dermot Weld for Michael Smurfit, Vintage Crop was first campaigned in the National Hunt code, winning two novice hurdles in his first season. Weld then switched him to the flat, and he won the Cesarewitch at Newmarket at 5. The following year he landed the first of two consecutive victories in the Irish St Leger and made history by becoming the first overseas-trained winner of Australia’s Melbourne Cup, the race that stops a nation. He won 16 races from 28 starts and finished out of the top three only six times. He lived out his retirement as part of the Living Legends attraction at the Irish National stud, passing away in 2014 at the age of 27.

Patrick McCann

Trained by Dermot Weld for owner/breeder Moyglare Stud, Go and Go (IRE) is the only European-trained horse to win a leg of the American Triple Crown after springing a surprise victory in the 1990 Belmont Stakes (gr. I). After breaking his maiden at Galway at 2, Irish-bred Go and Go went on to win the Laurel Futurity Stakes (gr. II) at Laurel Park later that season, his initial start on a dirt surface.

The Irish Field

With a reputation for unrivaled patience with horses and an admirable tendency not to over race them, John Oxx, has developed into one of Ireland’s most respected and successful trainers. When HH Aga Khan decided to transfer horses to Ireland in 1990, Oxx became the sole trainer. Notable winners for the partnership include Timarida (IRE), Ebadiyla (IRE), Sinndar (IRE), Alamshar (IRE), and Azamour (IRE). Oxx was also the trainer of the outstanding globe-trotting filly, Ridgewood Pearl (IRE); however, he will be best remembered for world champion racehorse Sea The Stars (IRE).

Patrick McCann

Exceptionally well-bred Sea The Stars (IRE) is a half brother to the multiple champion sire Galileo (IRE). After winning the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket (Eng-I), Sea The Stars (IRE) carved his name into the annals of history with six consecutive group I triumphs, becoming the only horse to complete the 2,000 Guineas, Epsom Derby (Eng-I), and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe treble. The son of Cape Cross (IRE), out of the brilliant Urban Sea, dominated the 2009 flat season, becoming world champion and sealing his place amongst the all-time greats.

Edward Whitaker

Jim Bolger (left) has enjoyed tremendous success as a trainer since taking out his license in the late 1970s and is adept at finding the very best in his racehorses. Top class horses trained by Bolger include New Approach (IRE), Dawn Approach (IRE), and Pleascach (IRE), winner of this year’s Irish 1,000 Guineas (Ire-I) and Yorkshire Oaks (Eng-I). Bolger also won the Hong Kong Cup (HK-I) with Alexander Goldrun (IRE). Winning the Irish Derby (Ire-I) with homebred Trading Leather (IRE) (above) was a truly remarkable day for the Bolger family as they also bred and raced his sire Teofilo (IRE).

Patrick McCann

Eddie Lynam achieved remarkable success in 2014. His three winners from four runners at the Royal Ascot meeting centered around group I successes with star sprinters Sole Power and Slade Power (IRE) (above). That pair claimed four of the five group I sprints in the UK during the year. Slade Power (IRE) retired to stand at Darley’s Kildangan Stud at the end of the season. The now 8-year-old Sole Power is still going strong, having won the Al Quoz Sprint (UAE-I) at the Dubai World Cup meeting in Meydan in March 2015.

Cranhamphoto.com

Tom Hogan trained a €2,000 purchase in Gordon Lord Byron (IRE) to win group I races in Australia, France, and Britain. There is an abundance of top-class trainers in Ireland, and they continue to compete at the highest level both at home and abroad.

Alain Barr

Investing in Ireland

In recent times Ireland has become an investment hub for American breeders and owners. It made sense that Team Valor International should purchase First Cornerstone (IRE) after the Andy Oliver-trained colt sprang a 33-1 shock in a listed race at Tipperary in August 2012. The American operation, founded by Barry Irwin (above) and Jeff Siegel, is a truly international organization, searching out the best equine talent around the globe.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Team Valor International’s loyalty to trainer Andy Oliver has been well rewarded. Panama Hat, for example, progressed significantly last season. A winless, 60-rated handicapper at the start of 2014, the winner of five races on the bounce ended the season basking in a mark of 110. This year he was beaten a half-length by Aidan O’Brien’s Kingfisher (IRE)—runner-up in the Ascot Gold Cup (Eng-I)—in the listed Saval Beg Stakes at Leopardstown in June, before going on to win a listed race at Roscommon in early July. On Aug. 15 he was a good second to Lucky Speed (IRE) while making his North American debut in the $350,000 American St. Leger Stakes (gr. IIIT).

Caroline Norris

American billionaire John Malone bought Humewood Castle in County Wicklow for €8 million in 2012, then proceeded to purchase four hotels in post-recession Ireland. In 2014 Malone’s interest in Ireland and his interest in bloodstock fused when he bought Ballylinch Stud in County Kilkenny. Founded by Major Dermot McCalmont, Ballylinch has been a leading player in the Irish bloodstock industry ever since McCalmont stood The Tetrarch—unbeaten in seven runs as a 2-year-old—there as a stallion in 1914.

“As small as it is, Ireland is a place where things work,” Malone said. “When you look across places outside the U.S. where you feel comfortable investing as a U.S. citizen, Ireland comes top.”

Ballylinch Stud

Brad Kelley’s Calumet Farm had its first horses in training in Ireland in 2014. The billionaire who is the fourth-largest landowner in the U.S. now has more than 20 horses in training with the legendary Dermot Weld. Calumet runners in Ireland also carry Kelley’s black silks with gold chevrons. Ireland is the only destination in Europe where Calumet Farm stands stallions. Irish Derby winner Grey Swallow (IRE) now stands at Knockhouse Stud in Co. Kilkenny. Calumet chose the Irish National Stud to stand Melbourne Cup winner Americain in 2015.

“We want to have our success on the track feed into having a nice, viable, commercial stallion division,” Ken Wilkins, director of the farm’s stallion division, told BloodHorse.com. “Hopefully, that will be a very strong tool for us.”

Patrick McCann

The Ardbraccan Estate in Navan in County Meath, near the east coast of Ireland, was built in the mid-1700s as a palace for the bishops of Meath. About 350 years later, American Charles Noell bought it. In 1992 Noell and computer specialist John Moores, one of Forbes magazine’s 400 richest people in America, co-founded JMI Equity, an investment firm specialising in software. In 2013, after the death of one of the principal owners of County Limerick farm Kilfrush Stud, Noell and Moores teamed up to buy the stud’s bloodstock, collecting more than 30 horses of various ages under their banner of Merriebelle Irish Farm. In 2013 Merriebelle in partnership with Dr. Ronan Lambe raced Pale Mimosa (IRE) (above) to victory in the group II Lonsdale Cup.

Patrick McCann

Frank Stronach, the owner of Adena Springs who has received every breeding accolade possible, also recognizes that Ireland is a premier country in which to race horses and has several horses in training with Dermot Weld. In that same vein Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey now have horses in training in Ireland.

Wally Skalij

Ireland has been the base for many international investors. British businessman Robert Sangster dominated through the 1970s and 1980s as an owner, teaming with John Magnier and Vincent O’Brien. In recent time the Ballydoyle triumvirate of Sue Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith have been all conquering.

Caroline Norris

Godolphin supremo HH Sheikh Mohammed has been a huge supporter of Irish racing with more than 60 horses in training in Ireland. In 1986 he purchased Kildangan Stud, which is now home to such stallions as Dawn Approach (IRE), Cape Cross (IRE), and Raven’s Pass.

Edward Whitaker

The Al Thani family of Qatar are other relatively new entrants to the Irish racing scene. The Al Thanis have many youngsters in training here and are prolific buyers at Goffs sales. In addition, Sheikh Fahad Al Thani (above) recently purchased a stud farm in Limerick on behalf of Qatar Racing to raise and nurture their stock.

www.tattersalls.com

Never has the time been better to invest in Ireland with land costs now stabilized and at more affordable levels, 38% down from prices at the peak of the economic boom. The national average recorded for 2014 is €10,526 per acre, excluding land parcels of less than 20 acres.

Killarney Racecourse

The economic slump in Ireland has created a buyers’ market. Significantly, the major breeding operations of Darley, Derrinstown, and Coolmore have continued to increase their land banks during the period of the downturn in property prices. Historically, through times of recession the greatest return on investment has been seen in the larger land banks and stud farms.

Kildangan Stud

At the height of the market in Ireland, ready-made stud farms were selling for up to €80,000 per acre; today they are trading anywhere between €17,000 and €27,000 per acre. These figures are for fully completed stud farms, located in regions known for their association with and suitability for bloodstock.

Ballylinch Stud

The Irish government is supportive of the sector and realizes the importance of the industry to the Irish economy. There is a suitable tax structure, from acquisitions straight through to the running and management of a stud farm, with favorable employment laws. A favorable exchange rate in 2015 finds the U.S. dollar at an all-time best against the euro with the dollar forecast to hit further highs versus the euro.

Peter Mooney

Ireland and the horse—a relationship with no beginning and no end. It simply always has been.

Amy Lynam