By Alayna Cullen
This year’s yearling sales saw the fruits of last year’s foal purchases come in for the harvest. While there were plenty of pinhooks that claimed profits, one particular story captured the essence of the industry, that a good horse can come from anywhere: Edie Murray-Hayden’s Dabirsim (Fr) colt that was pinhooked from €56,000 at the 2016 Goffs November Foal Sale to €500,000 at the recent Goffs Orby Sale. The Goffs Foal sale has been a happy hunting ground for Co. Kildare native Murray-Hayden for some years and with the sale kicking off today, there will be plenty watching out for the horsewoman in the ring. Having grown up around horses–her father was an equine vet and both parents were keen hunts people–Murray-Hayden spent an idyllic childhood surrounded by ponies and good Kildare countryside. Her farm, Gormanstown Stud, boasts picturesque views spanning over the Wicklow hills and is set in rolling pasture. Sitting with Murray-Hayden in an apartment overlooking the fields and listening to her story leaves little to the imagination as to how she has been so successful in both the sports horse and Thoroughbred industries.
“When I left school I went to work for Coolmore before college,” she said. “It was my first real experience with Thoroughbreds, a good place to start, with the best. You need to work with really good horses because you need to know what you want to aim for. I enjoyed it, we worked hard, we played hard. It was a good way to live. Then I went to college in England and did equine studies. I brought my event horse with me so I was doing eventing while there too. When I came back from England I went to work at Kildangan. I did four seasons on the breaking and pre-training side and went to Dubai one winter with 2-year-olds, and then I joined Brian Grassick just as he bought Newtown Stud.”
Speaking of the biggest lessons learned from her experiences, Murray-Hayden said, “working with different horses makes you wonder what made the good horses good. You have to be observant. Anything to do with horses is all observation, watching them work, handling them, and looking for all the little signs they give off. It’s attention to detail. You also learn, which is just as equally important, what not to do. It’s important to learn off other people’s mistakes too.”
Murray-Hayden has been fortunate to work with many superstars over the years. The first yearling she ever sat on in Kildangan turned out to be Lord Of Men (GB) (Groom Dancer), a Group 1-winning 2-year-old, and at Coolmore she foaled a subsequent Classic winner in Matiya (Ire) (Alzao).
“She was a lovely foal but she was the biggest foal I’ve seen in my life,” Murray-Hayden recalled. “They come in all shapes and sizes and I was lucky to start at the top.”
Murray-Hayden’s first foray into the world of pinhooking started with the late Brian Grassick, her employer for 14 years. It all started with a Bertolini colt they sold to David Redvers and who went on to win twice at two. After that colt Murray-Hayden began investing more in the pinhook venture, all the while building up Gormanstown Stud into the high-spec facility it is now.
“The facilities were pretty basic so over the years when I earned enough money I completely re-fenced it, put in a road and tried to upgrade the facilities.”
Walking around the farm, one gets the sense that years of observation have paid off as the barns, exercise facilities and pastures are laid out in an efficient manner that blends into the fabric of the landscape.
The last horse that Murray-Hayden and Grassick bought in partnership was an Oasis Dream (GB) colt who turned out to be the multiple Group 2-winning 2-year-old Approve (Ire). Murray-Hayden spent another two years working at Newtown Stud after Grassick’s death. It was then time for her to go it alone, setting up a business from Gormanstown Stud.
“It was just time for me to do my own thing,” she said. “I had always planned to go out on my own but I didn’t want to do that until I had a good enough infrastructure, so by that time I had invested a lot in this place and it was of a good enough standard for me to take on other people’s horses. Things have just snowballed from then.”
The first foal Murray-Hayden pinhooked on her own turned out to be Group 2 winner Sir Prancealot (Ire), and no doubt the hope is for her recent pinhooking success, the Dabirsim–Chica Loca (Fr) colt, to follow the success of his predecessors. Her reasons for purchasing the colt in 2016 have certainly paid off.
“He was a spectacularly athletic horse, a very, very good walker and very good-looking. I just thought he was going to be a really attractive yearling. He was a little raw, he came over from France, an April foal, and there was plenty to improve on him. [After buying him] I went to pick him up to bring him home and I got three strides out of the stable and thought ‘god, you can really go.’ He was a gentleman. Just the most perfect horse, lovely temperament, always healthy, just did everything right.”
Although Murray-Hayden was confident of a good sale, given the amount of time the colt spent out of the stable at the Orby sale, reaching the high of half a million was more than she had ever dreamed of.
“Normally I am very aware of who is bidding in the ring but with him a lot of people were on the top tier. There were several people playing for him and once it got to €250,000 I got a bit lost. I didn’t know what was going on. To be dropped at €500,000 was pretty spectacular.”
Looking ahead to this year’s foal sale Murray-Hayden gave a snippet into what she may be looking at on the sales ground. “Of the first-season sires I like Gutaifain [she tried to buy Gutaifan as a foal in 2013]. He’s a good-looking horse. I think they will sell very well. I’m looking forward to seeing the Golden Horns too, but I imagine they will be quite dear.”
In both the sports horse and Thoroughbred world, Murray-Hayden has enjoyed deserved success. She laid the foundation for her achievements through years of hard work and now with a facility to be proud of and a natural eye for talent the future will, hopefully, include many more successes on both the race and eventing fields.