By Daithi Harvey
This year’s ITM Irish Stallion Trail caught me slightly unawares as it was brought forward two weeks from its original end-of-January slot. As this was my third year to follow the trail, I decided that having concentrated on Leinster-based studs the previous two occasions–as one who is based near The Capital, would be inclined to do–instead I would check out what some of our rugby rivals had to offer all the way down in Munster. My plan was to start with Tipperary’s finest then travel north east, stopping off at some significant markers before getting back to ‘The Pale’ in the evening. An early start had me passing through Fethard at 9.30 a.m., ahead of schedule to begin the day at Coolmore and I resisted the temptation of knocking on the door of McCarthy’s Pub on the off chance they would be serving a full Irish, instead trusting that sustenance would be available a few miles down the road. I needn’t have worried.
Driving through the majestic entrance to Coolmore, one is reminded what a global and aesthetically stunning enterprise has been forged by John Magnier and his associates in the last 30 years. My initial awareness of brand Coolmore stemmed from their former national hunt stallion Deep Run (GB), sire of that legendary race mare Dawn Run (Ire) and who just seemed to be champion national hunt sire every year in the 80s. Since then it has morphed into a global colossus. People say Ireland is renowned for brands like Guinness or U2, I say Coolmore.
Friday’s visit to the stud allowed me the opportunity to see arguably the best and factually the most expensive stallion in the world. Galileo (Ire), who has just turned 20 years of age and who now has a 24-hour bodyguard. Is it any wonder that he has round-the-clock protection, as he has now become a national institution and as Maurice Moloney, our host for the morning said, “Firstly aren’t we lucky here in Coolmore to have him, secondly, isn’t Tipperary lucky to have him and finally isn’t Ireland lucky to have him.” His staggering covering fee is at least twice as high as any other stallion in the world and not surprisingly the majority of his covers will be allocated to Coolmore’s own mares with about 30 paid nominations in his book for 2018. Moloney confirmed Darley to be among the list of the customers under the ‘paid nomination’ column and also that Coolmore would be utilising Darley’s flagship stallion Dubawi (Ire) for a number of their mares this year. All is well in the bloodstock world, as simple business principles have come to the fore.
As Galileo is in the twilight of his career, there were a number of young pretenders to his throne on parade in Coolmore and one who is built very much in the mold of his father is Gleneagles (Ire). The dual Guineas winner, who stands a shade under 16 hands, also inherited the same panther walk from Galileo and given his first foals averaged just over a £100,000 in 2017, it is safe to say his stock have been well received so far. Another of Galileo’s sons Churchill (Ire) is an entirely different model and Ryan Moore must have felt a long way from the ground whenever he rode this fella and he has that great laid back attitude one often seems to associate with big horses. Looking at him, it is a surprise that he was a European champion 2-year-old but no shock that he was a top-class 3-year-old. Galileo’s other son recently retired to Coolmore is Highland Reel (Ire) and several of the other trail hoppers in attendance expressed their surprise that a seven-time Group 1 winner of over €9 million would be introduced to stud at a relatively low fee of €17,500. Maurice Moloney had to agree that they may have erred on the side of caution when setting his fee as he noted he was also “one of the soundest horses that Aidan ever trained.”
This being my first visit to Coolmore in over three years, I had not seen Australia (GB) since he retired from racing and I must say it is amazing how a stallion can transform from a wiry athlete into a masculine bull of an animal within a couple of seasons of covering and Australia is a fair example. He never exactly ‘filled the eye’ when racing, but this regally bred horse now ticks almost every box, and with his first runners set to grace tracks this year it will be fascinating to see if that final, most important box gets ticked; hard to imagine it won’t.
While only time will tell if any of these stallions step up to the mark and emulate their father just as Galileo has done his own sire Sadler’s Wells, Coolmore are also seeking to fill the void left by the untimely death in America of Scat Daddy. In Caravaggio they might just have a successor and this steel grey speedster certainly looked the part as he strode out for viewers. Maurice Moloney predicted his coat will be a lot whiter this time next year after a season’s covering, as he simultaneously removed his cap to reveal his own greying thatch, as if trying to prove similar strenuous activity affects us men in the same way.
They don’t come any more handsome than Camelot (GB) and after admiring him for a while, I offered my thanks to my hosts while administering a dose of caffeine before making my way across country towards Ballylinch Stud, passing through some villages and townlands en route that I think may not yet have been discovered.
Ballylinch Stud have no new rookies for 2018, but again I find it interesting to see how young stallions alter from one year to the next. Make Believe (Fr) is one who I thought has developed well in the last 12 months but pride of roster has to go to Lope De Vega (Ire), who at a 2018 covering fee of €60,000, is inching towards elite stallion status. Mark Byrne, who looks after nominations in Ballylinch is predicting a big year for the stallion as his crops bred from his best mares received emerge. Lope De Vega has also found favour in the southern hemisphere where his son Vega Magic (Aus) has become by far the stallion’s biggest earner, with his second placing in last year’s The Everest contributing over £800,000 to his haul. Classic winner and Classic sire Lawman (Fr) has surely become a very good value stallion at a fee of €15,000 while New Bay (GB) isn’t lacking for mare support given his powerful ownership triumvirate of China Horse Club, Juddmonte and Ballylinch, who are committed to making him a success. Fascinating Rock (Ire) holds the distinction of being the highest-rated son of Fastnet Rock (Aus) and his owner Maurice Regan has also been on a buying spree this past year, acquiring numerous choice mares to aid the horse’s second career.
At this stage the Coolmore coffee and cakes seemed like a lifetime ago and once the Ballylinch stallions had strutted their stuff, I retreated into their plush marquee for a quick taste of their beef casserole and just in case anyone thought this was a script for John Catucci’s ‘You Gotta Eat Here!’, I can assure readers the objective of the day was to view stallions so I declined dessert and got back on the trail towards Kildangan Stud.
On arrival at Kildangan, Godolphin chief executive Joe Osborne enquired if I would be reviewing their food or their stallions so for the record, their spicy parsnip soup certainly helped warm the cockles on what was a pretty cold afternoon. However my main reason to visit Darley’s Irish HQ was to see their new boys for 2018, Ribchester (Ire) and Profitable (Ire). Richard Fahey has said he would train 300 horses if he had them but he’d probably need double that number through his hands to unearth one as good as Ribchester and this four-time Group 1 winning son of Iffraaj (GB) will begin covering at a fee of €30,000. Profitable (Ire) is pitched in a bit lower at €12,000, but as a Group 1-winning sprinter by Invincible Spirit his appeal is obvious. Eamon Moloney (a nephew of Coolmore’s Maurice) was on MC duty in Kildangan and I was delighted when he announced Teofilo (Ire) as the next to parade. The 14-year-old looks magnificent and he has sired a Group 1 winner for every year of his life and with 17 stakes winners in 2017 his top level tally looks highly likely to overtake his age this year. Slade Power (Ire) also looked a picture and he is one of a number of stallions who will make the betting market for leading first season sire in 2018 quite interesting.
I had time for one more stop and with two interesting additions to their roster this year, I decided the Irish National Stud would be my final destination. I arrived just as a parade had commenced and I had to battle for a viewing spot as a group of 40 Czech breeders had commandeered all the best vantage points. The stud’s CEO Cathal Beale must be pleased with his first six months in the job; he managed to recruit two very interesting stallions in National Defense (GB) and Decorated Knight (GB) while also launching a new bloodstock investment scheme. Beale was proud to show off his new stallion acquisitions and even though Invincible Spirit (Ire) is showing none of his advancing years–the 21-year-old was keeping his long suffering handler Michael ‘Daffer’ Kelly on his toes–it is important for the stud to establish a potential successor to him. National Defense is a son of Invincible Spirit who Criquette Head-Maarek trained to win the G1 Prix Jean Luc-Lagardere in 2016 and the smooth-walking 4-year-old oozes quality and athleticism. In Decorated Knight the stud may just have clinched the deal of 2017. The horse has serious stallion credentials; a three-time Group 1-winning son of Galileo out of a full-sister to both Giant’s Causeway and You’resothrilling, who just happens to be the dam of the Galileo Group 1 winners Gleneagles (Ire), Marvellous (Ire) and Happily (Ire). If that wasn’t enough, Decorated Knight stands for a covering fee of €15,000. Who says there is no value out there? As mentioned earlier, a year is a long time in a young stallion’s life and that year has been physically kind to Free Eagle (Ire). While his first foals didn’t really light up the bid boards at the sales last year, Beale is confident his yearlings will fare much better at the sales this autumn. We all know how fickle the market can be, but it’s way too soon to write off this horse and those who did pinhook a foal by him last year could be sitting on a decent investment.
So having covered the guts of 300km I pointed the chariot home and began to wonder to myself, just how many miles of manicured beech hedging did I drive by during the day?