Spratt And Lyons Pushing Forward Together

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David Spratt with Brendan Brackan | Racingfotos.com

By Daithi Harvey

David Spratt’s yellow and green silks have been an increasingly familiar sight on Irish racecourses in recent years and after spending a morning with the Cork man at his principal trainer Ger Lyons’s yard earlier this week, it appears his presence in Irish racing is set to grow further throughout this year and beyond.

A relative newcomer to racing and with no family connections to the sport, Spratt started at page one in the racing manual and has absorbed a lifetime’s knowledge in just over a decade.

Explaining his introduction to racing Spratt said, “I love the motto ‘they say everything happens for a reason’ and having had to take a year off college through illness I duly discovered the vagaries of watching and betting on horseracing as I recuperated.”

Spratt’s initial taste of ownership came via a horse called The Salwick Flyer (Ire) (Tagula {Ire}), who won a few races when trained in Scotland by Ian Semple in 2007. Spratt was living in Edinburgh at the time and when he returned to Ireland soon after, a certain Ger Lyons caught his attention.

“Ger was over-achieving with the calibre of horses he had at the time and I thought if I was going to have a horse in training in Ireland I wanted it with him,” Spratt remembered.

Spratt ended up going to the Goffs UK Breeze Up Sale in 2009 and came home with a son of Invincible Spirit (Ire) that he bought off of Horse Park Stud for £30,000.

He said, “I came up here shortly after and told Ger I had bought a horse at the breeze ups and that I would be delighted if he would train it for me.”

The horse would be called Invincible Vibes (Ire) and he made the best possible start when making a winning debut at Dundalk that summer, but his form took a nosedive and he never made the frame in eight subsequent starts for Spratt and Lyons.

That did not deter Spratt, who was barely 30 years of age at the time, and, having graduated with a Masters Degree in Finance, he decided that rather than embarking on a possible career as a stockbroker or similar, he would put his numerical acumen and passion for racing to the test and begin trading in horses. Simultaneously he also put his opinions from his avid form study to successful use in the betting markets.

“Around that time Ger had a lot of juveniles and was doing well with them, but I thought there was a bit of a gap in the market in that there were a lot of premier handicaps in the programme that Ger had little representation in and I decided to take a closer look at the horses in training sales,” he said.

Since then, there have been some shrewd acquisitions from other yards, the majority sourced at Tattersalls in Newmarket. Sea Wolf (Ire) (Amadeus Wolf {GB}) is a prime example. He was bought for 32,000gns in April 2016 rated 84 and a year later he was rated 108 having bagged a pair of premier handicaps and banked €120,000 in prizemoney for his new owner. Sea Wolf, now known as Mister Sea Wolf Down Under, is currently in sunnier climes having been transferred to Chris Waller’s stable in Australia as part of a new experiment for Spratt.

“One of the reasons we sent Sea Wolf to Chris, is that I wanted to learn more about the Australian way of doing things, even down to how they communicate with owners due to their substantial number of syndicate ownerships,” Spratt elaborated. “I retained half ownership of the horse and we also wanted to learn about their racing program and figure out what type of horse is suited to racing down there with an eye to the future. We all know stayers do well down there, so I wanted to send a 7f/1m horse. So far so good anyway, as he has finished second in a Group 3 last month and they love him. The European horses seem to have a slight class edge over the Australians and if they can adapt to the environment, there are excellent opportunities for them down there.”

Mawaany (Ire) (Teofilo {Ire}), a 22,000gns purchase from the Shadwell draft at Tattersalls 18 months ago, is another who thrived under Lyons’s regime since being picked out by Spratt. The 5-year-old’s rating has crept steadily upward to 94 from 77 in the last year, courtesy of two wins and four places. He is another that could now benefit from Spratt’s outward thinking.

As well as running horses in his own colours, Spratt is also the driving force behind a new ownership syndicate called Gaelic Thoroughbreds, set up with his business partner Philip Burns who operates Gaelic Bloodstock.

“We’re trying to introduce people to racing at a high level,” he said. “Last year was our first year and it went well and we only have one slot left over for the 2018 2-year-olds, so we are happy with how it has been received. For a lot of people, racing is a bit daunting so we are trying to break down the trust barriers that could be preventing certain people from getting involved in the game.”

Introducing owners at a high level is something Gaelic Thoroughbreds has already achieved, as one of their star performers from last year was the 102-rated Would Be King (Ire) (Lethal Force {Ire}). A €42,000 Goffs Orby yearling purchase from Buckley Bloodstock, Would Be King will begin his 3-year-old campaign as one of the highest-rated maidens in the country. Although winless in four juvenile starts, he performed to a high level on each occasion, finishing third to Beckford (GB) (Bated Breath {GB}) on debut, second to Brother Bear (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}) in a listed race, second to Gustav Klimt (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) back in a maiden, before finishing his season with a third to The Pentagon (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) in the G3 JRA Tyros S. at Leopardstown. There is nothing like winners for a new syndicate though and they also came courtesy of Celebration (GB) (Equiano {GB}), Silk Cravat (GB) (Kyllachy {GB}) and Il Piccolo Grande (Ire) (Iffraaj {GB}), each one a HIT purchase by Spratt and Gaelic Bloodstock while The Kid Bobby B (GB) (Nathaniel  {Ire}) showed he has a bright future when winning a maiden in Dundalk in October.

A recent impressive gesture from Gaelic Bloodstock will see Gaelic Thoroughbreds donate a percentage of their prizemoney from Jan. 1, 2018 onwards to the charity Sightsavers. Representatives of the charity were on hand at Glenburnie Stables on Wednesday to partake in a photo shoot to publicise the generous donation, which if Would Be King fulfils his potential in 2018 as a Classic prospect, could be significant.

Spratt, who keeps a share in all the Gaelic Thoroughbred horses, has already turned down offers to sell Would Be King, but he is only too aware of the upside of selling form horses to overseas jurisdictions. Last year, he sold the stakes winner Doctor Geoff (Ire) (Fast Company {Ire}) to Hong Kong for quite a bit more than he paid for him and while that strategy makes good business sense from one perspective, it also means you lose your star striker and that is something both Spratt and the Lyons team are aware of.

He said, “We are trying to consistently up the level of stock and ownership base in a bid to unearth proper Group 1 horses that both Ger and Colin deserve; the aim and the dream is to develop a stallion.”

Spratt, who also has horses in training with Gordon Elliott and Johnny Levins, is a fully subscribed member of the Ger Lyons fan club. “Ger is finally getting the credit and recognition that I think he deserved years ago,” said Spratt. “He’s also starting to gain the client base he deserves, which I think is long overdue. In my opinion, if he was training in Newmarket he would have Classic contenders every year and pound for pound I think he’s as good as trainer as there is.”

He also acknowledges the surge in quality the yard has benefitted from in recent times. “If you came to the yard two years ago, the majority of horses were by stallions standing for 10 grand or less. Now you’ve got Acclamations, Scat Daddys, Invincible Spirits, Frankels, Kodiacs and Dark Angels among others so the quality has improved and that also augurs very well for the future.”

Spratt comes across as articulate and intelligent, yet unassuming, and he has strong opinions on racing in Ireland and the areas in which it could improve. “I think Irish ownership is struggling,” he said. “You go to Britain and you’ve got tracks like Ascot, York or even Chester where owners can be wined and dined in style. Racing is an expensive sport; a lot of owners are wealthy individuals who expect a certain level of comfort and style. They could spend several hundred thousand on a horse just so they can have a runner in Royal Ascot and experience the prestige that goes with that. We don’t have that in Ireland which is a shame as we have amazing horse people here; to be fair Irish tracks are better than they were and are continually making progress, but the facilities still lack the standards that people who are investing big money in thoroughbreds expect.”

He is also a big believer in quality over quantity especially when it comes to the racing programme, adding “I think the last thing we need is more racing in Dundalk. I would hate to see Irish all-weather racing going down a similar route to what has happened in Britain, where the prizemoney is poor and the racing is generally just betting fodder. I appreciate a lot of horses are getting balloted out, but isn’t it great to see full fields with competitive racing and horses competing for decent prizemoney.”

Spratt is rapidly becoming a major contributor to racing and in addition to his own horses and those under the Gaelic Thoroughbreds banner, he has also gone into partnership with Sean Jones on a significant number of now 2-year-olds that were sourced at last autumn’s yearling sales.

“Sean and I first went into partnership with the legend that is Brendan Brackan (Ire) (Big Bad Bob {Ire}) [recorded a third successive win in the Listed Navigation S. at Cork last October] and anticipating the way we thought yearling prices were going to go the season just gone by we decided in advance to partner up,” he recalled. “Sean is a total gent, honest and a family man and his colours have been synonymous with the Lyons stable for many years and I hope we can have plenty of success together. We can’t afford yearlings by the really expensive sires, so we try and focus on what we think are the best yearlings by the middle tier stallions. For example there’s a Dandy Man colt that we bought in Donny from Mark Dwyer who is an absolute bull of a horse that we love, he cost accordingly but let’s hope [he] is worth it.”

With probably the biggest and best team of horses to go to war with this year, Spratt is hoping his trainer can make the breakthrough as a regular visitor to the Group 1 winner’s enclosure and in addition to the horses, he thinks the other pieces of the puzzle are also in place.

“They’re a wonderful team; Ger, [his brother] Shane, Andrew [Duff], Martin [Horan] to mention just a few; they run a very professional yard,” he said. “There are quality work-riders here and of course two jockeys that I can’t speak highly enough of in Colin Keane and Gary Carroll. All the horses are mentally happy here, you see how well behaved the horses are and how they all lob around with heads in chests going about their work. 2017 was a racing season for the team to remember and they should be proud of themselves. From Brendan [Brackan] winning the Lincoln on the first day to the celebrations of Colin’s championship on the final day of the season. There were no blips.”

That last sentence sums up the 2017 racing year for Lyons and company and both him and his loyal band of owners have a lot to be excited about in 2018.

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