A Pinhooker's Paradise – What Are The Big Names Looking For At Goffs?

John Foley of Ballyvolane Stud | Goffs


Top pinhookers John Foley, Kitty Fitzpatrick and Luke Coen have shared some of the dos and don'ts ahead of the eagerly-anticipated Goffs November Foal Sale where some of the sharpest minds in the game will battle it out for over 1,000 lots throughout the four days.

Coen has not been in this game as long as Foley or Fitzpatrick but he proved age can be no barrier to turning major pinhooking profit when an Invincible Spirit (Ire) filly that he sourced for just €23,000 at this sale last year rocked into 115,000gns at Book 3 at Tattersalls. 

Asked if he had come back down to earth, the 24-year-old, who said he'd be using some of the profits to renovate a house he bought along with his partner Charlotte, quipped, “There's no two ways about it-you're always trying to find the next one.”

That Invincible Spirit filly, who was sourced to go into training with Joseph O'Brien, was reported to have boasted one of the most attractive walks of any yearling on offer at Book 3 by some shrewd judges. That would tally, given it's a good-walking horse that Coen searches out above anything else when sourcing young talent. 

Explaining his approach, he said, “They have to walk. I find it hard to look past that if they don't. Now, the Invincible Spirit filly set the bar fairly high-she's some walk. Listen, she was a bit of a gamble as well being a May foal, but she just had a huge walk.”

Foley and Fitzpatrick have been associated with many top-notchers and they've also weathered the odd storm or two. It's fair to say that Foley, who operates under the banner of Ballyvolane Stud, had a rather contrasting start to his pinhooking career to Coen. But it didn't stop the 40-year-old. Far from it in fact. 

He explained, “When I left college, I bought a couple of foals. I was very green at the time but one of them made money and the other didn't. I put the money back in and have been building for almost 20 years to where we are now. 

“There was about five years in a row at the start when I lost money and I was very lucky to be able to stay at it. I got a great education in those few years about what not to buy. I lost plenty of money and made plenty of mistakes but that was the best education I could ever have gotten.”

Foley added, “It's not a simple game. We breed a few as well so we have a good mix between the homebreds and the ones we buy. Nobody gets it right all the time; some of the best judges out there, they can lose money on a lot of their pinhooks. It's a game of numbers. Some will work and more won't. The ones who don't, you just hope your losses are small and, for the ones that do, you hope the gain is big. You're not going to win on them all. If you think you are, you are in for a rude awakening.”

Fitzpatrick runs Loughmore Stables along with her husband and well-known bookmaker Daragh. Loughmore has produced plenty of high-class horses over both codes, including the 2017 G2 Norfolk S. winner Santry (Ire) (Harbour Watch {Ire}), and the Limerick native explained her approach.

Kitty Fitzpatrick | Tattersalls

She said, “There is a type we go after. We like a good-bodied, good-moving horse. They have to be pretty correct and have a good shape. We also like to buy something that looks as though it will come to hand early enough. Then for some of the later sales, we could buy something that could take a bit more time, but always looking for something with a bit of strength, size and action. If you have that, you can get away with plenty.”

There may be over 1,000 foals on offer at Goffs, but Foley and Coen explained how they will trawl through the barns in search of that diamond in the rough. Fitzpatrick operates slightly differently. 

She said, “We look at a lot of foals but we don't look at them all. There are certain sires we mightn't be too keen on if we haven't had much luck with them in the past. We might leave foals by them off the list. We'd look at all the first-season sires to get our eye in but we wouldn't look at stock out of older mares, either. If the pedigree was very bad, we'd leave those off the list as well. There's no set rules to it but we definitely look at the catalogue beforehand and, while we look at a lot, we don't look at everything.”

Foley's Ballyvolane Stud has produced at least one Group performer for each of the past eight years or so. Sir Busker (Ire) (Sir Prancealot {Ire}), Maljoom (Ire) (Caravaggio) and Cayenne Pepper (Ire) (Australia {GB}) have been either pinhooked or bred by Foley and he's of the opinion that there's no substitute for hard work in achieving such results.

He said, “I try to look at as many foals as I can get through in a day. I don't spend too long looking at them. You have to be polite to people but you know very quickly if you like a foal or not and, if you don't, there's no point in wasting anyone's time. I always try and think who might buy this horse off me as a yearling or where can I sell it. I try to think what it could make as a yearling and work my valuations off that. Invariably, I have the foals undervalued and, like everyone else, I struggle to buy the nice ones. Maybe my valuations are a little bit lower than what they should be but that's because I'm a pessimist by nature. I'm always looking at as many as I can and buying as good as I can for as little as I have to.”

Foley added, “Everyone is after the same type of horse. You are looking for a horse with a good shape and a nice outlook. Take this week for example, ninety per cent of people will be on the same horses. But there's touches to be had at every level. You can moan about how difficult it is and be as pessimistic as you want but, the bottom line is, there are touches to be had at every level if you are willing to do leg work.”

Coen agrees that there is no better way to train your eye than getting out there and rolling up your sleeves. A nephew of the well-known trainer Andrew Slattery, Coen's life has been a soundtrack to horses, but nobody could accuse him of not making the most of his upbringing. 

Luke Coen: has enjoyed a dream start to his pinhooking career | Tattersalls

He said, “As much as having people who are willing to help you, the best way to learn is to have a look at a couple of hundred foals a day yourself. That will get your eye in and you will learn pretty quickly what you like and what you don't. Then you can follow them through to a yearling and on the racetrack if you can't afford them, which a lot of young people can't.”

He added, “I'm never afraid to buy a chancy one that some people wouldn't have liked. A lot of people would have binned the Invincible Spirit filly because of her pedigree. When you're buying foals, there's three things you need to be thinking; in an ideal world you buy the model, then it's pedigree and lastly it's the sire. But, when you're dealing with a small budget, you have to forgive one of those things at times. The model can never be the one that you forgive, in my opinion anyway.”

He added, “I would look at a lot of foals. I worked for Rob Tierney there in Mountarmstrong and he would have always gone by the rule of a mare having a minimum of a fifty per cent strike-rate. That would be one of the things I'd go by. I'd never buy a foal out of an older mare, either. I think for the yearling market, the buyers seem to like a younger pedigree, be that a younger sire or a younger mare.”

There are no set rules to making this game pay. Lucky, as what a boring little world-and market-we would have if that was the case. According to Foley, however, there is no substitution for a bit of intuition, while strength in numbers is a major help to those operating on a larger scale. 

Foley said, “I try to buy somewhere between 10 and 15 foals in a year. We have a few mares ourselves and we only have 30 boxes for yearlings. I kind of do my own thing. I'm normally on my own or I might have one person with me. We don't have a big team. At Goffs, I'll start at one end and just try and get through the barns as quickly as I can. 

“We normally have a pretty big list after first looks because we try to be as forgiving as possible. We try and have a second look then and whittle the list down a little more. The ones we like, we follow them in.”

He added, “If it feels right and we think there's value there, we try to buy them and if they're not, we don't. A lot more will get left behind then we buy and I don't follow them to see if people made money out of them or to see who was right and who was wrong. You just have to work on your own intuition.”


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