An Endless Pursuit Of 'A Bit Of Magic' For The O'Callaghans At Tally-Ho Stud

Henry, Tony and Roger O'Callaghan | Tattersalls

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When Michelangelo sculpted David, you'd imagine he took the time to stand back, blow the dust off of his brow and marvel at his masterpiece, wouldn't you?

Like David, Tally-Ho Stud has taken years of hard chiseling but you must be living in Lalaland if you think Tony O'Callaghan is a man for slowing down and taking in all that has been achieved. 

If there's one thing O'Callaghan hates more than arrogance it's idleness. With 200 mares on the farm, considerably more yearlings and foals coming through the system, a sizable breeze-up consignment and, of course, the bread and butter that are the stallions to tend to, there isn't a whole pile of time left over in a day for slacking. 

But what drives a man, who has an uncanny knack of avoiding questions he doesn't want to answer–including those about his age–to attack each morning the same as his sons Roger, 43, and Henry, 41?

“I like action,” he says, unapologetically. “I do. They say there are two chairs you should never sit in; the electric chair and the armchair. They're not putting me into a bin any time soon! Why do some people live to do nothing? I can never understand it.”

The O'Callaghans live for the game. When Kodiac, the horse Roger describes as being “the man who paid for the place” strides out of his box, the lads wear a smile that neither sex nor drugs could supply. 

Tony O'Callaghan: “When the bad year comes, suck it up and move on.” | Tattersalls

Apparently “there's a queue of breeders” wanting to use Kodiac's Group 1-winning son Good Guess, who is new to the roster for 2024, but it wasn't always like this. Before Kodiac, Mehmas, Cotai Glory, Inns Of Court, Persian Force, Starman and now Good Guess, there were tougher times at Tally-Ho.

Blues Traveller and Mac's Imp are some of the earliest hard luck stories. Both stallions met a premature end just as their stock were starting to get going. Danetime, too, was on the cusp of becoming a proper stallion when he died whilst covering on Southern Hemisphere time in Australia. Red Clubs and more recently Society Rock are others who never got a fair crack.

“Danetime was when things started to happen for us,” Tony explains. “Then we got a list of them. Society Rock was doing well when he died and Sir Prancealot did okay as well, but Kodiac was the one who really took off.”

He added, “Danetime might have done the same thing, you know. He was only nine when he died. He had the winner of the Prix Morny two years running—Myboycharlie and then Bushranger. That was a shock when he died.”

So you could say it has been a triumph of perseverance?

“Oh we've kept at it. We've never changed direction. When the bad year comes, suck it up and move on.”

For many people in this industry, 2023 will go down as a bad year. The smaller breeder, who has been a huge part of the success story here, struggled on the whole. But if it's sympathy you're after at the O'Callaghan family's kitchen table, or as Tony's wife Anne describes it, “the engine room,” you've come to the wrong place. 

“It's up to you as a breeder to correct things and not go around blaming everyone bar yourself,” Tony says. “Some people will switch off and become disillusioned. I never get disillusioned no matter how bad the sales are. I never come home disillusioned. I come home blaming myself.”

There may be a lack of sympathy on offer but there's no shortage of encouragement. The business model is simple; try to make everyone–big or small–a winner.

Henry explains, “We're in this for the long haul and we don't take shortcuts. We try to treat people right and, if we both win, that's how you really succeed. There can be repeat business if that happens.”

It is an honourable way of conducting business. And it is one of the reasons why Ger Lyons named Tony The Gent after the man himself. A Whatsapp message to the trainer confirmed as much.

“He was, because in the dictionary beside the word gentleman, you see a picture of Tony O'C,” comes the reply from Lyons, swiftly followed by, “lovely family that.”

There can be a price to be paid when only dealing in facts, though. Some will confuse the no-nonsense approach to business as being cold but the reality is the complete opposite. 

It was this scribe's great pleasure to kill more than a few hours with Roger in Cincinnati Airport during a layover on the way home from the Breeders' Cup a couple of years back.

When a young couple across the bar endured a nightmare episode when both of their cards declined, it was Roger who thought nothing of jumping into action to settle the bill of the two people he'd never set eyes on before in order to prevent further blushes.

'That's my good deed done for the year,' he chirped, before sitting back down at the table. A chip off the old block.

The similarities between Roger and his old man was clear to be seen at the Tattersalls Ireland September Yearling Sale last year as well. Less than 48 hours after Tally-Ho and Archie St George turned a $550,000 Into Mischief colt foal purchase into a $1.8-million yearling, O'Callaghan was back to the grindstone.

A simple, 'well done in America, Roger,' was met with a, 'now on to the next one,' in that inimitable droll tone. Insatiable. 

Tony and Anne O'Callaghan | Tattersalls

Anne comments on what drives her boys, “We're the lucky ones. We're the ones who have something to achieve and to look forward to every day. Imagine grinding your way to work behind the wheel after having dropped your kids to creche. You're having your cup of coffee, or maybe a cigarette, and listening to the droning bad news on the radio. We get out of bed, roll down the hill, step out into the yard, and bingo. Light on. Let's get at it.”

Henry concurs and provides his own insight into the motivation behind this winner-producing machine, when saying, “You have a chance of a bit of magic. That's the great thing about this business. When you're involved with a good horse, there's no better feeling.”

The hope is that Good Guess, who claimed the notable scalp of 2,000 Guineas winner Chaldean when storming to Prix Jean Prat glory at Deauville last summer, can be the latest good horse that the O'Callaghans will be associated with. 

The horse had been on Tally-Ho's radar ever since Cheveley Park Stud flagged that they had a good Kodiac at the Tattersalls October Book 1 Yearling Sale in 2021. They were right. 

Good Guess went on to make 420,000gns to Sebastien Desmontils and the O'Callaghans have been tracking his progression ever since. In fact, so sure they were that Good Guess would be a good fit at Tally-Ho, a deal was done not long after he had crossed the line in front in that Group 1. 

“Sure he'd be whipped from underneath you,” says Tony, explaining why there wasn't even time to hop on a plane to get the deal done. Instead, it was trashed out on the phone. “These things are done quickly.”

Good Guess | Scoop Dyga

Good Guess | Scoop Dyga

It has been well-reported that, in order to secure Good Guess, a lot of money needed to change hands. 

“You've got to try and win the lottery. Pay your money, take your chance,” is how Roger sums up the transaction. Henry adds, “It's grand when you're right. There's never a bad time to buy a good horse but then there's never a good time to buy a bad horse. If you can buy a good horse, what you pay for it ultimately doesn't matter. The economics of this game, it's unique, isn't it?”

He adds, “Given how much stallions are costing at the moment, you need them to work in order for the whole thing to make economic sense. It's a big test of how bad you want a horse if you are prepared to send it a clatter of your own mares.”

Good Guess, along with the rest of the stallion roster at Tally-Ho, won't be lacking in that department. 

Tony explains, “When the stallions do well, it's huge. But, when the stallions do bad, it's an absolute nightmare. When they don't click, you suffer. There's a queue up for Good Guess but we'll support him as well. It's very simple; back your own.

“The way it works is, you look after everyone else first. Whenever we can get a slot for him, we'll send him a mare. We'll send him between 30 and 50 of our own mares but we won't know how many until the end of May. “

On what makes Good Guess an attractive stallion proposition, he adds, “Sure you could see below, his action and his physique. The bone structure is there and he has a nice big eye and a nice head. He floats around the yard there. Those are his strong points. Everyone who has come to see him, they all love him.”

Could he be the heir to the throne?

“Never,” says Tony, half-insulted. “I don't think we'll ever get an heir to that horse. We'd love one. But I don't think we'll ever find another Kodiac.”

And with that, the master of Tally-Ho leaves the table to tend to more pressing duties in the yard. He's not one for sitting, you know. But was he always like that?

“I'll never forget I was covering a mare with Dad,” Roger recalls. “He was holding the mare and I had Danetime. When Danetime went to get up on the mare, she reared. Dad had the lead rope wrapped around his thumb and the thumb went with the lead rope. Severed it. Straight off. 

“I'll never forget it. And then, when he went into the hospital, all he was telling me was, 'I'm really sorry.' I was saying, 'what are you sorry for?' 

“Anyway, he did a night in hospital but was back in the yard the following morning. He had a big bandage on his hand out cleaning water troughs that day. But what happened next? Didn't the f**king bucket fall over and of course he went to grab it. Bang. It bounced off the thumb. 

“Oh Jesus, I'll never forget it. The poor f**ker nearly died with the pain. But as soon as he could get back going, he was out in that yard. You can count the number of days on one hand that Dad has taken off work in his life. Seriously. He just loves it.” 

And that, ladies and gentleman, is the difference. 

Tony O'Callaghan on…….

Caught U Looking

I'd been watching her going around the back ring at the Goffs Autumn Yearling Sale and was wondering whether or not I should bid for her. Next thing, she went into the ring and Peter Nolan bought her for Noel Meade. I said I'd take her. They told me the most I could have was a half, so I took half. She's a nice filly. I'm hoping she will go on this season but we'll see, won't we? I'm hoping she'll stay a mile plus. We could have sold her 10 times over but we'll roll the dice. I'd be hoping she can stay a mile-and-a-half. That's what I'd like. She has plenty of size and scope. It would be nice to have a runner in the Oaks. 

Working the sales

There are people giving out about the industry but, when they go to the sales, they are fiddling around and they wouldn't do any homework. A lot of the trainers are like that. Willie Mullins started with eight or nine horses. Gordon Elliott started with one or two. When you go to the sales, do you go to zone in or you go to be sociable for the day? You can only do one or the other. You can't do both. If you want to buy something, you have to pay attention, not be in and out of the bar. I've nothing against that but it's gone a bit like that. The sales are competitive. We're there to work.

National Hunt

We always had National Hunt horses going back years ago. I quite like National Hunt horses. As the fella says, what do you do in January? I always felt the first day of Spring was Thyestes Day. Long ago, when we were young, Thyestes Day marked the start of Spring. 

Polarisation

It is gone polarised but you can always sell a nice horse. It's always been the model first for me. If you can get the sire as well, then you are away. The model will always get you out of trouble, though. 

 

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