Boylan Flying High With The Lir Jet Family


The Lir Jet winning the Norfolk S. |


As an aviation executive who is accustomed to spending some 250 days a year away from his home in the West of Ireland, life has been much different in 2020 for Donal Boylan. Thankfully, Boylan–who has been involved with the founding and execution of some of the most successful aircraft leasing companies in the world–has a twin passion in the form of his five-strong broodmare band, and while he and many of his jets have been grounded this year, Boylan was given quite a lift when the colt he bred, the aptly named The Lir Jet (Ire) (Prince Of Lir {Ire}), caused a stir in the summer when breaking the Yarmouth track record on debut before winning Royal Ascot's G2 Norfolk S.

Boylan bred The Lir Jet when he mated his bargain mare Paper Dreams (Ire) (Green Desert) with Ballyhane Stud's then first-season sire Prince Of Lir, another Norfolk winner. Boylan sold The Lir Jet to Ballyhane master Joe Foley for €9,500 at the Tattersalls Ireland flat foal sale of 2018, after which Foley sold him on to Robson Aguiar for £8,000 at Goffs UK as a yearling. Aguiar had the colt slated for the Tattersalls Ascot Breeze-Up sale, but when COVID-19 turned the world upside down Aguiar sold The Lir Jet privately to Nick Bell, son of trainer Michael Bell. Bell sold the colt onto Qatar Racing for a presumably much larger sum after The Lir Jet's debut victory.

Reflecting on the highs and lows of 2020, Boylan-who typically spend most of his time in Asia but has been in Ireland this year since March–said, “Economically, this year was a disaster. The main positive of this year is that I've had six months with my family. So The Lir Jet was a great lift. The smartasses out there will say, 'aren't you the dumb so-and-so that sold The Lir Jet for eight grand?' But isn't that the story of this industry? The horse fairs in Ireland that we all went to as kids, particularly the traveling community, they always talk about the luck money, where you spat in your hand and left a pound or a dollar for the buyer. Everybody loves to see something they sold do well and you have to wish them luck, but ultimately I believe I'll be beneficiary of that.”

Boylan could see his windfall as early as Friday, when he sends Paper Dreams's colt foal by Footstepsinthesand (GB) (lot 957) through the ring at the Tattersalls December Foal Sale through The Castlebridge Consignment. The 12-year-old Paper Dreams herself will go through the ring next Monday on the first day of the Mare Sale also with The Castlebridge Consignment as lot 1387.

Boylan-who was raised in Dublin but said his love of horses blossomed from summers spent on his mother's family's farm in North Tipperary-got into racehorse ownership some 25 years ago through syndicates, and later branched out to own some racehorses and mares with a group of friends including former National Hunt jockey Ronnie Beggan and racecourse commentator Simon Holt. In 2011, the group was perusing lower level races looking for underpriced breeding stock when they landed on Paper Dreams, a 3-year-old filly trained by Kevin Ryan. By Green Desert, Paper Dreams was out of Pickwick Papers (GB) (Singspiel {Ire}), an unraced daughter of Italian champion mare Papering (Ire) (Shaadi). Paper Dreams had broken her maiden on her 3-year-old debut and won another seller two months later, both over six furlongs, before being plucked by Boylan and co from a Wolverhampton seller that September.

“Mares were selling for silly prices at the sales, and we were always looking for mares that we thought, by pedigree and otherwise, we might get out of a seller or claiming race in the UK,” Boylan said. “That's where we found Paper Dreams. We had seen her race and she was moderate enough, but she had won a couple races over six furlongs.”

Even with hindsight in his favour, Boylan doesn't claim to have had any grand premonitions about Paper Dreams.

“Paper Dreams, is she a beautiful mare? No, except her head,” he said. “The two reasons we bought her were Green Desert and the head. I can't say in hindsight that we looked at Paper Dreams and she ticked all the boxes back in 2011; we mainly bought her because she was a basic winner, she was by Green Desert with a reasonable pedigree page and we thought Singspiel, even though he's a bit of a staying pedigree, we thought he was a solid damsire. And she had a beautiful head. That was it.”

“But every foal she's turned out has been a decent size and has probably been at the top end of what that stallion produces, so she [improves her stallions]. We've had five foals out of her and she has gotten into foal at first cover every time. Her dam had nine foals out of 10 years, so one thing they don't seem to have a problem with in her line is production. I have rested her three years out of the last seven or eight just because we had late foals.”

Boylan said his modus operandi has been mating his mares with stallions in their first or second season, or well-proven sires, as he has done with Paper Dreams to produce The Lir Jet and her latest Footstepsinthesand colt. Boylan said, however, auction ring trends have him leaning towards rolling the dice on a sire that will have his first runners at the time of sale.

“What I've found the last three or four years is that things have been difficult in the market,” he said. “If you have what would appear to be moderate mares, like a lot of small breeders have, you're on a bit of a hiding to nothing with first-season stallions, because you're marrying a moderate mare to an unproven stallion. You get to the sales and you have no choice but to sell or give them away. We had one very nice filly from Paper Dreams called Fast Dreams, who is being sold at the same sale [lot 1577 with Jamie Railton]. She was a yearling in 2016, and we had two Fast Companys, a colt and a filly. We ended up selling them both for less than 5,000. They both went to Italy and they both won multiple times.

“So I've been moving towards trying to get progeny that when I go to sell, the sire has had their first season on the track. You can be a loser from it, but I've found that unproven first-season stallions don't help more moderate mares. We went early on with Society Rock and Dandy Man, they were two stallions we used a reasonable amount. I got both of those at a point where they'd had their first runners and had done quite well, and I think that's better than being absolute first-season.”

The Lir Jet is a distinct example of a colt whose moderate pedigree and unproven sire put an automatic ceiling on his value in the ring.

“As a foal The Lir Jet looked the part, but the problem is when you're sitting there at the sales with a first-season stallion with a moderate enough mare-and we didn't know what Prince Of Lir was going to become, and we still don't-The Lir Jet was going to be a foal you had to sell no matter what he looked like at a very moderate price,” Boylan said. “So well done to everyone involved, and the good news for small breeders like myself is if you're fortunate enough to have The Lir Jet, then you're fortunate enough to have the mare and the siblings afterwards. You might ask, 'why would you put the mare into the sales?' But the challenge is first of all if you don't and she doesn't repeat it again, you've missed an opportunity. But I think the second issue for someone like myself is that I'm not one of the bigger breeders with access to high quality stallions. I'm not going to invest in stallions that cost me 50,000 to 250,000. A mare like this, I think she has proven herself. In her first two years she visited Approve and Gale Force Ten, two stallions who didn't make it, but once we put her to an established stallion like Fast Company she produced a solid winner. And with Prince of Lir we took a chance again.”

Before The Lir Jet came along and prompted Paper Dreams's entry into the sale, Boylan tried his latest tactics with El Kabeir, who will have his first runners next year. The son of Scat Daddy won graded stakes in the U.S. at two and three and his first yearlings have been well received this year, averaging £26,382/€29,562 off an €8,000 stud fee and selling for up to 180,000gns.

“There were probably three reasons for choosing El Kabeir,” Boylan said. “The first is the Scat Daddy commerciality. In Europe people have been getting very excited about No Nay Never, and I think in general there is a degree of excitement about Scat Daddy's progeny and the fact that we don't have him with us anymore. The second is El Kabeir himself, from a speed point of view. Scat Daddy, not unlike Green Desert and others, has been a very versatile producer; he can produce quick horses and middle distance horses, but El Kabeir had plenty of speed. And when we went to look at him, I think from Paper Dreams's perspective, El Kabeir is a good size but she doesn't want a massive stallion. She produces a big foal even from a smaller stallion.”

Paper Dreams faces another upward battle that will resonate with small breeders in the fact that some of her key family members have been exported to smaller racing nations, like her aforementioned daughter Fast Dreams and her dam Pickwick Papers, who is in India.

“That's a problem for a lot of small breeders is that your stock disappears off into India or Italy,” Boylan said. “In the sales, people don't even want to admit it; you'll often see, 'won three times abroad' rather than say it was in Italy or Turkey or wherever. With Paper Dreams's dam, Paper Dreams was her first foal and she was moderate enough. The second foal was a colt by Choisir and he won over six furlongs first time out. So her first two foals were both winners over sprint distances.”

Pickwick Papers was sold to Indian interests for €10,000 in foal to Excellent Art (GB) in 2010.

“Excellent Art wound up in India and the Indians love him, so the mare was sold to a stud in Jaipur, and her next seven foals or something have been born there, and I think five of them have been winners in India. But you disappear off the map.”

As such, the initial financial blow of giving a horse away or selling it cheaply to local interests may make for the best outcome for the breeder in the long run.

“It is a consideration as a breeder, if you had to give a horse away to somebody who is going to potentially train it or train it well, that may be a better thing to do for your mare,” Boylan said. “When the market is so bad, and I hear this a lot with small breeders now, they're keener to see their animal end up with somebody who will have a view of getting it to the racetrack [locally]. Because that is the only way they can enhance the value of their mare. Having horses go abroad doesn't really help you as a breeder.”

While he prefers his horses to stay close to home, Boylan has forged a career that has taken him around the world. He has been involved since the late 1980s in aircraft leasing, a business that he says was largely developed in Ireland.

“There are about 25,000 commercial airliners flying out there with all the airlines you know, and about 40% of them are leased or rented to the airlines,” Boylan explained. “Aircraft fly for about 25 years and the operating leases tend to be for the first 10 to 12 years and then they get rented for shorter periods as they get older. The prime airlines would tend to keep their operating leased aircraft for about a dozen years, then get rid of them.”

Boylan started out working for one of the pioneers of the aircraft leasing trade, Tony Ryan, at Guinness Peat Aviation. In fact Ryan-also an astute horse breeder in his time and founder of low-cost airline Ryanair–is from the same North Tipperary town, Kilboy, as Boylan's mother.

“A lot of us worked for Tony and he spawned off a series of replica leasing companies,” Boylan said. “I was a co-founder of a company that was about the fourth or fifth largest aircraft leasing company [SMBC Aviation Capital]. We've since sold it but that company is still on the go and it's about number six in the world now. I got involved with the Chinese about 10 years ago and was the guy effectively who brought Chinese investment into commercial aircraft leasing.

“We developed another leasing group [Bohai Leasing, owner of Avolon]. They had about 20 airlines in the group and a lot of hotels. At one stage we bought 30% of Hilton Hotels and we bought the Radisson Group and we had a Chinese hotel group and so forth. But I ran the whole of their aircraft activities. That company now is about number three in the world, and to give you a sense of the size of those businesses, they'd have about 500 aircraft and the value of those aircraft would be about $25-billion.”

Boylan had spent much of his time over the past 10 years in Hong Kong including as chief executive officer of Hong Kong Aviation Capital, but has more recently turned his focus to Vietnam.

“I'm on the board of the Vietnamese low-cost airline called VietJet, run by a really inspiring woman, Madam Thao,” Boylan said. “She is Vietnam's first US dollar billionaire and I do a lot with her; I'm trying to convince her to get involved with horses but I haven't managed yet.”

While the aviation industry, like all others, still has some turbulence to withstand as the world is shaken by COVID-19, Boylan can look forward not only to seeing Paper Dreams and her Footstepsinthesand colt go through the ring at Tattersalls, but also to The Lir Jet's impending 3-year-old campaign.

“Is he actually a sprinter, or could he stay a mile?” Boylan mused. “You can't make that judgement from the Breeders' Cup because that's not a true mile in the European sense, and he had a bad draw and I don't think he particularly got a good ride. So it'll be interesting to see what he is next year, and does he progress over the winter. I think he might actually be a better colt next year than he ended up ratings wise this year. And it'll be interesting for Joe to see whether Prince Of Lir can put his stamp on a few more horses next year. Prince Of Lir has had a very good start and I liked him from the first time I saw him.”

For breeder Boylan, then, and those that buy into The Lir Jet's family at Tattersalls next week, there are plenty of reasons to keep dreaming.

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