David Stack Q&A: 'Breeders Are Looking For Value Now More So Than Ever'

Storm Heart: has boosted the reputation of his sire Storm The Stars | Racingfotos.com

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There are few more recognisable figures on the breeding circuit than David Stack. The ever-enthusiastic stallion master at Coolagown Stud has a five-strong roster to look forward to in 2024 and confidence has never been higher in the County Cork camp. 

That is in no small part due to the emergence of Storm Heart (Fr), who made a blisteringly-hot start to his hurdling career for Willie Mullins, and more importantly, is by Coolagown's emerging force that is Storm The Stars.

Stack revealed that over 100 mares have been booked into Storm The Stars on the strength of Storm Heart's scintillating debut. The high-class son of Sea The Stars (Ire) stands alongside fellow unexposed dual-purpose sires Kenway (Fr) and Way To Paris (GB) to go with Shantaram (GB) and Zambezi Sun (GB). 

In this week's Q&A with Brian Sheerin, Stack speaks about polarisation in the National Hunt game, why he feels he has assembled his strongest roster yet, how difficult it is to run a sustainable business model as an independent stud and more.

How was footfall at the Irish Stallion Trail and did you do much business over the weekend?

Everyone is looking for value and, with the way the horses are priced with me, they are not going to break breeders' pockets. Kenway, Storm The Stars and Way To Paris are €2,000 for a colt and €1,000 for a filly. Storm The Stars will go up, hopefully, if Storm Heart (Fr) wins the Triumph Hurdle but he won't go too high. He actually has a huge book of mares to cover this year and was very popular on the Stallion Trail. But, a lot of the talk over the weekend was about people getting value for their money. Say for example, the lads who are breeding a mare with an average pedigree, they are only going to be getting €5,000 to €10,000 for a foal out of that mare at the sales. There's no point spending €5,000 on a nomination on a mare like that. Breeders have to distinguish that not all mares are going to get you the €30,000 or €40,000 for a National Hunt foal so they are going to have to cut their cloth to measure. 

And especially over the past few years in particular, you could say that the waters have been even tricker to navigate as a National Hunt breeder. 

They have. Way To Paris is a good example. The first year we stood him was in 2020 when Covid just kicked off so we couldn't get people in to see him in the flesh. I'd say my phone number has been blocked on a number of breeders' phones because I had no other option but to harass people about using him. I bombarded people on WhatsApp and that resulted in us covering about 120 mares with him. When the first foals arrived, I did the same thing again, kept pushing it out and sending the photos around to make sure they knew who Way To Paris was and, more importantly, where he was standing. He seems to have earned a reputation now as a stallion that can get breeders a good foal and a decent return from. The market has become very choosey. It's all about fashion.

Is choosey a Cork term for polarisation?

There's a few others I could use but I better not! To get a nice stallion, it's just become very hard. I am lucky I have good friends in this game and they help me out a lot but there are two things I can't skimp on when recruiting a stallion. That's soundness and a good walk. If they are not good wind and limb, I won't be going to see them and then it's very important that they have the walk as well. Any other pieces with stallions for me, you can forgive, but not those. In fairness to Kenway, Mathieu Alex and the Chehboub family were easy people to deal with. Richard Venn does most of my work and he knows exactly the type of horse I look for. Any time Richard has come on to me, he's usually right. He came to me with Storm The Stars and, you know, when Richard comes to you with one, you have a proper chance. But yes, it has become very fashion orientated and it's tougher now more so than ever.

I'd imagine that Storm The Stars's status has soared since Storm Heart shot towards the head of the Triumph Hurdle market after his impressive debut win for Willie Mullins at Punchestown. How much of a difference can one horse make in a stallion's popularity?

Over 100 mares have been booked into Storm The Stars since New Year's Day. That's purely down to Storm Heart. They've finally seen the light! But that shows you what one horse can do. It can be quite reactionary at times but it was hard not to be impressed by Storm Heart's performance and, in many ways, Willie Mullins is the stallion-making trainer. 

That's interesting you say that because, while Galiway is a top-class stallion in his own right, you could also say that you are banking on Willie Mullins to a certain degree with Kenway given how well he has done with Gala Marceau (Fr), Vauban (Fr) and more of the former's progeny over jumps. 

Absolutely. I'll be honest, that's the main reason I went for Kenway. I saw how well that Willie was doing with the progeny of Galiway and felt that Kenway had the right credentials to make it as a good National Hunt stallion. When you look at it, there's Gala Marceau, Vauban, Jimmy Du Seuil (Fr) and a couple more for Willie and then Gary Moore's horse, Royal Way (Fr), hosed up over hurdles the other day as well. He had been second to the Triumph Hurdle favourite [Sir Gino (Fr) (It's Gino {Ger})] the time before that so he's a pretty serious horse in his own right. The Galiways are tough and consistent horses and that's why I decided to give Kenway a chance. We're going to go down the dual-purpose route and market him as a proper dual-purpose horse. We have set up a syndicate comprising myself and Haras de Beaumont and we bought a good few half-sisters to Group 1 and Grade 1 horses on the Flat and National Hunt. We've bought half-sisters to Harry Angel (Ire), Dashel Drasher (GB), Mojo Star (Ire), Rich Tapestry (Ire) and more. They'll all visit him this year. 

And am I right in saying that you are planning on playing the long game with the progeny of Way To Paris, Kenway and Storm The Stars by putting some in training over the coming years?

We will be trying to do that, mainly with Ger Lyons. I've always found him the easiest to deal with. I can hear you laughing at that comment but it's true! You have Johnny Murtagh, Michael Halford and a few others there as well. We have clients who have horses with these trainers so they would be a natural choice for us. In an ideal world, whatever the horses do as two-year-olds, they will step up to a mile or further, show a bit of form, and then rock up to a horses-in-training sale and get sold on to one of the bigger National Hunt operators. If we could blood a few Triumph Hurdle types, that would be great. The market for those types of horses bought out of training is quite strong so it's just another avenue worth exploring. I'm not stupid, I know that the Flat game is very tough, so I'm under no illusions. I'm very good friends with Joe Foley and, what the likes of Joe has to go through to make a Flat stallion successful, it's very tough. The new stallions on the Flat, they have one or two years at a maximum to prove their worth. It's crazy. In my business, the stallions have that bit longer.

As it says on the website, Coolagown Stud is the culmination of over 30 years of hard work. You mentioned that things have never been tougher for the independent studs. How sustainable is it going forward in 2024 for the smaller operations?

The doom and gloom of the game comes with the rise in costs. The price of feed, straw, hay, staff and everything else has gone up. You have to be optimistic about the future but the reality is that things are very tough. You can't skimp on feed, otherwise you don't have a product. This is not a game to half-arse things because then nobody will want to buy off you. The breeders are in the same boat. We get people through our gate because they know they're getting value for money. I know you say 30 years of hard work to get to where we are now but we are still trying to get it right. You have to keep trying. Breeders are going to be watching their pockets this year more so than ever and we think we can offer value. 

Well, there you go. They can't all go to Blue Bresil (Fr) or Walk In The Park (Ire).

We'd all love a Blue Bresil or Walk In The Park but, unfortunately, both horses cover about 200 mares and are the most sought after National Hunt stallions in the country. With that comes a pecking order. To be fair to the Cashmans, they took a chance on Blue Bresil. I've always been a fan of the stallion-he gets you a stunning individual and he gets you a racehorse. It's great to see him doing so well. 

But you clearly feel you offer a value alternative for the man whose mare may not be in that top percentile of what the Walk In The Parks or Blue Bresils of this world will cover?

If you're paying me €2,000 for a colt and €1,000 for a filly and then you go to the sale and get €8,000 for your foal, that's good business. You're in profit from your nomination. We're akin to the small friendly neighborhood corner shop. My roster is stronger this year than ever. We've five stallions here; Storm The Stars has a number of potentially classy horses to run for him while Way To Paris and Kenway have interesting profiles and are going well as well. This game is unrivaled when things go well. For me, it provides you with a buzz that drugs would never compare to. Don't get me wrong, it's a difficult business. But as I said earlier, I'm confident that if breeders cut their cloth to measure in 2024, they can make money. We've carved out a niche as being easy to deal with and easy to pay. I don't send out a bill until July of the following year so I'm not knocking on your front door. My bank manager might want me to do it-and definitely my wife does-but I don't. I try to work with people and there's always a middle ground with me.

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