From Prince Regent To Little Big Bear

Tim, Jr. & Timmy Hyde at Goffs | Goffs


Timmy Hyde was still a teenager when turning his first profit on a hunter. Even then, Demi O'Byrne–his partner in many a horse since–had an incidental role, their respective fathers being good pals.

“I only had the horse two weeks before I sold him,” Hyde recalls wryly. “I suppose I was 17 or 18. I'd been out hunting with Demi one day, and we came back in and his father said to me, 'Would you buy a horse, Tim?' I knew, in the back of my mind, there was going to be no problem here anyway. Larry O'Byrne was not going to sell me a dud. So I was very comfortable. 'Yeah, I would.' I think I gave 200 quid for him.”

He pauses, smiles. “Two weeks later, somebody drove into the yard wanting to buy a horse. My father had some in the yard, but of course I showed my own first, and sold him. And, funny thing, Mr. O'Byrne got into his car with a bottle of champagne, drove up and drank it with my father–celebrating the success I'd had, buying the horse from him.”

So what price did he get, £250 maybe?

Hyde chuckles quietly. “No, we did a bit better than that,” he says. “We did well anyway, that's for sure.”

But it would be too literal to say that this was where it all began, over 50 years ago now, for one of the consummate horsemen of his time. Because between nature and nurture, between his “page” and the way he was raised, the story of this understated figure–familiar to the point of veneration on the international bloodstock circuit–blends the lore of generations. He learned from revered horsemen of the old school before himself becoming a similar beacon for the next generation, whether as breeder or consignor or pinhooker, while always modestly insisting on the role of peers and partners.

Nobody, however, can doubt his individual genius–especially as it now extends generationally, all five of the children raised with wife Trish sharing an inherited flair for the Thoroughbred, notably Tim, Jr. in assisting the operation (not least as a veterinarian) of the home farm, Camas Park Stud, at Cashel in Co Tipperary.

Just a few names will attest to this seamless heritage. I mean, good grief, Hyde's first job was with Harry Wragg. His father rode a Grand National winner before the war and sold another, Royal Tan (Ire), to Vincent O'Brien. Hyde remembers Prince Regent (Ire)–ridden by T.J. Hyde to win the 1946 Cheltenham Gold Cup–being paraded through an excited crowd at a horseshow in Cork. Decade after decade, Hyde has had a hand in dozens of elite racehorses all round the world.

So a recent cup of coffee with Hyde at Keeneland must, for anyone in this business, be counted one of the privileges of our times. But it would, in truth, be a disarming experience simply on a human level. Yes, he is too reliably self-effacing and discreet to vaunt all this priceless interaction, with great horses and horsemen alike. But the other side of the same coin is a down-to-earth, humorous nature that can only have served him well, ever since that precocious first transaction, as a trader.

Where on earth do you start, though? Well, we may as well go in reverse order with Little Big Bear, son of another Hyde project in No Nay Never, and last seen winning the G1 Keeneland Phoenix S. by seven lengths. Because his pedigree–combining the American influences of his sire with the group-placed Bering (GB) mare Adventure Seeker (Fr), acquired from the Wildenstein dispersal in 2016–attests to the cosmopolitan perspective Hyde has obtained in long commuting between the American and European markets.

“She was a lovely mare, really good-looking,” Hyde recalls. “Sadly she's not with us anymore, we lost her foaling this year. The foal was saved, another No Nay Never colt. But, look, these things happen. We were lucky to get the good one. Little Big Bear [sold at Deauville for €320,000] was born a very good foal, he stood very soon. Very strong.”

Though Little Big Bear is plainly channeling the speed of his sire-line, Hyde would not be surprised to see his maternal genes (the dam was “definitely a European, staying mare”) drawing him into Classic contention.

“He's so relaxed,” he reasons. “If you look at his races, he's probably the first of those in contention off the bridle. But that's only because he's so idle, he just about falls asleep. The last day, once Ryan Moore gave him a kick, he ran right away. A horse that can do that over six furlongs, being so relaxed, I could see him getting a mile. It would have been nice to see him over seven in the Dewhurst, but he twisted his shoe and injured his hoof and couldn't run again. But I'm sure he'll be fine.”

It feels apt that this latest star should represent a transatlantic blend. When Hyde first started coming to Keeneland, after all, he was ahead of the most dynamic commercial curve in bloodstock history. It would be primarily branded by John Magnier and Vincent O'Brien, but Hyde was also a pioneer himself–in the pinhooking trade that has since become such a pivotal driver of investment.

“And the dollar was cheap at the time, not like now!” he notes. “When we first came over, in the late '70s, we just bought a few cheaper foals. But we were lucky with them, and so we crept up the ladder a bit. Very few Europeans were coming to buy foals at the time. The late Joss Collins, a great man, he was some of our opposition at that time.

“We thought we'd just buy the good individual that had some European appeal. The dirt horses are usually bigger and broader, and some of those did work in Europe.” (Here he notes the American background of horses like Indian Skimmer, Al Bahathri and Soviet Star.) “At the time, people in Europe were very interested in buying American-bred horses. To be quite honest with you, I didn't really know what a dirt horse looked like. We probably just thought we were buying nice horses, like we were used to at home.”

An abiding paradox is that many who excel in developing young Flat stock, both sides of the ocean, were brought up in National Hunt yards–full of big, slow-maturing horses.

“I don't know why that should be, but it has happened,” Hyde says, listing several breeze-up consignors of such a background. “I suppose the guys that do that, they have to be horsemen first. And they probably have an eye for maturity in a yearling.”

Certainly Hyde never shed that ancestral connection. A longtime Master of Hounds, both with the Golden Vale and the Tipperary Foxhounds, he bought the legendary hurdler Istabraq (Ire) off the Flat for no more than 38,000gns.

“My grandfather was a foxhunting man in Cork, and my father the same,” he reflects. “And he started point-to-pointing, people noticed him, he turned professional and became champion jump jockey. He was a wonderful horseman. Unfortunately when he was training–and training very successfully, he'd had a couple of winners at Cheltenham, and won the Irish National–he had an awful show jumping accident. He was only 42 at the time, and remained the rest of his life in a wheelchair.”

Hyde himself was 10 when the family was hit by this trauma, but had already been riding ponies and hunting for three years or so.

“But even after that happened, I learned an awful lot from him,” he emphasizes. “You know, he actually coped very well with it. He was a wonderful teacher, a great judge of a horse, and showed me all the finer things. He was strict about stable management, or not strict but a stickler for the way things should be: for tidiness, for all that stuff that was drilled into me.”

A mentor with a similar outlook was duly chosen after his father lost what Hyde recalls as “a big tussle” over whether he should go to veterinary college.

“He knew Harry Wragg from his riding days and said he was the greatest thinker through a race,” Hyde says. “As you know, they used to call him 'The Head Waiter', and my father was very impressed with that. So he sent me over [to Newmarket]. I was only 15, and less than seven stone. But I learned a lot there. What a man! He was very similar to my father. His stable management was unbelievable, and he took time teaching. He had a number of apprentices at the time, and he'd ride beside you on the pony, just explaining things as we walked along. It was a good education and I rode a few Flat winners there, my first in an apprentice race on the Rowley Mile.”

In fairness, we should mention that Hyde also had the benefit of a strong “bottom line”: his mother was a sister of Willie O'Grady, another champion jump jockey (and father of trainer Edward).

“And another great man,” Hyde says. “I rode a winner in Cheltenham for Willie O'Grady, Kinloch Brae in the Cathcart [1969]. He won everything between then and Cheltenham the following year, and started favourite for the Gold Cup–only to fall at the third last. It's a long way from home, but he was going well, yeah. And he was a brilliant jumper, up to then. But he just hit it so low, he turned head over tail. He was stunned, definitely, he lay down for a minute or two, and never showed any form of that type afterwards.”

In a vintage era among jump jockeys, Hyde concedes modestly that he was “always comfortable” in the heat of battle.

“I loved it,” Hyde says. “You had to hold your corner, that's for sure. When you go out to ride a race, you're on your own, it's you against everybody else. But when the race is over, the weighing room is a great place. Tommy Carberry was a great friend of mine, and a great, great jockey. Pat Taaffe was a bit older than me, but another great man. Bobby Beasley. Bobby Coonan. That was a different era, but we had great days.”

Hyde had been a trader even as a jockey, albeit primarily in show jumpers. But while a couple of Olympic medalists passed through his hands, he realized on retirement, at 32, that he could process a higher volume with horses that you didn't need to ride yourself day in, day out. He'd always had three or four Thoroughbred foals about the place and now made them his priority.

He would be blessed, in doing so, not just to catch an imminent revolution in commercial breeding but also to fall in step with some of its most inspired participants. There was Demi O'Byrne, as already mentioned, while Paul Shanahan has been a partner in many a project.

“Paul came over here [i.e. Kentucky] to work with Melinda Smith, who I knew very well, Demi and I had horses there,” Hyde recalls. “That's when I first met Paul. Very sound mind, very sound man, wonderful judge of a horse. His record of buying horses speaks for itself.”

And over the years Hyde, Shanahan and O'Byrne have all been on terms of great mutual trust with the doyen of the new era in bloodstock, John Magnier himself.

“I'd say John was in his early 20s the first time I met him, out hunting with the Avondhu Foxhounds,” Hyde recalls. “I was addicted to foxhunting I have to say. He was just a very nice young man, and obviously very clever. We got friendly, and have been friendly ever since.”

We look around us: everyone in the room, trying to eke a living out of an international horse auction, shares a degree of debt to the example and opportunity introduced by Magnier, together with O'Brien and their sponsor Robert Sangster.

“All over the world,” Hyde agrees. “Huge impact in Australia as well.” He points to his forehead. “It's all on top, isn't it? John is actually the most forward thinker I've ever known in my life.  An amazing mind.

“Vincent was a friend of my father's, his attention to detail was something else. Of course he was another that started out with jumpers. And Robert I knew as well: a very nice, very generous man. He loved people, loved the party and really enjoyed his racing. He was a great man for the game.”

If his timing and associations were opportune, Hyde clearly brought something special of his own to the equation: a shrewd eye, most obviously, but also a temperament equal to a volatile marketplace.

“I suppose you had to be brave,” he acknowledges. “But at that stage, I never really worried about anything. Though they did think we were off our rockers after Demi and I bought Authaal!”

That colt, one of only 35 foals bequeathed by Shergar (GB), cost Ir325,000gns at Goffs in 1984, only to set an Irish record at Ir3,100,000gns in the same ring as a yearling. (He went on to Group 1 success in both Ireland and Australia.)

“Well, at that time, the market was really sky high, wasn't it?” Hyde says with a shrug. “Oh, it was unbelievable. And then there was a very sharp downturn. Saw a few of those! They did hurt me. Because we were brave, we didn't really see it coming.

“He was an outstanding foal, and turned out to be an outstanding yearling. But it's always a big risk. You've got a year to go by, you've got to pass the vet, he's got to grow properly, he's got to have a good temperament. Everything has to go right. Especially at those figures. Well, he never gave us any trouble. But listen, you're younger, you're braver. It's gone the other way for Demi and me, too, from time to time!”

So what kind of horse, filtered by all this experience, is most apt to find its way to Camas Park?

“I love horses with quality, anyway,” Hyde muses. “Quality, and strength. I think all the good horses have that. And action, a walk. If you can afford it, some good blood in there somewhere, even if it's back a bit. It can skip a generation or two, but then it comes alive again. Not always, but it can do.

“Of course you like to see a sensible horse, too. If a horse is always uptight, you worry a little. But most horses that misbehave, you just have to keep on top of them. You could spoil a horse very easy, probably, not if you're too gentle, but if you show a bit of nervousness. The people around them need to be confident. Somebody's nervous, a horse will find out fairly quick. So you just keep an eye out for things like that, maybe put a different handler on him.”

If it's impossible to go through all the good ones, it seems barely less so to pick out one that gave most satisfaction. If pressed, Hyde would say that breeding a first Classic winner gave him a unique kick with Alexandrova (Ire) (Sadler's Wells), especially as such an exceptional looker. Indian Skimmer was another cherished beauty. “Because she was one of the first of the top horses we had,” Hyde recalls. “We bought her privately, in a bunch: a job lot of Storm Birds! I sold her to Sheikh Mohammed, and after the [G1] Prix de Diane he was over the moon, he came over to shake hands and said, 'Congratulations to you.'”

But Hyde's aversion to personal credit is soon back to the fore, as he stresses how even the best horses can sometimes be unprofitable.

“Johannesburg, for instance,” he says. “Made a loss on him. No issues, but we just didn't have customers.”

On the other hand, a failed pinhook with Johannesburg's grandson No Nay Never turned out to be a blessing in disguise. He cost Hyde and Shanahan $170,000 as a foal, and made $95,000 as a yearling. Luckily, they stayed in the colt along with Wesley Ward's clients at Ice Wine Stable.

“So the way he turned out was a stroke of luck really,” Hyde admits. “He was a beautiful foal, a massive, strong horse. But when we brought him back as a yearling his X-rays weren't clean. Rightly or wrongly, a lot of other good horses have failed that way. These days everybody wants peace of mind that they're buying a clean horse. But a lot of horses that have little faults can be trained. Some trainers have a great knack that way, I've been amazed what they can do.”

Even breeding Nyquist (Uncle Mo) had a bittersweet quality: besides selling the future GI Kentucky Derby winner as a weanling, Hyde and his partners also sold the dam as next lot into the ring.

“But we were happy for the guy who got her,” Hyde insists. “I mean, that's the thing I enjoy most of all: when the horses you sell go to the top. That's what I enjoy more than buying or selling or anything. Particularly horses you've bred. That gives me a wonderful kick.”

So, too, does his own dynasty. Hyde takes pride that the horsemanship he inherited–his father once bought a 2000 Guineas winner (1951, Ki Ming {Ire}) as a foal for 370 guineas–has long been safely entrusted to the next generation. His daughters have all been integral to the work of their respective husbands: Wendy with Eddie O'Leary; Valerie with John Osborne; Janet with Norman Williamson; and Carol with Charlie Swan. And Hyde is gratified that he again prevailed when repeating, with Tim Jr., exactly the “tussle” he once had with his own parents.

“Because they were right,” he concedes. “I often regretted not being a vet. Tim's a great help, that's for sure. People do ask me whether I want to retire. But what am I going to do if I retire? Horses have been my life. And I'm very lucky that I adore what I do.” He shakes his head. “You know what, I don't believe I ever worked a day in my life.”

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