By Melissa Steele
The collective noun for O’Callaghans is unknown, but at bloodstock sales around the world they can often be found travelling as a pack. An intimidating force perhaps, the Yeomanstown O’Callaghans–not to be confused with their cousins, the equally successful Tally-Ho ones–are a close-knit clan who have made a prosperous business of breeding and trading horses with a little help from sire sensation Dark Angel (Ire).
Away from the sales, though, the brothers are scattered around Ireland and, at Grangemore Stud, Guy O’Callaghan is quite clearly doing his own thing.
“It’s important to be your own man,” says O’Callaghan, the third of four brothers. “It’s one thing that Gay [his father] instilled in us from an early age, you’ve got to be independent and work for yourself and ultimately, it’s up to you to make it happen.”
Undoubtedly a close team, the siblings’ WhatsApp group pings away in confirmation of that. O’Callaghan continues, “We’d often decide on things together, but you’re perfectly entitled to do your own thing. We all own our own stock; we own bits and pieces of each other’s stock of course but it wouldn’t work if it was all communal. I’ve often bought mares or foals that the lads didn’t like, and vice versa, and you’re out on your own.”
A former head boy at Glenstal Abbey, O’Callaghan remains a conscientious student and at a kitchen table with laptop open and a pile of catalogues at his side he explains, “Genuinely, my favourite thing is to go through catalogues and flick through the racing results. Seeing what trainers are doing what or which fillies are knocking around. What nice 2-year-olds could be available and just watching it all. It’s not a chore, it’s an absolute passion. Knowing what’s going on in our game is really important.”
It is a habit that has paid dividends for O’Callaghan who, paying more attention than most to the Gumley Claiming S. (Class 6) at Leicester one Monday evening in 2011, claimed an Exceed And Excel (Aus) filly for just £10,000 that would ultimately give him the dream start to his tenure at Grangemore Stud. It wasn’t even the first past the post that caught his eye but rather the eighth-placed Layla Jamil (Ire) who, on her first visit to the family’s Dark Angel (Ire), bred G2 Superlative S. winner Birchwood (Ire).
“I had an ideal start with Birchwood (Ire), he was an unbelievable flag bearer,” says O’Callaghan. “I claimed the mare for 10 grand. She was from a very good family, a family I had been trying to get into for about a year and I couldn’t believe she was in a claimer or that I was lucky enough to get her. Her first foal was Birchwood (Ire) and she’s been a good producer ever since.
“[Layla Jamil]’s now 3-year-old, called Leafhopper (Ire), won first time out in Newmarket for John Gosden last year. She hasn’t been seen since but by all accounts, she’s sound. Perhaps she’s just a filly who will benefit from a bit of time.”
With a strong hope that we haven’t seen the best of Leafhopper (Ire) yet, the grey daughter of Dark Angel (Ire) has already provided O’Callaghan with one of his greatest achievements to date when selling for 480,000gns at Book 1 of the Tattersalls October Yearling Sale.
“Going to the sales can be a bit like getting your homework corrected. You just want to have done a good job and to get an A. The sales can be quite intense and often you only get 30 seconds of a show to prove it. Most people will have made their mind up in the first 30 seconds so every show is important. Initially, it was hard to gauge at the sale how [Leafhopper] was being received as she was selling on the final day of Book 1. It can be a funny sale given how much inspecting goes on from the previous Saturday; it can seem an awfully long time until the following Thursday, but she was a filly that grew into the sale. Each day the sale went on the better she got and thankfully it all came together.”
For that piece of homework it was assuredly an ‘A’ for O’Callaghan, who has enjoyed some notable days in the sale ring during his relatively short career to date, but he takes equal pride in his results on the track having bred or traded over 40 winners since moving into Grangemore Stud. Like many an Irish stud master before him, he has his sights set on speed and breeding a Royal Ascot winning 2-year-old would be his ultimate goal.
“I’d love to breed a Royal Ascot winner,” he says. “Especially a Coventry winner. I’m aiming to try to breed fast horses that are precocious. I mean, as long as I continue to produce good horses that’s great but the Coventry is the race I’d really like to win.
“The electricity of a good sale in an auction ring is incredible,” continues O’Callaghan. “You’ve had contact with that horse for its whole life, through the prep to the sales, to the moment it goes through the ring. But the pride of seeing them going on and doing well on the track is the real bit of kudos that can’t be bought. It’s out of our hands as vendors and breeders. Whether you sold them for 5,000 or 105,000, all you want for them is to be successful. Then you can get your decision in breeding or trading that horse vindicated.”
O’Callaghan’s decision to buy and breed from Layla Jamil (Ire) has certainly been vindicated although he’s keen to downplay it.
“I know full well that was a fluke,” he says. “And I wouldn’t dare claim otherwise but she was the bit of luck I needed to get me on the map.”
When it comes to the actual map, rather than the metaphorical one, Grangemore Stud is positioned on prime farmland on the edge of The Curragh of Kildare. With 105 acres, O’Callaghan has grown his stock from nine yearlings and four mares up to 18 yearlings and 15 mares which he says is close to capacity.
“I wouldn’t like to get much bigger where I am,” he says. “But I’m lucky to have the kind of good dry land that allows the horses to be out year-round. They come off the farm with great bone and good feet which helps them to go on and do their thing.”
Walking into a field which is home to five yearling colts that include three Dark Angels (Ire), an El Kabeir and a Gutaifan (Ire), there appears to be a theme developing.
“In both breeding and pinhooking, I’ll always support the Yeomanstown sires,” confirms O’Callaghan. “At the end of the day I’m on the team and we’re in it together.
“I’m very lucky to have access to very good stallions. Of course, Dark Angel (Ire) is a superstar, Camacho (GB) is rock-solid and there are some exciting young horses to avail of as well. We’re really excited about El Kabeir because his stock are just class and the new horse, Invincible Army (Ire), we’re really looking forward to.
“My biggest thing for the farm since I moved in is to keep upgrading the mares,” he says. “I made the decision to invest in better mares over the past three years. I went out to buy good-looking, black-type sprint fillies and I feel it has helped me breed some really nice stock this year. I have what I think are some really good Dark Angels, a couple of smashing El Kabeirs and a cracking Gutaifan among the homebred crop. It’s great to have a bunch of homebreds that you believe are good as it’s never a guarantee.”
It’s not all about homebreds though. O’Callaghan’s business model is based partly on pinhooks and last year he purchased nine foals to sell on as yearlings, all of them by ‘outside sires’.They range from a Showcasing (GB) colt he bought at Tattersalls for 125,000gns to a Profitable (Ire) filly picked up for €19,000 at Goffs, with an emphasis on quality over quantity.
“The real aim in pinhooking is trying to sell horses for six figures; that’s the way the market has gone,” says O’Callaghan. “If you can produce the stock that are worthy of it, that is the goal. There’s nearly more buyers in that section of the market; trying to get 25 or 30,000 for a horse can be sometimes impossible.
“Last year I was fortunate to have some good pinhooks such as the highest-priced Dandy Man (Ire) ever (a €52,000 foal that made €220,000 at the Goffs Orby) as well as an Adaay (Ire) foal I bought for 30,000gns and sold to Shadwell at Goffs UK for £110,000. Results like that really help to carry the year. That’s why I think it’s important to have a mix of both homebreds and pinhooks, so they complement each other and you’re not dependent solely on either what you breed or what you can buy.”
As we tip into February, the yearling sales seem a long way off yet over half a million euros invested in foals is a significant outlay for anyone, particularly for the self-confessed worrier.
“I climb the walls,” explains O’Callaghan. “My family give me some stick for being an absolute box walker–I am the worst. But that’s who I am and I can’t help it. I’ve come to learn though that nearly every problem is solvable. The first year, every time I had a problem it was like it was the end of the world, but you get over it and you learn to just gradually deal with it. As long as the place doesn’t burn down around you, you’ll live.”
With a wise head on his shoulders, he continues, “Mistakes are the best learning curve. But if you’re here to stay then you’ll learn from it and you’ll move on. You can’t blank it out and pretend it didn’t happen; you have to remember that it happened but not dwell on it. Learn the lesson and move on from it.”
As an outsider looking in there appears to have been very few mistakes made thus far, but O’Callaghan is his own biggest critic and you get the feeling that he will always strive to be doing things better.