Haggas and Boughey: The Deadly Duo on Buying, Selling and Winning

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Sam Haggas and George Boughey | Tattersalls

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George Boughey is rarely seen without his right-hand man, Sam Haggas, and the pair sat down with Brian Sheerin at the Goffs UK Premier Yearling Sale at Doncaster this week.

   From making the Classic breakthrough with Cachet in the 1,000 Guineas, to recruiting Missed The Cut and Inver Park for relatively small money to win at Royal Ascot, Boughey and Haggas provide a fascinating insight to what goes on behind the scenes at one of the most impressive outfits in Britain and Ireland. 

Brian Sheerin: I saw this week that you are expanding–you have come a long way in a short space of time. 

George Boughey: We're still in the same place but just rented some more boxes out the back and built a hole through the fence between the two yards so we've just over 100 boxes now with that new yard. What we're doing is still the same but having those extra boxes is great. There have been possible chances to move to bigger yards but we're very happy doing what we're doing and it seems to be working. 

BS: Would a move to a big yard be on the horizon? It's no secret that you are one of the most ambitious people in the game.

GB: I've never been one to make quick decisions. I don't really like to jump at things and prefer to apply a pretty measured consideration to what I do. There's not many yards in Newmarket that have the capacity for us to move on to. I'm pretty intent on staying in Newmarket for the moment as it seems to be working for us. I've been very lucky to have assembled a great team of staff. To up sticks and move is a big thing, especially when you are growing. When you are stable, it's a different matter, but our business is changing as we go as we are buying and selling at every sale. If the right yard became available, it would be something to think about but that opportunity hasn't presented itself as of yet. 

BS: There have been plenty of examples of trainers experiencing massive growth spurts but they are unable to sustain it. There is definitely an element of getting too big too quickly for some people in this game. How have you managed to sustain your massive growth in such a short period yet maintain, and actually improve, results?

GB: The biggest thing for us is that we have employed the right people. We've just taken on a new person to run the new yard and my head lad, Adi Rogers, worked for Sir Michael Stoute and Sir Henry Cecil for years. We worked together in Hugo's [Palmer] and he came and worked for me when I decided to set up on my own. In the past few weeks, I've been to Arqana, York and now Doncaster, but the place keeps rolling on. We can do so much over the phone these days and the training charts are all online for me as well. I have good people; good farriers, vets, riders, feed people and general staff. That's what has enabled us to grow.

BS: When you burst onto the scene, you won a lot of 2-year-old races and clearly had them fit and ready. A lot of people were quick to pigeon-hole you as a trainer of early 2-year-olds. For that reason, did it give you extra satisfaction when Cachet (Ire) (Aclaim {Ire}) trained on and won the 1,000 Guineas as it proved your doubters wrong?

GB: One hundred per cent. And also, one of the Dixon brothers picked up on it the other day on Racing TV and I said it in an interview with him. If I wanted to bang out a load of 2-year-old winners, I'd be buying 20 yearlings here at Donny this week. The horse that I want to train is the nicer type of horse, not just early 2-year-olds, but one who can get you to the Classics. When I started, I realised we needed to buy some sharp, short-runners to go and win with, because otherwise, you get forgotten. If you just buy the slow-maturing horse, which is ultimately the one I want to train, nobody knows about you. You end up training for three years before you get going. We had a nice filly win on debut the other day by chance. They are not asked to win on debut and we've only had two first-time out juvenile winners this year. They win on their second and third starts and, because we have a strong pool of horses running for us now, we have been able to apply a different approach. 

 

BS: So it's interesting to hear that you were quite conscious of all of that when you were starting out. You were aware that people were labelling you as a trainer of early 2-year-olds. 

GB: I bought more older horses than 2-year-old starting out and Sam was a huge part of that. You could say we got lucky at the start because we bought four horses and three of them won. A few of them racked up sequences as well and we continue to do that. It's a conscious effort. For example, we'll be buying at the August Sale next week. We've had 75 winners this year and a lot of them have been sourced at the tried sales. We've bought some decent unraced horses from those sales as well and we will continue to do that. That's just as big of a part of our operation. I don't just want to be a trainer of early whizz bang 2-year-olds. I'd have gone a different way if I wanted to do that. If I wanted to do that, I don't think I'd have set up in Newmarket. 

BS: On Sam's involvement in the operation. I found it fascinating to watch the two of you in action at the July Sale at Newmarket. I saw Sam walking around with a folder full of speed figures. Can you provide us with some insight on that?

Sam Haggas: I look for quite a few things. I like looking at different stats, metrics and I just try not to miss anything. I believe that, the more information you have at your disposal, the better informed your decision will be when it comes to buying one. I just try not to miss anything and put a lot of things together about each horse in the catalogue. 

GB: But the one that's changed in the past three years, and granted it's a small sample size, but I used to have an opinion at the horses-in-training sales. Now, I don't even look at the catalogue. Sam does all of that and he will then give me a list of a sixth of the sale, or whatever it happens to be, and then I will go and look at them. We used to buy horses that I didn't like as a physical just because they came up well on Sam's stats and speed figures. Invariably, what we worked out was, the ones who did not have good physicals were anomalies, in that they put up a freak figure somewhere. They were never the successful ones that we bought so, now, what we do is, I have to like the physical before we buy them. You know, I have to look at them every day at home in training and what we've found is, the poor physicals, even on Sam's numbers, have been the ones who rarely work out. I like to have a sound and sturdy horse. We have won over £1.5 million in prize-money this season, including in France, and that is probably because I like to run my horses a lot. Oscula (Ire) (Galileo Gold {GB}) has won something like £300,000 in prize-money this year alone so they need to be able to take their racing. I don't do a huge amount at home with them but, matching the physicals with Sam's data, that has been a huge turn for us. 

BS: Whose decision has it been to run Oscula 20 times this season? Yourself or Nick Bradley's [owner]?

GB: Probably Nick for the 20th! I was pretty keen for most of them. I was very keen to back up quickly at Goodwood when she won the Group 3 there. My girlfriend Laura, who rides Oscula at home, was pretty keen as well. Oscula is actually the heaviest she's ever been right now. I thought she was cooked when I picked her up off the sand in Saudi Arabia but she responded incredibly well. She went for a good break after that-she never really had one before-and she developed. She's not an overly big horse but she's just looked better and better all summer. She literally spends most of her time in the paddock and goes for a trot-she only had the saddle on her back about four times in between three runs. 

BS: There are some excellent trainer-agent combinations, for example Archie Watson has Tom Biggs. What sets you two apart?

Sam Haggas: There's also Jason Kelly and David O'Meara, Joseph O'Brien and Kevin Blake, Ado McGuinness and Stephen Thorne. Personally, I have been lucky to work with a few very diligent people who have helped me get the list to where it needs to be for George. Equally, George is very disciplined and he has a very good team around him. When a horse goes through the ring at a H-I-T sale, we have a value on every one of them. We bid to their value and, if we miss, it's a case of them making too much and us walking away. There's a bit of that involved and discipline as well. We have good people on our side in every facet of the operation and I don't think that there's one secret.

GB: I think the valuing of the horses is a big thing. It would be great to go out and buy every horse that we want but we've never spent a lot of money–I don't think we've ever bought anything for more than £50,000. I think discipline is important. We could go and buy these 103-rated horses but they're just too obvious and anyone can buy those.

BS: Have you found yourselves re-evaluating budgets at the yearling sales yet because Arqana was extremely competitive and there doesn't appear to be anything slipping through the net here at the Premier Yearling Sale.

SH: The thing with H-I-T Sales is, the range of what sort of value a horse has is much more narrow compared to yearlings. You have a fair idea about what you are going to be paying for a horse in training.

GB: Yea, at those sales you don't have a horse that you think will make £25,000 go on to make £125,000, but that can happen here. If that happens at the H-I-T Sale, you're doing things wrong. 

SH: There's a bit more rationale to the H-I-T sales.

GB: What we buy now has changed to what we bought when we started out. Before, we were just trying to buy a horse to win a race. The first order I ever gave Sam was to go out and find me a horse to win a 0-50 handicap. He found every single horse rated 47-50 who could run between seven furlongs and a mile-and-a-quarter. I still have the What's App messages between myself and Sam on this, when he came back to me and said, 'I think the one you want is Three C'S (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}). He's won six or seven races for us and we paid next to nothing for him privately. He was the type of horse we were trying to buy back then. Now, we're trying to buy a horse to win the Buckingham Palace at Royal Ascot, which is what Sam did. He bought Inver Park (GB) (Pivotal {GB}) without seeing him but he came out so well on his figures that he just had to have him. I can remember sitting in my kitchen when we bought him. We had to give about 10 grand more than we wanted to but Sam wouldn't let me not buy him. It's very rare that Sam pushes me to buy a horse and, when we bought him, he said Inver Park would go on and win the Buckingham Palace. We gelded him and then worked backwards from the race. Amazingly, he had to go all the way up to Hamilton to win at 8-11 to win under a penalty to guarantee that he'd get in at Ascot. William Buick flew up there to ride that horse especially for us and it won us the race at Ascot because we snuck in. For that to work out as Sam said it would, it was just amazing.

BS: Missed The Cut (Quality Road) was also an inspired buy.

SH: If George is going to give me the credit for Inver Park, I'm going to have to give him the credit for Missed The Cut. He was unraced. A completely blank canvass so, how much data can you gather on an unraced horse? He came out of his box and, straight away, George declared him the NAP of the sale. That was that. The horse walked into the ring and I don't think George was going to be beaten.

GB: He was so big and backward. He was a much different physical back then to what he is now. In actual fact, he was a big, raw slop of a thing, really. It was the middle of February and I can remember, he took three strides out of his box and I told them to pop him back in. Sam was saying, 'you can't do that,' but he was such a lovely horse that you could see it straight away. He was a $400,000 [Shadwell-bought] foal at Keeneland in November 2019 and I would have been happy to give more than we did [40,000 gns]. We bought Diamond Ranger (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}) a couple of lots before that and he's won two and is rated 91. There was a big gap in the market and I can remember saying to Sam on the Shadwell horses, 'we need to buy as many of these as we can.' They had twice the pedigrees of any of these horses here at Donny today, yet they cost half the price. Diamond Ranger cost us 26,000gns. He was a 110,000gns yearling at Book 1 at Tattersalls in 2020. 

BS: Those results at Ascot must be up there with the best days you both have had in racing. I know Sam has had good touches in the past, including with a filly he sourced from Ireland, Miss O Connor (Ire) (Roderic O'Connor {Ire}), but those Ascot triumphs must have been something different.

SH: It was right up there with my best days in racing, for sure. To be there on the day, and to have the owners there as well, it was amazing. These were inexpensive horses winning at the biggest meeting in the world. 

GB: Missed The Cut and Inver Park are amazingly owned by great friends of ours. Ed Babington owns a share of Missed The Cut and he also has a share in Inver Park. Charlie Rosier and Allison Jackson are also big supporters of the yard. They've cobbled together for horses a few times and, yes they've had winners which has been great, but to put their top hats on and win races at Royal Ascot, that's their dream. It's also our dream so it's great that we could live it. We're lucky to have lots of horses to have a chance to do it but, to actually go and do it was great. 

BS: There has been a lot of doom and gloom in the media about trainers being forced to retire due to an inability to make the game pay. The flipside of that is, there are people like yourself coming through showing that, yes, while this is an extremely difficult profession to make a living at, it can be done.

GB: We had 87 winners across Europe last year and, at the start of this season, I looked at the pool of horses we had and thought, 'how the hell are we going to get anywhere near that.' But, with Sam's help, I mean every single sale, we're active. We keep buying and selling horses. If I started and finished the year with the same pool of horses, I wouldn't do anything like the numbers that we do. You have to keep the wheel turning and, yes, there are times when it's tricky for us. The old-fashioned thing to do is, you buy a yearling around this time of year and you see everyone again at the next yearling sale the following autumn. That's a long way away from what we do. A lot of trainers see H-I-T sales as clearouts but we use them to re-stock. It's an opportunity to elevate the quality in your yard.

BS: But it's also an opportunity for you to let go of horses you feel have reached their ceiling?

GB: We've actually sold a lot of winners there over the past few years. That's a big thing for us. I want people to feel like they can buy winners from us. In the August Sale next week, there's absolute winners waiting to happen for the next person. Paddy Brunty (Ire) (Dandy Man {Ire}) and Rock Girl (Ire) (Profitable {Ire}) for example, there's a bundle of them. They'll be winning races in three weeks' time but we need to be turning them over and putting money back in our owners' pockets rather than running the horses into the ground. 

BS: There's not many trainers who would be so commercially driven at your level.

GB: I wouldn't say so. You see it all of the time, a lot of the horses at these H-I-T sales are taken out at the last minute. That's what makes it so frustrating for Sam. You see a horse two weeks out from the sales and you want to buy it. Then, two days before the sale, it's scratched because trainers want to keep a hold of them. We have a different view.

BS: Sam, you may have cut your teeth with the form horses, but you've become equally as busy at the yearling sales. Do you enjoy that?

SH: I'd love to do more on the yearling sales. First and foremost, horses with form is the priority and I want to keep it that way. I can't let that slip. But I'd love to do more on the yearling side of things. Equally, it's a different sphere but I'm interested in both arenas. I don't see why a data and form approach can't be applied to a certain degree to these yearling sales. They may just provide us with something of an edge or just something extra to what we are seeing with just our eyes. 

BS: We all know the Mark Johnston approach to buying yearlings at these sales. Is yours different or what is your approach?

SH: There may not be something printed in the catalogue page and it will be my job to know about that. There could be many underappreciated things there and I will bring it all to the table for George to consider. 

GB: There's been a number of times when Sam has flagged up something. He'd say to me, 'you better go and see that,' and I wouldn't have had it on the list. He might see a horse run well at Carlisle or some place, and it could look like a potentially nice horse or a future winner, and it may be an update that not many people will have spotted. It's another tool. I certainly would miss that if I was going looking by myself. 

BS: Speaking about the horses in your yard, where can we expect to see Missed The Cut next? Were you disappointed with him in the G2 Prix Guillaume d'Ornano at Deauville?

GB: He's still very raw and, I said it before the race, it's very rare that a horse goes from winning a maiden to running in the top group races, which is what he did in France. He did come up a little bit short but he was possibly racing on the worst part of the track that day and finished off his race a little flat. We won the following race with Oscula and, after telling Ryan Moore to come down the middle the previous race on Missed The Cut, I told him to hug the rail on Oscula, and it worked. Anything that came off the rail seemed to be treading water so I don't think that helped us. But the winner, Al Hakeem (GB) (Siyouni {Fr}), is a very good horse and we retain a lot of faith in Missed The Cut. He's come a long way already and is owned by some very patient people so we'll do the right thing by him. 

BS: And is there a plan for Cachet?

GB: The Breeders' Cup is the plan and she's training away. She's a Classic winner and you can't take that away from her. We'll have a meeting with Highclere soon and make a plan but things are up in the air a little bit at the moment. 

BS: I find it quite interesting that Sam must look at things through a different prism than most given his background working with Paddy Power. 

SH: I definitely learned a lot at Paddy Power and I apply a lot of what I learned there to bloodstock. It was a very good education. There were some talented people in that building in Dublin and I learned a lot during my two years over there. There's an ex-colleague of mine at Paddy Power's, a guy called Feidhlim Cunningham, and he's done very well with Gavin Cromwell. They've had a lot of success together. There's a skillset that you gained at Paddy Power that was definitely applicable to bloodstock.

BS: And what about backing them? Everyone knows the Boughey yard is to be feared when the money arrives. That must provide you both with a lot of fun when it goes well?

GB: It is a bit of fun but, the more horses you have, the more it distorts your view. I used to punt, I mean it makes the world go around but now I have over 100 horses in training so we don't do it as much. Yes, if we fancy one, we might support it but a lot of the time, I think the gambles on our horses comes more from the general public. When they snowball, they snowball.

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