'I Came To Ireland With Nothing – Now, Winning A Classic Is The Dream'

At home with Robson Aguiar, who is dreaming of Classics with Bucanero Fuerte | Brian Sheerin


Out from the cloudy backdrop on a morning borrowed from winter comes a sight so good that it serves to remind that spring has in fact sprung and the Flat season is not as far away as it seems. 

There is Group 1 winner Bucanero Fuerte (GB) (Wootton Bassett {GB}) leading Derby entrants Mr Hampstead (Galileo {Ire}) and Padesha (Fr) (Wootton Bassett {GB}). And who's that lobbing along in behind? Potential Dubai World Cup runner Elegant Man (Arrogate) and Qipco Champion S. hero King Of Steel (Wootton Bassett {GB}) add to what is a star-studded string. 

There are days where you might head to the racecourse and not see one horse as good as any of those mentioned above. But this is just a normal day in the life of Robson Aguiar, leading breeze-up handler, pre-trainer and more recently assistant trainer to Adrian Murray. 

A man of many hats is Aguiar, who is in no way short of ambition. He came to Ireland in 2006 with nothing and, after cutting his teeth at Ballydoyle followed by Tally-Ho Stud, quickly established himself as one of the best judges of equine talent in the business. 

The buying and selling of horses like The Lir Jet (Ire) (Prince Of Lir {Ire}), Star Of Emaraaty (Ire) (Pride Of Dubai {Aus}), Summer Sands (GB) (Coach House {Ire}), Queen Jo Jo (GB) (Gregorian {Ire}), Shantisara (Ire) (Coulsty {Ire}) and more got Aguiar's name in lights. It didn't take long for Kia Joorabchian of Amo Racing to take stock of those achievements and, in a little over three years working together, the pair has achieved Royal Ascot success with G2 Norfolk S. winner Valiant Force (Malibu Moon) and a breakthrough Group 1 victory with Phoenix S. scorer Bucanero Fuerte. 

The best may yet be come for the operation with Bucanero Fuerte facing a crucial gallop in a fortnight's time to determine whether he goes straight to Newmarket for the 2,000 Guineas or reverts in trip for races like the Commonwealth Cup, while the team is well-stacked in the fillies' department with Ornellaia (GB) (Night Of Thunder {Ire}) and Persian Dreamer (Calyx {GB}) firmly on course for the 1,000 Guineas. 

“The money I got for him and then Star Of Emaraaty is the money I used to buy this farm. Those two horses paid for this place,” – Robson Aguiar

Aguiar said, “I brought Bucanero Fuerte away to the Curragh last Sunday. It was only a light canter but he went well and we will bring him back there in about two weeks' time where he will work on the grass. After that, we will make a decision on whether he goes for the 2,000 Guineas or the Commonwealth Cup but I think he will get the mile no problem. That's what I hope. If we think he's a Guineas horse, he will go straight there.

“The favourite City Of Troy (Justify) is a very good horse and will be hard to beat. But, if you look at Bucanero's best form, it is very good as well. He beat genuine Group 1 horses in Porta Fortuna (Ire) (Caravaggio) and Unquestionable (Fr) (Wootton Bassett {GB}) in the Phoenix Stakes. City Of Troy hasn't beaten a Group 1 horse by four lengths but Bucanero has. But I respect City Of Troy a lot. To be honest, he looks like he will be hard to beat.”

On the fillies, Aguiar added, “I think Ornellaia and Persian Dreamer will run in the 1,000 Guineas. The 1,000 Guineas looks a bit more open than the 2,000 Guineas and we are happy with both fillies.”

There are so many lots to be ridden this morning that Aguiar says he's lost count but the number is said to be somewhere between 10 and 14. That's before making a mad dash to Dublin airport in order to catch a flight to England where he will meet up with Joorabchian for dinner before having a sit on some of the youngsters coming through the Amo Racing system in other yards the following day. 

Along with Murray, Aguiar may be overseeing the careers of a galaxy of young stars at his base just outside Mullingar, but there is nothing fancy about how he gets the job done with Dunlop wellies the order of the day.

“When you go to Newmarket, you will find a lot of fancy riding boots, but they cannot ride,” Aguiar jokes about his footwear of choice. “Yes, they have nice boots, but they cannot ride. It's like a soccer player with fancy football boots. They're not the good players.” 

That's not the only football reference throughout the morning with Joorabchian, who first shot to prominence in the sporting pantheon as the agent who looked after Argentinian soccer stars Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano, being said to be sometimes guilty of viewing racing as “one big football game.” 

However, Aguiar is quick to point out that even in football, the amount you spend in the transfer market does not have a direct correlation to getting results on the pitch with big spenders and serial underachievers Paris Saint-Germain put forward as the most glaring example of that.

One thing Aguiar cannot be accused of is spending over the odds. It was the small-money buys that got his business off the ground and, while he does not plan on sending many horses to the breeze-up sales this year, there is no shortage of trade being done at this place with Natalia Lupini, Middleham Park Racing and Nick Bradley buying privately from him in the past couple of weeks alone. 

“I will have a few horses in the Craven Sale and we will see how that goes but I won't have as many for the breeze-ups this year. I am able to get good money for horses on the private market and I have a lot of my own clients that I need to keep happy every year. Some people will ring me looking for a 75-rated filly and I will ask for a 75-rated filly's price and other people will ring asking for a good colt and I will charge what I think the horse is worth. You need to earn people's trust but we've sold a lot of nice horses privately-Kitty Rose (GB) (Invincible Army {Ire}) to Natalia Lupini, Oscula (Ire) (Galileo Gold {GB}) to Nick Bradley and Brave Emperor (Ire) (Sioux Nation) to Middleham Park Racing. They've all bought horses off me this year again.”

Back out on the gallops, it's Aguiar in the plate aboard Bucanero Fuerte while his brother-in-law Jose-a dead ringer for David Loughnane-who has the pleasure of steering King Of Steel through his morning paces. Aguiar reports the Group 1 winner to be “very strong” and suggests he will be ready to return to trainer Roger Varian in the coming weeks.

He explained, “King Of Steel looks well. He did very well for us last year and he has come back very strong. He should return to Roger Varian very soon and he can decide what he wants to do with the horse this year.”

Fellow four-year-old Elegant Man, who has been earning his stripes quietly on the all-weather during the winter, could be another older horse to follow this season, according to the 42-year-old.

Aguiar said, “He is entered in the Dubai World Cup but I don't know if he will get in or not. His form is working out well. He was second to Rebel's Romance (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) at Kempton in December and that horse has won a Group 3 in Qatar since. Elegant Man is still a big baby but I think he could be a very special horse in time. If he doesn't go to Dubai, we might run him in the Devoy Stakes at Naas at the end of March and start his campaign for the year on grass. I think he will handle the grass. If he does, he could end up being a Group 1 horse. Arrogate is dead so, if Elegant Man could win a Group 1 race on the grass, he could be a very interesting stallion prospect. That's the dream.”

It wasn't always this way for Aguiar. He's had to work hard to get to where he is now, working closely with stallion prospects and black-type fillies, but there were times where he doubted if it may happen at all. 

He explained, “I came to Ireland in 2006 with nothing. It was not easy and it took a lot of hard work. I had to go to the sales and buy whatever it was that everybody else didn't want and then try to make a good horse out of what was left over. Now, I go to the sales and buy whatever I think is the best horse at the right money. But before, I could only buy the ones that other people didn't want. 

“The Lir Jet and Star Of Emaraaty, they changed everything for me. I think I would have been f****d without them because I sold them during Covid. There were no sales, barely any racing and I had 25 horses who I had to pay rent for and everything else on top of that. I got The Lir Jet going and sent him to Michael Bell. We got him sold privately before he made his debut but he failed the vet. I said to myself, 'oh my God, this can't be happening.' 

“We entered him at Yarmouth and I asked Silvestre [de Sousa] to ride him for me. I told him to treat the horse like a three-year-old and he did. He broke the track record first time out. Two minutes later, I have about five missed calls from agents trying to buy him because in that year, you had to nominate your horses for the two-year-old races at Royal Ascot. Michael Bell nominated him and he was one of the favorites for the Norfolk Stakes, which he went on and won for Qatar Racing. That was very important for me. The money I got for him and then Star Of Emaraaty is the money I used to buy this farm. Those two horses paid for this place.” 

The one constant in Aguiar's progression has been his close association with Tally-Ho Stud's Roger O'Callaghan. The Brazilian native refers to the O'Callaghans, whose famous farm is less than 10 minutes of a drive away, as being “like family” to him.

He said, “Roger O'Callaghan helped me a lot, I have to be honest about that. At that time, when there was no racing, no nothing, I told him I had no more money left. He told me not to worry about that and to put my head down and get to work. He told me, 'whatever you need, I'll support you.' That was a big help to me, to have someone like Roger in my corner helping me. It gave me a lot of confidence. The O'Callaghans are like family to me and have helped me a lot. 

“I learned a lot at Ballydoyle but Tally-Ho is where I got a lot of confidence to go and practice what I learned. Every day you are learning in this game. Aidan O'Brien was the same. Every year, he would train the horses a different way. He changes every year. He is learning as well as us. As soon as you think you know everything about a horse, you are gone.”

That's the sort of drive that sustains an operation as big as this. The hunger in Aguiar is palpable, borderline inspirational, and you have to take your hat off to a man who has grabbed every opportunity that has ever been presented to him and left nothing but crumbs on the table. 

He said, “I have always been ambitious but the younger generation don't want to work nowadays. They want to sit on their phones all day. When I was younger, we didn't have phones, we had to play outside. Nowadays, all we get is lazy people and soft people. Everybody is getting this and that. We never had time to think about such problems. We had to work to survive. Things come too easy to people now. If you give a person of 14 or 15 years of age a job, you'll get jail.”

What age did you start to work?

“When I could walk! When I was six or seven years old, I was already helping out on the farm. Seriously. My Dad used to milk cows back home in Brazil. At that time, everything was done by hand. You could get 150 litres of milk every day by hand. It was a lot of work. In the evenings, I used to go and separate the calves from the cows with my brother. Even at six or seven, you needed to use your brain because, if you made a mistake, there was trouble.”

Through his association with Amo Racing and now Murray, Aguiar has had a taste of what it is like to dine at the top table. Make no mistake, he's hungry for more. 

“I have a very good relationship with Adrian,” he says. “We trust each other and, at the moment, his strike-rate is very good so I'd like to think I have been able to help him because he came to me a few years ago saying that he was thinking about not renewing his licence but I told him not to panic and to sit tight. I have known Adrian for a long time now. I bought Shes Ranger (Ire) (Bushranger {Ire}) for him at the breeze-ups back in 2016 and I rode her to win for him on the Flat at Dundalk. Before that, he didn't even have his Flat licence. Shes Ranger went on to finish third in a Group 3 at Leopardstown before being sold.”

He added, “I think we are only just starting. We need to start selling a few more at the horses-in-training sales and qualifying horses better as well. A lot of horses will go to the horses-in-training sales in July and October. There is no point in us having a horse rated 90. What are you going to do with a 90-rated horse? We want Group 1 colts and black-type fillies. We don't want handicappers. We will have between 50 and 60 two-year-olds in training in Europe and America this year. My big aim is for us to become more competitive in Ireland. You look at the Group races in Ireland and it's Aidan O'Brien, Joseph O'Brien, Donnacha O'Brien and then Paddy Twomey. My ambition is to help Kia and Adrian to take our horses to those big races.”

And what will it mean to them if they achieve that Classic dream?

“One day we will do it,” he says without flinching. “When I first started working with Kia, the main thing he wanted was a winner at Royal Ascot. He also wanted a Breeders' Cup winner and a Group 1 winner. We nearly got all three last year. Now, we want a Classic winner. That's the dream and hopefully one day we can do it.”

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