'It's Been A Rough Couple Of Weeks – But Michael Was Looking Down On Us'

An overjoyed Stephen Byrne is congratulated by fellow consignor Ryan Conran after selling his Coulsty colt in emotional circumstances at the Tattersalls Ireland Breeze-Up Sale | Tattersalls Ireland


With a little help from above, Stephen Byrne of Knockgraffon Stables enjoyed an emotional fillip during a time of unimaginable heartache when selling his Coulsty (Ire) colt for €200,000 just over two weeks after his brother and former jockey Michael died in tragic circumstances.  

The sales ring can be a magical place. Full of dreams and disappointments, but on Friday, Tattersalls Ireland was full of tears. And smiles. Lots of smiles. 

An understandably emotional Byrne said, “It's been a very rough couple of weeks but my brother Michael was looking down on me today.”

Michael enjoyed a successful spell riding in Britain, most notably for Tim Vaughan. His death, at just 36 years of age, rocked the breeze-up industry given he worked closely and was great friends with many of the consignors, and there was a genuine outpouring of emotion and congratulations aimed at the Byrne family following Friday's result.

It was Kevin Ryan, bidding through Brendan Holland, who saw off the attention of Michael O'Callaghan and BBA Ireland's Michael Donohoe, both of whom were very strong on the colt. 

The result represented an outstanding bit of business for Knockgraffon Stables given lot 212 was sourced for just €21,000 at Book 2 of the Goffs Orby Sale. 

Byrne continued, “There were a lot of emotions going through my head just there and I didn't know what to think. It's just massive for everyone involved in the horse–for myself, Colin Bargary and Johnny King [part-owners]. 

“It was Johnny who picked him out at Goffs and I loved the horse from day one. He's been a dream. I have to give a big mention to Shane 'Rancher' Ryan who rides him out at home and to my father Mick as well. It's been a very emotional day.”

Byrne added, “I haven't actually spoken to Dad yet but I am sure he's at home in tears. It's amazing what a horse can do. They bring so much joy to people and this lad has done so much for us today. You wouldn't believe it. They are just wonderful, wonderful animals. It's a bit of a blur to be honest.”

Like a lot of consignors, Byrne admitted to finding the going tough at the sales this year. The Coulsty colt, who clocked one of the fastest times on Thursday, will become all the more memorable for the fact that he put Knockgraffon Stables well ahead in terms of trading for the year. That did not look likely coming into this week.

Byrne explained, “He's after saving my year. I've been just tipping along all year, trading away, but this fella came along and saved the day. He's put a very good look on the year now. But his work at home had been savage. He's been a dream to deal with–he's straightforward and has thrived. He's been a wonderful horse to have and I won't forget this day.”

Byrne added, “The support that we as a family have had at home over the past couple of weeks has been amazing. From neighbours, friends and everything–it's been immense. It's wonderful to have some amazing people around.”

Byrne's Coulsty was one of 19 horses to clear six figures on a day when Katie Walsh topped the sale for the second time in three years when selling a speedy Sioux Nation filly to trainer Paddy Twomey and agent Mark McStay for €370,000.

But one of the major talking points when the dust finally settled on a near 11-hour session was the outstanding clearance rate of 90%. That figure comes off the back of a tough year of trade at the middle tier and highlights this sale's unrelenting ability to conjure up results in the ring. 

Katie Does It Again – Walsh Tops Sale With 370k Sioux Nation Filly


The €370,000 top lot by Sioux Nation | Tattersalls Ireland

Just a couple of years after breaking the record for the highest-price ever achieved at this sale with a €520,000 filly by Saxon Warrior (Jpn), Walsh produced another showstopper when her Sioux Nation filly went the way of Twomey and McStay for €370,000.

That transaction represented a bit of repeat business. It was Twomey and McStay who snapped up the Group 3-winning Sioux Nation colt Letsbefrankaboutit (Ire) for €240,000 from Walsh here 12 months ago and connections will be hoping that their new addition can show similar ability on the track. 

McStay said, “This filly came highly recommended by Katie and she did an outstanding breeze. We had to dig very deep to get her but there are no regrets-let's hope she is lucky. The new owner is very happy and delighted to be able to send another horse to Paddy. I am delighted to get her and she looks like she is one who can rock on fairly soon. Katie does a great job. She is one of the best in the business and her recommendations stand for an awful lot.”

All told, McStay spent just shy of €1 million [€928,000] on eight lots and ended the sale as the leading buyer by aggregate. Commenting on the market, he added, “The breeze-up consignors put a lot of money down. They put a huge amount of effort into it and it doesn't always come off. This year, a lot of the middle market has been really tough for them, and when they get a good one like this, they are entitled to get paid. However, the demand for good horses around the world is as strong as ever. Every year this sale produces. The timing is good. It gives the consignors a little bit of extra time and they can take a later horse.”

The Sioux Nation filly [lot 83] encapsulates the swings and roundabouts that comes with buying and selling horses for a living. A daughter of two-time winner Decorative (Ire) (Danehill Dancer {Ire}), she had been led out unsold at €80,000 at the Goffs Orby Sale in September. 

While McStay couldn't share who the top lot was purchased on behalf of, he did reveal that lot 8, a Starspangledbanner (Aus) colt who cost €90,000, the €120,000 Teofilo (Ire) colt [lot 77] and the €140,000 colt [lot 181] by Dark Angel (Ire) would all carry the colours of owner Mohammed Al Suboosi. 

Beyond Tattersalls Ireland, McStay has been keeping busy this week, and secured a deal for G3 Marble Hill S. contender Unexpected Issues (Ire) (Starspangledbanner {Aus}) to race in the colours of Medallion Racing and partners for trainer Fozzy Stack at the Curragh on Saturday. 

He concluded, “She has been purchased for a partnership run by Philip Shelton. She is a lovely filly-I purchased her with Fozzy on behalf of a partnership as a yearling. She won impressively in a very good maiden at Navan and beat some fancied runners of Aidan and Joseph O'Brien. She came well-recommended by Fozzy and Medallion Racing has been very lucky in the past-they purchased Papilio (Ire) (Starspangledbanner {Aus}) from Fozzy a couple of years ago. Obviously it will be a big step up for Unexpected Issues against the boys on Saturday but, if she does run well, maybe she will book herself a ticket to Royal Ascot.”

Back to the action in the ring, Sioux Nation enjoyed a day to remember. Not only did the Coolmore-based stallion account for the day's top lot, but another filly by the stallion went the way of Stroud Coleman Bloodstock for €270,000 some 10 lots previously. 

Consigned by Ryan Conran of Lacka House on behalf of his neighbour and trainer Matty Tynan, the price tag achieved with the homebred clearly exceeded all expectations. 

Conoran said, “Matty bought her mother [Coto (Ire) (Fast Company {Ire})] here at the September Yearling Sale for just €8,000. She won her two-year-old maiden and then went on to run in the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot-she was very quick.”

He added, “This filly came to me in October and she has been brilliant ever since. We are just delighted to have the opportunity to sell her for our neighbours and good friends. We have had a great year-we had a good bunch of horses. We had nine to sell and this is by far the best result.”



Key Figures On The Rise

Despite offering a bigger book than last year by 3%, Tattersalls Ireland managed to better a lot of the key figures from this sale 12 months ago. An outstanding achievement in the current climate. 

Of the 245 lots offered, 220 were sold, representing a clearance rate of 90%–up 7% on last year. Not only that, but the aggregate climbed 12% to €9,599,500 and the average a further 1% to €43,634. However, the median did slip 7% to €28,000.

But Is There Room For Two More Breeze-Up Sales In Ireland?

No sooner had the gavel dropped on what is deemed to be the last big sale of the breeze-up season, but consignors were looking ahead to what the landscape of the industry might look like next year. 

Eddie O'Leary and Con Marnane agreed that this year has been the trickiest in a long time when it comes to selling middle to lower tier horses. However, that is just about the only thing the two giants of the consigning ranks agreed upon when it came to whether or not there was room for more sales in Ireland in 2025. 

The Goffs Sale at Naas and the return of the Goresbridge Breeze-Up at Gowran Park are the two new sales that have been floated for next year, but Marnane said that the fact neither has been slated for one of the first couple of weeks in April is an omission.

The Bansha boss said, “I disagree with Eddie in that I think Ireland can hold more breeze-up sales but, what I can't wrap my head around is the fact that none of the suggested sales have been slated for early April. That is cuckoo! Maybe we should hold one of them on April 1 and call it the fool's sale!”

Marnane added, “But seriously, you wouldn't even get a horse named for Royal Ascot with the dates that Goffs and Goresbridge has suggested in May of next year. Look at the crowds here today at Tattersalls Ireland. Irish Thoroughbred Marketing [ITM] have to take a bow for bringing all of these people here. I think they could manage to bring more foreign buyers to Ireland if these sales go ahead next year. Like, Brexit is really hurting England and people are fed up with paying all of the extra charges that come with buying a horse out of Britain. So, for that reason, I think there is definitely room for more breeze-up sales in Ireland. The date is what I would change.”

O'Leary disagreed. Vehemently. 

He said, “ITM should not be putting their energy into promoting another sale. I'm going to be very vocal on this. The clearance rate has been good here today but there is only a finite number of horses that can pass through the breeze-up sales every year. It was always about 500 or 600 horses that would go through the breeze-ups. That's all the market would take. Now it's up to 1,500. It just can't take it. That's why the middle market is on its knees. There's too many horses in the system.”

Another Big Breeze-Up Result For Hoban 

Conor Hoban brought the curtain down on what has been a profitable breeze-up season by selling an Earthlight (Ire) colt to David Spratt of Gaelic Bloodstock for €300,000.

The former jockey's pre-training business couldn't be going any better. It was at Hoban's Beechlea Bloodstock where subsequent Irish Oaks winner Magical Lagoon (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) learned the ropes and he has seen many more top-notchers pass through the gates in recent times. 

But Hoban is concentrating on developing the breeze-up arm of his business and, after a big result at Arqana less than a fortnight ago, couldn't have wished to end the year any better than at Tattersalls Ireland with his potentially classy Earthlight colt. 

Hoban explained, “He was bred by Colm Griffin of Rathcairn Stud and I was delighted to breeze him on behalf of them. They have been very loyal clients of mine. This horse has an amazing temperament and I thought he did a lovely breeze. We'd a great result when selling a New Bay (GB) colt for €285,000 at Arqana and, to follow up with this horse now is great.”

He added, “This is only our second year producing horses for the breeze-up sales and we're trying to get a name for ourselves. It's important that our horses go on and become good racehorses which, hopefully this lad can be.”

The €300,000 achieved with lot 97 on Friday represented the highest-price paid for a two-year-old by the stallion at the breeze-up sales in Europe this year.

Thought for the day

Not that it has ever been in doubt that this breeze-up game can be tough going at times, but the amount of consignors hobbling around on one leg this week serves to drill that point home. In the past year alone, we've had Justin Timmons, Anna Calder, Ian McCarthy and Johnny Hassett suffer leg breaks and just this week Cormac Farrell had his kneecap shattered into a million different pieces when loading a horse onto the lorry. Yep-this business isn't for the faint of heart!

Golden Touch

Lot 212 
Coulsty colt out of Ranallagh Rocket (Ire) (Acclamation {GB})
Consigned by Knockgraffon Stables
Bought by Kevin Ryan
How can you give this award to anyone else? No Coulsty had even threatened to make the sort of money that Byrne, Bargary and King achieved on Friday. What a bit of pinhooking that represented. Not to mention the timing of the sale and the emotion that surrounded it. Hats off to everyone connected to the €21,000 purchase from the Castlebridge Consignment at Part 2 of the Orby at Goffs last year. An incredible result.

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