Powerful Owner Peter Brant Talks Learning From Mistakes, Sottsass And More

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Peter Brant | Sarah Andrew

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   One of racing's biggest supporters, Peter Brant's colours can be spotted not only in his home country of America, but in Britain, Ireland and France. 

   The renowned owner-breeder, who spent over 20 years away from racing before returning with a bang in 2016, has quickly re-established his operation and in 2020 he reached the pinnacle when Sottsass carried his familiar double green silks to victory in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

   With a full-brother to Sottsass catalogued for the August Yearling Sale at Arqana, Brant makes for a timely subject for this week's Q&A where he talks all things racing and breeding.

Brian Sheerin: Your colours have been carried by some equine stars. From Triptych to Gulch and more recently Sistercharlie (Ire) (Myboycharlie {Ire}) and Sottsass (Fr). Have you got a favourite?

Peter Brant: I guess Sistercharlie would be the one. Obviously I had Waya, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame recently, and she was one of the first really great racehorses that we had. We had Just A Game (GB) (Tarboosh), who was a champion and has races named after her, Gulch, and I own lots of good horses in partnership with people but I have to say Sistercharlie was very special. She won seven Grade Is within a year and a half and overcame two cases of pneumonia during that period. She was incredible. She's now in foal to Dubawi (Ire) and is over with Coolmore in Ireland. For both my wife and I, she has a very special place in our hearts.

BS: You went to Dubawi with her? Not a bad choice!

PB: She showed speed and stamina and, with Dubawi, I thought it would give us a chance of getting a Classic horse. We're very excited about that.

 

BS: Do you keep a lot of mares at Coolmore and what is the breakdown of your broodmare band?

PB: We have about 65 broodmares and it's split roughly half and half between America and in Coolmore Ireland. The majority of our turf mares are in Ireland, although some are in the States, while most of the dirt mares are at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky.

BS: What was the initial lure to European racing? 

PB: The Americans have this thing about turf horses and how they can't mix with dirt horses. Of course, it's all rubbish. I've had great success buying fillies in Europe, bringing them to the United States and in either the first or second generation, getting a great dirt horse. I bred Thunder Gulch and, not only that, but I bred his dam [Line Of Thunder]. What happened was, I bought a mare called Shoot A Line (GB) (High Line {GB}) in England. She had been second in the Gold Cup, won the Cheshire Oaks and lots of other good races, and I brought her back to America to run her. She didn't really do well over here but I bred her to Storm Bird, the result of which was Line Of Thunder, who ended up being the dam of Thunder Gulch. He won the GI Kentucky Derby and was a really great horse. There's a Kentucky Derby winner whose second dam came over from Europe. 

BS: It goes back to the old saying, just because it hasn't been done doesn't mean it can't be done. 

PB: At some point, breeders in Kentucky are going to realise that they have to pay attention to racing on the grass. Turf racing is growing, as are the field sizes, and there's no reason why breeders should be ignoring it. Take Flightline (Tapit) for example, he's got grass in him. It's all about vigour. We need to get new kinds of blood in and, for me, I'm interested in the European stallions. People ask why I go to Europe to breed and it's because owners in Europe, and the Middle East, they've been coming over to the United States for the past 40 years and buying our best yearlings. Those great stallions are coming from that blood that was once here. 

BS: Where do you think of turf racing in America is right now? There is an expanding programme full of lucrative races but there seems to be little interest in turf stallions over there. 

PB: I think it's going to change. If you have a stable of horses you want to run, if you don't have any turf horses, you're going to miss a lot of the best races. Pretty soon, you're going to have at least 50%–if not more–of the programme being grass racing in America. It's a better surface to run on, more natural, and the attrition rate on the dirt is much higher.

BS: You stand Demarchelier (GB), a son of Dubawi, at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky. How has he been received and have you sent many mares to him?

PB: He's been doing very well. I have bred to him quite a bit and he has been getting between 100 and 110 mares a year, so he has a very good chance. If you give a stallion over 60 mares a year they have a really good chance of making it but the idea of breeding 200 mares to a horse, I'm not a big fan of that. The maximum for me would be 140 or 150 mares a season, which is where Sottsass (Fr) is. I just think you should concentrate on the mares a little more because, a lot of the stallions these days, their percentage of stakes winners is smaller than they were back in the day. They didn't breed to as many mares back then, but a horse like Northern Dancer had 20% stakes winners, Mr. Prospector was 18% and today, the best sire might have 9%.

BS: You must be very excited about Sottsass. I understand you've sent a lot of good mares to him. 

PB: Yes I have. His first crop are now weanlings and he has had some very good-looking foals. It's the same with Demarchelier. They all look like him. They are both stamping their stock. I really wanted to stand Demarchelier because he was three-from-three heading into the GI Belmont Derby, where he unfortunately broke down. The winner of the Belmont Derby, Henley's Joy, Demarchelier had beaten him in the GIII Pennine Ridge S. I thought he was a high-class horse and we were expecting big things from him before he got injured. That's why I really wanted to stand him at stud. The people at Claiborne Farm really believed in him and I've bred 10 or 12 mares to him every year now. We gave a very good opportunity to breeders to buy shares in him for a low price if they committed to breed to him, and I think they are going to be very happy. I would be surprised if he didn't do well. 

BS: Getting back to Sottsass, would you be able to tell me some of the mares you sent him?

PB: I bred a lot of stakes-winning mares to him. What I do is, I give the stallion mares over a three-year period and the best mares will probably be sent to him in year two and three so that the quality is maintained and that he doesn't fall off. You know how sometimes you send a young stallion good mares in the first year and then sometimes they go off in the second and third year, that's not good for a horse. I'm very confident that he's got some good mares. I bred the dam of Speak Of The Devil (Fr) [Moranda (Fr) (Indian Rocket {GB})] and many more. He's got some really good mares. 

BS: The family has been unbelievably good to you. We've already mentioned Sistercharlie, Sottsass and as well as that, you did well with My Sister Nat (Fr) (Acclamation {GB}).

PB: Starlet's Sister (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}) has got to be one of the best broodmares in the world. Look at My Sister Nat, she was beaten a whisker at the Breeders' Cup last year. She's actually in foal to Wootton Bassett (GB). Don't forget, Sistercharlie was the first foal, then there was Sottsass and My Sister Nat. Now I see Pure Dignity (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}) broke her maiden pretty impressively for Roger Varian. I know that the 2-year-old by Dubawi is with Jean-Claude Rouget in Deauville and they like him as well. 

BS: And the question on everybody's lips is will you look at the brother to Sottsass (lot 154) that will be on offer at Arqana next week?

PB: I've heard that he's nice and I'm looking forward to travelling over to see the horse. I'm also a little bit of a believer in the fact that Mrs Sullivan has seven sons but only had one John L!

BS: It's shaping up to be a brilliant sale with siblings to Treve (Fr), Wings Of Eagles (Fr), Native Trail (GB) and Sealiway (Fr) also on offer.

PB: It is. I think the catalogue is really good. Of course, now we have Saratoga coming up as well, which has been lucky for me. I like the people at Arqana because they are straight-shooters and very realistic. 

BS: We saw The Antarctic (Ire) (Dark Angel {Ire}), a horse that you have a share in, winning a Group 3 at Deauville during the week. Have you anything to look forward to at Deauville next weekend?

PB: There's a horse that we like very much, Epic Poet (Ire) (Lope De Vega {Ire}), and he will run. He won a listed race for Jean-Claude Rouget and is three from four. We're also very excited about Francesco Clemente (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}), who is in training with John Gosden, and the plan for him is to run in the Great Voltigeur at York next. He's won all three of his starts and won his last race by nine lengths. He's by Dubawi out of the great mare, Justlookdontouch (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}), who I bought [for 1.2m guineas] at the Ballymacoll dispersal at the December Mares Sale at Tattersalls in December 2017.

BS: I see that both horses hold entries in the Arc….

PB: I think that any time you enter in the Arc, it's ambitious, and for me, it's one of the most difficult races in the world to win. But I don't enter the horses, the trainers do, so I guess there's an outside chance that they could get there. I don't know if they have the experience to go for a race like that but maybe next year. We'll leave it up to the trainers. 

BS: You mentioned about the success you've enjoyed bringing European horses back to America. We saw Lemista (Ire) (Raven's Pass), who won a Group 2 when in training with Ger Lyons in Ireland, landing a Grade III contest at Monmouth Park recently. Could we see more European runners making the switch in the coming months?

PB: I think Dr Zempf (GB) (Dark Angel {Ire}) could come over, purely because Ger Lyons suggested we do that. Ger thinks he's suited to American racing and I try to listen to my trainers. Like Ger, John Gosden has told me that certain horses would do well in America and he was proved right when we brought them back here. I think the plan will be for Dr Zempf to join Chad Brown later this year and we've got many more in our barn right now that came from Jean-Claude Rouget. 

BS: Speaking of European horses, what is the plan for the Aidan O'Brien-trained Stone Age (Ire) (Galileo {Ire})?

PB: Stone Age is running in the Saratoga Derby and has already shipped over. He was third in the Belmont Derby, where he ran into a lot of trouble, and Aidan's plan is to try an American jockey on him next time, so John Velazquez will be aboard.

BS: You obviously retain a lot of faith in Stone Age? He looked potentially top-class when he won his Derby Trial at Leopardstown back in May.

PB: My wife and I flew over for the Derby this year and enjoyed a great day out. We got to walk the course with Aidan and that was a great experience. I was actually in shock when I saw the course and how difficult and undulating it is at Epsom. It looked to me that Stone Age just didn't stay on the day and I wasn't that disappointed. To my eyes, he looked the best horse in the Belmont Derby, only he just got stopped in his run and didn't have much luck. We'll see how he does at Saratoga on his next start.

BS: How do you find working with the likes of Aidan O'Brien, Jean-Claude Rouget and Chad Brown? 

PB: I've also got Joseph O'Brien and Ger Lyons. I like the trainers in Europe. I really like their attitude towards training 2-year-olds. They like giving horses experience at two and I'm not big on 2-year-old racing apart from the fact that it gets horses prepared for their 3-year-old campaign. In a sense, if you want a runner in the Kentucky Derby, history shows you that you need a 2-year-old. At the very least you need a horse who's had a few starts at two. There are always issues with horses when they're young, but it never seems to be as bad in Europe. I have a higher percentage of 2-year-olds running in Europe than I do in America.

BS: It's funny you say that because we were at Ballydoyle for the Derby press morning in May and somebody asked Aidan if Stone Age's emergence as a genuine Epsom candidate was surprising given the horse never managed to win at two. Aidan's response to that was, he could have gotten the horse to win at two if he wanted to, but it was always about the future with this horse.

PB: My experience with Aidan over the past four years has just been incredible. I like Aidan so much. He is one of the greatest horsemen ever and I have nothing but the utmost respect for him. I am having more horses with Chad Brown as well and he's meticulous. It's all about finding the talent in his barn–it doesn't matter if it's a $50,000 horse or a $1-million horse. He's also concentrating on the dirt now so hopefully he'll be the coming star in America. We have some great trainers working with us.

BS: You're obviously a hugely successful businessman. Is there anything you've learned from your trainers that you've carried over to your own line of work?

PB: Somebody told me once, so many successful businessmen get into racing but, as soon as they enter the sport, the check their brain in with their coat! I always thought it was a great saying. You could be a brilliant businessman but, once you get into the horse business, you don't know the mane from the tail. Of course, you learn things in terms of business that you apply to anything that you do but, if you don't pay attention in horse racing, you shouldn't be in the game. I was in racing for 21 years at a high level before I got out of it for some time and, the experience and the mistakes that I made back then, I try not to make them now. It's impossible not to make mistakes in horse racing as it's not science–it's just something you get a feel for. There's too many opportunities to make the wrong decisions and you've got to just live it. When you go to these sales and spend a lot of money, what are your chances of having a good horse?

BS: And what would you say the biggest mistakes you've made were?

PB: I would say paying a big price for a late maturing 3-year-old, who was already a stakes winner in Europe, thinking it would excel in America and it didn't. The horse winds up with an attitude, I've got to geld him, that's probably the biggest mistake I've made, paying top dollar for a well-bred 3-year-old with good form in Europe. But it can happen. On the other hand, I bought a yearling who turned out to be Sottsass, which was a very speculative thing to do. Every time you buy a yearling, what are the chances that it will go on to win the Arc? You've got to have luck. I only bought him for one reason–that he was Sistercharlie's brother. That was the only smart part of the decision. The rest was pure luck.

BS: And when you do come across a horse as good as Sottsass, what does it mean?

PB: It meant the world. I was at home in Connecticut and watched the race with my wife. We couldn't travel because of Covid but it didn't even matter to me as I'd been to the Arc many times before and I knew what it meant to me. It was the race of a lifetime. I cherish it.

 

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