Sean Doyle: 'You're Better Off Thinking Of The Rewards Rather Than The Risks'

Monbeg Park: runs in the Grade 1 Lawlor's Of Naas Novice Hurdle on Sunday | Racingphotos.com


Sean Doyle pulls Monbeg Park (Ire) (Walk In The Park {Ire}) out of his stable and says proudly, “That's the type of horse the likes of Willie Mullins and Eddie O'Leary want to buy.” 

It begs the question, why is Monbeg Park lining out for Doyle and not any of the powerhouse stables in Sunday's G1 Lawlor's Of Naas Novice Hurdle?

After all, Doyle has earned a reputation for selling future stars rather than racing them and can count a Cheltenham Festival-winning graduate to his roll of honour almost every year since Holywell (Ire) broke that particular duck in 2013. 

Horses like The Last Samuri (Ire), Invitation Only (Ire) and American Mike (Ire) have also passed through this renowned County Wexford production line. 

Meanwhile, a couple of hundred yards across the field, his brother Donnchadh has blooded Paul Nicholls' latest King George winner Bravemansgame (Fr) and stablemate Tahmuras (Fr), winner of the G1 Tolworth Novices Hurdle on Saturday. 

The Doyles have mastered the craft of buying National Hunt stores and turning them into red-hot commodities. However, Monbeg Park was never going to be a selling prospect due to the fact he picked up a minor injury earlier on in his career. 

Doyle explained, “The big day for us is not the day these horses win their point or even the day we get paid for them. It's the day they win for the next man. You can't grind them out to win their point. They need to train on. 

“We're running a business here and repeat business is important. Even Monbeg Park there, he's grand now and we're getting a great run out of him, but you could never sell a horse like him. We could have sold him but you are risking losing the sale of a different horse a year or two down the line if you did.”

The 38-year-old added, “He had a small suspensory problem. Willie Mullins actually came to look at him twice and he was close to chancing him. When you are talking about a horse to go chasing, he's exactly what you'd want. To be fair to him, he's won his bumper and maiden hurdle and has placed twice. In six runs he's been very consistent. We're dreaming that he'll win a big chase for us some day. He's a big quality-looking horse but you just couldn't sell him for fear of him not standing up to training for the next man.”

Any hopes of a six-figure sale with Monbeg Park may have been dashed when he damaged his suspensory but a new dream stares back at Doyle, who is quietly excited about his first runner in Grade 1 company.

 “We were actually a little disappointed with him at Cork but it was our own fault. We got caught with the frost and didn't do a lot with him. He was way too fresh and we rode him upsides in front and Bryan [Cooper] rode him like a slow horse. We might have been better off riding a waiting race with him and, while I don't think we'd have won, he would have run a nicer race if we rode him differently. We made too much use of him. 

“He's in great form now and, as long as we can keep him sound, there should be a lot of fun to be had with him. He's the classiest horse I've ever run on the track anyway.”

Sean Doyle (left) with Colin Bowe | Tattersalls

This place has been a soundtrack to classy horses for over a decade now. What was once a busy dairy farm has developed into a multi-million euro point-to-point operation with even Doyle admitting his surprise as to how quickly things have taken off. 

“We started in 2008 which was the time of the recession so you could buy horses fairly cheap back then. One of the first horses we sold was Rudemeister (Ire). He cost €6,500 and we sold him for £75,000 after he won his point. Then we bought a horse called Padge (Ire) for €16,000, which was a lot of money back then, but for luck he went on and made £160,000. We've been very lucky and are blessed that the father had the land here for us. If we didn't have that, we wouldn't be doing it to the level that we are.”

He added, “We are able to run a fairly tight ship. Everything is on site and we don't have to go away an awful lot and we have all our own haylage so it's very doable. I spent a summer with Willie Mullins as a young lad but we all love point-to-pointing and learned as we went along. You learn from your mistakes. 

“We never went away to any big trainer for any long period of time or anything like that. It's always been drilled into me from a young age to take money when it's being offered. Don't ever be sorry for selling. Then, when we kept selling, the whole thing kept rotating and the money kept coming.

“The thing that would frighten you is that we got into millions of euros very quickly. From a few thousand here and there, our turnover shot into the millions. It's very easy to do it when you've the numbers we have but, as I said, we're lucky we can do a lot of the work ourselves to keep the costs down.”

They say that faith is believing in something when common sense might advise otherwise. Doyle, along with his brothers Donnchadh, Cormac and Gearoid, would invest over €2 million a year in National Hunt stores. 

Fellow Countymen Colin Bowe and Denis Murphy could also invest seven figures in a given year which goes some way to illustrating Wexford's status in producing jumps horses. Call it what you like, but this is high stakes poker and there are only so many Monbeg Parks an operation the size of Doyle's can carry. Every horse is important here. Every horse is contributing. 

“You don't open the post from June to the following May,” he jokes. “It's only then when you'd start worrying about what's left over! It's a risky game but sometimes you're better off not thinking about the risks involved and you're better off thinking about the rewards. It's gone great for us and you'd never have dreamed we'd be operating at the level that we are. We could end up broke yet but we'll keep going for another few years please God. 

“When things are going well for you, there's no better feeling. We've gone through a fair bit since we started in fairness. We started out during a recession and managed to keep going and then there was Brexit, a worldwide pandemic and now there's a war. The average spend this year was up to about 40 grand whereas it dropped to about 25 grand during Covid.”

He added, “The sales companies have been very good to us from the start. At the end of the day, these horses have to be paid for. Between us all [Donnchadh, Gearoid, Sean and Cormac], we're only spending about two and a half million a year. If you get three good horses to any of those boutique sales, that's a million quid back straight away. You have to be thinking forward the whole time. There's plenty of those 20 or 30 grand stores who finish second and go on to make 50, 60 or 70 grand. They still leave a lot of money behind in one season. They only have to leave us about 12 grand per head. But even those 10 and 15 grand horses, it's highly important to get that for them because you need the clearance as well. They all add up.

“Horses are going to let you down every day of the week but you can't be thinking that way. I know plenty of lads who started out at this and they were worrying about money and worrying about this and that. If you're worrying about money, it's not really the job for you. You have to let it unfold in front of you. When you get a run of good luck, you have to be ready to take it. You see some of the lads who have been with us, the likes of my younger brother Cormac with 40 horses and Rob James with 30 horses, they'd have seen what we went through and there's a certain amount of calmness with those lads as well. They'll wait and wait and let it happen rather than trying to force it.”

The National Hunt game is a completely different ballgame to when Doyle set out buying and selling in 2008. In many ways, he and his contemporaries between the flags have had a massive role to play in the revolution of the sport. 

Following a similar trajectory to the breeze-up sphere, where the demand for ready-made winners-in-waiting has soared, the point-to-point handlers have experienced a similar shot in the arm of their business. 

Not only has there been a clamour for point winners, but the short supply of Flat horses to go jumping has developed into a perfect storm which has resulted in the point-to-point horse with form selling for a premium. 

Doyle explained, “The top end National Hunt store is going point-to-pointing now, which is kind of crazy when you think about it, but it suits the next man who wants the big Saturday horse. He doesn't have to go buying 10 stores to find it. He can wait and see them win their point-to-point and just buy one or two. Look at the horses who have come out of here recently–Bravemansgame, Love Envoi (Ire), American Mike–there's loads. I actually think the best is yet to come, too.”

He added, “Those Flat stayers who are making big money to go to Hong Kong and Australia–that has brought us point-to-point men back in at a big level. There was a time those horses would be sold to go jumping but they're gone unaffordable now. If the demand for those Flat horses can be maintained, then we are safe. 

“Even our 30 grand horse, if they've got any sort of form at all, they'll slot into the north of England no problem. Whereas, there was a time the trainers up there would head down to Ascot to buy six or seven castoffs from the Flat to go jumping for the same money. They can't do that anymore. 

“But the top end is fairly scarce. Even for us to get the three or four hundred grand for one, they have to win their point but they also have to have the pedigree, size and scope and good conformation as well.”

The parallels between buying National Hunt horses who can jump and gallop three miles on heavy ground to sourcing a yearling who can go on and clock a good time at the breeze-ups as a 2-year-old may not be plain to see for everyone. 

But, in an effort to maintain cash flow and more crucially in a bid to retain staff throughout the summer, Doyle has revealed an audacious plan to branch out into breezers and this particular wheel has already been set to motion. 

“We've put in a three-and-a-half furlong uphill carpet gallop to run alongside our sand gallop on the hill. The reason for that is that we'd like to start training 2-year-olds. Donnchadh and myself will do the 2-year-olds and they'll run in my name but there'll be a few other lads involved with us I'd say. We'll probably do a few breezers as well. The carpet gallop would be great for breezers.”

He added, “The whole thinking behind it all is that we're carrying a lot of staff all year round and it would be something to keep everyone ticking over from May until the autumn because we can't afford to lose staff anymore. I bought a couple of 2-year-olds last year but they were no good. We've four this year–two colts and two fillies. We'll probably run the colts. The Invincible Army (Ire) came out of the Orby. He cost €80,000. The other fella is by Churchill (Ire) and he cost €45,000 at the Sportsman's. It's something we'd like to develop.”

A tapestry of Grade 1 horses have emerged from these Monbeg stables down through the years. Until now, Doyle has never had a chance to secure a top-level triumph in his own name. Step forward Monbeg Park. 

Sean Doyle | Tattersalls

Doyle on . . . the National Hunt sires

There's a big opening for a sire over jumps. Anything could come through because there are not enough No Risk At All (Fr)s, Walk In The Parks or any of those horses by the good French sires coming through to go around. Affinisea (Ire) is the one who's popular now. It's probably a great time for him because there's not enough of them running for anyone to say he's going bad. I'd only two by him and I got them sold easy. They just wanted Affinisea. I'll tell you what now, the Sea The Stars (Ire) element probably has a lot to do with it. He's a new influence on the National Hunt scene and people are getting a little bit excited about him. He's just an easier sell than any of the stallion sons of Galileo (Ire) over jumps. I was a fan of Nathaniel (Ire) but he seems to have gone back more on the Flat now and I couldn't get near anything by Blue Bresil (Fr) at the sales this season. I bought Arctic Bresil (GB) (Blue Bresil {Fr}) for €62,000 and sold him for £305,000 to Henry de Bromhead after he won his point. I know he wasn't cheap as a store but I can remember coming home from the Derby Sale and thinking that he wasn't dear either. I reckon that if Eddie O'Leary had been flat out buying for Gigginstown that year, he'd have been a one hundred grand store. I've done okay with Getaway (Ger). You'd have a filly by him all day long and, at the back of it all, the fillies probably get a better chance given the programme that's there for them. 

Doyle on . . . private sales

Private sales will become more popular. When they are talking on the telly about a horse costing this or that after winning his point-to-point, and say he only finishes fifth in a maiden hurdle, the real big owner doesn't want that. We're after getting three or four real good orders for between three and four hundred thousand if we can find the right horse. It's there in black in white so, when a race is about to start and the television presenters are stuck for something to say, you can't really blame them for mentioning what a horse costs. There's not a lot more to talk about at that stage. I reckon the private sales will get bigger and bigger.

Doyle on . . . producing 4-year-olds to win their point-to-point

We leave them in a routine as long as we can and it's probably only in the second or third week in January where we start pairing them up. But usually everything is just build them up, build them up, build them up and try not to think if they are good, bad or middling. If you start going looking for them earlier than you should, you won't get to run them. A lot of lads want to run them in February but the season goes on a long time so, if you start lighting them all up for February before they are ready, you might not get to run anything. At one time, you'd have been kicking yourself if you didn't have them out but you can always wait until October and you saw what some of the 4-year-olds who won their points in the autumn made at some of the sales recently. There's no hurry on us whatsoever. The only thing that might happen is that, say you had 35 4-year-olds and were left with 25 in the autumn, you probably wouldn't get to buy as many three-year-olds at the store sales that year. But that sort of thing levels itself out every three years. It just depends on the run that you're on. But before we'd run anything, they'd nearly want to go down over the fences with no wings on them. That's how ready they'd want to be. They need to know their job so well. They don't even have to go that fast, it's once they go straight. I don't believe in giving horses leads either. They have to go in front and do it themselves. If we came out to school a week before a race and they didn't go down over 12 fences straight as a die we'd leave them and wouldn't run them. 

Doyle on . . . the Wexford handlers

There's been lads before us and there'll be lads after us. Padge Berry was a great name in Wexford when we were growing up. Denis Murphy is another. He's a great man to watch when he's selling a horse. You don't have to ask him too many questions, just watch him, as he's a great way of explaining things. Colin Bowe is brilliant as well. For a man who has a massive yard, he runs a very simple operation and we tried to do what those lads have been doing. We don't try to complicate it.

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