Shamrocks In The Bluegrass: Adrian Regan Of Hunter Valley

Adrian Regan and Fergus Galvin | Fasig-Tipton

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“A man of my kidney.” All the way back to Falstaff, this curious expression has tokened a particular kinship in temperament or personality. In the case of Adrian Regan of Hunter Valley Farm, however, it has an uncommon resonance–both literal and figurative.

In the former sense, he was fortunate that his brother should have turned out to possess not only a matching kidney when Regan needed a transplant, but also the big fraternal heart to go willingly under the knife.

Regan will never forget Dr. Erickson at the Mayo Clinic coming in with the test results and announcing: “You're a very unique case.”

“Jeez,” Regan thought. “That's never good.”

Regan was told that they could maintain his own organs for the time being but at some point he would need a transplant. A couple of years on, the doctor rang and said that the time had come.

“It's got to be done during the next year,” he said. “So you need to start looking into getting paired up with somebody.”

Regan couldn't have built Hunter Valley into the force it is, alongside Fergus Galvin, without understanding the importance of pedigree.

“So obviously we went to my family first,” he recalls now. “And Jarlath was a perfect match. And he had no hesitation whatsoever, even though he had a very young child at the time. I was very conscious of that, but Jarlath ploughed on, donated the kidney, and we haven't looked back.”

That was February 2017, and Regan will never forget his brother's selflessness.

“Oh, don't worry, I think about it a lot,” Regan says. “I'll tell you one thing: it slowed down the lifestyle, put the brakes on the partying. When you make these decisions, with Jarlath making the sacrifice he did, you just have a responsibility. It's not even a choice, you have to change your life.”

Regan also stresses how fortunate he feels, to have had the care he did, and can't help wondering how things might have played out had he stayed in Ireland. Equally, of course, the niche he has found in the Bluegrass was all about an exceptional affinity with a compatriot. For it's in that other, metaphorical sense that Regan has been blessed to find a man of his own “kidney.”

It is said to be perilous to go into business with friends, but his partnership with Galvin has shown them to be almost uncannily in step.

Fergus Galvin and Adrian Regan | Fasig-Tipton

“Well, it does seem that Fergus and myself do see things on a similar line,” Regan reflects. “I suppose that's probably the secret to the whole thing. I mean, we've had very few arguments in our time, 20 years or whatever it is now. Very few. The racing is his forte, he really knows how to spot these horses coming along. I love the farm side, the yearlings and everything, so we each have our different angles that seem to fit well. We've been very lucky.”

Their friendship goes right back to the Irish National Stud course, a launchpad shared by countless horsemen of their generation. Back then, however, Regan was still adamant that he would eventually follow in the footsteps of his father, Tady, who trained under both codes on the Curragh.

“I only did a small bit of the stud scene at home,” Regan notes. “And though my father had managed a stud way back when, he was training after that. So yes, definitely, even when I first came over here I always thought I'd be doing the same.”

After learning the ropes with his father, Regan went to that most exacting of finishing schools, Coolcullen.

“Jim Bolger was a hard taskmaster, but very fair, and I really enjoyed it down there,” Regan says. “I was there when we had five winners on [Irish] Derby Day, including St Jovite. And I used to ride a horse called Blue Judge that ran second in the English Derby. Afterwards I remember Dave Downey coming out into the yard and saying, 'Adrian Regan, that's the last time you'll be riding that horse!' I was living with Pat O'Donovan, and he was a real mentor. Great times, and there were great people there.”

Indeed, even by the standards of the Bolger academy, it was an extraordinary payroll at the time: Tony McCoy, Paul Carberry, Ted Durcan, Richie Galway. But Regan stood out sufficiently, over his three years there, to be entrusted with traveling horses to France and England; and years later, Bolger sent his American mares into Regan's care at a farm he was managing prior to the foundation of Hunter Valley.

Sir Mark Prescott and his string on Warren Hill | Emma Berry

There would be a similar proof of hard-earned but lasting esteem from Regan's next boss, Sir Mark Prescott, who four or five years ago asked him to sell a mare for him at Keeneland.

“I was only a short while with Sir Mark,” Regan recalls. “In hindsight, I was probably a little young going over there. But he gave me plenty of tips and education, and had no problem sending me off to saddle here and there.”

From these masters of the old school in Europe, Regan proceeded–via a first Kentucky stint with compatriot Padraig Campion–to a very different brand, in the barn of Bob Baffert.

“I was very lucky,” he says. “Eoin [Harty] was assistant at the time, and taught me plenty. Bob was good to me, too, but had a lot on his plate: we had Silver Charm, Indian Charlie, Real Quiet. The one thing that stood out to me was that when they went over to the track in the afternoon, there were very few surprises. They had a great gauge on their horses. Though Indian Charlie had won the Santa Anita Derby, everyone knew that he was going to have his hands full with Real Quiet.”

Yet it was at Del Mar that Regan began to question his vocation.

“Everybody was up at 4 a.m., whether you were Bob or only had three horses,” he reflects. “And I just thought to myself, 'Now, what are my chances of becoming Bob Baffert? Do I really want to be getting up at 4 a.m. the rest of my life to train a dozen horses?'”

He talked it over with his father, and agreed that he should probably have another look at the breeding side. It was hard for the old man, who had set his heart on handing over his stable someday. But it is not as though the racetrack years were wasted: on the contrary, unlike so many bloodstock professionals today, Regan has thrived precisely because he never cut the thread between sales ring and winner's circle.

“No doubt about it,” he agrees. “Having an understanding of what goes on at the track is definitely an advantage. Especially when it comes to choosing and prepping yearlings, though there's a big difference in what they look for here. Height is a big thing, obviously, though what they really won't live with–compared with Europe–is any amount of slackness in the pasterns.”

Galvin, well established in the Bluegrass through service with Pin Oak, Newgate and Coolmore, was actually the first person Regan rang about potential openings in Kentucky. He duly made an introduction to get Regan a foothold; and then another member of the Irish diaspora, Pat Costello, alerted him to the vacancy he was about to create at the Stiltz family's Crescent Hill Farm.

“You got paid as you brought in clients,” Regan recalls. “I didn't think I was experienced enough, but Pat wouldn't hear any of it. 'Don't worry about that,' he said. 'I'll fill the place and you'll learn as you go.' And it was a great crash course: how to deal with clients, how to hustle, everything like that. And I was very lucky that Tom Riddle was the vet. It must have been frustrating for him at times, having to deal with this greenhorn, but he was fantastic.”

By the time the Stiltz family sold up, three or four years later, Galvin also happened to find himself at a crossroads. They had a bit of a night out, with their Chicago construction buddies John Wade and Tony Hegarty, and somehow came out the other end not just with a hangover but with a life-changing plan.

“The lads were looking for a bit of land down here,” Regan recalls. “While myself and Fergus didn't have enough money to buy a fencepost. So they gave us the opportunity to buy our way in, over time. To be honest, it's just one of these really good American stories. We're all equal partners now. But without the two boys, Hunter Valley would never have happened.”

Having bought the old Golden Gate Stud, 10 minutes from Keeneland, they famously landed running when buying a Johannesburg weanling privately from his breeder. The first yearling consigned under the Hunter Valley banner at the 2005 September Sale made $250,000 from Todd Pletcher, and turned out to be none other than Scat Daddy.

The late Scat Daddy | Coolmore

“It was a great start but, look, we didn't get ahead of ourselves either,” Regan says. “Because we knew that this wasn't going to happen every year. But we've sort of kept saying that, every year! Somehow it's just kept getting progressively better. In fairness to Fergus, he was very good at spotting fillies with upside, and we did a good bit of the claiming game, and a certain amount of foal pinhooking, which I always loved.

“We've known Stephen Hillen a long time and, sharp as he is, he's been a big help. He brought David Redvers over pinhooking, many moons ago. And David introduced us to Sheikh Fahad. So we've been very lucky with the people we've met, and what it's led to.”

And what it has led to–between pinhooks and homebreds, partnerships and clients, in all a couple of hundred horses selling through their drafts annually–is action all the way.

“It really is,” Regan acknowledges. “But I like all aspects, and the way it changes. I love the breeding season, but at the end of it, you're ready for a change, and then you're prepping the yearlings. That would be my favorite bit. Those babies that improve in prep, they really recharge your batteries.”

With the expansion of business, they were fortunate to buy some adjacent land. “That was just as we were about to breathe a bit, and so we were right back under pressure again,” Regan says. “But it was worth doing. You have to pinch yourself, what it's become. You just go out there every morning and think, 'It's only Hunter Valley, just get on with it!'

“The sales have turned into a bit of a beauty pageant, haven't they, and we're always looking for the under-furnished horses, instead of paying top dollar. We let the foals do their own thing. If they're coming and they're ready, we go to November. If they need a bit of time, we wait. But I think we do a good job producing them for the sales.”

He stresses the partners' debt to manager Edwyn Kiely and the rest of their team. The business is obviously not without its frustrations–top of Regan's list would be veterinary quibbles at the sales–but year after year you can set your clock by Hunter Valley, whether as breeders, consignors or buyers. Yet Regan, like so many other horsemen, offers no short cuts beyond the customary indispensables of diligence and luck.

“But also Tony and John,” he emphasizes. “They trusted us to make the right decisions. I don't know if that was very wise of them, at the time, but they did. At the end of the day, and I know you hear it off everybody, we have been very lucky from the start.”

As for the sweat equity required to capitalize on that luck, that was always guaranteed–whether as an Irish expatriate, or as a son of Tady Regan.

“My father was a very hard worker and, without any bullying, that was always his mentality with us too,” Regan says. “I first came here when those Morrison visas came about, and said it would only be for a month. But I never went home. I do think that broke my father's heart a bit, but there were just more chances out here–chances of promotion, chances to do your own thing.”

He emphasizes that the best American chance of all introduced him to his wife Kimberley; while he would never have made it over here at all, but for his mother Maire's insistence that he persevere at school until gaining his Leaving Certificate. Without that, he would have been ineligible for a visa.

And actually that family work ethic brings us full circle, back to his brother. Because while Jarlath made a shorter emigration, to London, the key to his own successful career, as comedian and Irishman Abroad podcaster, has been no different.

“That entertainment business, it's not everything people might imagine,” Regan says. “Jarlath went to England and drove everywhere, coming back middle of the night, night after night. And we think we work hard? But for me, that's also been the common denominator for a lot of the Irish over here. From an early stage, just listening to the first generation that had come over, that seemed to be the word that filtered through: work hard, and you'll be rewarded.”

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