'We Couldn't Risk Turning Down The Money' – O'Brien On A Bumper Run

Richard O'Brien: “The sale of Cut The Rope affords me the opportunity to take a bit of a step back and have a little review.” | Racingfotos.com


He burst onto the Flat scene by training nine winners in his debut season followed by 11 in 2018, but Richard O'Brien has described the sale of three expensive bumper winners and winners-in-waiting throughout the past 12 months as “hugely important” in his bid to balance the books. 

It all started with Impulsive Dancer (Ire) (Dragon Pulse {Ire}). A horse who was almost rehomed as a riding horse after finishing tailed off in a piece of work on the Curragh, Impulsive Dancer showed his true colours on testing ground, which he demonstrated when winning the opening four-year-old bumper of the year at Naas in 2022. 

Impulsive Dancer was snapped up by Anthony Bromley on behalf of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede soon after that Naas triumph and his new connections didn't have long to wait to see a return on their investment when he landed a listed bumper at Limerick.

Sadly, that immense potential will go unfulfilled as he suffered a heart attack on the gallops at Closutton recently and O'Brien has explained how he will forever be indebted to the horse who opened the door to a lucrative trading opportunity, one that Sunday's Naas scorer Cut The Rope (Fr) (Sea The Stars {Ire}) is a fellow graduate of. 

O'Brien said, “Paul [Nolan, trainer of Cut The Rope] had Impulsive Dancer bought before he ran. To cut a long story short, the deal fell through and I ended up running Impulsive Dancer myself. Obviously, the horse did what he did and ended up getting sold to Willie Mullins. 

“I think James [Nolan, Paul's brother] said as much after Cut The Rope won on Sunday, that they weren't going to make the same mistake twice.”

He added, “But it was because of that experience with Paul, in that I suppose I guided them in the right direction the previous year with Impulsive Dancer, that I rang him about six or eight weeks ago after working Cut The Rope at Dromahane. I told him that I thought I had another one for him. He just said, 'that's no problem, bring him down to Monksgrange and we'll work him. If we're happy with what we see, we'll buy him.' 

“It was all very straightforward. Now, the piece of work he did down at Monksgrange was unbelievable. It was essentially a schooling bumper and he finished upsides a few noteworthy horses with serious form on the track.”

Such was the ability that Cut The Rope was showing in his work at home for O'Brien late last year that the trainer contemplated running the gelding in a back-end maiden at Dundalk. But through his experience with Impulsive Dancer, O'Brien decided to wait it out and maximise the horse's value as a bumper prospect, a decision that has paid off in spades. 

He recalled, “It was only really last summer when Cut The Rope started to pull himself together. He kept a babyish, soft shape right through the summer and it was only late summer when he started to take on that hardened–fit look that you like to see coming into these horses. 

“I'd say he was probably doing enough through the autumn to tempt us to Dundalk for a maiden but, having had the experience of Impulsive Dancer, we just thought we'd get more money for him as a bumper horse than we would for winning a back-end maiden on the all-weather.”

He added, “There was a figure where he would have run under my name and we'd have rolled the dice in a bumper with him. However, when the offer was there, it made sense to sell. We couldn't risk turning down the money.”

If Cut The Rope had been working to a high level at O'Brien's County Limerick base, the same could not be said for Impulsive Dancer, who showed next to nothing for the majority of his career with the trainer.

O'Brien explained, “It was extraordinary. Colm [assistant trainer] had me warned not to give him away because his partner Deirdre wanted him as a riding horse. We worked Impulsive Dancer on the last Wednesday in October in 2021 and it was absolutely dreadful. He was beaten a furlong in a piece of work. We decided that there wasn't much to lose at that stage and brought him to a schooling bumper on the Saturday and he ended up winning it–just three days after falling out the back of the telly in a piece of work at the Curragh! It was definitely getting him on the grass that made the difference–he wasn't very big but he'd a load of power.”

He added, “Impulsive Dancer made a huge difference to our yard because we got him sold and obviously Anthony Bromley bought him on behalf of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede. They were extraordinary people to deal with. When he won a listed bumper for Willie Mullins he showed himself to be a horse for the future and, as an act of goodwill, Simon and Isaac decided to send a few horses whose careers they were trying to re-direct. 

“It worked with Surac (Ire) (Frankel {GB}), who has been a terrific addition. Impulsive Dancer taught me about the bumper route, helped forge a relationship between myself, Anthony, Simon and Isaac, and definitely gave the owners of Shanbally Kid (Ire) (Presenting {GB}) confidence to send us him. We've a few more National Hunt horses around the place now and the whole idea with Cut The Rope stemmed from Impulsive Dancer. We just said to ourselves all summer long, if we just be patient, we could have a very valuable bumper horse.”

O'Brien now has two horses on the books for the double green of Munir and Souede, including an early 2-year-old by Cotai Glory (GB). 

“They bought a Cotai Glory yearling off Tally-Ho at Tattersalls Ireland last year. He's a grand, solid and straightforward 2-year-old who may have a chance of getting out in the first six weeks of the new season.”

O'Brien added, “We've Surac and a couple of others for them now as well. Surac could be interesting. He's had a break and some of his form stacks up reasonably well. We're looking at the Scottish Triumph Hurdle for him and he could even sneak into the Boodles at Cheltenham but we wouldn't be going there to make up the numbers. I think there's unfinished business with him.”

Shanbally Kid, as O'Brien touched on, is another bumper horse the trainer sold to Ireland's dominant National Hunt trainer for big money. Bred by Limerick brothers John and Daniel Hayes, Shanbally Kid was not disgraced on his only start for Philip Fenton but took a massive step forward when making all to score at Clonmel on debut for O'Brien last year. 

He was bought for £190,000 at the Tattersalls Cheltenham Sale in April on behalf of Gigginstown House Stud, for whom he was a beaten favourite in a maiden hurdle at Limerick over the Christmas, but O'Brien insists the best is yet to come from Shanbally Kid. 

He said, “I haven't had many National Hunt horses with gears like he has. He's an unbelievably-fast horse. He's obviously had his run for Willie but I wouldn't be surprised if he's another horse with unfinished business because the gear he has is lethal. You get some very funny results at Limerick and it can detract from horses like him with a gear.” 

Asked if he would now describe himself as a dual-purpose trainer, O'Brien said, “I don't know. I mean, Pandemic Princess (Ire) (Mehmas {Ire}) was one of our last winners on the Flat. She was a small little nursery filly and then, shortly afterwards, we trained Sparkling Stars (Fr) (Turgeon) over jumps to win a few races, and he was a giant. I'd safely say Sparkling Stars was three times the size of Pandemic Princess. I just love training winners, no matter what they are.”

He added, “The sale of Cut The Rope affords me the opportunity to take a bit of a step back and have a little review of what I have been doing. We need to figure out what the angles are going forward. I don't want to just plough on and keep training and be hoping for the best. We need to have a little bit more of a plan in place. 

“You look at someone like Ellmarie Holden, who has completely transformed herself. I'm not suggesting that we'd definitely do something like that but I need to do something that makes sense and won't leave us destitute. I absolutely love training, don't get me wrong, but it's very hard to make it pay. If we could combine the trading and the training a little bit more, we will, and we'll definitely be looking at those horses with staying Flat pedigrees a bit more at the sales.”

Despite the run of success in bumpers, O'Brien concedes that buying horses in the market at present remains a headache and explained how the big-money sales with Impulsive Dancer, Shanbally Kid and now Cut The Rope, who he sourced for just €20,000 before selling on for multiple sums of that initial outlay, as imperative for business. 

“Our single biggest problem is buying horses. I have orders for horses but I just can't buy them. I could buy sh*t for my owners, but I can't buy them the horses that I want. It's very seldom that you make an inquiry about a horse and you get a response from someone who is on this planet. We inquired about an eight-year-old maiden under all rules and the owner wanted 50 grand. It's just crazy at the minute.”

He added, “One thing I have learned is how to price and sell a horse. Really price them. You value them yourself and there's none of this Dutch auction nonsense. Stick a valuation on them and stick to it. I mean, we sold Evenwood Sonofagun (Ire) (The Gurkha {Ire}) over to England. At times, you think to yourself, 'Oh Jesus, I could have got more,' but it's a little like Cut The Rope. There is a valuation that is realistic that allows the next man a chance when he is buying off you. It allows you to get a realistic price for your horse and it's fair on everyone. 

“Even when Shanbally Kid won his bumper, we all sat down and had a chat about how much the horse would need to make for us to sell him privately. We decided on €220,000 as the figure. He went and sold for €226,000 at Cheltenham so I was pleased because it makes you feel that you are on this planet.

“I love training and, going forward, we have to be realistic in that wages need to be paid for and we need to find a way to make this yard sustainable. It will involve selling horses. But the biggest thing is to have as many irons in the fire as I can and, as I said before, I will be concentrating on those middle-distance and staying-pedigree Flat horses. There's 2-year-olds for sale at the Goffs February Sale next month and we'll be going through them on that basis.”


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