WHAT a difference a decade makes. This time 10 years ago, Andrew Lynch was riding Jadanli to victory in one of the slowest, most stamina-sapping editions of the Goffs Thyestes Chase this century. Now his world revolves around raw speed.
After a serious shoulder injury suffered in a fall from Castlegrace Paddy at the 2019 Dublin Racing Festival forced him to call time on his riding career in 2020, you might have expected a venture in National Hunt racing to come calling for the four-time Cheltenham Festival-winning jockey.
However, maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Co Meath native - who at times seemed to operate at a million miles an hour with more than 700 rides a season - has embarked on a life in the fast lane with a team of breeze-up horses under the banner of Kilbrew Stables. Significant pin-hooking successes haven’t taken long to arrive.
A growing enterprise run in conjunction with his wife Riona, who previous worked as travelling head groom to Noel Meade for several years, Kilbrew is home to 32 horses near the Meath-Dublin border. A dozen of them are juveniles gearing up for breeze-up season in the spring.
Despite previously being one of the busiest jockeys in Britain and Ireland for a number of years, Lynch insists the hard work has only begun since departing the weighing room.
“It’s such a different buzz compared to race riding,” he says. “I would have had upwards of 700 rides in some seasons between England and Ireland, but today I’d struggle to tell you the names of half those horses. It’s just different now. We work so closely with every horse that comes through here every day that you develop an attachment to them.
“When you get your hands on a good horse, it’s such a brilliant feeling. It’s the speed. When you press the button they just go, and the good ones don’t stop. I might ride out 15 or 16 lots a day now but it’s something I’ve never minded doing.
“My shoulder is a lot better than it was before and isn’t impacting what I’m doing. I still wouldn’t be properly lifting my arm above my head but the movement is gradually improving.”
Lynch, who exited the saddle with an impressive haul of 20 Grade 1 winners to his name, will be best remembered by some as the rider who partnered super star two-miler Sizing Europe to victory on 15 occasions. Maybe there was some fate in the popular stalwart’s trainer Henry de Bromhead first planting the seed for the 38-year-old to target the breeze-up market.
“Henry felt those horses were in need of a good rider to educate them and suggested it to us while I was still riding,” explains Lynch.
“We had a few point-to-pointers before then and had made a small profit for handy money. I remember bringing a point-to-pointer over to the Cheltenham sales in April 2017, and the Craven breeze-up sale was on at the same time where we had a Society Rock colt selling.
“I had told [Tattersalls’] Richard Pugh that I wasn’t staying in Cheltenham and was instead driving on to Newmarket for the Craven, and I don’t know if he was too impressed. But I knew by Riona that she was excited by the breeze our colt had done.
“We had bought him for €17,000 the previous September and he ended up selling after the breeze for 130,000gns. The excitement we got out of that was unbelievable. It was probably the best result we’ve ever had, and it came in our second year of doing breeze-up horses.”
The Lynchs first foray into the breeze-up world hadn’t exactly gone badly either.
“We only had one horse for it the year before, a filly by Foxwedge who cost €17,000 as a yearling,” says Lynch. “We sold her for 60,000gns the following spring. I remember being at the Punchestown Festival at the time and watching it all on the phone - it was some thrill. We started small and have kept building as we’ve gone along.”
Kilbrew also serves as a pre-training and breaking facility for flat and National Hunt horses. Dual Group 1-winning sprinter A Case Of You and talented Queen Mary Stakes third Maria Branwell previously spent time with the Lynch family, while the operation’s varied list of clients includes Clipper Logistics, John McConnell, Tom Mullins, Jim Dreaper, Claire O’Connell, as well as a number of other trainers and owners in Britain.
However, Lynch’s eyes light up when the conversation shifts to Steel Bull, Kilbrew’s best-known graduate who showed blazing speed to land the 2020 Molecomb Stakes (Group 3) at Glorious Goodwood on his second start for Michael O’Callaghan.
“Of all the good days I’ve had in racing, Cheltenham winners and all, I have to say that watching Steel Bull win at Goodwood gave me the biggest kick ever,” beams the proud father to five-year-old Aaron and two-year-old Eabha.
“It was three weeks from the day we sold him to when he bolted up in a Naas maiden for Michael, and another week later that he won at Goodwood, so we had effectively been training him very close to when he raced. We roared the house down after Goodwood, you probably would have heard us from miles away.
“We got particularly attached to that bunch of horses during 2020. Normally I’d call the horses by whatever their sire is but Aaron was going around with us watching Paw Patrol the whole time and we ended up naming the horses after characters from the programme. Steel Bull was called Marshall because he was the only grey horse we had and Mystery Smiles, who we sold before going on to finish third in the Gimcrack Stakes, ended up being named Chase at home.”
Other pinhooks, such as Mystery Smiles changing hands for £165,000 after going unsold at €19,000 a year earlier, were more lucrative for Lynch, but the value of Steel Bull’s success was of greater consequence for Kilbrew than just turning his £15,000 yearling purchase into £28,000 at the Goffs UK Breeze Up Sale.
“We had put Steel Bull to a lot of people but they wouldn’t listen to us,” says Lynch. “I told them this was a proper horse. Myself and Riona couldn’t keep our eyes off him as a yearling. I assured Michael he was getting a bargain. We’ve made bigger profits off other horses but Steel Bull probably did us more good than any other horse because people started to listen after what he did.
“Henry had told us back at the start that we’d lose money on the operation in the first few years but that we’d learn from putting up our own funds; it would make us more selective with every purchase. He couldn’t get over the first couple of years and always gave us good advice. Our whole year revolves around that one day that they breeze and sell. But, they have to train on.”
Lynch’s riding career came during a golden generation of jump jockeys in Ireland. Given his weighing room opposition on a daily basis included all-time greats such as Ruby Walsh, Paul Carberry, Barry Geraghty and Davy Russell, his CV makes for particularly impressive reading.
Sizing Europe delivered Cheltenham Festival wins for Lynch in the Arkle and Queen Mother Champion Chase, as well as a Tingle Creek Chase strike at Sandown, two Champion Chases at the Punchestown Festival and a pair of Leopardstown Christmas Festival Grade 1s.
The former retained rider to Ann and Alan Potts plundered the 2011 Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase on Sizing Australia, a year on from scoring in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle on Berties Dream, while he also guided the hugely popular Flemenstar to each of his 10 wins under rules - including four Grade 1s. There was further Welsh National and Punchestown Gold Cup joy with Notre Pere, a Hatton’s Grace Hurdle win on Voler La Vedette and a John Durkan Memorial Chase triumph on Rubi Light.
Put to him that it could be viewed as disappointing that he did not get the chance to bring the curtain down on his time as a rider in better circumstances, Lynch quips: “I still went out in a Grade 1 at the Dublin Racing Festival! Just not the way I’d have liked.”
Is he upset by that enforced exit through injury?
“It probably bothers me slightly in that I think I had a good career, riding plenty of good winners for a lot of trainers, then I got the fall and was maybe slightly forgotten about. I was never really one anyway to be craving the limelight - I never really liked it - but I thought there might be a bit more recognition when I stopped riding.
“Maybe if I went out on a winner it might have been different, but it doesn’t upset me much when I have this place to look forward to all the time. I have Riona and the kids, and plenty of loyal supporters behind me.
“It’s exciting to be doing what we’re doing now, especially at this time of year. Every day you’re bringing the horses off and trying to discover the next Steel Bull, or one who could go on to big things. I can’t complain with how things have unfolded.”
The chance to write his own ending to a high-class riding career was not afforded to Andrew Lynch. Luckily for him, his sequel in the world of bloodstock might just prove even bigger.
Kilbrew’s breeze-up team for 2023
We have an interesting colt by Ulysees, the sire of last year’s Chesham Stakes winner Holloway Boy. We bought him out of Tattersalls Book 1 for 37,000gns and he has a fantastic pedigree, being a half-brother to a US Grade 1 winner [Max Player]. He was probably a bit handy and immature at the time but he’s after strengthening up into a tall horse and has good feet. He could go to the breeze-up sale in Dubai, but he could go anywhere, really. We haven’t asked any questions yet but he’s doing everything easily.
There’s also a Zoustar filly who we gave €60,000 for at the Orby Sale. I think she’s lovely. We have a sharp U S Navy Flag [colt], a Phoenix Of Spain [filly] who has grown nicely and a Twilight Son filly who could be a rocket. She looks a bit of a beast. There are plenty of other lovely types there too; we have 12 in total to breeze. I think they’re a smart bunch.
Jadanli’s Thyestes Chase win
You listen to all the locals around Gowran talking about the Thyestes and understand how massive a race it is there. Jadanli was always a classy horse and I was delighted to win it for Paul Gilligan, who had long been a big supporter of mine.
Looking at those big handicaps nowadays, it’s hard for smaller trainers to even get a runner into them - let alone win them. You’d have the likes of Liam Burke, Tom O’Leary, Jimmy Mangan and Michael Hickey winning it earlier in the 2000s but it’s not as common these days. If a lot of the smaller yards had the right firepower I’d be confident they’d still hold their own in those races. I was lucky that Stephen Curran never sold Flemenstar, but smaller owners or trainers rarely turn down money for their horses these days once they find a smart one.
What makes Henry de Bromhead so successful
Henry’s operation has expanded massively since I was riding for him. He treats his horses like individuals and has a good team on the ground - that’s vital when you’re getting into bigger numbers.
He’s always been such a good jumps trainer, but I actually think he’s nearly a better flat trainer. To look at what he runs on the flat, and his overall strike rate, he’s well capable of excelling with those horses - including two-year-olds. He might be renowned for his horses’ jumping but I have no doubt he’d equally get the best out of a classic or Royal Ascot type.