AMID the din of chat about imports from France, it should be remembered that jumpers bred, raised and grazed in Ireland are still doing what they have done for decades; winning races every day of the week, all year around and especially at the biggest festivals.
The facts speak for themselves.
At the Cheltenham Festival since 2019, Irish-breds have won 77 of the 140 races (55%). Furthermore, at the meeting in those years Irish-breds have won 34 of the 70 Grade 1 races (49%).
Among the brilliant talents boasting an IRE suffix to have struck at the festival in that period, in bumpers, hurdles and chases, are Altior (High Chaparral), Appreciate It (Jeremy), Bob Olinger (Sholokhov), Facile Vega (Walk In The Park), Flooring Porter (Yeats), Marine Nationale (French Navy), Minella Indo (Beat Hollow), Monkfish (Stowaway), Paisley Park (Oscar), Put The Kettle On (Stowaway) and Shishkin (Sholokhov).
Altior and Shishkin, both trained by Nicky Henderson to score in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, were still performing well at the highest level at the ages of 10 and nine, while Paisley Park has appeared at the past six festivals, including when running with credit in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the age of 11 this year. It goes to show that the Irish-bred often has toughness and durability, as well as class and versatility.
That longevity has probably contributed to Irish-breds being even more dominant in the most famous race in the world, the Grand National.
Corach Rambler (Jeremy) made it 19 out of 23 winners this century bred in the country (83%) with his brave victory at Aintree last April, with compatriot Noble Yeats (Yeats) running a blinder in fourth in the defence of his title.
Four of those 21st century Grand National heroes were conceived at the same operation, as Monty’s Pass and Hedgehunter’s sire Montelimar and Comply Or Die and Don’t Push It’s sire Old Vic both stood at Michael Hickey’s renowned Sunnyhill Stud in Co. Kildare – also breeders of the outstanding Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Kicking King (Old Vic).
“The key to Irish-bred success comes down to a few things,” says Hickey. “First, the quality of horsemanship here is second to none. I remember when John Gosden was once asked in an interview about his early years, and he said he finished his education in working with horses at the best university in the world, and that was Ireland.
The developing horse
“Second, the limestone land here is great for the developing horse. Think of all the stars who were bred here down the years, going back to Arkle and Flyingbolt, still the two best chasers of all time.
“They were so good they had to change the handicapping system for them; one set of weights for when they ran, and another for when they didn’t. They were fabulous horses, and they were Irish-bred.”
Hickey has done his bit to maintain Ireland’s lofty reputation for producing top-class National Hunt horses by standing one of the best jumps sires of recent times in Old Vic, who supplied the likes of Black Apalachi, Our Vic, Racing Demon, Snoopy Loopy and Sunnyhillboy in addition to the above-named celebrities.
“Oh without a doubt he was one of the best ever to have stood in Ireland,” says Hickey. “He was a fantastic sire and then became a very important broodmare sire. You still see his name feature in the pedigrees of winners every day when you look at results.”
Sunnyhill Stud was also home to a more underrated name in recent years, in Doyen. A Group 1-winning son of Sadler’s Wells like Old Vic, he was in red-hot form at Aintree, with Banbridge landing the Grade 1 Manifesto Novices’ Chase and Florida Dreams taking the Grade 2 bumper.
“He flew under the radar but has helped make a lot of breeders’ mares by producing winners, even if the progeny weren’t always the most commercially popular,” says Hickey. “The pinhookers loved his stock, though, and quite a few came through the Irish point-to-point scene and went on to win a lot of races in Britain.”
Sunnyhill Stud is now home to two promising young stallions in Fifty Stars and Lucky Speed. It was Michael’s brother Denis who stood the sire of Corach Rambler, though, as the much-missed Jeremy spent two years at his Garryrichard Stud in Co. Wexford, whose roster today comprises Hillstar – like Jeremy, a son of Danehill Dancer – and the beautifully bred Almighwar.
Strength in depth
All of the current top 10 sires in the 2022/’23 season stand in Ireland – or did in the past, as is the case for the sadly deceased Fame And Glory, Jeremy and Shantou.
Record-breaking stayer Yeats, who stands under the Coolmore National Hunt banner, collected his second straight title, with teammates Walk In The Park, Getaway, Mahler, Milan and Westerner in the top 10.
Glenview Stud – which has stood top sires like Anshan, Good Thyne, Phardante, Presenting and Strong Gale – now has Shirocco, a dependable source of talented athletes who lies in fifth in this season’s championship, as well as one of the most talked about jumps stallions in Blue Bresil, who was in 13th but is nailed on to figure much higher in future, having covered blue-chip books of mares on the back of delivering the exceptional hurdler Constitution Hill and fellow top-notchers Blue Lord, Good Land, Inthepocket and Royal Pagaille.
It’s worth remembering there are also capable proven sires and younger well-credentialled retirees to stud available in other operations at competitive fees dotted all over Ireland.
Take, for example, Kilbarry Lodge Stud-based Diamond Boy, who is responsible for arguably the most exciting novice hurdler around, Impaire Et Passe, or Burgage Stud’s Jukebox Jury, who is quickly assembling a formidable roll of honour.
Another important element of the ongoing success of Irish-bred jumpers is the impeccable preparation given to many youngsters in the point-to-point field, which has always been a fine nursery of future stars but has become even more competitive and professionalised in recent years due to the rise of boutique horses in training sales.
Many of the Grade 1 winners mentioned so far in this article initially raced between the flags. Taking just a few, Bob Olinger won at Turtulla; Minella Indo scored at Dromahane; Shishkin struck at Lingstown; Constitution Hill finished runner-up at Tipperary; and Noble Yeats was placed second at Ballindenisk.
Some 69% of four-year-old point-to-point winners in the season just ended carry IRE plates, while 84% of five-year-old scorers are Irish born and bred. So, too, are nine of the top 10 highest rated runners in that sphere in 2022/23.
Buyers do admittedly have to pay top dollar for the most promising point-to-pointers, but Corach Rambler served as a timely reminder that there is still value to be found in this sector of the market. He was purchased by his trainer Lucinda Russell and her team for a mere £17,000, even after winning at Monksgrange.
The same connections also picked up Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle winner Apple Away – by another competent under-the-radar Irish stallion in The Old Road’s Arctic Cosmos – for just £35,000 after she had scored at Ballyknock.
Don’t forget, either, that the majority of those pointers are sourced from the store sales as untried three-year-olds for less money. For instance, Noble Yeats was netted for €6,500 as a three-year-old at Tattersalls Ireland, while Shishkin made €28,000 at the same age in the same ring.
Several end users have caught on to the fact that value can be found by buying stores and developing them themselves.
One prominent example is Paul Nicholls. He has enjoyed his fair share of success with Irish-bred point-to-point graduates, most recently with Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle winner Stay Away Fay (Shantou), but he has also put on record his intent to source more of his string as stores.
The approach paid dividends when he sent out Stage Star (Fame And Glory), a €60,000 Goffs Land Rover (now Arkle) Sale graduate, to win the Grade 1 Turners Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham last month.
He has been assisted in the pursuit by Tom Malone, who says: “It’s brilliant that Paul has decided to get back into stores, as it means we’re able to make our own horses. Okay, we’re spending towards the top level at those auctions but it’s still more cost-effective than buying them proven.
“I love going to the store sales, especially the Goffs Arkle Sale and Tattersalls Ireland Derby Sale. It’s just pure quality there; it’s beautiful. The French are doing well, you can’t deny it, but the wheel of fortune never stops turning and I think the shift has started.”
The bloodstock agent, who bought Grade 1 Ryanair Chase victor Envoi Allen (Muhtathir) for Cheveley Park Stud after he won between the flags at Ballinaboola, also makes a wise point about some of those prominent French-bred winners.
“Envoi Allen has a French suffix but, like a lot of others, he was bought in France as a baby and brought back to be nurtured on Irish land,” he says. “I’ve also bought his brother Joyau Allen after he finished second at Borris recently.”
Asked what he thinks the secret of Irish success is, he replies: “Ireland is a world leader in horsemanship. It’s been ruling the racing world for hundreds of years, as it has the best breeders, best stallions and many of the best trainers.
“The horses grow up on great land, and you see that when they eventually race as they’re very hardy, they stay well and they stay sound.”
This year’s round of Irish store sales continues with the Goffs Arkle Sale from June 13th to 15th. Then it’s back to Fairyhouse for the Tattersalls Ireland Derby Sale from June 28th to 29th and the July Store Sale from July 26th to 28th.
As if all that rich history and recent evidence of success on the biggest stages of racing weren’t enough encouragement to buy Irish, there is another tempter in the form of the IRE Incentive, whereby owners of Irish-bred winners of nominated National Hunt auction races receive a €10,000 sales voucher to use towards the purchase of another Irish-bred horse at an Irish auction.