DESPITE coming from a horticultural background, I have been fascinated by horses and pedigrees from a young age.
From the moment I first picked up a Coolmore brochure as a teenager, I knew that one day I would work in the racing/breeding industry. Having pursued that dream ever since leaving school, I went on to work in various stud farms before finding employment here at Staffordstown Stud.
My family own a farm in Rush, north County Dublin; growing vegetables which are sold to the supermarkets. In my grandfather’s time, and before him right up to the 1980s, all the vegetables were sold to the Dublin market, these days most of it goes to the supermarkets.
At various stages throughout my life I have worked on the farm, both part-time and full-time. They have never been busier than the last few months; it seems that everyone in the country is either baking or doing more cooking! My father always says that whether we are in a recession or a boom, people have to eat.
Himself and my uncle are the backbone of the business, working really hard to maintain production. I often describe them to colleagues as the “Jim Bolger” of the horticulture world as they graft hard and won’t accept anything less than total commitment and dedication.
They are firm believers in doing something right or not doing it at all. That is a trait I am proud I inherited from my family and brought into my own working life.
Both my dad and uncle have a huge interest in racing although they never went so far as owning a horse themselves (yet!).
As kids we went to meetings like Leopardstown, Fairyhouse, Punchestown and the Curragh. Dad got to know Pat Downes (manager of the Aga Khan’s Gilltown Stud) from going racing, and asking if he had a fancied runner. It was my mam who encouraged me to contact Pat and ask him for ‘work experience’.
Thankfully, Pat agreed to take a chance on me, inviting me to work in Gilltown for the 2004 season. The following year he advised me to apply for the Irish National Stud Breeders’ Course, which I got accepted onto. So I have much to be grateful to him for.
The INS Course is a great stepping stone for any young person wanting to further themselves in the industry, meeting lifelong friends and contacts from all around the world, including a Laois man Patrick Kerwin, who has since married my sister, They both live in Japan, as Patrick is assistant manager to Harry Sweeney at Godolphin’s Japanese operation.
After completing the course, I then spent a very informative season doing sales prep work for Dermot Cantillon. Next, I moved on to work for Miss Pat O’Kelly at Kilcarn Stud; a top-class nursery which has progressed some outstanding stock over the years.
Despite only having a relatively small band of 10-12 broodmares, talents such as Flame Of Tara, Salsabil, Banimpire and Marju, to name a few, have been bred at the stud.
Miss O’Kelly organised for me to spend the 2006 breeding season at Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky – I looked after mares and foals from January to May, then helped prep 40-50 yearlings for the sales towards the latter part of the year.
I returned to Kilcarn Stud in 2007, where I continued my education under Miss O’Kelly and stud groom Seamus Lanney. It was a fantastic place to work as the numbers were small but the quality of mares second to none.
On the advice of Nick Nugent, a friend of Miss O’Kelly, I went back to education and graduated with a Business Management degree from the IBAT college in Dublin. During the years I studied for my degree, I was in college three days a week, while working at home on the farm on the remainder.
I had always worked at home during holidays and time off but this was the first time I got to spend more time there. In 2011, I started in Staffordstown Stud, which is only 40 minutes from my home.
The stud, which is the yearling division of Miss Kirsten Rausing’s Lanwades Stud in Newmarket, really appealed at it offered a fresh challenge. Stud manager Julian Lloyd took me on there. A year later, I left to devote more time to the family business, but in truth my passion for horses remained a constant.
In 2016, I returned to stud work, spending six months at Godolphin’s Woodpark Stud for John Brady. After completing that stint, I phoned Julian (Lloyd) and asked for a return to Staffordstown Stud. Miss Rausing’s mares and stallions are kept at Lanwades Stud in Newmarket, with 40/50 foals being shipped over to us in Ireland in October/November every year.
So much attention is given to the care of these horses. Feed, farrier, vets and exceptional land management are only some of the keys to running a top farm. Julian and the team are brilliant at making all this happen.
We have had some very good horses through our hands during my time at Staffordstown and is fascinating to see succeeding generations of Miss Rausing’s great ‘AL’ family.
The stud groom Paddy Moloney is a most remarkable horseman, someone from whom I have learned so much.
Michael Grassick has been a close friend of mine ever since meeting through the Irish National Stud Course. In 2016, he approached me about finding an inexpensive, relatively well-bred horse for a group of owners who had around €10,000 to spend.
I put him onto a horse which would later be named Verhoyen, a Lanwades-bred colt which I felt was racy, compact, good and correct. In the end, the horse actually sold for €9,000, so the owners ended up getting a real bargain. My only regret was that I didn’t take a leg at the time, as I really did like the horse.
Having been listed-placed as a juvenile, Verhoyen went on to reach the frame on numerous occasions before winning the Scurry Handicap at the Curragh last season. He has now earned his owners upwards of €125,000 in prize money – not bad for a bargain buy at €9,000.
Having a mare or two would be something I would love down the line, but for now, I’ll try find Michael another Verhoyen!
Bryan Leonard was in converstation with John O’Riordan SUBSCRIBE TO THE IRISH FIELD & READ ALL OUR PREMIUM CONTENT