Alice Fitzgerald runs Summit Bloodstock with her partner Michael Doyle. Based in Co Tipperary, they have bred and sold group race winners Magical Sunset and Basil Martini, Wokingham Stakes winner Hey Jonesy, Weatherbys Super Sprint winner Ginger Nut and also sold dual Grade 1-winning hurdler My Tent Or Yours.

Helen Sharp (HS): What should someone know before they even start in terms of the sales?

Alice Fitzgerald (AF): It’s important that you try to place each yearling in the sale that suits them best, taking pedigree, conformation as well as their physical and mental development into account. In the bigger sales, if a yearling is not up to scratch, they’ll get lost.

HS: Can you talk us through how you would prepare a foal and a yearling for a sale?

AF: We like to leave our yearlings out for as long as possible, so eight weeks out from the sale is the earliest we’d start prep, usually six to seven weeks is what we aim for. Most of our yearlings are homebreds and will have lived out 24/7 since they were young foals – some may not have even set foot in a stable previously.

The first few days of prep can be a bit hectic but they settle into a routine fairly quickly. Each yearling goes on the walker daily, building up to an hour, as well as a light lunge. They’re walked in-hand for about 15 minutes in the evening where they learn to show themselves and stand up properly. We only use tack on yearlings that might benefit from it, e.g., if they need help building a topline.

We like to keep our feeding regime simple, the feed companies do all the research! We use Gain 14% Stud Cubes and a dash of Carron Oil. They’re fed early in the morning, at lunchtime and then late in the evening as well as ad-lib hay.

It’s important to treat each yearling as an individual, they all progress differently and you have to adjust and balance their exercise and feed accordingly. Our barn is warm so we use cotton sheets on the yearlings, maybe a light stable rug for the later sales.

Around a week before the sale they get front shoes on, hind shoes once they get to the sales complex. We aim to have our yearlings arrive at the sales in peak condition, mentally and physically prepared for the future.

We mostly sell our stock as yearlings so only prep the occasional foal and they’d get a shorter prep, usually around four weeks. They don’t go on the walker but are hand-walked each morning in an all-weather arena to gently build their fitness, working up to around 45 minutes. In the afternoons they get another short walk out and practice standing up properly. They’re groomed and have their feet picked out. We don’t rug foals, better for them to have their full winter coats so they can be turned out after the sales.

HS: What do you wish you had known before you started?

AF: You have to work extremely hard but you also need luck on your side. We started off with two pinhooks that cost €1,000 each, a broodmare that was being culled, no yard and no real plan. We were lucky those three were good to us and gave us a decent start, we’ve had several great years since which have allowed us to improve the quality of our stock and build a yard.

However, we’ve also had a few rough years - when you lose an animal it’s a hard pill to swallow.

HS: What is your top tip for grooming for the sales ring?

AF: Coat shine comes from within, if they’re well fed and healthy they should polish up nicely at the sales. We avoid frequent washing throughout prep and at the sales as it removes the oils from the coat which are key for shine.

Our yearlings are groomed thoroughly every afternoon with an emphasis on currying the coat which removes dirt, sweat and hair as well as increasing blood circulation. It’s like a good massage so they enjoy it too! At the sales we hot towel the yearlings after currying every morning which is great for enhancing shine.

HS: Any other things you think a breeder should know about prepping thoroughbreds for sales?

AF: Before starting off yourself, get as much experience as you can by doing prep and sales for top farms and consignors, abroad if possible too. Sales prep is very different in America and Australia/New Zealand, you learn a huge amount as well as making good contacts and friends in the business.