Peter Nolan has bought and sold all kinds of future racehorses, in both codes, but there is a particular type of animal that just quickens his pulse a bit more.
“I’d love to sell a two-mile Champion Chase winner at Cheltenham,” Nolan enthuses. “That would be my dream. I think they are the unreal racehorses, to jump and run at that speed. They’re the real athlete.
“My favourite Cheltenham memories revolve around the Champion Chase. When Flagship Uberalles and Moscow Flyer, and the likes of them were at it, they were the pinnacle for me. Later on, Sprinter Sacre and Altior were different class.
“I’ll never forget the day Sprinter Sacre came to Punchestown. The reception he got from the people afterwards, it’d make the hair stand on the back of your neck. There’s something special about the top-class two-mile chaser.
“Some of the horses would be big horses but they’re still quality looking, good, quick athletes. And that’s why the individual is always number one for me.
“And it’s why above all, I probably love the two-mile chasing division, because you have the best of it all, speed over fences, real quality, athletic horses going at it hammer and tongs, when you can’t afford to put one foot wrong. There’s very few horses can do it.”
Nolan has illustrated his eye for a good one from a young age. A native of Oylegate, the Wexford village from which legendary trainer-breeder, Jim Bolger hails, he learned from a master in his late father, Timmy.
Nolan Snr actually had horses with Bolger when the erstwhile accountant was getting his new career under way at Phoenix Park. The mares Silvine and Double Century won around a dozen races between them in Timmy’s colours.
Having been schooled primarily on National Hunt horses by his father at Jamestown House Stud, Peter spent five years at Coolmore Stud, breaking yearlings and overseeing the high-class mares coming to be covered by equine royalty.
Another five years followed as manager at Ballyhane Stud, before he returned to Wexford to run Arctic Tack Stud for Eoin Banville.
He had by now demonstrated his judgement when buying a three-year-old filly from his brother, Tim, on behalf of a local syndicate for just £900. Feathard Lady was a Grade 1 winner when injury ended her career as a five-year-old but made 270,000gns in foal to Presenting.
In 2010, having returned to Wexford two years earlier, he began pinhooking under the Jamestown House Stud banner. In his very first year he sold two sons of Gold Well, Holywell and John’s Spirit. Having been stabled next to one another, they would wind up as part of the Jonjo O’Neill string at Jackdaws Castle. They won 15 times between them, earning over £600,000.
Johns Spirit won three times at Cheltenham but Holywell, who went through the ring at Goffs, went a step further by scoring in successive seasons at the festival itself, in 2013 and 2014. For Nolan, that was the nirvana of National Hunt.
“It’s great to have a horse go through your hands that ends up winning at Cheltenham. We all know it’s our Olympics. People can say whatever they want about it but there’s only one Cheltenham. So when Holywell won, it was unreal.”
He established Peter Nolan Bloodstock following the death of his father and, after four years, in June 2018, he became so successful and busy that he brought a decade at Arctic Tack to an end to go full-time for himself.
He had built a new house and yard on land he bought next door to the family home and had big plans. The way things have gone, it’s no surprise those have evolved and the 43-year-old is looking to continue growing.
“We’re hoping to expand a bit more this year. It was a green-field site. We turned the sod on it five years ago so we put it together exactly how we wanted it.
“It’s been a long time planned though and building the business itself to where it is, from the days working in Arctic Tack and double-jobbing was tough going, but it was all worth it in the end.
“I married Katy in July of last year and she’s a huge part of bringing the business forward.
“We’re probably gone to the point where I have some very good clients that are with me from the start, and I’d be full now for June and July. I couldn’t hardly take another horse.
“We’re building numbers all the time but that’s while actually turning more towards quality. We buy foals from €1,500 to €40,000 and sell them usually as unbroken stores at the likes of the Goffs Arkle Sale (rebranded this year from the Land Rover Sale).
“We chuck away at the Orby too. We bought some nice flat foals in the Goffs November Sale, seven or eight of them. We gave €60,000 for an Arizona colt and he looks to be a bit special. They’ll all go back to the Orby then in September.
“We bought a Zoffany filly last year at Goffs. She cost €32,000 and she went back to the Orby and made €100,000. So we’re doing okay.”
That’s convenient when you’re trying to expand and improve facilities as well as stock. Because of course, while he has proven his ability to find jewels at the lower end of the market, your chances improve the higher up the scale you invest. There is a potential for greater rewards but increased outlay and risk comes with that territory, however.
“It’s definitely a higher risk but we do trade away at all the levels. We probably buy 50-50 between cheaper and bigger ones. Sometimes the cheaper ones are the ones that get you out of trouble but if the good one lands, that’s what you’re looking for.
“We’ve a three-year-old to go to the Goffs Arkle Sale. He’s a half-brother to Three Stripe Life and a full-brother to Ballyshannon Rose. When we bought him, none of them were on the page so he’s an exciting one to be looking forward to.”
The ill-fated Three Stripe Life was a Grade 1-winning novice hurdler last season, who won four times and was also second in three other Grade 1s while Ballyshannon Rose is a six-time winner with a Grade 2 on her CV.
Nolan’s son of Doyen cost only €20,000 because this boldest of blacktype didn’t appear on his page. So it is evident that when buying to sell, just as in any facet of the racing and breeding pursuits, you need a bit of luck.
But when it happens more than a few times, it suggests that the talent spotter knows his steeds. Because of his grounding, and having to start off with tighter budgets, Nolan is very clear on his priorities when buying young stock, with a clear hierarchy of requirements that place emphasis on whether they possesses the physical tools to make a racehorse.
“The way I work it is the individual first, stallion second and then pedigree, which will value them. A good pedigree will cost you more but they have to be an individual first. That’s why we’re in the game, to go racing. You need an athlete. There’s no point in having a big pedigree and a horse that doesn’t look like he’ll run.”
As he was the leading consignor in three of the last four Goffs Arkle Sales, the demand for Nolan’s offerings in Kill will be considerable.
“It’s been lucky for us as a family. My dad would have topped that sale over 20 years ago with a horse that sold for £54,000, or something like that, which was a lot of money that far back. Goffs has always been an unbelievably lucky place for us.”
Your word is your bond in these sorts of transactions, which is how repeat business is cultivated. Ultimately though, while sales results are grand in the short terms, it is what the graduates do on the track that establish a business.
In 2020, Nolan sold a Presenting colt at Goffs for €68,000. Named North Lodge, he won a Grade 2 novice hurdle on his first run over obstacles at Cheltenham in January 2021 and ran well to be third behind the aforementioned Three Stripe Life at Grade 1 level in Aintree.
A couple of Oylegate graduates he made a tidy profit on at the Arkle Sale the following year have recently had their first runs for Gordon Elliott.
My Trump Card (bred by multiple champion amateur rider Patrick Mullins) is a Shantou gelding who topped the sale by fetching €230,000. A full-brother to Grade 1-winning mare Airlie Beach, who also won at listed level on the flat, the Bective Stud-owned five-year-old is related to six winners in total and showed plenty of promise when fourth on debut in a maiden hurdle at Navan last November.
Why Delilah, a half-sister to dual graded winner Landofhopeandglory and a half-sibling of three other winners, was bought by Joey Logan for Andy and Gemma Brown (Caldwell Construction) for €150,000, having been purchased as a yearling for 26,000gns. That made her the highest-priced filly at the sale and her second-place finish in a bumper first time out at Punchestown last month also exhibited plenty of ability.
“The two of them look to be very exciting. It’s great to sell well but, going back to why I look at the individual first, the most important thing is for them to be good racehorses at the end of the day and they look promising.
“The Arkle Sale is a quality sale now and has improved every year. You’d be happy to send your best horses there now, and that shows the giant strides made by Goffs.
“I think they’ve done a huge job getting the clientele in. As a vendor you need to know all the big buyers will be there and you have that now. The likes of Highflyer Bloodstock is the most obvious example, buying in huge numbers to very good success. Getting the big English clientele is what gave it the lift to start with.
“The best signing they ever had was (marketing director) Joey Cullen. He’s the best man to get clients in the door I’ve ever seen anywhere. He’s always on the road. He goes to all those meetings in England, meets the trainers and gets them over. I find Goffs unbelievably good for looking after the clients so well. They’re there to do business but they’re enjoying themselves too. It’s a great package.
“And then there’s the record of the horses that has come out of the sale. That speaks for itself. It’s like me selling a horse, it’s exactly the same. If they’re not selling winners, regardless of all the fancy prices, buyers don’t come back. Goffs are selling winners at the Arkle Sale and quality ones at that.
“I will have north of 30 horses headed there this year. The lads are doing the rounds already. Neil Walsh, who works on the inspection team with Goffs, was down to us. They do a great job. I remember when they wouldn’t be looking at horses till March but now, they’re going out in the middle of January to get the good horses.”
The continuing spiral of prices and influx of new owners to racing has amazed Nolan but, given the outlays, it comes as no surprise to learn that the preparations are just as intense for the buyers as they are for the sellers and sales houses.
“It’s unbelievable that there’s such a want for horses at the minute at all levels. Things are probably getting a bit tighter at the top. People are prepared to give more for that point-to-point winner rather than buying 10 horses. They are prepared to give more to have a better chance of getting a very good horse.
“The four-year-olds are starting now and I see all the agents around Wexford at the minute. It’s gone to the point now where all the big buyers in England and Ireland are after doing the rounds. The agents will have to have them seen because if a horse wins a point-to-point at one o’clock on a Sunday, there’s no point ringing up to come looking at him on the Monday, ‘cos he’s gone. That’s the demand that’s there now and the real sign of how strong it is and how strong it’s going to be. They’ve the horses lined up.”
And it’s a fair bet a growing number of them will be from the Peter Nolan academy.
This article is taken from The Irish Field Cheltenham Magazine 2023. CLICK HERE TO ORDER YOUR COPY