HALF-hours are hard to come by for Micheál Orlandi these days.

A presumption that 8.15pm on a Tuesday would provide a slot that doesn’t clash with the same day’s work proves way wide of the mark

“We’ve 12 covers booked in today – four for Kuroshio, four for Far Above and four for Galileo Chrome and we’ve still got three of them to go,” he reveals. “We just try and spread them out because you want to give the stallion and mare every chance but it just makes it a long day.”

In truth, the 33-year-old Westmeath native probably wouldn’t have it any other way, not least because there is an increased buoyant atmosphere at his Starfield Stud after Kuroshio had his first Group 1 winner in Australia at the weekend, Savatoxl in The Goodwood at Morphettville.

It was an incredible success for the sire that Orlandi labels as the poster boy for his Compas Stallions brand, a result that brought happiness, vindication, confidence and perhaps above all, relief.

“I suppose it’s hard to put a figure on what the win means in terms of attracting mares as such but what it has really achieved is relief to some degree,” Orlandi says laughing.

Kuroshio in action in his native Australia

“We brought the horse back from Australia, and you know, it was a ballsy move, a left-field move. Now you know he’s producing the goods in a Group 1 sprint in Australia. The Aussies are probably the best in the world at the sprinting game and Black Caviar won that race before.

“I’m delighted for the breeders that bought into him and used him in year one, two and three. People have yearlings now that are due to be inspected by sales companies and it’s great that they can say to an agent, this stallion has a Group 1 winner. And not a Group 1 winner in Timbuktu, but in Australia, where sprinting is huge.

“So it’s a huge relief in that regard, that now with his first couple of yearlings coming through here, there is added confidence that this is a potentially very good stallion. It helps to cement what we are trying to achieve here – standing good, commercial stallions that are hopefully successful for both ourselves and the breeders.”

Orlandi with My Dream Boat at Starfield Stud

Six stallions, over 450 covers so far this year, and a 33-year-old responsible for it all. Not bad for someone who comes from a background with no real affiliation to racing and whose parents run a chipper in Mullingar.

A concoction of enthusiasm, great people skills, will to gain experience and hard work have been key contributors to his ascent in a sector of the industry where many significantly richer and more well-connected people wouldn’t dare risk themselves.

“Believe it or not, my primary school principal used to take me to Kilbeggan races on a Friday after school,” Orlandi says. “Like, who is going to do that nowadays? Could you imagine…

“But I always loved racing. As a child growing up I used to play games with myself dreaming of stallions I would have and races I would win. Like lads dream of scoring a goal in an All-Ireland final but I was trawling through sales catalogues.

“I got my Leaving Certificate and deferred my International Commerce course in UCD for a year so I could go to work for Coolmore Australia at Jerry’s Plains, I was only 18. I came back then and did my course but I suppose I had no real connection to the racing industry.

“It was then I went for the Darley Flying Start, thinking that was my way in but I remember getting the phone call to say I didn’t get accepted and I was devastated.

“Ireland was booming at that time. I was still in college and I was doing a few farmers’ markets on the side and a lecturer recommended that I go to Boston for an Irish Dairy Board graduate scheme. I got on that scheme and went off and got a job and it was all rosey. I was going around in a company car, a Beetle, with Kerrygold Butter and Dubliner Cheese and everyone was happy.

“But I came back for my graduation and met Maurice Burns (Rathasker Stud) through his daughter Madeleine, who did the course with me. I was blown away talking to Maurice and from that conversation he offered me a job. So I flew back to America, handed in my notice, broke my mother’s heart doing so, and came back to work for Maurice.”


Orlandi accredits Burns as a very influential figure, in providing him with a platform to learn the stallion and sales business but also in providing a link to Mark Johnston, whom he sought as the perfect trainer to give him an insight into that side of the business.

“I was never going to be a trainer or anything but Maurice asked me what I wanted to do next and I said, ‘Jeez, I’d love to work in a trainer’s yard, just to see how it all works’. I had the experience of working in a stud and at the sales, and I figured it would be great to get to see the training side of it,” Orlandi explains.

“Mark Johnston was someone I always admired and he gave me an unbelievable opportunity. I pitched him this idea of a bloodstock racing manager, which I had experienced down in Australia, a position where you are looking after owners, involved in selling yearlings that were purchased, looking after syndicates, representing the yard, all that sort of thing.

“He took me to Keeneland and to all the big sales and I just loved listening to him when he was talking to people and his approach.”

It was after his stint with Johnston that Orlandi decided to go out on his own and set himself up as a bloodstock agent in Newmarket. He parked himself in the sales rings while also setting up racing syndicates. It was through the latter practice that he got to know James Acheson, best known for racing and standing Equiano.

“At the back of my mind, I always wanted to stand stallions because I felt that how ever great an agent, trainer, jockey may be, the industry is based on racing and horses and the biggest influence in all this is the successful stallions

“All the people I admire in the industry – Vincent O’Brien, Lester Piggott, Aidan O’Brien – it all comes back to a sire. With Vincent it was Northern Dancer, with Aidan it’s Galileo.

“I felt that a sire could be industry changing; that if you were successful standing stallions you could have a huge impact on the game forever more. To cut a long story short, I approached James and pitched him the idea of standing a commercial stallion in Ireland.

“Lo and behold he loved the idea and before we knew it we were bidding for Cappella Sansevero and we got him.”

Cappella Sansevero stood at Bridge House Stud and covered over 100 mares in his first year. In his first crop, he produced Group 2 Mill Reef winner Pierre Lapin. Unsurprisingly, Orlandi was keen to kick on, and he went to acquire Strath Burn but through this venture, he got to see the other side of the coin very quickly because the stallion received not a single cover in his first year.


He says that he learned more from that experience than he did with Cappella Sansevero but it didn’t knock him because he soon joined forces with Paul and Clare Rooney to stand their Prince of Wales’s Stakes winner My Dream Boat. Then came Kuroshio and Smooth Daddy, a son of Scat Daddy whom he travelled over to America to acquire, and most recently Far Above and Galileo Chrome have joined the roster.

“I always had to prove that there’s a return on investment in capital investment, which we have achieved with every stallion bar one so far,” Orlandi explains. “So when I go to source funds for these stallions you say, ‘look, this is what’s involved and these are the costs and this is what I’ve done in the past.’

“Obviously I’d be limited budget-wise, I can’t go off and buy a classic winner, I can’t go off and bid for Persian King. But hopefully someday we can. You want to tick as many boxes as you can and also you want to complement your breeders and what they would like to use. Because without the breeders we are going nowhere.”

Having had his stallions standing at a mixture of studs in the first few years, Orlandi only moved them all to stand at Starfield Stud at the beginning of last year. The 95-acre site is a gorgeous workplace, situated just a field away from Lough Owel and five minutes’ drive from Mullingar.

Any stallion master will tell you how difficult it is to stand a new stallion, given the unknown aspect. Surely that task is made all the more difficult when the person standing the stallion is an unknown quantity as well. And that makes Orlandi’s progress all the more remarkable.

“I’d be lying if I said I expected to be where I am now when I first started,” Orlandi says. “Yeah, of course you have big aspirations, but you know how tough it is, how long it takes for people to establish stud farms and how they don’t just mushroom up over night. I was conscious that it would take a lot of hard work and a lot of luck, and I still pinch myself when I walk out to the yard every morning.

Far Above was one of two stallions added to the Starfield roster last season

“The biggest pinch I get is when breeders want to ring you up and want to come and look at your stallions and want to send you a mare. And at this level, it’s a personal thing. My most expensive stallion trades at €5,000, so we are not taking over the world or anything but we are doing okay.

“But the reality of it is, that if a breeder is to use one of your stallions, they have to like your stallion but they also have to like you if they’re going to write you a cheque for €5,000

“That’s very important because, at the end of the day, it’s a people business. Especially at this end of the market. It’s not like you’re booking your mare into Dubawi or Galileo, there’s a lot of €5,000 stallions in Ireland and Britain. So if they are picking your stallion, yes, obviously they like his credentials, but they also have to like you.”

Social media

Anyone in the racing industry who is active on social media will surely know of Compas Stallions and that is testament to a savvy marketing strategy that is breaking all sorts of ground in what is usually a reticent and sometimes secretive sector of the industry.

“Yeah, the industry has always been a bit traditional, cloak-and-dagger type stuff,” Orlandi agrees. “I’d love to get more people involved in owning stallions and more people involved in owning shares in stallions.

“In general we just wanted to get the message out in a fun way. We did the Chrome tickets in the chocolate bars and Far Above branded beer.

“Our whole marketing strategy was to take the seriousness away from it, really. I do think the marketing works because you’re establishing a brand in a marketplace that hasn’t had a new brand in a long time.

“Like, I’m not going to win over a loyal supporter of say, Tally-Ho, with a just chocolate bar, but you’re trying to win over the people on the fence. I’m up against stud farms that have been around for 100 years and some of them don’t need to advertise, so you’ve got to think differently because if you think the same it’s very hard to be successful. It’s all been done already.”

Orlandi still acts as a bloodstock agent. It’s a smaller piece of the pie but it helps him to make and maintain contacts with people in the industry. He is also involved in a number of mares and gets great pleasure out of breeding a winner.

But his main focus is on his stallions. His sky-high ambitions of creating his own imprint on an industry he loves dearly are commendable and show what he’s all about.

“There’s loads to this game and the learning process is constant, to keep going forward,” he says. “Because it’s not black and white. If it was, we wouldn’t be at it. There would be a champion stallion and a successful stud farm all in the one place and no one trying to buy new stallions and compete.

“But that’s what makes this sector so dynamic. There will always be a changeover in stallions and the wheel keeps on turning.

“That’s what keeps it so vibrant.”

Acquiring Far Above

“I’M a huge fan of what Jack Cantillon has done for the industry. Jack always said he’d love to stand a stallion with me and we both loved Far Above after he won the Palace House.

“We knew there was lots of interest in him when he came available so we put a plan together and created a video together, pitching to Godolphin. So it wasn’t just an e-mail with an offer. We explained how we saw the stallion, what we hoped he would achieve with mares covered and what we’re planning to do to promote him.

“We wanted Godolphin to stay involved and before you knew it, we had the horse, Godolphin had 25%, and it was a huge, huge coup for us. Jack has put a lot behind the marketing of him and we’re delighted that Far Above has already covered 150 mares.”

Exceptional team

“Michael Ennis is my stallion man and he is exceptional. He’s a natural horseman when it comes to stallions and has huge pride in our stallions and what we’re trying to do. I couldn’t pay him enough compliments.

“I also have girl called Brona and she’s very good and my younger brother Peppe, who is an accountant and tax specialist and who also does the late covers with me.

“My girlfriend Síle (Hayes), who works for ITM, has some fantastic ideas. It was her idea to do the Galileo Chrome ticket. On top of that she holds her fair share of mares when it comes to covering and helps out at the weekend.

“If it wasn’t for my great staff, I wouldn’t be where I am now. They’re exceptional.”

Advice for a young person starting in racing

“Work hard and focus. Learn from your mistakes because you’ll make plenty of them, everyday is a school day. Just keep striving to make yourself better.”