“Minty describes himself as semi-retired now but you wouldn’t think that when you see him around the store sales in the summer ‘cos he works so exceptionally hard. I’ve learned a great deal from him over the years, from a professional eye looking at young horses, to integrity, how to behave; on many levels”< – – Anthony Bromley, The Irish Field, February 16, 2018
HIS commitment to the cause is legendary but David Minton’s determination not to miss a trick appeared to reach new levels at the Goffs Land Rover Sale last month, as he reportedly sat at the same stool in the auditorium for 11 straight hours, one comfort break excepted, with sustenance delivered as required.
So active was the famed English buyer of elite talent that leading Irish point-to-point producer Colin Bowe was moved to suggest, only half-jokingly, that he and his colleagues should have locked Minton in the toilet, to give them a chance of picking up some of the nice stock.
The truth of it is that the 69-year-old was in a lot of pain due to a shot-to-bits knee. The operation was scheduled after the conclusion of the Doncaster/Goffs/Tattersalls stores-sales swing. Having contributed with Highflyer Bloodstock colleagues Anthony Bromley and Tessa Greatrex, and Nicky Henderson’s Cork-born jockey Jerry McGrath, to the acquisition of 97 horses from the three stores sales – 49 at Goffs alone – the firm’s co-founder went under the knife on July 9th and is sticking to his rehab programme assiduously.
We are speaking as he watches action at golf’s Open Championship from his sitting room, having arrived home the previous Sunday.
“Oh Lowry’s just after playing a great shot,” comes the unprompted update over the phone on the Friday of what would turn into another historic chapter in Irish sport.
Minton is a sporting enthusiast who loves his cricket too and one can only imagine his consternation as Tim Murtagh and co skittled England for 85 in the landmark Test at Lord’s on Wednesday. Given a long love affair with Ireland that has been mutually beneficial, the likelihood is that he was considerably less irate than if Australia were causing such damage in the Ashes.
He is just back from physio, which was “pretty tough”, but the reports are positive on the new knee. There is no hurry however; with the energy focused almost exclusively on the three- and four-year-old National Hunt horses, he can take his time.
Mill House Stud, the breeding, sales prep/consigning and a pre-training operation is the purview of his wife Juliet. Secret Investor, Robin De Carlow, Rons Dream and Poli Roi represent just some of the talent to have come through her hands.
It is as a buyer Minton has had his primary influence on the racing world. Having established Highflyer Bloodstock with Bromley, he has seen their purchases win 72 times at the past 12 Cheltenham Festivals, a staggering 44 of those at Grade 1 level.
Kauto Star, Sprinter Sacre, Altior, Long Run, Buveur D’Air, Master Minded, Big Buck’s and Many Clouds (one of five Grand National winners) are just some of those to have been picked up. Topofthegame and Pentland Hills are two of the newer class flying the flag.
It is a remarkable success story. And one that David Minton, dodgy knee and all, continues to contribute to.
“Minty and I started together from virtually the very beginning. He was with the CBA then and then he had David Minton Bloodstock, then he had BBA and then eventually Highflyer. In those days all the horses were in Ireland and everything was bought there. France hardly existed... The point-to-points were good but the bumpers were what you were watching. Fairyhouse on Easter weekend, the bumper winners from that weekend were bought to go to England.
“France came into it when Minty set up Highflyer with Anthony Bromley. Anthony didn’t pioneer it because lots of people had been to France. But he was certainly was one of the first guys to go back into it in a really big way. We started buying a huge number of horses in France. They were viable in those times. So were Irish point-to-pointers. Nowadays you need an arm and a leg to get near them” – Nicky Henderson, The Irish Field, April 26, 2019
His grandfather was a Shropshire dairy farmer who had a couple of mares and bred Pendil.
“I was jumping mad my whole life. I used to go with him racing. I remember going with him to Uttoxeter when I was four years old.
“My father, Bill was in the corn business, the seed business. He hunted a lot when he was young and rode in point-to-points, though not with any great success.
“He commentated at point-to-points. I commentated at my first point-to-point when I was 13, just down the road from here. When I moved to Newmarket, I kept that going and commentated up until 2007.
“I loved it. I didn’t do it professionally, just around the East Anglian point-to-point area.”
Point-to-pointing has always been close to his heart and he is chairman of his local committee. Interestingly, he notes that the British point-to-point scene is gradually adopting the Irish model.
“It is getting there. People are beginning to think there’s got to be a commercial aspect. It is more steady than it was in Ireland but there’s a lot of people doing it now. We’re involved with Phil Rowley, who was champion point-to-point trainer last year. I buy all the horses for him and Phil and Alex Edwards, his jockey, just had a brilliant last two years.”
He has been director of Ludlow Racecourse for the past 20 years. It seems there is no facet of racing that he hasn’t had an interaction with.
But it is the stores and pointers that always enthused him and keep him from full retirement, not that Nicky Henderson, for one, would want to lose access to 50 years of expertise. The exposure to racing through his grandfather made him resolve to pursue a career in this wonderful world.
“I hated school. I used to play cricket a lot, played rugby for the school but I just loved racing. I wrote to 27 people when I left school. I got five replies, three telling me I was completely bonkers to get involved in racing, two encouraging me.
“I went down to Newmarket to interview for both jobs. I was offered one with what was then Sandown Bloodstock Sales, which was run by a chap called John Richardson. Fred Winter was involved too.”
A family friend, Tony Jarvis asked him to sell a horse he owned. Minton was 21 and the deal he organised with trainer Fred Rimell was an omen of what was to come. Comedy Of Errors went on to win two Champion Hurdles.
“In 1973, I went to my first Cheltenham. I had bought a little horse called King Pele, who won the Gloucester Hurdle (now the Supreme Novices’) by a short-head on the Tuesday, with David Nicholson riding.
“The second day, Comedy Of Errors won his first Champion Hurdle and the third day, Pendil was odds-on to win the Gold Cup and he got beaten a short-head by The Dikler. I have never missed a day at the festival since.”
By now, he was at Curragh Bloodstock Agency, having started there in 1969 as a pedigree boy earning £7.50 a week. Peter McKeever was running the operation, while Victor McCalmont, Dick Warden and Johnny Harrington were key figures in the operation.
It is through Harrington – the late husband of trainer Jessica – that he struck up a friendship with Henderson that would change both their lives. In the meantime, having become office manager and director over a 15-year period, he left to establish David Minton Bloodstock in 1985, where Bromley came to work for him.
“Anthony’s grandfather was my mentor when I left school. Cecil Bromley was one of the great horsemen in Shropshire. He had a stud where he used to stand Space King. When I left school, I went to work there for six months until I was able to come down to Newmarket.
“Cecil always had a party on the night of Boxing Day. We used to go to Wolverhampton races and end up at Cecil’s. Anthony was 12 and pulled my trousers and said, ‘I want to work with you.’ I said, ‘Don’t be so silly, let’s see what happens.’
“At the age of 17 he said, ‘Can I come down during the holidays and work for you?’ Whereas I was pretty stupid at school, he got 10 O Levels, four A Levels, was West Midlands schoolboys sprint champion. I said, ‘You’ve got to go to university.’ He said ‘No, no, no.’ He came down at 17 and never went home.”
Bromley had risen to the position of UK director when Minton sold the firm to British Bloodstock Agency. The duo continued with BBA until striking out on their own, this time on equal footing in 2001, to set up Highflyer. By now, the link with Henderson was well established.
“Nicky and I have been together since he started, 41 years. That is wonderful. He’s my best mate. He loves bringing the three-year-olds on.
“He doesn’t rush his horses and very few of them run as four-year-olds. It takes a bit of time.
“Nicky and I definitely have a set mould as a horse. It’s often said when his horse walks in as a bumper horse first-time out, people will say, you can tell that’s a Minton-Henderson purchase. It’s interesting.
“I bought Phil Rowley some three-year-olds this year and they were all of a type. I don’t like buying big giants, great, big 16.3s. I’m much happier with 16.1, 16.1½-type horses.”
Which explains why no-one has had more success in the Champion Hurdle or Champion Chase than the master of Seven Barrows.
“Remittance Man was the first real good one for Nicky. We bought him for 18 grand from Jerry Rohan, father of Richie Rohan at Ballincurrig. Jerry was a good mate of Johnny Harrington’s and through Johnny I got to know him. Remittance Man was one of the worst boxwalkers you’d ever seen but turned into a great horse.
“The other main man in my life, and has been for 35 years, is Trevor Hemmings. I’ve done his business since the early ‘80s. We speak every Sunday morning at 10.30am.
“We’re supposed to be talking about racing and horses but we end up talking about Preston North End most of the time, as that’s Trevor’s club.
“He’s been a huge influence on my life. For a man of 84 to come out and buy 27 stores this year; he’s an extraordinary man.”
And the task, which Minton has fulfilled three times for Hemmings, is always to source a Grand National winner.
“I bought Hedgehunter in Willie’s yard. I used to buy a lot of horses for Willie in those days but obviously when Rich Ricci came along, he had to get someone else to do the buying because we’d have clashed too much.
“Ballabriggs I bought as a yearling for about 20 grand. Many Clouds I bought as a foal. You’d have to say that it’s a bit of luck that he turned out to win a National, but Trevor has won three Nationals with three different horses.”
Minton has a reputation for finding good value.
“The worst thing is buying an expensive horse and the build-up to that. I’ve never been that involved with the high prices, to a big extent. I’ve bought a lot of medium-priced horses. Altior cost 60,000, Sprinter Sacre wasn’t expensive and that’s great, and very reassuring for the industry and potential owners.
“I remember I bought a horse called Centurius in the ‘80s. He was a full-brother to Grundy. In those days, he cost £1.5 million. Well it was absolutely ridiculous! That is not fun, when you buy an expensive horse. That is not nice.”
He acknowledges that “the price of some of these point-to-pointers are getting quite serious now” but doesn’t see the trend halting.
“Once the good ones keep going the right way, I think it’s sustainable. Shishkin was one of our most expensive point-to-point horses. He’d be one we’d have high hopes for with Nicky next year. I bought him off Virginia Considine. He cost a lot of money (£170,000). I was given a far bigger budget and I managed to buy him for half what we were given.”
The satisfaction in not overspending is obvious, particularly when he was doing the business for a man he has such time for, Joe Donnelly, owner of Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo and dual Champion Hurdle runner-up Melon.
Minton has a long-time association with with his "best mate" Nicky Henderson for whom he bought Sprinter Sacre and Altior /Healy Racing
It is amazing that Minton picked up Altior for Henderson, almost in time to succeed Sprinter Sacre, another of his greatest purchases. Sprinter may have been more of an exhibitionist than Altior, but the Paddy Behan-bred gelding has set a world record for consecutive successes over jumps and one suspects, only ever does enough. It is no surprise that Minton can’t, or won’t split them.
“Sprinter was bought as a job lot in France, one of 24 horses. I got a phone call one morning. I just happened to be sitting having breakfast with Raymond Mould in his house and he said, ‘Oh I’ll have a go at that.’ So we bought those 21 horses for €300,000. It turned out that 15 have won. Sprinter was obviously a long way by far the best.
“It was a remarkable story.
“Altior was a three-year-old who just stood out at the Land Rover Sale.
“The greatest stage you can ever have is seeing Sprinter win those two Champion Chases, and that comeback day was just beyond belief. Altior now has won it twice. How on earth do you compare them? You can’t. It would be unfair to, wouldn’t it?”
Highflyer were among the pioneers in the French market.
“A very nice chap called David Powell is our French agent. When I set up David Minton Bloodstock, he asked me if he could work with me as he used to help me a bit at the CBA.
“Anthony got to know him and through him he got Long Run, Master Minded, Big Buck’s, Kauto Star. He’s been a big influence. Anthony has made a real good niche with David and obviously, there’s the link with Simon Munir and Isaac Souede (Bromley is their racing manager), that has grown into quite a big set-up now.
“I love buying the youngsters in France. They have some wonderfully tough lines.
“You can buy French horses with not much pedigree and get away with it. That’s the extraordinary thing really.
“I think they probably are more forward. They have three-year-old racing much sooner than we do. I’m surprised the Irish haven’t jumped on that more and gone towards that way. They run a four-year-old point-to-point in February.
“You don’t see an Irish trainer training a three-year-old store whereas in France, they’re littered with them.
“The likes of the Bleahens and Peter Vaughan are buying lots of French babies out of the field over there. Walter Connors is in everywhere. Germany, France – you could find him anywhere. They’ve done tremendously well with that.”
All in all, he is very optimistic about the state of play in the National Hunt world. And he has a lot to compare it to.
“The jumping side is in tremendous nick. I don’t know what effect Brexit is gonna have. I don’t think anybody knows. But everybody thought Gigginstown coming out might be a problem but it made absolutely no difference whatsoever. It got some more people back into it. It’s still as strong as it ever was.”
That extends to the quality of stock.
“The strength of quality they had at the Land Rover and the Derby Sale was superb.
“The Tuesday of the Land Rover Sale was as good a collection of all-round horses you’d ever want to see. Then the two days at the Derby Sale – they always go for a bigger type of horse there. The quality was there too. It’s encouraging.”
Minton has remarkably sourced three Grand National winners for Trevor Hemmings /Healy Racing
The pride he has in the achievements of Juliet at Mill House Stud is very evident.
“We’ve got about 23 mares. She’s got 13 of her own, some pretty nice ones. We sell the foals at Fairyhouse in November and Newmarket in December.
“I don’t buy National Hunt foals anymore but the November Sale at Fairyhouse is a big sale for Juliet and she’s got some absolutely clinking, lovely foals to sell this year. We’ve got National Hunt foals by Blue Bresil and Kayf Tara that we like a lot, and we’ve got a cracking Bated Breath and a cracking Camelot colt to sell this year on the flat side.
“We also pre-train a lot of babies before they go off to Nicky, Alan King and other people.”
Minton will be celebrating 50 years in the business in October and by then, will be on the lookout for some point-to-point winners. But if Colin Bowe and the Irish producers benefit at that juncture, they know the battle will recommence for the next crop of stores next June.
Long may it continue.
Minton, Jeremiah McGrath, Nicky Henderson and Anthony Bromley watch on at the Tattersalls Derby Sale in June \Healy Racing