“Our goal is to get to a place where we can hopefully have multiple Grade 1 winners and hopefully have multiple Cheltenham winners over a period of time.”
Noel and Valerie Moran are more than qualified to set such lofty ambitions. Belief, hard work and that ambition have been the key ingredients to their success story so far.
It’s 13 years since the now Meath-based couple set up a company called Prepaid Financial Solutions (PFS) around their London kitchen table.
The journey wasn’t one without a few bumps Noel says, however, when they managed to land a key large client, it was the big break they needed, and they haven’t looked back since. Last year the couple began negotiating a deal to sell the company and that deal closed in March, netting them a payout that could harvest in and around €200 million.
Not bad considering that in their early grafting, they had to resort to working at home from their kitchen table. Ironically enough, they’re back at the kitchen table now with the offices of their other business, Ecomm Merchant Solutions closed due to Covid-19.
This table is in Bective Stud, a facility on one side of a 180-acre estate in the area of Bective, Co Meath. The magnificent Bective House sits on the other side of the estate where the Moran’s plans for an extravagant hotel are in motion.
But we’re here to talk horses. If the Morans can talk the talk, they certainly can walk the walk around a truly beautiful facility that features a mixture of old and brand new features, while still a work in progress. There are 35 stables up and running with planning permission to build 11 more before the end of the year. There is a three-furlong perfect circle gallop. There is a horse walker, a 60m x 40m arena and a lunge ring. There are eight winter sand paddocks (five more to be built) and 10 new grass paddocks (with five more to be installed).
The crowning jewel is a horse sculpture made of driftwood, bought at the Chelsea Flower Show, which captures you straight away when you drive in the avenue.
It’s the sort of dreamland scenario any lotto-winning racing enthusiast could possibly think of. So when and where did such a passion for racing develop?
Noel and Valerie Moran underneath a beautiful driftwood sculputre bought at the Chelsea Garden Show \Healy Racing
“It probably developed from my side and I probably dragged Valerie through with me,” Noel says laughing. “I have always been involved in horse racing somewhere along the way. My father John always would have had a leg in a horse.
“He liked to have a few bets on racing so it was always on at home and we always liked going racing, particularly to the local tracks. We were lucky enough to be involved in a couple of good horses over the years and you kind of get hooked on it you know?
“Even when I was in the UK, I was involved with different horses, in different syndicates. When we sold the business (PFS), it was an easy stepping stone and it was a nice pastime as well, something we get huge enjoyment out of.”
Noel and Valerie Moran at their Bective Stud in Co Meath \Healy Racing
Noel is a proud Navan man. He left St Pat’s Secondary School at 17 and joined his father’s furniture business before Ray Mooney, the career guidance officer at Pat’s set him up for a job with Permanent TSB where he spent 12 years before moving on to AIB and eventually to London.
He worked as a contractor for several banks in the city before joining Altair Financial services. When the economic crash came in 2007 he lost his job but took the opportunity to set up PFS, a business focussed on selling prepaid cards.
Valerie is from Zimbabwe. She followed her sister up to London in 2003, only to be left on her own when the same sister decided she wanted to move to the US shortly after. Having owned her own real estate company in Zimbabwe, she transitioned to working in insurance in London, before meeting Noel through networking at a business convention and later joined him to start the PFS journey.
“I’ve grown to love horses,” she says. “They are such an easy animal to love really. If you find a gentle one, the relationship becomes a special bond. I’ve grown to love racing as a sport as well. The social gathering is key – getting family and friends involved, the banter and all the memories that the horses have given us so far.
The first success story on the track for the Morans as owners outright was Batts Rock, who won the Ladies Derby at the Curragh. Gordon Elliott trained that gelding and has trained most of the Moran’s horses, though Olly Murphy, through his time at Cullentra House, has acquired a few horses now as well.
Queens Brook and Jamie Codd finished an excellent third in the Champion Bumper and is a top prospect for hurdles this season \Healy Racing
Since that win in 2018, the green and white silks (representing the colours of Bective GAA) have become steadily more recognisable. Last year they had their first Cheltenham Festival runners - Queens Brook who ran an excellent race to finish third in the Champion Bumper and The Bosses Oscar, who was nearly every analyst’s eyecatcher in the Martin Pipe, where he missed the start and got impeded twice late on before finishing fast for fifth.
The Bosses Oscar in action with Davy Russell \carolinenorris.ie
That whetted the appetite and the Moran’s influence on jumps racing is set to increase this season with significant investment into the point-to-point sector, the French market and British horses-in-training sales. While all the time in the background here at Bective Stud, the products of a fledgling breeding operation are also set to come to fruition in the coming seasons.
“I always would have liked the opportunity to breed horses,” Noel explains. “That is probably really how this place started off. We started off two years ago with mares first of all that we could breed with. We had four foals this year and four foals last year and a couple from the first year. So we have a few two and three-year-olds now.
“So it’s a mixture of both. Our ambition is to be able to breed our own horses and have them coming along every year after that but also to buy in some proven racehorses too.
“The plan would be to get a few better mares as well. We’ve six mares here now but we maybe might look to pick up a few proven mares over the years. Again it’s like everything else, we just want to try and improve the quality of horse you’re breeding.
“We’re lucky to have Michael Lynam here who runs the stud for us. Michael is local and he knows the industry and breeding side of things very well. We do the pre-training here also. Michael would work closely with Gordon, who’d come down here every two or three weeks to check the horses.
“There was 40-odd horses here for the last three or three and a half months but most of them are gone up to Gordon’s now. They’ll do about six or seven weeks here with us before they even go back so it means they can hit the ground running when they get up to Gordon’s.”
Noel didn’t know Elliott before he had horses trained by him but he has always admired his attitude. Speaking to Olivia Hamilton for The Owner column in this paper last year, he said the best quality in a trainer is someone who always wants to achieve more in their field and never settle for what they have which sounds very much like his and Valerie’s own attitude to business.
“I think that’s a fair comment,” he says. “In business we were very ambitious too. We never settled for what we had right up until the end. You always have to give it 100%, whether it’s a business or a sport, you always have to be trying to achieve something better than what you have.
“We met Gordon several times, he’s always come across as very ambitious, he’s never happy with what he has, he’s always looking to improve things, even through small tweaks. He is determined to win the trainers’ championship and I’m sure he will someday. I think he has a similar attitude as I would have if I was training. You’re always looking to achieve and try to be the best in your sport.”
Flat racing does not appeal to the Morans from an ownership point of view which isn’t a surprise given the extra social element of the jumps game, which is key to their experience. Their investment in this breeding facility also illustrates a clear desire to be invested emotionally in the journey of their horses from day one.
“The development part of it is the most attractive aspect for me,” Valerie says. “Having not come from a background in horses, the breeding side has been such a huge experience.
“Seeing the mares in foal and learning that process. Then when the foal is born, getting their first few steps and watching them as they bond with the mare. For me that is the best part, the nurturing of them and just having them around the yard. They are such therapeutic animals.”
Noel adds: “That definitely is a big part of why we’ve got into it. A day out at the races is great as well. Valerie and myself are very busy, we spend a lot of time working and there is nothing better than a day out at the races with family and friends.
“A day out is good in itself, but if you have a runner, all the more better and if you have a winner, even better again. We’ll always have a good night out when we have a winner. We’ll often have a good night out when we have a loser as well mind you, but we’ll have an even better one if we have a winner. You have to celebrate it. Gordon would always say that they’re hard to get so you have to make the most of them when you do.”
With the social aspect a key ingredient for the Morans, the current situation with Irish racecourses off-bounds is obviously not ideal, for them and for all owners. Perhaps the absence of owners will come sharper into focus when the National Hunt fraternity come out of hibernation.
“It’s strange times we’re living in,” Noel says. “Hopefully owners will be allowed to go (racing) shortly I hope. It’s an outdoor sport so it’s hard to see why they still have to keep it closed down, even for owners initially.
“Of course, we understand the situation,” Valerie adds. “It’s a balancing act and it’s very difficult to get that right. This is a trying time for everybody. From our point of view, going to the races, it won’t be the same until we have some sort of crowds back. You need that atmosphere. If it’s just the owner and the trainer, it’s more of a business meeting.”
Taking away Covid for a second, it’s interesting to ask both Noel and Valerie about their perspective of Irish racing as relatively new owners, who are clearly willing to invest their hard earned.
“Prize money is really good if we’re being honest about it.” Noel says. “I know it’s been cut recently with Covid and that but they have to cut their costs and get their money back somewhere. We’re definitely ahead of Britain in this regard. Okay it’s probably harder to win here but if you do the prize money is good.
“I think we should be getting more people going racing. Everytime I go racing in Navan I say the same thing to Valerie, there needs to be more people here. The jumps racing in Navan is top quality but we can’t seem to attract the crowds.
“You go to places like Down Royal on a Friday evening and it will be packed. Kilbeggan gets great crowds as well. There probably are a few other tracks in the same boat that just haven’t cracked it.
“The age demographic has changed,” Valerie adds. “The 20-35 age group, not many of them would go racing on a Saturday or Sunday but they would go racing to Galway or to Leopardstown for the big festivals. The bigger events attract them but their interest is clearly there.
“Entertainment is very important. That appeals to people who may not have the interest to go racing but will go as a part of a group for this aspect.”
“I said it to them before to go around and give out 5,000 free tickets the week before,” Noel says. “If people come they’ll spend money. If you’re not getting it off them at the gate, they’ll spend it inside at the track.”
Whatever happens, Noel and Valerie Moran are in jumps racing for the long haul. They are highly ambitious but significantly have already displayed the crucial attribute of patience that big jumps owners need.
“I think the ultimate goal is to build up something sustainable year on year, not just a once off,” Noel explains. “If you look at what Gigginstown have achieved over the last number of years, they put a huge amount of money into the sport but they have got their returns in terms of huge numbers of Grade 1 winners and huge returns from Tiger Roll getting lucky enough to win Grand Nationals and all his Cheltenham wins.
“I think it’s about trying to build our operation up constantly over 10 years and getting to a place where you can hopefully have multiple Grade 1 winners and hopefully have multiple Cheltenham winners over a period of time.
“So we’re looking to build something that is sustainable but it takes time to do that. We still have young horses, they’re all young bumper horses, novice hurdlers, very few chasers because it takes four or five years to get there. It just takes a while to get the structure in place.”
“I’d like to win the Melbourne Cup,” Valerie adds while laughing. “The word is out - I’ve said to Gordon, find me one that can win the Melbourne Cup!
“When you do something, you must aim as high as you can.
“It’s very good to dream.”
Noel and Valerie Moran with The Bosses Oscar after his maiden hurdle win at Leopardstown \Healy Racing