PETER NOLAN’S partner Brenda asked him recently what days he wouldn’t be around the next few weeks.
“I said ‘twud be easy to tell her what days I was. It’s six weeks now. It starts (yesterday) until the 13th of December, finishing in Goffs with the National Hunt. We have 90 horses to sell in the next six weeks.”
Brenda is a farmer, so she knows all about hard work. Nolan himself has known nothing else and never shirked it. He started buying and selling horses during the recession. Some might not have thought it the smartest move but no-one is questioning the 39-year-old Wexfordian now.
“The more I’d have to do the better I’d get,” he says. “You get up in the morning and it’s a way of life, it’s not a job.”
It is why he gets impatient when about criticism of high achievers in the industry, of commentary labelling their nonpareil feats as an indication of a broken system. For him, this is a criticism of graft, and of innovative thinking.
“I know people say there are big trainers with big numbers but nobody gave Gordon (Elliott) or Willie (Mullins) the horses at the start. They had to prove themselves. I don’t agree with people putting them down, that it’s bad that it’s this way. It’s not their fault. Gordon started renting yards. Willie isn’t in the home place. They’ve grown it.
“I see Paul and James Nolan over the road and they’re back full again. They’re working hard. They went and bought young stock and they’re trying to get in that way. I say fair play to them. I’d be great friends with Harry and Jimmy Kelly and the lads are back full again. They’re after four point-to-point winners, the horses are in great form and they’re well able to train them. They lost a couple to Willie and things but they never cried about it.
“They got on with it and are back with 30 or 40. They’re workers. Absolute workers. It was the same with Paul and James. It was either get in or get out. Don’t complain about it. Just do it.
“I feel strong about that. Knocking Willie and Gordon, I think that’s begrudgery. It’s too easy for people to turn around and say Gordon and Willie are too big. I don’t. I say fair play to them. Of course if you have success, the owners want to be with you but it’s up to you to go and get the success. It’s like any business – if it’s not working for you, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it. We’re all big boys.”
On these pages three weeks ago, trainer Tom Mullins was critical of the business model perfected by Wexford handlers such as Colin Bowe, Seán and Donnchadh Doyle, Denis Murphy and Michael Goff, in using the point-to-point circuit and particularly four-year-old maidens, to produce readymade racehorses. According to Mullins, this was denying National Hunt trainers a vital revenue stream and driving up prices.
Nolan is friendly with the Doyles and Goff in particular but that has nothing to do with his defence of them he insists. He just has no truck with speaking negatively about someone else’s success.
“I’d have huge respect for them. I’m buying foals and yearlings and we’re only rearing them. Eighty per cent of the time they’re only in the field grazing and it’s hard enough to keep them right. These boys are putting their money on the line.
“Within a year of buying them, they’re turning them into proper racehorses. They’re spending an awful lot of money and there’s a huge amount of fall-away horses. If they’re buying 20 horses, you might only see 10 of them run, so they’re having to cover the cost of the other 10.
“It’s there for everybody. Tom Mullins said it’s ruining the game but the boys saw a niche in the market and best of luck to them. They’re putting their own money on the line and it flows the whole way back to the stallion man.”
“The biggest problem I would see with the market is that the stallions are getting so polarised. We’re dealing with such a small niche now that people want to buy. I’d buy an individual by 80% of the stallions but I know if you want to be commercial, you have only about six or eight stallions you should be buying and that’s too tight.
“The country stallion man down the road with two or three stallions that always covered a few is finding it very hard because the people that use his stallions have no-one to sell to.”
Nolan’s late father, Timmy was a shrewd appraiser of equine stock from his Jamestown House Stud base. Oylegate men stick together and Timmy was always going to send some horses Jim Bolger’s way.
“My dad gave Jim three of his first five or six winners. There were a couple of good mares called Silvine and Double Century. I think they won six each for Jim.
“Dad was very good to me. We had land here and there were a good few boys in the family. One of the other brothers got it but he always said to me, ‘I think I gave you something more important’, that he gave me an eye for a horse. He was a very good judge.”
The real education took place by his father’s side. It continued when he scored a dream job at Coolmore and spent five years there.
“We did all National Hunt at home – 90% anyway – so where better could you learn about the flat than Coolmore? I done everything there from breaking all the flat yearlings coming back from America, running barns during the season with some of the best mares coming from the likes of Moyglare to be covered. It was brilliant.”
As a 24-year-old, Nolan illustrated the eye his father spoke about when buying an Accordion three-year-old filly for a syndicate from his brother Tim, who clearly possesses similar traits, having initially acquired her as a foal from Rathbarry Stud for IR£900.
Feathard Lady was trained by Colm Murphy to be a Grade 1-winning hurdler with a real prospect of hitting the highest peaks before injury struck and ended her racing career at five. She was sold, in foal to Presenting, for 270,000gns and subsequently produced another Grade 1-winning mare, Augusta Kate, by Yeats. This Nolan boy knew his stuff.
Joe Foley offered him the job as manager at Ballyhane Stud and the opportunity to assume that sort of responsibility was too good to turn down. After another five years there, he moved back closer to home to run Arctic Tack Stud for Eoin Banville.
Around eight years ago, he began pinhooking, using the Jamestown House Stud banner. The first year, he sold Holywell and John’s Spirit. The pair were stabled alongside one another and maintained close ties when making the trip to Jonjo O’Neill’s Jackdaws Castle. Between them, they won 15 times and accumulated more than £600,000 in prize money.
“They were by a young stallion called Gold Well. Seven and 11 (thousand) I think is all we got for the two of them. Holywell was a small little horse but we liked him. Seán Doyle bought him and he probably helped Seán get started too.”
After his father passed away four years ago, he changed the name of the enterprise to Peter Nolan Bloodstock, continuing to combine the building of that business with his duties at Arctic Tack. In June, he brought his decade-long service there to an end.
“I was just gone too busy. Two years ago I bought some land in Oylegate. I’m after building a new house where myself and Brenda live, and we just finished a second lot of stables; we’ve 24 boxes built.
“I do mostly pinhooking in National Hunt, I buy foals and yearlings. I do a bit on the flat. Myself and a friend of mine, Pete Parkhill – Ken’s son – we bought a No Nay Never for 12 grand last year and we got a hundred for her in September.
“I’d like to get into the flat more. I enjoy both – National Hunt is my backbone, but I like the flat. I like following the stallions, the crosses. I’d be big into that kind of thing. There are certain lines I like. You try and follow them the best you can.
“With me, the pedigree is a lot but more and more, in the jumping and the flat game, it’s the individual. The individual will always be number one.”
He is selling in the coming weeks, but he will be buying too.
“Five or six years ago, the point-to-point men were paying 30,000 for a nice horse, maybe 40. They’ll give you 60 or 80 for a nice horse now.”
The question is whether this spiral is sustainable.
“I really worry about that. If you’re buying 10 point-to-pointers and you’re averaging 50,000, it’s very hard. They’ll argue the other side of it, if you can get two of those proper ones to win, you’ll make money out of it. I find it hard to see it staying like it is, but I don’t know.”
There are pressures associated with taking horses to the sales, whether it’s your own and needing to turn a profit or, as is the case primarily for Nolan, bringing horses for clients that might have considerable expectations. For him, getting the stock there in one piece is the main thing. And as for expectations?
“That won’t last long with me because I always say what I think. You mightn’t always like to hear it but you’ll get it straight between the eyes. Sometimes I’ll get it wrong too but I’ll always probably come in at the lower end, will dampen expectations a bit and if we can get a bit more, then everyone is happy.”
That integrity is rewarded with repeat business.
“It’s getting to a point where if I like the horse at home, lads are starting to believe you and trust you. I always say it, and it’s probably gone a bit boring, but David Minton said the first year I was starting, ‘I don’t mind buying a bad one off ya but don’t sell me an unsound one. We have to be able to gallop them to find out what’s under the bonnet. If you sell me an unsound one, we’ll never find out.’
“I love seeing horses go on. I sold a horse to Warren Greatrex called Emitom. Another Gold Well, he’d a curvy hock on him and couple of lumps and bumps on him, he wasn’t the most straightforward but we liked him. Warren and Tessa, they took me word on it and he won his second bumper at Ascot on Saturday.
“I sold (subsequent bumper winner) Bullionaire to Harry Fry and he’s come back and bought a couple of nice horses off me since. I don’t want to be a one-year wonder so people need to trust you. If you’re telling lies, you’ll know why they’re passing your door next year.”
Brexit is a concern but with the politicians clueless, he can offer no answers and is trusting in how resolute horse producers have always been.
The money is still there for the right type – he points to Cheveley Park’s recent toe-dipping into the National Hunt world – but with overproduction a problem in the flat market, as evidenced by proceedings at Goffs on Monday – it is important to be on guard.
“That’s why less is more and keep the quality up. It’s hard to buy them at times but I’d rather not have them than have an inadequate one. There’s no point buying for the sake of buying. Racing people will give more for the good one rather than buy two ordinary ones.
“The individual is most important, the stallion is becoming more important and then you buy as much pedigree as you can. Price will dictate how much you can afford, but you have to have the daddy now.”
And as for his preferences in this regard?
“I love the Montjeu line for the jumping game. That seems to be the line that’s really working. Michael Hickey’s young stallion Lucky Speed, I’d like him a lot. He’s not a Montjeu horse but he seems to be getting lovely stock.
“The young Montjeu horse coming this year is Eoin Banville’s horse, Ol’ Man River. I’ve seen a good few of his stock and they’re nice. And among producers, keep an eye on Peter Nolan.”