IT is nearly 15 years to the day that Peter Vaughan stood in a sales ring at Saint-Cloud at the Goffs Summer Sale, and went about trying to buy his first horse on French soil to take back to Callan, Co Kilkenny.
He had spotted a three-year-old son of relatively new sire Maresca Sorrento and he liked him a lot. He was small but he had a big stride and “moved like a cat”.
The bids Vaughan made in the sales ring that day were the first he ever made in France and he was accordingly green, in what was something of an alien environment.
“His breeder kept bidding on him and I was nodding over at him to stop,” Vaughan recalls. “But I hadn’t one word of French and he hadn’t one word of English so I ended up running around madly to try and find someone to help. I found Seamus Murphy, who had a little bit of French, and he helped to sort out a deal between the two of us.”
The deal was €20,000 and the horse was Pineau De Re. He became Vaughan’s first French recruitment.
“Funnily enough, I never thought he’d jump a fence,” Vaughan says. “With respect to the horse and I can say this because I owned him, he had a poorish physical, he was a very unlikely looking chaser. It was the length of the stride that impressed me. I thought he’d make a great hurdler.”
Pineau De Re did make a good hurdler but will forever be known as a Grand National winner, having been trained by Dr Richard Newland to conquer the Aintree showpiece in 2014.
He was the first of a number of brilliant acquisitions Vaughan has made from France, where he has now established a strong foothold. There’ll likely be many more to come.
Peter Vaughan takes this interview on the phone from Deauville. Just two days after his Moanmore Stables was the top vendor at last week’s Derby Sale, he was on a plane to France looking to replenish his stock for next year. Since arriving, he’s been travelling around the countryside, meeting breeders and seeing horses, before attending the Summer Sale at Arqana on Thursday.
His first venture to France was a pioneering one to an extent. French-breds had started to do well in Britain and Ireland, but the tap wasn’t close to being turned on. With business tightening up at home amidst an incoming recession, he decided it might be a good idea to travel to France in hope of sourcing something different.
It was, in many respects, a jump into the blue.
“I didn’t know anything about anything when I went over,” Vaughan recalls. “I didn’t know anybody and I didn’t know how anything worked over there.
“It was very slow at the start. It took me about three years to find an ally, a guy called Antoine Gronfier, he was only a kid at the time. He organised the whole thing for me and he used to drive me around to the farms and so on. Without his help at the beginning, it would have been impossible.
“Antoine looks after the centre of France and I also got in contact with Isabelle Messe, who linked me to the west coast. Between the two of them, I’ve had fantastic help, in terms of finding horses and breeders and so on.”
Initially Vaughan had been lucky buying horses at home, having acquired the likes of Sher Beau, Shirley Casper, Vic Venturi and Roberto Goldback. But since connecting to France, he has carved out a niche for himself and become one of the driving forces in the impact of French bred on Irish and British racing in the last decade.
Some of the star names that have passed through his Moanmore Stables include Cilaos Emery, Abacadabras, Felix Desjy, Energumene and most recently the exciting bumper horses Gerri Colombe and Ginto.
"He was the nicest Jukebox Jury I've ever seen" - Vaughan's top lot at the Derby Sale was sold for €130,000 to Michael Shefflin and Paul Holden \ Healy Racing
He says it’s a 70:30 ratio from buying horses directly from breeders to buying them at the sales. For instance, he bought Energumene directly from a breeder called Christophe Dubourg and only came across him when he had travelled to the farm to view another horse.
Clearly, such an acquisition is an advantage of 15 years of contact-making and being on the ground in France four days a month pre pandemic, but Vaughan bats away the notion that has any sort of above average skill for picking out horse.
“No, I don’t go with the whole skill thing,” he asserts. “Everybody is different and I buy a lot of bad horses too. But everybody knows what they want. I know exactly what I want. On balance it works, and it’s driven by a bit of luck.
“Most people going to the sales today have an eye for picking out a horse, people have gone very clever but they’re animals at the end of the day, if you’re lucky – that’s it. Nobody’s ever as good as they appear to be and nobody’s ever as bad as they appear to be.
“Tom Costello was the greatest buyer of a horse and I remember him telling me 25 years ago, ‘Young man, don’t ever buy a horse to make money on him. You buy a horse not to lose money on him.’
“That’s the best piece of advice I ever got. If you can value horses to begin with and not put yourself in a position to lose money on them, the good ones will come through and over the long run, you’ll make money on them.”
Vaughan owns 50% of every horse he buys and 100% on some of them. He is backed up by some close friends and associates for the remaining shares but the final say is down to him, which works well for everyone.
With French-bred National Hunt horses well-established in Ireland and Britain, there is a significantly higher number of traders and agents travelling to France to source young jumping stock these days and the prices have been driven up naturally.
“When I came here first, you could actually close your eyes and you could buy horses from a pool of about 35 stallions,” Vaughan explains. “Today in France, I think that pool has dwindled. The appeal of some of those stallions has dwindled also and I think now France is getting like Ireland, it’s getting a bit tight in terms of what you can choose from.
“Initially you had Denham Red and Crillon, they were having crops of only six and seven foals so they weren’t exposed as being bad. So if you had a nice one with a bit of pedigree, you’d get a lot of money for him because no one could say the stallion is bad. You definitely couldn’t say he was good but you couldn’t say he was bad.
The brilliant Energumene could well end up Vaughan's best acquisition from France \ Healy Racing
“Then you have the likes of Un De Sceaux to point at when you were selling a Denham Red but there wouldn’t be anymore, maybe two or three in the crop that year. Now I think they need to find a few more stallions. Maybe that will tip the balance further back to Ireland soon.”
But Vaughan will continue to make hay while he can, his unique connection to France giving him a significant advantage. He sold all 12 of his lots at the Derby Sale last week for an aggregate of £875,000 while he also fared very well at the Land Rover Sale, with 11 out of 11 sold for an aggregate of £589,000.
There were four six-figure lots among his draft which goes some way to illustrating the current strength of the market, remarkable considering the times we are in. He labels the overall business done at the two major store sales as marvellous but points to last year as an even greater indication of the resilience of the bloodstock sector.
“On the build up to the sales last year, I was thinking we had a lot of money invested and at that time, my hope was to recoup 60 or 70% of that money. I wasn’t thinking about making any money, it was sort of a damage limitation exercise. But we actually made some money in the end. The bloodstock industry must be one of the most resilient in the world.
“This year it was marvellous. The British buyers not being able to attend the Derby Sale late in the day made little difference – they had all seen the horses in the days before.
“Historically, I’ve never been at a bad sale if you have a quality product. I’ve never seen a really nice bunch of horses consistently sold cheaply. The middle market would be affected and was affected by different circumstances over the years. This year the middle market was very, very strong.
“There’s great people out there, those point-to-point fellas, marvellous guys. They have to do their business too, it’s a cycle for everybody. The end user appears to have a great appetite for the horses and that’s a great thing.”
Vaughan, a Tipperary native, lives in Callan with his wife Anne, daughters Faye and Olivia, and son Paddy, who rode as an apprentice rider in Britain for four years and now rides out Joseph O’Brien’s and Brian O’Connell’s.
Vaughan himself started out as a rider but freely admits he was “absolutely useless” and praises himself for recognising that fact. He then began to try and find his feet on the store sales circuit.
“I was driven to it for two reasons, one being my inability to do anything else which would have been a big thing and two, I just love it, everything about it,” he explains. “You have to be dedicated to it, you have to be almost obsessed with it and if you aren’t, I don’t think it really works. Nothing is hard work if you like it.
“The other thing is, you have to have some sort of affinity with those animals, if you don’t, it wouldn’t work because you wouldn’t be able to do it. People go on about horse welfare and so on, you can’t work with a horse if you don’t have an affinity with them, it’s impossible because the horse just knows.
“I’ve got a good team at Moanmore. I’ve a guy called Tazzio Menezes Dos Santos who is my number one man and he’s brilliant. We prep and consign our own horses for the sales and it’s great work, enjoyable work.”
Multiple Grade 1 winner Abacadabras was sourced by Vaughan from France \ Healy Racing
The physical work with the horses is one side but just as important are the relationships Vaughan has built up over the years.
“I find that if you’re honest with people and you’ve some idea of what you’re doing it’ll work because they will trust you because they know they can. That’s the key – the relationship with the people that buy your horses. You’re going to have to face them next week anyway so if you’re going to be dishonest, it’s just not going to work for you.
“Now, of course you’re going to have to back it up with results. The people buying horses off you are going to have to have success with those horses because again you can be honest as you like but if the horses are consistently no good, they’ll just walk away.
“If we got it wrong, they know it was a mistake on your part, not that you deliberately got it wrong. So the relationship with the buyers is hugely important.”
And, when it comes off, and it often does for Vaughan, it’s clear vindication for why he does what he does.
“There is no bigger kick I get from this than watching the horses become successful for other people, I love it,” he assers. “That’s what it’s all about for me. It’s absolutely marvellous to hear back from the people that have bought a horse from me that has gone on to do well.
“Most of them are good friends of mine. I’ve a lot of very good friends in the industry and I love to see them do well.”
We almost accidentally had a filly at a sale six or seven years ago and she ended up being very popular. Since then we’ve kept our eye out for good ones every year. The people that want to buy fillies really want to buy them and they’re a very easy sell but you need a really good one. The good ones are easier to sell than geldings but you can’t be going around with 12 fillies. The fillies we had at the Land Rover and Derby Sale this year, they were out of the box every 15 minutes or so.
The programme for fillies now is unbelievable and more people are latching on to that.
We try to allow the stallions to establish themselves. Lots of people latch on to new stallions and if that stallion can make a few nice horses in his first crop, there can be an overreaction. I’d always tip towards a made stallion, especially when the prices are similar, it just takes the risk out of it.
Modus operandi for selling
The criterion for selling horses from Moanmore stables is, if we get enough money not to point-to-point him, we sell them, if we don’t get enough, we point-to-point them. If we get to the 50,000 or maybe even 30,000 mark, they’re gone. Circumstances would dictate. We’ve kept a lot of nice horses, because we couldn’t sell them for different reasons. Sometimes horses just don’t perform at the sales. In that scenario we spread out the stock among a variety of point-to-point handlers – anyone with the surname Doyle is usually high up the list, along with Colin Bowe and Denis Murphy.