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Robert's Blog – July 2014

Robert checks out from Ireland

Boy how time flies!!

This is my forth update from the Sunline International Management Scholarship and I'm just finishing up the last few days of my 10 weeks at Coolmore Stud in Ireland, even though it only feels like I just arrived! It's fair to say I have enjoyed my time here and have definitely taken a lot in. In this blog I'll cover a few of the yards I've worked in at Coolmore including the hospital and stallions, visits to Coolmore's training center Ballydoyle and the Irish Derby day at the Curragh.

When I posted my last blog I had not long started working with the mares and foals in Walsh's Barn. After a few weeks the breeding season was starting to slow down, the majority of the foals were at least a couple months old and the mothers confirmed in foal again so they were loaded up onto the horse boxes and shipped out to spend the summer living outside on another part of the farm. The few mares with younger foals were moved up to Top Barn until they too were confirmed in foal. Left behind was an empty barn that needed a complete mucking out followed by a thorough steam clean and general tidy up. This took a couple days to complete and after that I was sent to the hospital barn to work.

This hospital is usually where the horses recovery from surgery, minor or serious, once they are discharged from the vet clinic. It is home to horses of all ages. During my time there the main patients were foals that had screws inserted in their growth plates to slow their growth and help correct their confirmation. The foals' development is regularly monitored by management and screws are usually in for no longer than 2 months before they are removed. Other residents included a race filly recovering from a broken pastern, a 2yo colt recovering from a broken cannon bone and a very feisty filly foal that had surgery to remove some of her colon. It was good to learn first-hand the management and treatment of these and other horses as they recovered from their various injuries and surgeries.

Over the road from the Hospital Barn is the Cottage Yard where John Magnier's grandkids ponies are kept. Usually there are national hunt horses residing there also. They were a little short staffed at the Cottage for a few mornings so I was sent over to help out. There are six ponies, two of which are retired, with the other four away most weekends at competitions. The ponies are very well looked after with no expense spared. It is quite an impressive set up with 2 outdoor arenas as well as a cross country course and plans for an indoor arena about to be turned into reality. The ponies are ridden most days and together with the grandchildren, are achieving good results.


Coolmore is probably most well known for their world class stallions, at present and in the past, so I was excited when I got the opportunity to spend my last few weeks here working in the stallion yard. By this stage the breeding season was really starting to draw to a close with only about 1 or 2 coverings a day, quite a big drop from the 40 plus a day during the peak times. This means there is a bit more down time for the stallions so they get to spend a few hours in the morning in their paddocks (apart from Galileo).

Consistent routine is essential in the maintaining stallion's calm temperament and nature. Coolmore's management of the stallions is excellent, aided by the first class facilities available to them. During the season the stallions live inside with no time spent in their paddocks but they are exercised daily. After the morning covers each stallion is taken for a walk on a purpose built track with some also being lunged. They are then taken back to the yard to be hosed down and cleaned up and returned to their boxes and brought out when they have a mare to cover or when visitors would like to view the stallion. This time of year with minimal coverings, the main job has been showing the stallions to clients and visitors. Every day there are usually at least three or four groups of people shown around the stallion unit by management or nominations staff. There have been plenty of Irish and Australian visitors come through but few Kiwis. One Kiwi visitor turned out to be an old neighbour from Woodlands in Southland, what a small world it is!
Galileo is obviously the main draw card with everybody wanting to see him and get a photo. The two first season sires, Camelot and Declaration of War are also very popular. Declaration is a stallion I see a lot of potential in for southern hemisphere breeders. He was a tough racehorse, running in Group 1 after Group 1, winning 2 G1's over a mile and 2100m as a 4yo and placing in 3 other G1's. What could be described as his best performance was his gallant 3rd in the G1 Breeders Cup at Santa Anita, his only start on dirt and his final race. He is out of Tempo West (Rahy) and by an extremely commercial stallion in War Front (a son of Danzig) whose progeny are selling for all sorts of money in the Northern hemisphere. Declaration is a powerful and very masculine horse, with good strong bone, nice breezy walk and a brilliant temperament. This will be his first season at Coolmore Australia and I won't be surprised to see his offspring selling well in a couple of years' time. Camelot by comparison is a much finer horse, with less bone and muscle but very athletic nonetheless. He is a Champion 3YO son of Galileo taking out the classics, the Epsom Derby, Irish derby and 2000 Guineas. Both have been popular with breeders in their first seasons at stud. Apart from all the big guns, Fastnet Rock and High Chap (neither of whom needs any introduction), Excelebration really caught my eye. The winner of three G1's over a mile; he would have no doubt been a champion miler if it weren't for Frankel, running 2nd to him in 3 separate G1's. He is a son of Exceed and Excel out of Sun Shower (Indian Ridge) and while he is a touch shorter, he is like Declaration, a strong masculine horse with good bone and correct conformation. When he steps out fully he has a lovely walk with a grand stride

The pony used in the teasing shed was an impressive little character. He worked the whole season checking the mares are ready to be covered before the big boys get their chance, the tough little guy jumped close to 4000 mares and never lost his enthusiasm for the job no matter how much of a tune up he got from some of the girls who weren't so keen on him.

Coming to the end of the season here means approaching the start of the season in the Southern hemisphere where the majority of Coolmore's stallions shuttle. I started at the stallions just after the New Zealand contingent of Power, Pour Moi, Rip Van Winkle and Thewayyouare (Cape Blanco stands at Ashford in Kentucky) had travelled to quarantine in Newmarket, England. Mastercraftsman is not returning to Windsor Park this year, instead he is off to clients in Chile. Other movements earlier in the season include the sale of Duke of Marmalade to South Africa and the retirement of Champion sire, Danehill Dancer. Dancer's legacy doesn't end with his retirement though, with his sire sons including Mastercraftsman and Choisir (brilliant Australian sprinter and sire of the recently retired dual G1 winner Historian as well as very promising stallion Starspangledbanner, who unfortunately battles fertility issues). Not long after I arrived the stallions headed for South America were put into quarantine, Holy Roman Emperor, Henrythenavigator and Mastercraftsman. July 3rd saw the eight Australian bound stallions head to their quarantine base at the Fairy King yard. Quarantine is taken very seriously and a lot of time and effort is put into organising and managing the horses before they are flown overseas. The stallions are all sent with Coolmore staff no matter where they are going. This is to ensure they are kept to a routine and managed the way Coolmore desires as they complete their Southern Hemisphere breeding season.

With these stallions gone, only three remain in the yard which made for a rather uneventful last few days. But surprisingly mares were still coming in for covering by Galileo and Rock of Gibraltar right up until the time I finished at the stallions, visitors were still flowing in too so we were still kept busy. I learnt a lot in the management and handling of the stallions over the past few weeks so it was definitely time well spent.

I got to spend a few hours at Ballydoyle, which is lucky as not many visitors are allowed access. I was shown around the property by Seamus and who also explained some of the horse management, training practises and breaking-in process. Ballydoyle is owned by Coolmore and is run by master trainer, Aidan O'Brien. This was one of the places I really wanted to see on my trip and I don't think anything could have prepared me for how elaborate it is. There are numerous gallops and straights', including replicas of Ascot's inclined home straight and Epsom's Tattenham Corner, as well as grass, woodchip and synthetic training surfaces. There can be anywhere up to 150 horses in work at a given time, which means a large number of staff. The horses are split up into different yards based on age and sex with other areas available for quarantine. The horses work in 3 strings, the first heading out about 7.30 and the last finishing up around midday. Aidan watches all the work and depending on which gallop is used, will drive alongside the horses as they work. They have all the extras too, swimming pool, spa's, radiation treatment, not that they use it all very often, the style of training is very much traditional. I'm still blown away by the place and whatever I say about it won't be able to do it justice, it is just amazing! Pictures tell a better story so take a glance at the photo blog,

Thanks again to Coolmore's generosity I was gifted a ticket to the Irish Derby race day at the Curragh on Saturday 28th June. They put a bus on for the staff so a crowd of us caught that to the track, about an hour and a half drive. It was a good day out, brilliant weather, perfect time to have a beer and enjoy the racing. Derby day is one of, if not the highlight of the Irish flat season but the anticipation for the race was dulled considerably this year with a field of 7 accepted and only 5 going to the post after 2 scratching's. This was due to the dominant Epsom Derby winner, Australia looking nearly impossible to beat. Trained by Aidan O'Brien and owned by Coolmore, Australia (Galileo ex Ouija Board (Cape Cross)) was sent out at Black Caviar money and duly delivered going to the line untouched and still under a hold in the hands of Joseph O'Brien, I can honestly say I have not seen a more impressive Group 1 victory in person than Australia's dominance that day. After his 2 classic winning performances Australia has set himself up nicely for a career at stud once his racing is complete. It was also a special day for John Magnier, being inducted into the Curragh Racecourse Hall of Fame.

On a day where the primary sponsor was Dubai Duty Free it really hit home to me how much of an influence the United Arab Emirates has on racing here when I saw their flag raised alongside the Irish flag as the national anthem was sung. An incredible and probably unthinkable amount of money is poured into the industry by the various Sheikhs of the Emirates, not only into sponsorship but into breeding and racing horses as well. Personally it makes me wonder if racing could survive at anywhere near the same level over here if one day they decided to withdraw from the industry. Either way, it makes me proud that our industry in NZ can perform without any serious contribution from these money giants of the world. Although I have to admit it's hard not to get excited about the potential growth in the industry at home when reading articles about Qatar Bloodstock (owned by Sheikh Fahad Al Thani) considering setting up a breeding operation in NZ. After seeing first-hand the input they have in racing here I can say without a doubt it would be hugely beneficial to all stakeholders in the NZ thoroughbred industry if this were to happen.

At a time when many owners, breeders and trainers alike are struggling to keep their business in thoroughbreds economically viable, an input from someone like Sheikh Al Thani could make the difference the industry needs, which gets me wondering if any effort is made by the Kiwi thoroughbred industry to attract these types of people. The horses we produce for sale or to race ourselves often punch well above their weight on an international stage, couple this with the prime land we have for raising horses, the quality horsemen and women available and the comparatively lower costs than other countries, surely these are major attractions for foreign investment. Is there anyone employed in the NZ whose job it is to represent the industry as a collective, advertise it on the world stage and encourage foreign participation? Or is the industry just left to speak for itself, to attract international attention on its own merits and the efforts of the private entities, NZ Bloodstock, trainers, studs or bloodstock agents to attempt to gain their own overseas clients? With so much said about the pay packets at the top end of the hierarchy, I'd like to hope it's at least in one person's job description.

I've put up quite a few more photos since my last blog too, of stallions, racing at the Curragh, Ballydoyle and a few more from around Coolmore. Pictures will always tell a better story than I can so follow the link to have a look through them

I would also like to mention I have extended my trip by another 5 weeks to take up a position at John Warren's Highclere Stud. After my time at Taylor Made in Kentucky I will head back to England to spend 5 weeks at Highclere preparing the yearlings and working the sales in Newmarket.

Highclere and the Warren family have a huge reputation and I am grateful for the opportunity I have been given and looking forward to the chance to work for and learn from one of the top yearling consigners in the world. This means I will return to NZ in early November, just in time for Cup Week!

Well done if you managed to read all that, it's the longest blog so far! I have spent the last few days at Coolmore in the 'heart' of the main office where all horse movements, vet work, coveringsā€¦..basically where every horses schedule is managed and kept track of, it's been good to see the operation of Coolmore from behind a desk as well as the hands on approach. But this brings a close to my time at Coolmore, I'm off to Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky on Friday so about to start my packing. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Coolmore, working with first class horses and friendly, knowledgeable staff. Hope you enjoyed the read, until next time, and as the Irish say, GOOD LUCK!


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