The breeze-up sales continue to prove a top-class source of talent and even in the early stages of 2020, this year proves no different. Leading American Classic hope, Ete Indien, had been sourced at the European breeze-up sales while another four graduates recently won Graded contests in the US.
It follows on from a strong performance by breezers in Europe during 2019.
For instance, Donjuan Triumphant captured the QIPCO British Champions Sprint Stakes at Ascot while among the juveniles, Valdermoro took the Acomb Stakes at York.
Both were offered by Eddie O’Leary’s Lynn Lodge Stud in County Westmeath, which is certainly no newcomer to the breeze-up sales nor the talent it produces. Since learning his trade with uncle Tony O’Callaghan of Tally-Ho Stud, whom O’Leary describes as “the first breeze-up man”, O’Leary has proved a force to be reckoned with at the yearling and breeze-up sales, which he does alongside managing Gigginstown House Stud on behalf of brother Michael.
Recent additions to the breezer honour roll also include the high-class Gronkowski while going further back, 2014 graduate The Wow Signal was crowned French champion two-year-old. Although there’s no denying the talent to be sourced at the breeze-up sales, they can be an intimidating place for inexperienced buyers. Do you follow the yearling selection process of pedigree and physical, or do you aim for those who ‘clock’ the fastest times?
“Style” – that’s what O’Leary looks for and aims to produce in his Lynn Lodge Stud consignment, which has been responsible for some of the highest- rated horses to come out of European breeze-up sales in recent years. “Don’t mind the clock,” he adds. “Just stand and watch them. Look for something forward-going, with a bit of action.”
My memory of attending breeze-up sales is buyers and vendors comparing notes on times, focusing on the millisecond differences between each lot. They should be looking elsewhere, says O’Leary.
“The most important furlong in the breeze is the furlong before the start – I want to see them walk up, looking happy, and break into a trot on a loose rein,” he says. “Then, when they get to the three pole, away they go. I want to see a horse that you can ride and you can train.”
Not that you have to take O’Leary’s word for it – his horses do plenty of talking, too.
“Donjuan Triumphant is a great example; he wasn’t a fast breeze-up horse but he was a Group 1 sprinter,” he says.
The figures seem to back O’Leary up. Donjuan Triumphant’s price of 30,000gns at the Tattersalls Craven Breeze-Up Sale, when bought by Middleham Park Racing, suggests he didn’t top buyers’ lists on his breeze time yet he proved what he could do on the track. A Group 2 winner at two, he later won a Group 1 as a six-year-old.
Purchased by Lynn Lodge Stud as a foal, he was bought back as a yearling, which is how much of their breeze-up consignment begins.
“We buy a bunch in America and then we keep the yearlings we don’t sell, so the breeze-ups mop up our yearling trade,” says O’Leary. “I have one horse this year by Kodiac who cost a lot of money as a foal, and because of that we brought him to Book 1. But he was too small – he just didn’t grow.
“His brother by Tagula was a fast breezer the previous year, so I thought I had better breeze him. He’s not small now and he can fly! But people didn’t want him as a yearling, because you couldn’t see growth in him – they’d want to see him now.”
Catalogued to the Goffs UK Breeze-Up Sale, which has been combined with Arqana’s auction to be staged in late June, the Kodiac colt is described by O’Leary as ‘an aeroplane’. He is joined in the draft by a Muhaarar colt. “He can run,” says O’Leary. “He’s worked very well.”
Completing the Doncaster line-up is a Mehmas grandson of Group 3 winner Danehill Music. “He goes very well,” he says. “He has a good attitude and there’s a bit of talk about Mehmas.
“Our Awtaad colt is nice too and we have a lovely horse by Buratino who goes well.”
Both the latter colts are part of a sextet originally catalogued to the Tattersalls Craven Sale. It was at that sale in 2017 that Lynn Lodge sold Belmont Stakes runner-up Gronkowski, a horse that O’Leary is especially proud of, for 300,000gns to Kerri Radcliffe.
“Gronkowski was beaten a whisker in the Dubai World Cup, too,” says O’Leary. “If he’d won… imagine that. He measured 16.3 as a two-year-old, but he was a beautiful horse. Our Kitten’s Joy colt reminds me of him.”
The Kitten’s Joy heads to the Craven alongside colts by Camacho, Holy Roman Emperor and Acclamation. This year’s Craven Sale has been merged with the Ascot Breeze-Up Sale owing to the coronavirus pandemic and is scheduled to take place on June 23.
“I have a very stylish Camacho colt – he’s an elegant horse with a beautiful action,” says O’Leary. “The Acclamation is a nice horse and the Holy Roman Emperor works well, too.”
He adds: “Of course, it’ll be selective. If you breeze well, you’ll sell well. The racecourse success of the breeze-up sales is phenomenal. A leading hope for the Kentucky Derby was bought at the European breeze-ups. People are now much more aware of the horses coming out of them. A lot of that is because of the Breeze-Up Consignors Association – they’ve done a fantastic job of highlighting the success.”
There are a number of benefits to buying at the breeze-up sales, he continues. “Soundness, action and attitude – that’s the benefit of buying at the breeze-ups as opposed to as a yearling. Plus, it’s that much further on, so with some of the sharper types, you can buy them and run them.”
One star graduate of the Lynn Lodge academy is an excellent example of taking a chance on a risky yearling choice and winning the gamble the following spring. Bought by O’Leary as a yearling for €13,000, the Starspangledbanner colt fell foul of what many buyers won’t tolerate.
“He was crooked,” O’Leary explains. “But was a lovely horse from the side. His legs were like steel when you galloped him whereas you could have a perfectly correct horse whose joints puff up after you gallop him. So we’ve taken that risk out of it for the buyer by the time the breeze-ups come round.”
He adds that he’s willing to overlook conformation for a good-looking individual. “When you’re looking at yearlings, you’re checking if they toe in or out, but when’s the next time you look at them from the front?”
The colt was sold to John Quinn for £50,000 at the Brightwells Ascot Breeze-Up Sale, with O’Leary retaining a 50% share. Named The Wow Signal, he won by nine lengths on debut before selling to Al Shaqab Racing, for whom he won the Coventry Stakes and Prix Morny.
The Wow Signal’s price of £50,000 would suggest he didn’t clock the fastest time on the day, but was recommended to John Quinn by O’Leary.
“The breeze-up is very much a vendor sale,” says O’Leary. “I remember last year I had a horse selling as lot 7 at the Craven. He was a big, beautiful horse, but not fast. There was no one in the ring when he went in and after no bid, I told Richard Fahey to bid. He wanted to know what he was, but I said ‘Just bid, I’ll keep half of him’. He bought him, but ended up selling all of him.”
O’Leary must have been slightly disappointed that he no longer owned a share in the son of Declaration Of War; named Valdermoro, he won his second start before capturing the Acomb Stakes.
“He wasn’t a fast horse but he was a racehorse. You can’t confuse speed with talent,” O’Leary points out.
Throughout our conversation, O’Leary is keen to dispel myths on the importance of the clock.
“In my mind, some have ruined it by concentrating on the clock and speed,” he says. “But hopefully, it’ll evolve again from that. Of course, it’s great to have a horse that clocks, but our horses don’t clock. If they do, they’re very good. Our horses breeze well, but they’re usually in the 25 to 45 category on the times.”
He adds: “Is there a big difference between 22.1 and 22.7? The ground can affect certain horses, but anything can go wrong – all it takes is for a horse to have a little look around and his time is gone. My best horse last year, a colt by Medaglia d’Oro, happened to get hit by a massive headwind during his breeze. That cost him a second and a half, so instead of being in the top 20, he was in the top 40 or 50.”
O’Leary has proven his theory as a buyer too.
“I went to Goresbridge last year just for something to do – I wasn’t selling,” he says. “I watched the horses breeze and had three fillies on my list. I bought one to race and she was Listed-placed on her third start. She clocked the second slowest time at Goresbridge last year, but she’s a very good filly.”
O’Leary paid €65,000 for the filly, now named Orchid Gardens and a recent third in the Patton Stakes at Dundalk.
“I remember a couple of years ago, Libertarian was the slowest horse in the Craven Sale but he was second in a Derby,” adds O’Leary. “Of course the clock has a place if you’re looking for an Ascot two-year-old. But there’s no point expecting a fast horse if he’s by Authorized and out of a Sea The Stars mare – what does the clock mean there? Nothing. If he does a fast time, people think he must be brilliant. No – he’s confused. You’ve got to pragmatic about it.”
Those who look beyond the clock will be rewarded, and O’Leary nominates two particular buyers.
“Ross Doyle bought an Intello horse off us last year [Tremor],” he says. “He wasn’t a fast horse, but he was a trier. He ran badly first time out on fast ground but then he won the Golden Horn maiden at Nottingham by four lengths. Ross is a very good judge and he picks them out for their style. Anthony Bromley also does a fantastic job.”
The above makes the next story slightly less surprising.
“We’ve sold jumps horses at the Craven,” O’Leary says proudly. “Cardinal Hill, In The High Grass and Oodachee. Oodachee won ten races for Charlie Swan and Cardinal Hill was probably the best horse we ever had because as a four-year-old, Noel Meade worked him with Sunshine Street who was fourth in the Derby that year. Cardinal Hill came 20 lengths clear of him so, never mind jumping, how good was he?”
Cardinal Hill won five races, his greatest success coming in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.
The importance put on times can also overshadow breeze-up horses bred to excel as three-year-olds, often the same horses that prove less popular at the yearling sales. It’s something O’Leary can’t quite understand.
“An important point to make is if you have a three-year-old rated 85 over five or six furlongs, he’s worth €30,000, but if you have a three-year-old rated the same over a mile and two, or a mile and a half, he’s worth €300,000,” he says. “But yet, we can’t sell those as yearlings, breezers or foals – why is that?”
Playing devil’s advocate, I point out that many owners aren’t prepare to pay training fees for a horse who won’t race until it’s second year in training.
“Isn’t it worth waiting for a nice horse?” O’Leary says. “The horse most want to buy is worth nothing in three months’ time – I find it hard to wrap my head around.”
It’s clear that the breeze-up sales are something O’Leary is passionate about.
“I love the breezers and getting to know the horses so well,” he says.
However, offering a dozen two-year- olds each year pales in comparison by numbers of his yearling operation, which is made up of pinhooks and homebreds from their 40-strong broodmare band. As O’Leary himself says: “I’m not a breeze-up man – I’m a yearling man with a hobby in the winter.”
He ends our conversation with a similarly practical view.
“You asked what horse I’m most proud of,” he says. “Three or four years ago when I got to the Craven Sale, all of the seven horses we’d sold the previous year had won. I was most proud of that. The breeze-up, more than any other sale, is repeat business. The same people tend to buy off me every year, so it’s important that I sell good horses.”