In the not too distant past Mark Grant would have spent spring looking for rides at the major National Hunt festivals. However, having hung up his boots in April 2021, the search for a different kind of winner has taken his career in a new direction altogether.

Grant is aiming to follow in the footsteps of names such as Norman Williamson, Mark Dwyer and Katie Walsh by transitioning from successful jump jockey to consignor of high-class breeze- up horses. Having already unearthed Coventry Stakes hero Bradsell, he has quickly made significant progress in his new vocation.

That should come as no surprise as he was born into a family steeped in the thoroughbred business. His parents breed out of Hillview Stud in County Tipperary, which is best known for producing National Hunt horses including the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hero Menorah.

Like so many youngsters caught in racing’s gravitational pull, Grant was more focussed on the education available on horseback rather than in the classroom.

“I did a lot of eventing and showjumping from when I was very young, I was actually on a couple of pony teams for Ireland in eventing, but school was kind of out of the window from a very young age as being a jump jockey was all I ever wanted to do,” he says.

His learning curve continued with a place at Enda Bolger’s academy, where he obtained his amateur licence and cut his teeth riding in point-to-points.

Then came a move to the yard of David Wachman, with whom Grant turned professional. He duly won two Grade 3 novice hurdles aboard Best Mate’s half-brother Inexorable and the Grade 2 Greenmount Park Novice Chase (now the Grade 1 Faugheen Novice Chase) on Cane Brake.

“I spent seven years with David and he had some smart horses,” says Grant. “I had a great time there and I’d say I’d still be there if he was still training jumpers. When David got married to John Magnier’s daughter [Katie] they went more on the Flat so that’s when I came to England.”

Mark Grant, pictured riding an Invincible Spirit colt on a wintry morning, has made a seamless transition from jockey to breeze-up consignor. Photo – Bill Selwyn

In 2006 Grant packed his bags and left for Britain. He set about building a book of contacts and several of the early connections he made, the likes of Andy Turnell and Jim Old, sustained him right through to the end of his career in the saddle, a period that he reflects on with fondness.

“It took me about a year to get going in Britain but I had a good time with Andy Turnell and I started to ride for Jim Old a bit too and we had plenty of luck together as well,” he says. “I had a great time as a jockey and was very lucky with injuries. I had a few little issues but I never really got badly broken up. You’d always like to have achieved more but I was very happy with what I did – and proud of it too.”

Grant’s final ride was aboard the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Count Meribel, who ran in the colours of Old’s long-standing clients Wally Sturt and Charles Walker.

Count Meribel also provided another milestone moment in Grant’s career when the pair won the Steel Plate And Sections Novices’ Chase during Cheltenham’s November meeting in 2018. He also pinpoints his association with Jo Hughes’ high-class chaser Soll as another career highlight.

“Count Meribel was great and I used to ride a horse called Soll for Jo Hughes who won a nice race at Sandown,” he says. “He ran in the National and finished seventh. That was great too because if you meet people and they ask what you do and you tell them you were a jockey, the first thing they ask is if you rode in the Grand National. It was always nice to be able to have a ride in that on your CV.

“Sometimes I miss riding and sometimes I think I’d like to have another go at it but I’m quite happy with what I’m doing now and I get a lot of satisfaction out of that. I was lucky to be able to go on and walk straight into something else.”

“The next year I invested myself, we bought three and they did okay, then the next year we bought six and we’ve been lucky enough to make a profit so we’ve kind of doubled up every year”

Grant took his first steps towards the breeze-ups when he set up a Lambourn- based breaking and pre-training business during the twilight of his riding career. This area of his operation is still going strong and counts the likes of Johnny Portman, Eve Johnson Houghton, Roger Teal and Warren Greatrex among its patrons.

He credits his wife Eimear, daughter of Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning trainer Noel Chance, with influencing the next chapter of his career, which soon progressed to pinhooking yearlings to breeze. He admits it was “very daunting” heading to the yearling sales for the first time but was supported in that initial foray by Adam Spear, who asked Grant to source some breeze-up ammunition on his behalf.

“In the first year I was buying for Adam Spear and his wife Jenny. They bought three yearlings and sent them to me to breeze,” he explains “That meant I was able to dip my toe into the water with someone else’s money. We’ve been friends for a few years and they’ve been very good to me and it was a great help to get a start that way.

“The three horses went to Doncaster and two of them sold and one didn’t, but that was grand. The next year I invested myself, we bought three and they did okay, then the next year we bought six and we’ve been lucky enough to make a profit so we’ve kind of doubled up every year.”

Coventry Stakes winner Bradsell was sold last year by Mark Grant. Photo – Bill Selwyn

While it may not be a replacement for race-riding, Grant says he thrives off the competitive nature of the sales. “There’s a lot of nerves and pressure trying to get the job done but I do enjoy it  though,” he says. “It’s not riding but it’s still very competitive. Everyone’s waiting for the times to come out. Obviously there aren’t official times done but everyone always sees the time sheets and you want to have the fastest horse because I still have a competitive nature.”

Although Grant’s family patch in Tipperary is close to a host of breeze-up practitioners, including the likes of industry doyen Willie Browne, he is essentially self taught in the art of prepping young juveniles. He did, however, gain a deeper understanding of how to source the right raw materials ahead of selling his first breezers in 2018.

“Strangely enough a lot of breeze-up consignors are close to my parents’ place at home but I never spent any time with them,” he says. “What I did do was shadow bloodstock agent Matt Coleman for a few of the yearling sales to get an idea of what he was looking for. The rest is kind of self taught and using my own eye when it comes to preparing them. I’m always learning something new and hopefully your eye is getting better all the time.”

Expanding on what he looks for at the yearling sales, he says: “The individual is an important thing, although the way a horse walks always gets me. You’ve got to have a bit of pedigree too and sire power is a big help as that gets people to your door.

“I’m always learning something new and hopefully your eye is getting better all the time”

“I always find if you’ve got your Invincible Spirit or a Mehmas it’ll take somebody’s eye. Obviously the horse has to do the rest after that and that’s why I go by the individual a lot.”

Luck as well as judgement is required in almost every area of the thoroughbred business and serendipity had a hand to play in Grant’s biggest success story. Bradsell was bought by Anthony Bromley of Highflyer Bloodstock and Harry Dunlop, with the trainer initially intending to add the 12,000gns son of Tasleet to his 2022 two-year-old team. Grant takes up the story, saying: “Bradsell was sent to me for breaking by Harry Dunlop and the first day I brought him down to the lunge ring I looked at him and thought, ‘Bloody hell, this horse can go a bit’. I loved him straight away and the more we did with him the more I liked him. I called Harry and asked him what his plan was and asked if he had an owner.

“He didn’t so I tried to buy him off him. He asked what I was going to do with him and I said I was going to breeze him, so he said perhaps he’d stay in and we’d do it together. The horse never left me then and we had half the horse with Harry.

“From day one you could see how fast he was, he was a very quick horse. He was hardy too and had a great constitution and good mind.”

Grant sent Bradsell to the Goffs UK Breeze-Up Sale, where he was bought by Tom Biggs of Blandford Bloodstock, chief talent scout to the Archie Watson stable, for £47,000.

“He breezed well; he was fast and galloped out through the line really well,” says Grant. “He was very busy at the sale and had a lot of vets but he had a little issue with x-rays. He would have been a six-figure horse only for that. He was only a 12,000gns yearling so Harry didn’t get him x-rayed and I took half from Harry once he’d come to me, so I never got him x-rayed either. He was a very fast horse and probably should have made a lot more money but it’s just one of those things.”

Exactly one month after the Doncaster breeze-up, Bradsell reappeared at York and put up one of the most impressive debut performances of the season when romping home nine lengths clear. After that it was on to Royal Ascot, where he again showed his blistering speed and irresistible turn of foot to claim the Coventry Stakes by a length and a half from Persian Force, with subsequent champion two-year- old Blackbeard back in fourth. Any disappointment over Bradsell’s breeze-up price had quickly been extinguished.

“It was great to see the way he won at York the first day and then the Coventry was just amazing,” says Grant. “It was brilliant. You dream about having a horse good enough to win a two-year-old race, never mind the Coventry. We haven’t been at it that long so hopefully it should stand to us in the future. There’s been people at it for a long time that haven’t been lucky enough to have one as good, so we’re very lucky to have had him.”

Bradsell heads a growing roll of honour and is not the only above-average graduate that Grant has produced, as Majestic Glory came through his system before going on to win the Sweet Solera Stakes.

While Sarsons Risk may not have read the script of the typical breeze- up horse, he won two middle-distance handicaps before looking a potentially smart hurdler for rookie trainer Ben  Brookhouse, who is already talking the son of Caravaggio up as a potential Champion Hurdle contender.

Moreover, Sarsons Risk is not the only winning jumper that Grant is responsible for as he also dabbles in the National Hunt side of the business too and has sold the likes of maiden hurdle scorer Maid Of The Night, who was prepped to win a point-to- point bumper before being sold to Henry Daly, and bumper winner Spirits Bay, who was offered on behalf of his brother-in-law, Richard Johnson.

“The point-to-pointers started with my parents basically and if they had one they didn’t sell as a foal they might send it over to me as a three-year-old,” he says. “I’ve had a couple of theirs and then last year I went and bought a three-year-old at the Land Rover by Jukebox Jury. He’s now four and is going to run at Maisemore in a few weeks’ time. I enjoy having a couple of jumpers because of my roots and it’s nice to keep my hand in. The breeze-up game is our main focus though.”

With the sales only a matter of weeks away, that focus is set to intensify. But with a proven system in place, a burgeoning track record to build on and an exciting intake of equine talent, Grant has plenty to look forward to – even if these days aren’t without their nervy moments. “I’ve got a good team of staff who do a great job and we haven’t had any issues or hiccups,” he says of his team’s 2023 prep. “The weather hasn’t helped us because we had a lot of frost over Christmas and into January but other than that we’ve had a pretty clean run, thank God.

“We’ve got a good routine and everything runs well but you do get a bit nervous the closer you get. All it takes is stepping on a stone or getting a little cut and it can set you back. These things happen when you’re dealing with thoroughbreds at the end of the day. When you have to buy them, get them back to the sales in one piece and make a profit, it’s definitely hard work, but when it  works out it’s great.”

Mark Grant has another strong draft of horses ready to sell this season. Photo – Bill Selwyn

‘He’s doing what Bradsell did last year’

After a breakthrough year with Bradsell, Mark Grant has high hopes for his 2023 team of two-year-olds. The operation’s sales season begins at the Tattersalls Craven Sale where they will offer Lot 1, an Invincible Spirit colt out of the Listed-placed Oakley Girl, a daughter of Sir Percy from Meon Valley Stud’s Colorspin family, and a son of the exciting Blue Point (110) out of a half-sister to Group 1 winner Lyric Of Light.

“I really like the two of them,” says Grant. “I’ve loved the Blue Point from day one, he’s got a great big action on him and seems to be very quick. He does everything well and has never disappointed me. We haven’t done a lot of galloping with him but in the little we have done he shows plenty. Everyone I’ve spoken to likes the Blue Points too.”

A five-strong consignment is heading for the Goffs UK Sale in Doncaster and Grant highlights the Mehmas filly out of Strawberry Queen (100) and the Aclaim colt out of Avon Breeze (139) as particularly exciting.

“I have a very smart Aclaim colt that we bought at the Premier Sale,” he says. “He’s out of an Avonbridge mare who won ten times and was rated 100 and he’s very quick. He’s kind of doing what
Bradsell did last year, his work is very similar to his. He looks like a Craven horse but he’s so fast that I think the track at Donny is set up for him to do a real good time. I hope he’ll be one of the better ones there. I’ve a nice Mehmas filly going to Donny too, she’s very smart.”

The operation will also be represented in Ireland and France with other lots bound for Arqana and Goresbridge.

“I’ve two nice horses going to France, an Almanzor colt (26) and Starspangledbanner filly (31). It’s a great sale,” he says. “We took two last year and it was the first time I was there. Everyone turns up there and if you have the right article you’ll get well paid for it. Freddy Powell was over to inspect our horses and told me there were 680 horses entered for a sale with 150 spots so I was pleased to get two in.

“I also think I’ve got a smart Sioux Nation colt going to Goresbridge. He’s another who could have been a Craven horse but he’s a May foal and I thought the extra time would do him good. He’s doing everything well. We haven’t galloped him yet but he’s showing us some good signs so I’m looking forward to him.”


Classic season pushes sector to new high

Lezoo and Frankie Dettori win the Princess Margaret Stakes. Photo – Bill Selwyn

The breeze-up sector is no stranger to producing top-class horses but even by its standards, the 2022 season proved to be an exceptional advert, writes Nancy Sexton.

With the previous year’s Group 1-winning two-year-olds Native Trail and Perfect Power among those that headed back into battle, it always threatened to be a good year. Yet by the end of it, the sector could boast three Classic-winning graduates alongside a pair of top two-year-old fillies.

Native Trail, sold by Norman Williamson’s Oak Tree Farm for 210,000gns to Godolphin at the 2021 Tattersalls Craven Sale, duly justified the early season hopes of his connections by winning the Irish 2,000 Guineas and running second in the Newmarket equivalent. Perfect Power, a graduate of Tally-Ho Stud who had been bought by Richard Brown of Blandford Bloodstock for £110,000 at the GoffsUK Doncaster Breeze-Up, also added to his Group 1 haul by winning the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot.

Williamson’s 2021 draft, however, also included the Dubawi colt Eldar Eldarov. Sold for £480,000 to agent Oliver St Lawrence at the Arqana May Sale, staged that year in Doncaster, he benefitted from time and distance to capture the St Leger for Roger Varian. He stays in training.

Then there was Highclere Thoroughbred Racing’s Cachet, who progressed from a busy eight-race juvenile season to light up the early part of the year by taking the Nell Gwyn Stakes and 1,000 Guineas for George Boughey. The daughter of Aclaim, who was sold by breeder John Bourke of Hyde Park Stud to her owners for a relatively inexpensive 60,000gns at the 2021 Tattersalls Craven Sale, is another to stay in training.

Tally-Ho Stud are rarely far from the action and having sold Perfect Power in 2021, the O’Callaghan family unearthed another set of juvenile jewels for the season in Lezoo, winner of the Cheveley Park and Princess Margaret Stakes, and The Platinum Queen, who became the first two-year-old in 44 years to capture the Prix de l’Abbaye. Neither cost the earth; Lezoo was knocked down to Atlas Bloodstock for €110,000 at the Arqana May Sale while homebred The Platinum Queen was bought for just 57,000gns at the Tattersalls Guineas Sale by Richard Fahey and Middleham Park Racing. Tally-Ho also sold the Beresford Stakes winner Crypto Force.

Sakheer, a product of Willie Browne’s Mocklershill academy, also looked Group 1 material when romping home in the Mill Reef Stakes as did Bradsell with his powerful winning performance in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot.


‘At the moment I like the stallion a lot’

Blue Point: progeny showing good early signs. Photo: George Selwyn

We asked several breeze-up consignors for their thoughts on the first-crop sires whose progeny are showing the right signs.

“It’s such a competitive year for these first-crop stallions. So many top racehorses went to stud and they’ve all got the credentials to do well. I have two by Advertise, a colt and a filly. Both are very nice to work with, lovely, relaxed horses but when you want them to go, they go. I wish I had a yard full of them! I also have two Soldier’s Call colts that I like. They’re lovely horses, they’re quick and won’t take long. 

“I also have a very fast one by Inns Of Court and two lovely Land Force fillies. They’re very strong, mature types with good minds – they’re very good to work with. Then there is a very nice Blue Point filly. She’s a sister to [Group 1-placed] Forever In Dreams and I’ve sent the mare back to Blue Point on the strength of this filly – I think she could be special. 

“I have one Ten Sovereigns. He’s a smashing colt, tall and well-balanced, and he goes really well. He’s a lovely horse to work with. And of the Americans, we have a big, strong colt by Audible. He goes very well, especially for a late foal.” Con Marnane, Bansha House Stables


Vino Rosso: stock well liked by Niall Brennan – Photo: George Selwyn

“I have a couple by Ten Sovereigns and I’m very happy with them. They’re very nice horses. I also think Calyx has a chance – I have three of them and they can go a bit. I also have a couple of Blue Points that I like. One of them is particularly sharp but they all seem to go well.” Willie Browne, Mocklershill


“I have a few Blue Points, two for the Craven and a sharp one for Doncaster, and they all go well. They’re nice horses, easy to work with, and at the moment I like the stallion a lot. I also have a Ten Sovereigns that I like a lot from what I’ve seen so far and an Advertise that goes ok.” Johnny Collins, Brown Island Stables


“We have a few by Mitole that look fast. I have one Vino Rosso that I really like and also an Omaha Beach. One dark horse could be Demarchelier. He’s a very well-bred son of Dubawi and was very talented – I know Chad Brown loved him. He’s also been well supported by Peter Brant and Claiborne Farm. I like the ones I’ve got and I wouldn’t be surprised if they could run a bit. I also have a filly by Catholic Boy that goes really well. She’s more in the mould of Catholic Boy’s sire, More Than Ready, and I’m looking forward to sending her to the OBS April Sale.” Niall Brennan