The Breeze-Up Consignors Association may have got more than it bargained for when they asked Con Marnane for a list of the best performers to have graduated out of his Bansha House Stables. The collection ran to no fewer than 23 pages and in a testament to the skill and enthusiasm of the breeze-up man and his team, hosted numerous important names ranging from Classic heroine Tepal to top sprinters Sands Of Mali and Fleeting Spirit and two-year-olds Robin Of Navan, Palace Episode and Amadeus Wolf.

Much has changed in the breeze-up sector over the past three decades but the Tipperary-based Bansha House has remained a significant presence, with its ‘Bansha Bullets’ never far from the conversation. As anyone who has worked the breeze-up sales can attest, the enthusiasm that Marnane has for his horses is bordering on infectious and something that has been largely inherited by daughters Amy and Olivia.

The sadness heading into this year, however, is that their successes won’t be shared by wife and mother Theresa, who sadly passed away last December following a battle with cancer. Theresa was not only an integral part of the Bansha House operation but a hugely popular member of the wider bloodstock community. It said everything for the regard in which the family is held, as well as the sad acknowledgement of a tough past year, that a standing ovation accompanied Amy as she received the Next Generation Award at the recent Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association Awards.

When something like that happens, they come together

“Theresa ran the whole thing,” says Con Marnane. “I was only the puppet. Theresa had the whole thing organised. This industry is a real family. There are a lot of very genuine, good people in this game. And when something like that happens, they come together and they’re just incredible.”

He adds: “Emma Walsh worked with Theresa for years and does all the administration. And now she’s trying to keep us on the straight and narrow, God help her!”

With the days ticking down until the Tattersalls Craven Sale opens the British and Irish breeze-up sales season, the focus is on pulling together the 24-strong group heading to Newmarket and then Doncaster for the Goffs UK sale. Numbers are on a par with usual with the emphasis being on a quick, sharp two-year-old, one with the precocity to make Royal Ascot if talent allows. The breeze-ups have obviously long owed much of their reputation to such horses, although arguably that was more the case early on. In the time since then, there has been a general shift towards a scopier type, which in turn has helped drive the popularity of several of the later sales, in particular the Arqana May and Tattersalls Ireland Goresbridge Breeze-Ups. Indeed, it is a source of pride to the breeze-up community that last year’s graduates range from top two-year-old Vandeek to older stayers of the quality of Eldar Eldarov and Trueshan.

Con Marnane: breezr-up seasons kicks off at the Tattersalls Craven Sale. Photo – Sarah Farnsworth

The kudos attached to Royal Ascot, particularly the two-year-old races, is something that will never diminish, however. The Marnane family have been there with Different League, an €8,000 foal purchase who carried Theresa’s colours to victory in the 2017 Albany Stakes, and Prince Of Lir, who won the 2016 Norfolk Stakes just weeks after his sale at the Goffs UK Breeze-Up in Doncaster. Victory has come tantalisingly close on other occasions too, notably when another breezer Sands Of Mali was touched off by Eqtidaar in the 2018 Commonwealth Cup. Six years on and that race may very well be on the agenda of Givemethebeatboys, who won the Marble Hill Stakes for the Marnanes prior to selling for £1.1 million to Bronsan Racing at the Goffs London Sale. The Marnanes subsequently campaigned him in partnership with the Bronsan family to run placed in the Phoenix and Middle Park Stakes.

“We started off very small,” recalls Marnane. “I remember the first year we did it, we had three horses. We could only get one horse into a breeze-up sale and I sold the other two privately. The second year, I had the first two lots in at Doncaster and the last two lots in at the Craven.

“For the first couple of years, you’d send them up in pairs and they’d all look lovely but then you couldn’t sell the second one. So I started breezing them on their own, like the American system, and the next moment, everyone is doing that same.”

As fate would have it, it was a pair of unsold two-year-olds in 2005 that thrust Bansha House into the spotlight. Palace Episode, an American-bred son of Machiavellian, was sourced through Peter Doyle for $100,000 as a yearling but failed to sell for 44,000gns at the Craven while Amadeus Wolf, a member of the sole crop sired by Mozart, was bought back for 50,000gns at the same sale having originally cost €87,000 through Anthony Stroud as a yearling in Italy. Within six months, both were Group 1 winners.

“What I suppose started it off really was when we didn’t sell Palace Episode and Amadeus Wolf at the Craven,” says Marnane of the pair, both of whom were trained by Kevin Ryan. “There are three Group 1 races for two-year-old colts in England and they won two of them that year – Amadeus Wolf won the Middle Park and then Palace Episode won the Racing Post Trophy. People then had to open their eyes to the fact that proper racehorses were coming out of the breeze-ups.”

The pair are just some of the examples of the lengths that Marnane has taken to hunt stock. Italy, for example, wasn’t just the source of Amadeus Wolf but also Stewards’ Cup winner Lancelot Du Lac. Poule d’Essai des Pouliches winner Teppal was a €60,000 Arqana August V2 yearling while Sands Of Mali, by the unheralded Panis, was found slightly more off the beaten track at Osarus in La-Teste-de-Buch, where he cost €20,000. More obscure is the La Zarzuela Yearling Sale in Madrid. It was there that Marnane came away with First Selection, a Spanish-bred Diktat colt who would go on to win the Solario Stakes and run second in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains following his sale at the now defunct Ascot breeze-up to Simon Crisford. Across the Atlantic, Keeneland was the source of Rio De La Plata, a durable performer for Godolphin who won three Group 1 races before retiring to stud under Darley’s French banner.

Today, the hunting field has been narrowed more or less to Britain and Ireland. But the focus is the same.

She was only a little pony when I bought her

“Between Amy and myself, we stick to Ireland and England mainly now,” says Marnane. “We’d look at an awful lot of horses and then Amy and I will put our heads together and try to pick out the better ones – or what we think are the better ones! An athlete and honesty, that’s what we are looking for. And value!

“I remember Fleeting Spirit, who was champion European sprinter for Jeremy Noseda. Well, she was only a little pony when I bought her. She won the July Cup and got a fracture in the race 100 yards from the line and still won. She was really special. It’s about trying to land on the next young stallion, and she was the first of the Invincible Spirits that we had. Not long after her we had [Flying Childers Stakes winner] Madame Trop Vite and then [Listed winner] Pimpernel. We had a whole load of them by Invincible Spirit – we were just so lucky with them.

“With Teppal, I’d had her brother Another Party. He was very down on his joints but a great horse for us. We nicknamed him the ATM machine because whenever he ran he always brought back money. So next thing is that the sister Teppal comes on and I bought her. She was gorgeous. She was a Camacho filly, so not everybody’s cup of tea, but Richard Brown bought her off me at Arqana and all credit to him.

“We bought Sands Of Mali in Osarus. I’d had the whole family, including his half-brother Kadrizzi, who’d won a couple of races for us. That pedigree was a blank page when we bought into it and it’s now a very good family. Sands Of Mali was Lot 1 at the Ascot Sale and Stroud Coleman bought him off me. Robin Of Navan [Group 1 winner] was another good one that Matt Coleman bought off me. He had a fractured tooth when I bought him and he couldn’t eat. When we brought him home, we got the tooth out of him and he never looked back. And then Harry Dunlop did a tremendous job with him.”

Amadeus Wolf: Group 1 winner was originally unsold as a breezer. Photo – Bill Selwyn

There is real satisfaction, however, in the tale of the Cool Silk Partnership’s Prince Of Lir, another of Stroud Coleman’s buys. A quick son of Kodiac, he was out a month after his sale for £170,000 at Goffs UK when scoring at Beverley. Three weeks later he won the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot.

“That’s what I think the breeze-up sales are all about,” says Marnane. “I know there are later maturing horses but I think some of those sales are getting too late. There is an opening there for a more speedier type. We did well at the Goffs Kempton sale [formerly held the week before the Cheltenham Festival]. That worked well for the sharper type and we sold a lot of precocious horses there.”

Two-year-old talent was again key to Marnane’s success last year. Givemethebeatboys flew the flag thanks to his exploits for Jessica Harrington but there was also the Cotai Glory filly Tiger Belle, who won the Marwell Stakes and Prix d’Arenberg, and the Listed-placed Ardad filly Rush Queen. Both were trained by Ado McGuinness for Shamrock Thoroughbreds, who presumably enjoyed a good pay day when Tiger Belle changed hands to Michael and Jules Iavarone ahead of her run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Among the older flag-bearers, American Sonja won a Listed race in France and was multiple Group 3-placed.

“Ado McGuinness bought two off me last year for Shamrock and they were Tiger Belle and Rush Queen,” says Marnane. “He was really one of the only Irish trainers active last year at the breeze-up sales alongside Michael O’Callaghan, and look at the success he’s had. They bought the two off me and they were running within a month – Tiger Belle won three weeks after her sale in Doncaster. Trainers need to wake up that these horses are available and they’re there to be bought.”

He adds: “It is hard to take on the big boys, especially in Ireland. Ballydoyle would have 200 Ferraris but then we can still beat them. And even if you are beaten now first or second time out, the phone is hopping from Hong Kong and America. I’ve sold a couple over to America and they’ve won plenty out there – they’re playing for different money. And it’s good for us in that it means you can reinvest. But then we’re losing our product as well.”

So what can we expect from the Bansha Bullets this year? Spread across the Tattersalls Craven and Goffs UK Breeze-Up Sales, the group consists of youngsters by old friends such as Sands Of Mali and Prince Of Lir to those by the popular Blue Point, Havana Grey, Starspangledbanner and Mehmas.

Our horses are not pushed to do times

“There are a lot of horses there that can run close after the sale,” he says. “We’ve put them through stalls and done everything with them. At the end of it, they’ll know how to go upsides and go through the stalls.

“Our horses are not pushed to do times. People are too time conscious now and on top of that, they’re watching stride length and the gallop out. I want them to be racehorses, not two furlong wonder horses. Horses can do very fast times and sometimes they’re not always racehorses. I’ll always put my hands up and say if we don’t sell a horse in the ring at the sales – which is getting harder to do now – I’m not one bit afraid of putting it in training. Because I know they’ve been trained properly. You have to back your judgement, and some days you get very lucky doing it.

“I’ve two by Sands Of Mali going to Doncaster. I’ve bred a few by him and sold them all well. So I don’t have that many to breeze but I’d like a few more. They’re so genuine. And they look fast. The Prince Of Lir is a full-sister to [Listed winner] Prince Of Pillo. She’s bred to be sharp and early, and she can fly.

“There’s a Havana Grey filly for Doncaster from the family of Blue Point. She’s not over big but a lovely filly, a real trier. The Ardad colt going there is also very nice. I’ve had huge success with the stallion, I’ve had three stakes fillies by him. I was a believer in the beginning and still am. There’s a Kuroshio colt that can fly and two by Cotai Glory that are fast.

“There’s a good Havana Grey colt going to the Craven. And we’re very pleased with the Profitable brother to [Queen Mary Stakes winner] Quick Suzy. He was small when we bought him – he’s a late foal – and he’s turned into a superstar since then. He has a beautiful temperament and his wind is clear. You could see him rocking up at Ascot because he’s very quick and does it very fluently.”

A return to Osarus also proved productive last September and appropriately the pinhook in question is Sands Of Mali’s half-brother by Gutaifan. Bought for €23,000, he heads to Doncaster.

“He’s a smashing horse,” enthuses Marnane. “I know the whole pedigree. They’re all the same – you won’t find anything out about them until you ask them to gallop. This fella will win loads of races.”

When a nice horse walks in, there’s a queue

As ever, the Marnanes stuck close to hunting to value last year. Their most expensive pinhook was a €95,000 Bungle Inthejungle sister to the family’s Listed winner Funny Money Honey, something which should give a bit of breathing room in a market that threatens to be selective.

“When a nice horse walks in, there’s a queue,” says Marnane. “When there’s an ordinary one, everyone leaves. You could certainly see that more last year. People aren’t taking chances. They’re not as brave. If a trainer doesn’t have an owner, then they aren’t taking chances. And costs are rising all the time.”

There was a time when the Marnane family were heavily represented in France, and with great success. That side has been ‘tightened up’ but that’s not to say the overall operation has been scaled back. In addition to the breezers, Bansha is home around 20 mares while Amy’s duty at the yearling sales also involves sourcing stock for Con’s trainer brother David. MRC International’s stakes-placed Lady Tilbury, bought for 18,000gns and resold last December for 150,000gns, is one success story and hopes are high for the 17 two-year-olds in training this season.

Amy describes receiving the ITBA Next Generation Award as ‘unreal’ and the general consensus within the industry is that there was no more deserving winner.

“Last time I was at the ITBA Awards, Gerry Dilger won the Flying Goose Award – he was very good to me when I was working in Kentucky,” says Amy of the popular horseman, who died four years ago. “I also did a couple of breeze-up seasons in Hong Kong with Malcolm Bastard, which was fascinating, and then I was with Niall Brennan in America. When I came back, I managed the French racing side of Bansha for six seasons.

“I also do Book 1 in Newmarket for Mike and Mary Ryan. Basically if there’s a yearling sale, I’m at it.”

A sad shadow was cast over last year’s Tattersalls December Sale as news filtered through of Theresa’s passing. In January, Con, Amy and Olivia took time out for a trip to the southern hemisphere, and having been royally entertained at the Magic Millions Gold Coast Sale, returned freshened brimming with ideas.

“It was just out of this world,” says Con. “The way we were entertained, how they ran the sale – it was unbelievable.

“We came back and decided to have a big open day here at Bansha. Everybody in this industry needs to open up. It’s viewed as kind of a closed shop and it shouldn’t be. We should all be inviting more people to come to races, to the sales, stables – just get them involved. A lot of work goes into these horses, whether its picking them out, breeding them and feeding them. It’s a massive team effort and we should be opening the doors promoting that.

“I’ve got a fantastic team behind me. Mike O’Brien and John Crosse have been with us for years. We’re nothing without them. I’ve six riders and they’d ride ten horses each morning. They’re not on their backs for long. Afterwards the horses go on the walker – there’s no weight on their backs, which is important for young horses.

“Everything is done with the trainer in mind – all they have to do is take them home, feed them and run them!”

There are few certainties in this business but knowing that the Marnane family have immense belief in their horses is one of them. And don’t bet against some of them acquitting themselves well at Royal Ascot, whether it be a breezer, homebred or representative of the Theresa Marnane colours made famous by Different League.

“There’s always something going on,” says Amy. “We’re busy every week of the year with the mares, then the pinhooks and the breezers. This game is an addiction and you could say that we’re completely addicted.”

Sands Of Mali: Marnane has several to sell by his former star breezer. Photo – Bill Selwyn