A Racing Club with a Difference

22nd Feb 2017

By Daithi Harvey

The year 1945 is synonymous with the end of the Second World War but a rather more peaceful event also took place the same year when the Irish National Stud was officially formed. The farm had been taken over by a newly-formed Irish Government in 1943 from the family of Colonel William Hall Walker, who had been breeding horses on the land adjacent to Kildare town with great success – Minoru’s win in the 1909 Epsom Derby being a case in point. Given its deep-seated roots within Irish history it is rewarding to see the Irish National Stud, some 70 years later, thriving as a leading commercial breeding farm that also houses a world-class stallion, hosts thousands of international tourists each year while simultaneously providing an invaluable education to many young people hoping to carve out a career in the international racing and bloodstock industries.

One would think that the above activities would be more than enough to keep the Irish National Stud team busy but outgoing CEO John Osborne has fostered a ‘think outside the box’ ethic among the staff and this is evident in the launch of the INS Breeding and Racing Club. It is run by Ciarán De Barra and it is now entering its third year in existence. What sets it apart from other racing syndicates is the fact that members are involved with a horse from the time it is born which gives stake-holders an opportunity to be part of any potential success, be it in the sales ring or the racecourse. For an investment of €2,000, members not only have two horses to run for the club, they also have an interest in two foals which are bred at the stud each year and sold on their behalf at the Goffs November Foal Sale.

De Barra explains how the members got off to a flyer in year one. “Our first year in 2015 we had the second top lot on day one of the foal sales at Goffs when our Worthadd colt made €38,000. In 2016 we didn’t hit the same heights but still got a solid return when our two Dragon Pulse foals made €25,000.”

Last year was a memorable one for the club on the track as they enjoyed their first winner when the Willie McCreery-trained Invincible Lia (Ire) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}) won a maiden at Clonmel in May at just her third attempt.

“Willie McCreery did a fantastic job in producing her early in the season with a great prep run when placed fourth behind subsequent [G1] Irish Oaks winner Seventh Heaven, and then she won her maiden in Clonmel in great style which had all the members in great spirits and dreaming of our next run which subsequently came at the Curragh on Irish 1,000 Guineas day,” explains De Barra.

“A runner on a Classic day was fantastic and Invincible Lia was great because she consolidated the members’ faith in the new concept of the club.”

The 2017 breeding season got off to an early start for the club with the first of two foals expected born recently. The filly by Dragon Pulse (Ire) (Kyllachy {GB}) is out of Weekend Getaway (Ire) (Acclamation {GB}) who is a full-sister to the Andrew Balding-trained stakes winner Absolutely So (Ire). A date at Goffs will also beckon for this filly towards the end of the year.

With Invincible Lia retired from racing, the club’s fortunes on the racetrack this year lie with an unraced 3-year-old with Willie McCreery and an excitingly-bred 2-year-old with Michael O’Callaghan, as De Barra outlines. “We have a Showcasing (GB) filly with Willie McCreery; she has grown into a really strong 3-year-old and we will be hoping to get going early with her this season. She is from the family of Group 1 winner Prohibit so we hope she will have inherited some of his speed. We also have a very exciting Dawn Approach (Ire) half-sister to Red Cadeaux (GB) with Michael O’Callaghan. She was pre-trained by John Shearman and she has taken everything in her stride. She has a great attitude and obviously with her strong pedigree we hope she has the talent to go with it.”

Michael O’Callaghan is looking forward to the prospect of training a winner for the club and likes what he has seen so far of his charge. “She’s a nice, well-bred filly and I’m glad to have her. She arrived in good shape and while she may not be a real early type I’m pleased with what she has shown so far. We have introduced her to the Old Vic gallop and she is taking to training well.”

O’Callaghan, himself an award-winning graduate of the Irish National Stud Breeding Course continued, “The club itself is a great initiative. The Irish National Stud has provided them with nice stock and there’s every chance a few of the members will catch the racing bug and perhaps take ownership to a further stage. From that point of view I think it’s a great idea.”

The Dawn Approach filly was purchased by the Irish National Stud as a yearling and has been leased to the club for two years. A similar arrangement applies to the broodmares as De Barra explains, “The broodmares are owned by the stud but the foals are in partnership with the club. For example, with currently 33 members, that equates to 33% of each foal owned by the club and 67% by INS and each member gets 1% of the sale proceeds of each foal.”

The club is limited to 50 members which obviously leaves a number of subscriptions to be filled for 2017. Members come from all walks of life, from both Ireland and overseas.

De Barra adds, “With 33 members currently we have room for more. It’s a diverse group, from all walks of life is right and from all corners of the country, with a few based overseas. We have a very committed Glaswegian lady called Gillian, who flies over to most of our visits and days out. We also have a member from Virginia, USA and in France. Many are new to racehorse ownership though some have been in syndicates in the past but the all in one cost is very attractive to people with no hidden surprises and the chance for some returns, as well as a lot of fun.”

In order to promote further social interaction among members De Barra organises frequent stable visits for the club and not just to the trainers on their roster. Members recently visted Willie Mullins’ yard to cast their eyes over some of jump racing’s household names, including the star mare Annie Power (Ire) (Shirocco {Ire}), winner last year’s GI Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. The club also has plans to visit York later in the year for the G1 Juddmonte International day in August.

“The one thing that strikes me is that they are all eager to learn a bit more about how it all works,” says De Barra. “We have a really good bunch of members and we all enjoy each other’s company which really helps with the fun of the days out.”

De Barra is a graduate of the 2013 Irish National Stud Breeding Course, following up with the O’Reilly Business Internship with the stud immediately after the course, and he has remained with the farm thus far. As well as being the point of contact for members of the club he is also on foaling duty at the stud so he was in a position to inform members of their latest arrival in real time. “As I’m on foaling at the moment the members got a Whatsapp message last Sunday morning with a photo of their new pride and joy when their Dragon Pulse filly was just a couple of hours old.”

In a recent ‘Challenges & Solutions’ interview with TDN, bloodstock agent James Delahooke noted that the racing industry would benefit long term from would-be fans being exposed to events behind the scenes, including the birth of a foal. Delahooke said in his answers to the TDN’s questions, “I would explain that this damp, fragile, wobbly newborn animal will, in less than two years, be weighing 800lbs and galloping at 45mph. If they are not fascinated by this stage I will not bother with them anymore.”

The INS Breeding and Racing Club has certainly embraced this concept and offers fans a highly cost-effective way to enjoy and participate in this great sport.

(Published by the Thoroughbred Daily News on 22 February 2017)

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