Doing your research, spotting potential and watching the pennies – mixed in with a little bit of luck. All of the above are pivotal to a successful September Yearling Sale, according to three trainers who have decades’ worth of experience at the events, writes Paul Martin.
Few know the sales environment better than Tracey Collins, whose family’s prestigious yard at the Curragh has produced high-profile winners spanning multiple generations.
Collins’ late father, Con, wasted no time in introducing Tracey and her sister Sheena to the sales and his eagerness to pass on his considerable knowhow has helped stand his daughters in good stead.
“I have been going to the sales since I was knee high to a grasshopper, probably 45 years or more,” said Collins, speaking ahead of September Yearling Sales taking place later this month at both Tattersalls Ireland (September 21-22) and Goffs (September 28-October 1).
“We were taken off school as kids to go to the sales and be given an education into what he looked for.
“It was fantastic, some education. My dad was recognised as a phenomenal judge so to be taught by a master was great.
“One of the key things I took from him was that not everything has to be perfect.
“Certain things would definitely be a no-no but there are other things an agent couldn’t look at that a trainer could say ‘well, I could train that’.
“I’m not saying we’d buy a crooked horse but we would buy a horse that’s maybe not 100 per cent as we can get them at value and we know we’ll be able to train them.”
Meticulous preparation is crucial but as Collins alludes to, the sales is not a time to simply judge a book by its cover.
Sarah Dawson, based at Tanvally Stud, Banbridge, is an advocate of research but has the recent evidence to prove it can pay to rely on a hunch now and again.
“When the catalogues arrive, you have quite a lot of homework to do,” she said.
“I go through it usually by sire, I then look at the pedigrees from that, and I also like the mare to have done something or, if she’s unraced, if she’s produced winning progeny.
"When I get to the sales, I pick horses out on looks and then pick out the pedigree.
“Pretty Boy Floyd was very much bought on model. That year I was late to the sales and was coming out the ring when I saw him as a yearling colt.
“I loved the stamp of him, he was very strong, plenty of size and a lovely looking character. He had gone through the ring unsold and I bought him outside in a private sale.
“He earned €68,000 in prize money as a two-year-old without even winning anything, he didn’t win until he was a three-year-old.
“He’s a lovely horse to have in the yard, he’s been very consistent and he’s very easy to train.”
Pretty Boy Floyd was not the only success story for Dawson in 2016, with Magic Sea picked up at the same sales.
“I saw him walking into the ring and loved the personality,” she said.
“He was a very tall horse – he still is a big gangly boy – and he’s a really lovely, athletic mover. I didn’t see him move before he went into the ring but I took a chance on the pedigree.
“He’s won three and Pretty Boy [Floyd]’s won three, so that was a good sale.
“In general, I love something with a bit of size and presence. A friend of mine once said he likes a horse who looks as though it wants to know where it’s going next when you see them walking.
“It’s quite true, actually. The filly I bought two years ago, Diamond Eyes, I liked the look of her initially, I liked the sire – Rock of Gibraltar – and her dam had produced winners.
“But what I loved about her most was when the girl that was leading her up could hardly hold her!
“She was basically trampling all over the top of her and I thought ‘oh my god, there is a very determined young lady’ – and she’s been like that ever since.”
Both Dawson and Collins have proved the virtues of value over the years, offering proof big bucks are not necessarily required to uncover gems.
Collins earmarks €35,000 Dandy Man, €32,000 Moyglare Stud Stakes winner Chelsea Rose and the €5,000 dual Group 3-winning Arctic as examples and believes little compares to the thrill of breaking and training those picked up at the Yearling Sales.
“I’d love to go to the sales with the EuroMillions behind me but we don’t have that, so we are always trying to find value,” she said.
“The yard we are, we do everything hands on. We buy our own horses then we break our own horses so no matter the winner, you get a phenomenal thrill.
“The world is your oyster when you’re breaking a young horse. You don’t know where it’s going to take you and the dream is very much alive.”
Evanna McCutcheon, who counts Group 1 winner Maarek among her success stories as a trainer, feels similarly and now offers a bespoke breaking and pre-training service at the purpose-built Streame facility.
McCutcheon, whose father Peter’s recent finds at the Yearling Sales include Carolus Magnus, Pin Your Hopes and Elusive King, said: “If I was reincarnated, I’d want to be one of my horses!
“I live and breathe them and they want for nothing. This place has been designed with the horse in mind and to give them the best start.
“Everything is set up for them to get out all day every day. We can adapt to individual requirements, I leave no stone unturned and make sure all the little things are taken care of.
“If you look after the little things, the results should follow.
“I always enjoy a trip to the Yearling Sales and for the family business, it is the primary target. It’s always an exciting time of year.”
Dawson and Collins are also keen to hear from owners and syndicates looking to take advantage of their training expertise, with the former running the affordable and sociable Tanvally Racing Club and Collins based in breathtaking surroundings at the Curragh.
If you are interested in sourcing a horse at the upcoming Yearling Sales, now is your chance to contact a trainer and begin your journey to owning a Royal Ascot or Irish Champions weekend winner. Click here to find a trainer and start your journey.
To find out more about the trainers featured in this article, visit the websites of Tracey Collins, Evanna McCutcheon and Sarah Dawson.