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John Egan looking to scale the sales pyramid with American Pharoah colt

James Thomas speaks to the leading rider ahead of the Tattersalls Craven Sale

John Egan: "I've developed a real passion for the breeze-ups over the years"
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With more than 1,000 winners on his CV, jockey John Egan is well accustomed to dealing with pressure. But at next week's Tattersalls Craven Breeze-Up Sale, the elder statesman of the weighing room will face a different sort of challenge altogether.

Egan, 50, is behind Alliance Bloodstock, which will consign a blue-chip draft of juveniles to Tattersalls' flagship two-year-old auction, including colts by American Pharoah and War Front, as well as a daughter of Speightstown.

With the turf season about to hit top gear, most jockeys are out riding work each morning, hoping to build connections that will sustain a fruitful campaign for the year ahead. Egan, however, has dedicated much of the last six months to fine-tuning his breeze-up squad from his base up Newmarket's Hamilton Road.

"It's a bad time of year for me because I shut down everything and just concentrate on these horses," he says. "If somebody wants me I'll go and race, but at the moment I'd rather be here in the yard with the horses."

Egan is aboard the American Pharoah as the colt floats up the Hamilton Hill polytrack, his mount's raking, effortless stride belying the brute force of his considerable chestnut frame. The pair are tailed by the War Front colt, the very image of his pedigree being by the son of Danzig and out of a daughter of Sadler's Wells.

"He's an amazing horse, I ride him out every day and he's got it all," Egan says enthusiastically after dismounting from the American Pharoah, whose stock can only have risen after his first runner, Monarch Of Egypt, recorded a striking debut success at Naas on Saturday.

"I've spoken to a good few people who have American Pharoahs and they've all said they have great minds. They're both really nice horses who've done everything right to this point," he adds, gesturing towards the rangy War Front colt. "I think the two of them are going to be serious racehorses. Fingers crossed they'll go on and prove that Alliance is doing a good job."

John Egan and the American Pharoah colt share a moment
All three of the Alliance-consigned lots are by sires who stand among the upper echelons of the Kentucky stallion ranks, though Egan thinks it would be wrong to say his draft boasts strictly US pedigrees.

The American Pharoah colt, a stunning example of his sire's progeny, is a half-brother to Group 3 winner and Queen Mary Stakes runner-up Shumoos pinhooked for $375,000, while the War Front colt, a $420,000 Keeneland purchase, is out of Moyglare Stud Stakes winner Quarter Moon, making him a sibling to four black-type performers, notably Pretty Polly Stakes heroine Diamondsandrubies.

The sole filly in the trio is by WinStar Farm's Speightstown, though the March-born youngster is out of a Listed-placed Kodiac mare and was picked up at last year's Book 2 for 100,000gns.

"I like to see some European element in the pedigree of these horses in America, it's a great mix, and I think we're getting back to how things have been before, with US stallions proving influential in Europe," Egan says.

"There's a big mixing of bloodlines out there and the world is getting very small now."

Jockey John Egan with Clondaw Warrior after winning the November Handicap at Leopardstown
Panning for gold from the vast Keeneland September Yearling Sale catalogue is a strategy that has served Egan well down the years. Previous incarnations of his breeze-up business saw him sell classy types such as Hathal and Strategical, sons of Speightstown and More Than Ready who were sold under the Friarstown Bloodstock banner.

Egan was also responsible for pinhooking the hugely promising Scat Daddy colt Global Prospector, who sold through Mocklershill to Charlie Gordon-Watson for 800,000gns at last year's Craven. The colt left a big impression when breaking his maiden at the first time of asking at Wolverhampton last month.

"When I bought the Scat Daddy the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, I couldn't believe I had him," recalls Egan. "I loved everything about him and it's still very exciting for me even asking about him, finding out how he's going. The thrill I got seeing him winning at Wolverhampton, I was in good humour for three days!"

John Egan aboard Global Prospector during the breeze at last year's Tattersalls Craven Sale
This year's breeze-up circuit may see Alliance Bloodstock consign two-year-olds for the first time, but Egan is by no means a rookie to the sales scene. He first rode at the two-year-old sales at Ascot in 1983 when Bobby O'Ryan and his old boss Mick O'Toole brought a lorry load of horses over from Ireland.

"I've always enjoyed the breeze-ups and it's something I've developed a real passion for over the years," he says. "I've bought and sold horses all my life, my father was the same, albeit in a different area, so it's something I've grown up with."

And with such a wealth of experience comes the acute understanding of how important the preparation period is for these nascent racehorses.

The juveniles under Egan's care have come in for expert handling during their prep, with his son David and Josephine Gordon routinely putting the horses through their paces. 

Egan also highlights how big a part his partner, Eimear Donnelly, and Timeform man Dominic Finn have to play in the Alliance Bloodstock process.

"I put everything into these horses but I'm lucky that I have so many good people around me, because you can't do anything on your own, even if you think you can," he says, before adding with a wry smile: "When this is going on I'm sure it's not easy living with me!

"Nothing else really matters apart from getting them to the breeze-up in one piece, mentally and physically. They're going to do this for the rest of their lives, so if you take time and care now, you're not going to have problems later on."

Egan began the gradual process of preparing these horses last October, but with 99 per cent of the groundwork done and the Craven Sale breeze now only hours away, the first finishing line of their careers is now in sight. 

"It's a lot of pressure," he says when asked to reflect on the process of preparing such a stellar team of breezers.

"Riding in Group 1s, that's easy by comparison. Your heart beats a lot faster doing this because you don't stop thinking about it. I've ridden in Derbys and Arcs and Melbourne Cups, and it doesn't come close."


EGAN ON TIME

Timing remains a hot topic at the breeze-up sales, with buyers' scrutiny of sectional times recorded during the breeze often, and understandably to a degree, having a major impact on a horse's value in the ring.

While some have claimed this practice is proving detrimental to the breeze-up sale model, Egan takes a pragmatic - if somewhat sceptical - view of the buying aid.

"I'd never time them at home," he says. "When I'm riding them I'll get a feel for them and know how they're going, what their actions and theirs minds are like, and for me, that's the ultimate.

John Egan: "I'd never time them at home"
"Obviously you want to see a horse doing a reasonable breeze though, he doesn't want to be coming up there in 15 minutes! But this thing of judging horses on split second differences, it wouldn't do it for me.

"It's not going to go away though and I don't find it frustrating. I think the real agents and owners, they can see through it. The ones who can't will soon come unstuck."


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When I bought the Scat Daddy the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, I couldn't believe I had him
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