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'Racing and bloodstock, although a cut-throat business, is effectively one big dysfunctional family'

Q&A with Donncha McCarthy, who recently joined the Castlebridge Consignment as its Irish sales executive

Donncha McCarthy pictured while working for Castlebridge at the Tattersalls October Book 1 Yearling Sale in October
Donncha McCarthy pictured while working for Castlebridge at the Tattersalls October Book 1 Yearling Sale in October

Where did your interest in racing and bloodstock come from - is there a family connection or did you just get into it yourself?

There is no family connection to racing at all, I’m a complete blow-in on that front. I knew little or nothing about horseracing or breeding until I was 17 and to this day my parents still have little idea what I do. 

It wasn’t until I was studying civil engineering at University College Cork and happened to live with Kate O’Donovan, who bred and sold a point-to-pointer called Doctor Phoenix, that I had any exposure to racing. Around that time AP McCoy was chasing 4,000 winners, which I followed avidly on At The Races, and that completely enthralled me. From there I started helping John Mullane, a small local point-to-point trainer, at the weekends. He used Mick Winters’ gallop and it also just happened to be the same year that Missunited went to the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot. In many respects it all happened by accident; I was just in the right place at the right time.

The following September I changed college courses and went on to University College Dublin to study animal science, where I got involved with the UCD Horse Racing Society. It was at this point I started to realise I could pursue racing and bloodstock as a career path.

As a graduate of the Irish National Stud and Godolphin Flying Start, what experiences from both were of particular benefit?

One of the great advantages of doing both the Godolphin Flying Start and the Irish National Stud course is the wide range of industry people you get to meet. While I learned so much academically on both courses, from thoroughbred reproduction to bloodstock and everything in between, the biggest benefit to me personally was the network I have created. 

The Irish National Stud course is a brilliant place to meet like-minded ambitious young people in the industry. We taught each other a huge amount throughout the six months, everyone had their own experiences and niches to teach one another. Many of the class are still great friends of mine today, working in all aspects of the industry.

Donncha McCarthy (middle of back row) with his fellow Godolphin Flying Start graduates
Donncha McCarthy (middle of back row) with his fellow Godolphin Flying Start graduatesCredit: Andy Davies

On the Flying Start you are exposed to industry leaders all around the world and get to do placements on some of the best studs and racing yards throughout the programme. The alumni network of the Flying Start is a very close-knit community and all past graduates are great mentors to recent graduates and current students of the course. It is an unparalleled opportunity within the industry that allows you to travel, learn and further yourself. I could not recommend it highly enough.

Tell us about your time down under, how did it come about, who did you work for, and what did you learn?

Once I completed the Irish National Stud course in 2019, I travelled to Australia to do a breeding season at Newgate. I was also lucky enough to bid-spot at Magic Millions and New Zealand Bloodstock while down there, and also spent some time at Snowden Racing before returning home due to Covid. That year gave me huge exposure to the bloodstock and racing industry down under.

My second stint was during the Flying Start, where I reconnected with people I had previously met; and this year I went for three months to help Bennett Racing during the yearling sales. 

We picked up 11 yearlings through three sales. I was based in Sydney, helping with owner communications and managing the Sydney horses for Nathan Bennett. I spent several mornings at Annabel Neasham’s, going to trials and racing during my time there. 

Annabel Neasham was one of the personalities who helped Donncha McCarthy's time down under be fulfilling
Annabel Neasham was one of the personalities who helped Donncha McCarthy's time down under be fulfilling

Australia is without doubt the best jurisdiction in the world and the prize-money is outrageous! I love the whole product. Going racing in Sydney is great fun and I have loads of friends in Sydney that are not involved in the racing industry who wouldn’t dream of going to the Curragh or Newmarket but love going racing there.

The Australian racing experience is second to none. There are many things we could take and learn from Australian racing outside of the prize-money argument. I believe student racedays are a great way to introduce young people into racing and events like concerts after racing, if organised correctly, can be brilliant. For example, a version of ‘Newmarket nights’ at the Curragh could bring in a younger demographic. I also strongly believe in promoting syndicates and racing clubs; they allow a younger generation to sample ownership at an affordable level.

Is there anywhere else in the world you would like to go and work/live in the future?  

I’ve been lucky enough to do plenty of travelling throughout my career so far and I’m very happy to have secured a position with Castlebridge, based in Ireland. My long-term plan is to be based here and travel to all the European sales. Getting to Australia or America once a year for a sale or racing would also be on the agenda. I’ve yet to visit Japan or Hong Kong, so hopefully that will happen in the coming years.

Who have been the biggest influences in your career?

I’ve been fortunate so far in getting to work with some brilliant people and minds who have given me fantastic opportunities and instilled belief in me.

The one that stands out the most, and whom I will be forever grateful to, is Bobby McCarthy of The Beeches Stud in Waterford. I went there first for my placement at UCD. I was green as grass and extremely naive but Bobby gave me so much time and advice and taught me many life lessons during my three summers there. Anyone who has met Bobby knows it doesn’t matter who drives into that yard or how many mares they have, everyone is treated the same. 

Bobby McCarthy 'treats everyone the same'
Bobby McCarthy 'treats everyone the same'Credit: Tattersalls Ireland

I’ve since worked with Henry Field, Ed Sackville, Bill Dwan and Stuart Boman, who have all been instrumental in my career and are still mentors I rely on regularly.

It’s a brilliant community really; if I was in trouble I know I could ring any number of people who would be happy to help. Racing and bloodstock, although a cut-throat business, is effectively one big dysfunctional family.

You have some history already with Castlebridge Consignment - what will your role as Irish sales executive entail? 

I previously worked at Bill Dwan’s Castlebridge farm and was involved in the Castlebridge sale drafts last year. My current role in Ireland is to get out and meet people throughout the industry on behalf of Castlebridge, to promote the benefits of using a professional consignor to new clients and to act as liaison with existing Castlebridge clients. 

At the sales you will see me very much front of house with my English counterpart Patrick Diamond. The Castlebridge directors Bill Dwan and Andrew Mead are looking to us to engage with the new generation coming into the bloodstock business, and to hopefully steer them into becoming Castlebridge clients of the future. 

Bill Dwan:
Bill Dwan: Castlebridge director looking to Donncha McCarthy, and Patrick Diamond, to engage with clients of the futureCredit: Laura Green

Is there a particular type of sale you like working more than any other?

The Tattersalls December Mare Sale is probably my favourite sale of the year. It’s a little different from every other sale and the atmosphere starts to crank up a notch as the light fades and the floodlights are switched on. There’s a great sense of occasion to it. The ring becomes an amphitheatre of sorts as the mares start to head towards seven figures. It just hits differently to any other. 

We are very lucky at Castlebridge to have clients who sell high-quality mares and race fillies at this sale, and when you’re selling some of the top lots it gets very exciting. Hopefully we can continue that this year.

The other sale I particularly enjoy is Magics in January. For anyone who hasn’t been to Magic Millions on the Gold Coast in Australia, I would highly recommend adding it to the bucket list, because it’s one hell of a party! 

Do you have a favourite sire and/or racehorse, past or present?

Racehorse – Missunited. She was instrumental in developing my interest in racing as a locally owned and trained horse. It would be a dream to own a filly as tough and versatile as her. She mixed with the best hurdlers and Flat horses and almost won an Ascot Gold Cup, which was some training performance - for anyone who can’t remember, give it a watch back. I keep a close eye on all her progeny these days.

Missunited and Robbie Power win the Galway Hurdle
Donncha McCarthy's beolved Missunited wins the Galway Hurdle under Robbie PowerCredit: Patrick McCann

Sire – there are plenty of stallions I look favourably on, or have a bias towards for varying reasons. For example, Oasis Dream, Farhh and Sioux Nation are all sires I would love to breed to or pinhook from, but my favourite stallion is Mahler. 

Slightly left-field to what most reading this would expect, I know, but he’s a horse I loved working with. I was delighted to see him have a winner at Cheltenham this year and hope he can continue his success in the coming years. Even though I predominantly work within Flat racing, I still follow the National Hunt and point-to-point industries closely.

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Published on 5 June 2023Last updated 16:03, 9 June 2023