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Hassett hoping for the next big connection at the Tattersalls Craven Sale

The consignor will offer a nine-strong draft at the high-end auction

Lot 135: the Australia colt out of Happy Holly consigned by The Bloodstock Connection
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For the protagonists in a game as trying and ruthless as the breeze-ups, it helps to have had a solid grounding. Having been raised around horses on his family's farm, Johnny Hassett - who operates under the banner of The Bloodstock Connection - has been built on firmer foundations than most.

He is the son of John Hassett senior, a trainer of considerable skill under both codes, having enjoyed success at the Cheltenham Festival through Generosa and narrowly missing out on Group 1 glory in the 1979 Prix de l'Abbaye with Baby Brew.

"I had a very good mentor in my dad," says Hassett. "He was a Flat and National Hunt trainer, a vet, he shod and did the dentistry on his own horses, he was a breeder, he sold and pinhooked foals, and was pretty good at pulling off a gamble!"

But Hassett's formative years spent at Ballyhannon House Stables in County Clare came to something of an abrupt end when his parents told him he needed to find a "real job". However, their input set their son on a rather circuitous route to the yard of record-breaking US trainer Todd Pletcher.

"I spent six years with Todd and I've never worked as hard in my life," says Hassett. "He's an unbelievable man for detail - he was obsessive about the small things. When I started there Todd was winning claimers at Meadowlands, but by the time I left he was second-leading trainer in America and had had horses like Speightstown and More Than Ready.

"I did a lot of the work with the two-year-olds at Belmont during the summer while Todd was at Saratoga. The gallop outs are huge there - that's something I do a lot with the horses when we work."

Following his American sabbatical, Hassett returned to Ireland and spent an informative two years working under Aidan O'Brien at Ballydoyle's two-year-old yard.

"I was friendly - and occasionally unfriendly - with Aidan while we were both riding in points! But he was very good to me when I came back from America," says Hassett, before expanding on the lessons he learned from those master trainers. 

"Todd and Aidan both use the same approach. Horses never come off the bridle at home as training should almost be a therapeutic process because that's what makes them fitter, stronger and healthier."

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And it was during his time with O'Brien that Hassett had his first exposure to the breeze-up market, albeit as a buyer rather than a seller.

"I actually broke the European record for buying the most expensive breezer at the time," he recalls. "I bought a client - Stuart Subotnick of Anstu Stables - a Danehill colt for 260,000gns at the 2003 Craven Sale. That's when I really started to pay attention to what was happening at the breeze-ups and thought 'I could do this'."

But much has changed in the breeze-up game since Hassett's interest was first piqued, and nowadays the sum that he parted with to break the European breeze-up record is not far off what some are prepared to pinhook a breeze-up horse for.

"The breeze-ups were second or third tier, they were, for the most part, a sideshow but the results nowadays tell you that you can find a serious horse at these sales," he says. "If I was buying a horse I'd like to know if he's fast or not. That's the big question."

Hassett describes himself as "more of a carrot man than a stick man" when it comes to the preparation process, preferring to use the likes of trotting poles and acupuncture, rather than a stopwatch, to ensure his horses are in peak condition come sale day.

"There's no need to time them at home," he says on the issue of the clock. "No one has ever been well paid for a horse doing a fast time at home. You'd drive yourself mad if you started looking at times at home.

"I like to work horses on their own because that way they're not getting competitive and they won't do too much. If you start getting to St Patrick's Day and think you have to do a bit of work, you'll only go backwards.

"You're always counting down the days to the sale, but it's all about keeping your nerve. Horses don't progress linearly - they can turn in a week if you have the groundwork done."

And that groundwork starts with sourcing the right raw materials, and Hassett relies on the vast combined knowledge of agents Jeremy Brummitt and Timmy O'Bryne to comb through thousands of yearlings on offer each autumn.

"The selection process is so crucial because you can't make a horse fast, you need to start with a nice horse and then make sure you don't screw it up," he says.

"We tend to go outside of the box as we usually avoid sprinter stallions - almost all of our horses have the pedigree to get at least a mile. The selection process can be broken down to: could you see this horse running in a Guineas? And if you couldn't, forget about it. These horses mightn't be as precocious but that doesn't mean they're slower. Our horses breeze pretty quick."

This Classically minded approach is what helped Hassett and his accomplices unearth a son of Havana Gold who realised £135,000 to the bid of David Redvers at last year's Doncaster breeze-up. The colt - Raid - could book his ticket to the season's first Classic if he can follow up his taking Doncaster success with a prominent showing in Saturday's Greenham Stakes.

Moreover, among the nine-strong draft that Hassett is set to offer at the two-day Tattersalls Craven Sale - that kicks off after racing on Tuesday - are the progeny of stallions whose name would look right at home on the racecard of a Classic. The draft features lots by sires such as Teofilo, Pivotal, Farhh and an Australia colt who fetched 190,000gns as a yearling.

Johnny Hassett and Pat McLoughlin with the Australia colt catalogued as Lot 135 at the Tattersalls Craven Sale

"The Australia is a beautiful colt with a Classic pedigree," says Hassett. "He really could be anything. He's been a very straightforward horse, he's got a very calm disposition. He's bred to go a bit further but he's got plenty of speed. For a horse of his type to do that kind of breeze in April, you have to be delighted with him."

Despite the blue-chip pedigrees - and not to mention the considerable pinhook prices - that his draft boasts, Hassett says these factors don't weigh heavily on his or the team's mind during the preparation process.

"When I'm working with these horses at home, they all have stable names, and it's easy to forget about their pedigrees," he says.

"It's very important to be present, and not have this idea in your mind about what should be in front of you, because before you know it you're training the idea and not the horse. That's when you go badly wrong.

"I have a really good team behind me - having worked at world-class operations I think I have as good a team as anyone out there. One element of that is the skill level, but the most important thing is they're connected to the mission. When The Beast From The East hit we didn't miss a day."

With a strong draft of breezers on the ground at Tattersalls, and his fingerprints on a horse who could well be a live Classic contender by the weekend, the next leg of Hassett's journey could well be the most eventful yet.

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