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Minimum bids all it takes for trainer with the Midas touch

Dublin handler sourced two of his stable stars for just 800gns

Damian English: steers clear of windsuckers when sourcing runners
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This article was originally published as part of our popular Q&A series on October 29, 2018

Alfirak became your 50th winner as a trainer in September. Of those you bought, the majority were sourced for less than €5,000. What type of horse do you look for in that price range? I look for a horse that’s won or shown ability earlier in its career. All they have to do is show that level of ability once and you know it’s there, and then you just have to find the reason why they haven’t performed again.

Alfirak had just one start before we bought him, when fourth in a maiden in France. It was a very eyecatching run and he was one I didn’t think we were going to be able to afford. He slipped through for €7,000 though, so we were lucky.

He was down in the catalogue as a colt, but he was actually gelded before then. You could see it in him. He was a bit coltish and a ‘boyo’ when he first came to us, but he settled down pretty quick.

You acquired Geological through Philip Burns at the 2015 Tattersalls Autumn Horses In Training Sale with a minimum bid of 800gns, and he has since gone on to earn over €100,000 in prize-money. Why were you able to source him so cheaply? That’s as much as I had! We went over to that sale trying to sell Tribal Path but had a reserve on him, and so we were trying to buy one to replace him. 

We said 5,000gns was our max for Geological. Lucky enough, we got him with one bid at 800gns.

We couldn’t quite believe it - we thought maybe we were after missing something. Then we heard he was a bleeder which wasn’t a problem, because Tribal Path was a chronic bleeder anyway and we work well with them.

He’d won twice as a two-year-old for Richard Hannon but only ran twice as a three-year-old. It kind of looked like ‘well, why isn’t he running?’, he obviously had problems.

Richard Hughes told us after we’d bought him that he was definitely a horse full of ability but had a few issues. He said if we sorted them out we would have a horse rated in the 90s on our hands.

What has been your best bargain at the sales? It would have to be Geological. Bluesbreaker cost the same amount and has won five or six races for us and €50,000 in prize-money. All Ablaze was another bargain at €1,000 and Tribal Path was only 3,000gns.

Red Avenger was the first time we really spent proper money. We spent 14,000gns on him, but he came off the lorry and won three on the bounce straight away. Dance Alone was 5,000gns and also won a few. They’ve all been bargains really!

Damian English: looks for horses who have shown ability first and foremost

Whose opinion would you seek when buying at the sales? My brother Craig. Anything I need to know about form, Craig has in his head. He’s like an encyclopedia of knowledge. I’ll also go through the horses myself and I know what I’m looking for down to a tee. We go around the sales as a pair and it seems to be working.

Plenty of people have helped us along the way like Gaelic Bloodstock. I’ve a couple of lads in yards I’d make phone calls to, just to see if there’s something I’ve missed when flicking through the catalogue, and they can point one out to me.

I’m all ears at the sales. You try and take advantage of any information and anything you hear.

What traits would you not forgive in a potential purchase? I very seldom buy a windsucker. I just don’t like a horse standing there and sucking in wind all day. I've had an odd one - if you get back from the sales and it wasn’t announced. That’s one trait I really don’t like.

I also tend to stay away from any horse that’s had a tendon injury. But other than that, you can forgive a lot with horses. I’ve had horses there that are very toed-in, and they seem to be the quick ones!

You go to the horses in training sales to buy a horse with ability. It’s a totally different ball game to the yearlings. All I need to know is did they show that level of ability on the racetrack and then you knows it’s in them. They may not have won again, but you know it wasn’t a fluke.

If a horse has ability, it’s there forever, you just have to nurture it back out of them.

You have enjoyed a lot of success at Dundalk, when purchasing how much do you factor in ability to race on the all-weather? I find every horse goes on the all-weather and, touch wood, I haven’t had a horse who couldn’t go on it. Bluesbreaker was one we thought wouldn’t go on it as he liked soft and heavy ground but he won twice at Dundalk. Tribal Path was another who surprised us.

I find horses at three and four can still be developing and can trick you into thinking they can’t handle the all-weather. I haven’t had an issue with any horse not handling it after they have turned five and are fully developed in strength.

Damian English has recorded more than 50 winners in his career - many of whom were sourced for ?5,000 or less

What sales do you specifically target each year? The Tattersalls July and Autumn Sales. We’ve been very lucky with both of them. Dance Alone and Red Avenger were both sourced from the Autumn Sale, while the likes of Bluesbreaker came from the July Sale. We go to those two sales every year.

Which of your winners has given you the greatest pride and why? Probably All Ablaze because he was my first two-year-old winner and he won a €30,000 handicap for us at Dundalk.

I’ve no real proper training facilities and train on the beach, so sometimes I struggle to have them fighting fit on their first run back from a break.

All Ablaze came back as a three-year-old in March last year after three months off and beat older opposition, which wouldn’t be common for his age group at that time of year.

Would you do anything differently if entrusted with a seven-figure yearling? Nothing different but it would be a lot easier. Most of these horses pick up their problems from being in training too young or being over-trained as two-year-olds.

If you look at All Ablaze, we took him along nice and slowly. He placed in a maiden and went on to win three handicaps in a row.

I think we’d be able to do a really good job if given enough time with the right two-year-olds.

Which first-season sires have caught your eye this year? No Nay Never. Myself and the brother picked him out to cover a mare, and she was eight months pregnant when she lost the foal. We were never so devastated.

We went down to Coolmore to see him - he is beautiful and I’d love to get my hands on one of them over the next few years. It would be a dream come true after losing the one we had.

The Friday Night Lights team pays a visit to Damian English's yard (part one) . . .

Read other installments from our popular Q&A series:

Daniel Creighton

Matt Houldsworth

Tom Malone

Henry Plumptre and Scott Calder

Adam Sangster

Also . . .

Mark Johnston reveals his methods of sourcing a record number of winners

The Tattersalls Autumn Horses In Training Sale, featuring 1,642 lots, takes place this week from Monday until Thursday

If a horse has ability, it?s there forever, you just have to nurture it back out of them
E.W. Terms