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Good Morning Bloodstock

End of an era as one of Ireland's best nurseries is set to go under the hammer

Martin Stevens speaks to Brendan Hayes about the selling of Knocktoran Stud

Brendan Hayes (right): "Hopefully we’ll go on having a bit of fun and breeding a good few winners"
Brendan Hayes (right): "Hopefully we’ll go on having a bit of fun and breeding a good few winners"Credit: Peter Mooney

Good Morning Bloodstock is Martin Stevens' daily morning email and presented here online as a sample.

Here he speaks to Brendan Hayes about the selling of his famed Knocktoran Stud - subscribers can get more great insight from Martin every Monday to Friday.

All you need do is click on the link above, sign up and then read at your leisure each weekday morning from 7am.

A page in the history of one of Ireland’s most prestigious nurseries will be turned in ten days' time, when Knocktoran Stud is sold by public auction at the Castletroy Hotel in Limerick.

The sale of the picture-perfect 251-acre stud, which will be conducted by Coonan Property, has been prompted by Brendan and Anne-Marie Hayes, devoted custodians since 1987, downsizing and moving to a nearby farm.

“We’ve decided to move on from Knocktoran to Cotton House, a second farm we own between here and Knocklong,” says Brendan Hayes. “It’s nearly the same size land-wise, although it doesn’t have the same facilities and grand house. We just thought we’re getting older, and we’d better make the decision now while we can, rather than have somebody make it for us in five or ten years’ time.

“We’ve had Cotton House Bloodstock as a registered company for the last four or five years, and raced in France under that name in recent seasons. Fancy Me, a daughter of Pivotal and Besotted, won the Prix des Reservoirs for us under that guise last year, and Itsy Bitsy, a daughter of Belardo and Bikini Babe, has won two races this year.

“Cotton House will be me, Anne-Marie and all the family, whereas Knocktoran was really just me and Anne-Marie; that’s the way it’s going to be structured. Hopefully we’ll go on having a bit of fun and breeding a good few winners.”

That’s some understatement, as Brendan and Anne-Marie achieved far more than having a bit of fun and breeding a good few winners during their stewardship of Knocktoran Stud.  

Precieuse (right): French Classic heroine one of a number of top-class horses bred by
Precieuse (right): French Classic heroine one of a number of top-class horses bred at Knocktoran StudCredit: Staff

Among the top-class horses they bred there were Hypothetical, Precieuse, Roseman, Royal Empire, Scottish and Tie Black. They also boarded many of the late Gerry Oldham's blue-chip mares, and Brendan combined running the home farm with managing the nearby Kilfrush Stud for Jean-Pierre Binet until its sale ten years ago.

Brendan and Anne-Marie are going out on a high at Knocktoran Stud, as they bred last month’s Galtres Stakes winner Sea Theme, an exciting Sea The Stars filly out of the Group 3-winning Whipper mare Mayhem, and Friday’s Doncaster scorer Baradar, a Muhaarar half-brother to Roseman out of the winning Pivotal mare Go Lovely Rose, a full-sister to Kilfrush Stud superstar Immortal Verse.

They also tasted success at the Arqana August Yearling Sale last month, selling a Blue Point half-sister to Sea Theme to Juddmonte for €400,000 and a Dark Angel filly out of Donnybrook, a winning Invincible Spirit half-sister to Sea Theme, to Sumbe for €130,000.

Brendan Hayes' highlight of the last 36 years isn’t hard to guess, considering Precieuse, by Tamayuz out of Zut Alors, a Listed-placed Pivotal half-sister to Royal Empire and Scottish, carried home silks to win the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches at Deauville before a private sale to Peter Brant, for whom she scored in the Grade 3 Honey Fox Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

“Oh, she was very special,” he confirms. “We bred Zut Alors, we bred Zut Alors’ dam Zeiting, we bred Zeiting’s dam Belle De Cadix, and we bred Belle De Cadix’s dam Gourgandine, so we have a lot of that family.

“Hypothetical, who won a Group 1 in Meydan, is out of Peut Etre, a Group 3-placed Whipper half-sister to Precieuse, so he was the result of six generations of our breeding.  

“The disappointment from this family has been Dolled Up, though. She’s by Whipper out of Belle De Cadix, and won the Prix du Bois and finished fourth behind Arcano, Special Duty and Canford Cliffs in the Prix Morny, beaten three-quarters of a length in total and with the first three all breaking the track record.

Knocktoran Stud: "I just hope that we’ll find someone who loves and looks after the place as much as we have done for the last 36 years"
Knocktoran Stud: "I just hope that we’ll find someone who loves and looks after the place as much as we have done for the last 36 years"

“She should’ve been a very good broodmare but you wouldn’t believe how unlucky she’s been. She had a Teofilo colt who broke his leg as a yearling and a Frankel colt in training in England who died before he raced. She’s been to good sires but just not done it yet.”

Tie Black, a daughter of Machiavellian and Tender Is Thenight, a winning Barathea half-sister to Kilfrush masterpiece Last Tycoon, appears on the Pouliches roll of honour 11 years before Precieuse. The filly, sold to Horse France for €330,000 as a yearling in Deauville, owes her place on it to first-past-the-post Price Tag being demoted by the stewards, but she shouldn’t be underestimated, Hayes insists.

“She was very good,” he says. “She got that race by default, but she came back and ran third to Mandesha in the Prix d’Astarte at Deauville, and her trainer Francois Rohaut told me she wasn’t really wound up for that as it had been very warm and he’d been easy on his horses.

“She was then very unlucky to die of Lyme disease about a month later, and I swear from the timing she must have been suffering from it in the Astarte. She was a huge loss to her owner as she was by Machiavellian, so would have been some asset as a broodmare.”

Tie Black is not the only Knocktoran Stud homebred who has been a little unfairly overlooked by posterity, Hayes reckons.  

“Before Hypothetical won his Group 1 at Meydan I wouldn’t be surprised if Baccarat was one of the highest earners to come off the farm,” he says of the Dutch Art half-brother to Precieuse. He only ever got lower-case black type for a Listed placing, but boy was he quick. He won the Wokingham and several other valuable handicaps, and the page doesn’t really show how good he was.

Endless Drama
Endless Drama: another high-class performer bred by Knocktoran StudCredit: Patrick McCann

"Another decent horse we bred was Endless Drama, from the first crop of Lope De Vega. He finished second in the Irish 2,000 Guineas and third in the Lockinge, and later won a Group 2 in Australia. He was a really smashing looking horse but he didn’t make that much money as a yearling as no one was taking Lope De Vega that seriously at that stage. My word, they have to take him seriously now after the month he’s had! He’s been in amazing form.

“Another Lope De Vega colt we bred was La Barrosa, out of Bikini Babe, a Group 3-placed half-sister to Zut Alors. I thought he would be our best chance of winning the Derby, having won the Tattersalls Stakes and run second in the Craven, but he just didn’t go on.”

Baradar, who also showed considerable promise in his youth, winning twice and finishing third in the Vertem Futurity, only to fall off the radar at three and four, is riding high in his breeders’ affections thanks to his revival this season at five for George Boughey. The application of cheekpieces has helped him win the lucrative International Stakes at Ascot and another valuable handicap at the St Leger meeting at Doncaster.

Hayes always had a sneaky feeling that Go Lovely Rose, the dam of not only Baradar and Roseman but also Prix Minerve runner-up Game Zone and Schwarzgold-Rennen second Chaussons Roses, would work out as a broodmare.

“She never got to show her true talent on the track as she was rather put on the altar at two,” he says of the Kilfrush Stud-bred and raced mare. “The boss wanted a runner on Arc weekend that year, and she was the only one able to run, but Robert Collet didn’t want to risk her as he said she was still growing. She ended up running, though.  

“She overraced for the first six furlongs of the race and burnt out, and funnily enough she remembered that and never really gave her all in a race again. At least she's made up for it at stud, though.”

Baradar has even inspired an early mating plan for 2024.

“We have Moccasin, a daughter of Charm Spirit and Go Lovely Rose, in training in France and although she hasn’t turned out to be very good we’re going to send her to Muhaarar to breed a three-parts brother or sister to Baradar,” he says.

“Muhaarar is sensibly priced now, and the cross has worked before so it might work again. She’s a lovely looking mare, and he’s a lovely looking horse, so hopefully the mating will produce a lovely looking foal, but also more importantly one who runs well. We also have Chaussons Rose, who’s pregnant to New Bay, carrying her first foal.”

Unsurprisingly from those comments – and the enduring success of Knocktoran Stud, of course – Hayes puts an awful lot of thought into mating plans.  

“Picking the right sires for the right mares is the most important thing you do every year on the farm,” he says. “In that regard we’ve been unbelievably lucky. We were in early on Darshaan, we were in early on Alzao and we were in early on Lope De Vega.

“Horses like those are game changers, they make your mares. It’s magical when you hit on those horses.”

So what happens to the Knocktoran Stud broodmare band now?

“The plan is to downsize and keep half of the mares at our other farm and the other half in France, as we enjoy racing there,” says Hayes. “Our better mares like Besotted, Chaussons Roses and Mayhem might go to France, as they have to be pretty good to make it worth boarding them on another farm. There’s no point selling a yearling out of mares like that for 30 or 40 thousand, as they just don’t pay their way.

“As for the older mares, they’ll be staying with me, as I couldn’t ever let them go. I need to see Bikini Babe, Go Lovely Rose, Hit The Sky and Peut Etre every day.”

There will therefore be only a small draft of Knocktoran Stud mares heading to the sales as part of the reduction, although there will be some significant names among the lots.  

Sea Theme: Galtres Stakes likely to head to France next for Group 1 glory
Sea Theme: Galtres Stakes likely to head to France next for Group 1 gloryCredit: Edward Whitaker

“There won’t be a dispersal as such, but we’ll sell three or four mares at Goffs, and maybe Donnybrook in the Sceptre Sessions at Tattersalls,” says Hayes. “She’s a winning half-sister to Sea Theme out of Mayhem, who I know William Haggas holds in high regard. She is set to run in the Prix de Royallieu on Arc weekend, and if she runs, she will run well, as the trainer wouldn’t risk her. She likes a bit of ease in the ground, which she didn’t get at York, so it was surprising she won so well there.

“Mayhem could be a very important mare for us going forward, and we have a smashing filly foal by Dark Angel out of her who we might put in training because, unfortunately, the sire’s offspring don’t always make their true value at the sales. 

 "That’s unfair as Dark Angel is dining at the top table with Dubawi and Frankel, his stock race over distances that are popular with most people, from six to nine furlongs, and they’re just so durable – they’re still racing at four, five, six and beyond. I love him.

“So the most likely scenario if Sea Theme runs well at Longchamp is we’ll sell Donnybrook and keep the Dark Angel filly.”

There could be plenty to celebrate early in Brendan and Anne-Marie’s first months operating out of their new base, then, what with Sea Theme holding such abundant promise on the track and Donnybrook poised to take a leading role at the breeding-stock sales.

But are there no lingering doubts about whether they are doing the right thing? No cold feet before leaving such a beautiful, well equipped farm at which they have enjoyed so much success?

“Oh it will be a wrench, of course it will be,” says Hayes. “But, that said, we're literally moving across the road, out of the big house. We’ll still have the same neighbours, which I’m pleased about, as they’re good people, and we have lots of friends locally. We’re losing none of that as we’re staying in the same area. Otherwise it might have been harder.

“There will be some regret about leaving the facilities but the number of horses we have at the second farm will be much smaller, and we’ll employ various agents to sell the foals and yearlings, so it should all be easy enough to manage.

“They’re pretty good facilities here at Knocktoran in all fairness. They’ve been developed by hands-on horse people, which is the way it should be, rather than being designed in a city somewhere. We developed a very safe farm, and we planted a lot of hedges which have grown and give great shelter to all the paddocks. That’s a huge help for keeping horses warm and healthy, and saving thousands of euros on vet bills in the process.”  

And his overriding feeling, looking back at more than three and a half decades of achievement at Knocktoran Stud?

“Great satisfaction,” he says. “First of all, we’ve always loved what we’re doing, and any time you get a horse that wins a good race, it’s a huge buzz,” he says. “It’s also very pleasing when you hit the jackpot in the sales ring. I know that might sound a bit mercenary, but it’s important if you want to keep the whole show on the road.

“For that reason, selling the Dubawi filly out of Mayhem’s dam Hit The Sky for €1.5 million in Deauville ten years ago will always be a favourite memory. She was a big, beautiful, correct filly and gave us a memorable day.”

Hayes will of course be at the Castletroy Hotel at 3pm on Thursday, September 28, to see how the auction progresses.

Even if you can’t quite scrape together the €3.7m guide price for Knocktoran Stud and don’t think it’s worth attending yourself, it’s worth checking out the video that accompanies its listing. The winding tree-lined drive and stunning views of the Slievereagh mountains alone are the stuff of stud ownership fantasies.

“I just hope that we’ll find someone who loves and looks after the place as much as we have done for the last 36 years,” says Hayes. 

“Buying a place like this is the easy bit, it’s stocking it, staffing it, running it on a day-to-day basis, and looking after all the buildings, paddocks, woods, and trees, as well as the horses, that’s hard.”

Brendan and Anne-Marie Hayes certainly made it look easy, even if it wasn’t. Best of luck to them in the next leg of their journey as breeders.  

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Must-read story

“What we’ve seen over the last few years is the mare quality continues to improve and then Into Mischief continues to get it done as a sire,” says Spendthrift Farm’s Ned Toffey about Keeneland September Yearling Sale sensation Into Mischief.

Pedigree pick

The price-tags attached to Giveitawhirl, who makes his debut for Ben Brookhouse in the seven-furlong novice stakes at Thirsk today (3.30), aren’t a true reflection of his brilliant pedigree.

The two-year-old colt, sold by breeder Woodcote Stud to Clearwater Stud as a foal for 48,000gns and resold by Clearwater Stud to Brookhouse as a yearling for 75,000gns, is by the brilliant Derby and Arc victor Golden Horn and is a half-brother to Prince of Wales’s Stakes and King George winner Poet’s Word.

For good measure, Givitawhirl is a half-brother to five other winners including Malabar, a dual Group 3 scorer at Goodwood, and Whirly Dancer, the dam of top-class two-year-old Beckford, out of the Listed-placed Nashwan mare Whirly Bird, a maternal granddaughter of champion Inchmurrin.

Perhaps, then, he can outrun his price in the ring and on the bookmakers’ boards today.

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Goffs Orby
Martin StevensBloodstock journalist
Published on 18 September 2023Last updated 16:36, 18 September 2023