The beating heart of Bansha House set fair for another blockbuster sales season
James Thomas visits the base of leading consignor Con Marnane
Whichever way you slice it, the breeze-up sales revolve around time. For better or for worse, it is the buyers' prerogative to judge embryonic racehorses on the time they clock when put through their paces during the breeze. And for those selling, they face a race against time to have their stock fully equipped to meet the rigours of the sales, all while performing a high-stakes balancing act during the preparatory period.
If consignors push their horses too hard at home, there is every chance they will ruin them for good. But don't push hard enough and they risk being left behind in a marketplace in which there are no second chances.
With the curtain about to come up on the 2018 European breeze-up season, the pressure is most definitely on. Not that you would know it when speaking to leading vendor Con Marnane of Bansha House Stables.
Last year gave Marnane plenty of reasons to smile. He sold the highest-rated breeze-up graduate in Europe, Gimcrack Stakes winner Sands Of Mali, and also struck gold away from his breeze-up horses when Different League - an €8,000 pinhook who failed to make her reserve as a yearling - proved herself a filly straight out of the top drawer before being sold to Coolmore and Peter Brant for 1,500,000gns.
But it is the horses that Marnane is about to sell, as opposed to those he has already parted with, that have put a pep in his step at present.
"I can't wait for the breeze-ups to start," he says enthusiastically. "We've got some very nice horses this year that are going to win plenty of races. There's a Group 1 horse or two in there, I'm sure of it."
With a track record that includes having sold the likes of Fleeting Spirit, Rio De La Plata, Robin Of Navan and Amadeus Wolf, few would argue with Marnane's assertion. And after a morning spent seeing how the Bansha House team operate, it's hard not to share in his confidence.
The Bansha House way
Marnane's current squad of breezers numbers somewhere in the region of 50, so his 14 full-time staff are well accustomed to putting their collective shoulder to the wheel in the name of readying this year's recruits. The Bansha House process has been honed over 20 years, and the result is an operation that now runs with the kind of precision and efficiency that would turn most Swiss watches green with envy.
"We started off with small numbers, but I've worked in America and Australia and have seen how they do things," Marnane says of the Bansha House routine. "I used to ride 35 a day in America, and we can't afford to have staff riding horses for an hour a day. But we do have some top-class riders and most of them have been with me a long time now."
No sooner has first lot returned to base to be untacked, washed down and loaded onto a horse walker to cool off, then the team are striding with purpose towards the next stable to begin the process all over again. Door open, tack on, pull out, leg up and on their merry way.
The first port of call for each lot is a trotting ring dotted with traffic cones wrapped in silver foil, an addition Marnane says is to mimic the glare given off by the lasers from the glut of timing equipment present at breeze-up sales nowadays.
Even during the warm up, it's clear to see that no stone is going to be left unturned.
Just about every step each horse takes is under the ever-watchful eyes of Marnane or his long-serving head lad Mike O'Brien, who has not only overseen the development of countless Bansha House graduates, but who also can count breeding champion miler Ribchester among his professional achievements.
Once warm ups are complete, the string enthusiastically exits the trotting area and heads away from the main yard towards the 7f gallop that rises up out of the Tipperary turf opposite the peak of Galtymore mountain.
"Wait for me at the top," Marnane shouts across to the riders from the driver's seat of his jeep, before adding: "And have a nice time!"
The horses set off upsides in pairs, working through their paces before taking a sweeping left hand turn and striding out up the hill.
Colts by Scat Daddy and Slade Power, Kyllachy and Kodiac and Siyouni and Pivotal come sailing by under tight reins as Marnane points out that no serious questions are being asked of these horses yet, and nor are they likely to be until they head to the sales.
"Other people might train them to be two furlong superstars," he says. "But we train ours properly. They're relaxed and they're happy. They'll never go faster for us than they will on the day of the breeze."
After the final pair have come gliding by Marnane heads to the top of the gallop where the string are circling to deliver their debrief.
There's a palpable buzz amongst the team, no doubt fueled by the potential superstars they have just put through their paces, and it is amid a healthy supply of joshing and wisecracking that the riders relay their feedback to the boss before heading back down the gallop and back to the yard to begin the process all over again.
But the preparatory work doesn't end on the gallops, as Marnane has installed all manner of apparatus to keep his horses hale and hearty.
A swimming pool, a specially imported treadmill and a water walker may sound like they belong in the spa at a boutique hotel, but they are, in fact, among the pieces of equipment on hand to ensure Marnane's breezers want for nothing.
"We've just built these things up over the years," Marnane says modestly. "We've never wanted to stop progressing. Even when the recession came we had the same number of horses. It's all we know."
The variety of gallops and the array of gadgets at Marnane's disposal are undoubtedly vital tools in getting his horses fit. But if there is a secret to the success of Bansha House and its graduates - among which are 22 Group 1-calibre animals - it may lie in something altogether less tangible.
While the pressure of the breeze-up season - with literally millions of pounds of investment on the line at each sale - may get to some, Marnane remains relentlessly upbeat. There are positive projections about just about each and every one of his horses. His glass isn't half full, it's on the verge of overflowing.
Moreover, there seems to be a cyclical nature to Marnane's belief, with his own confidence absorbed by his staff, his staff's confidence transmitted to the horses, who in turn consolidate Marnane's convictions.
Of course, not all of Bansha House's breezers will go on to be superstars, but there's no downside to treating them all as such at this stage.
Young thoroughbreds can be notoriously tricky to handle, but under the guidance of Marnane and his team of experts, the Bansha House juveniles go through their routine like true pros. Save for the odd excitable buck here or the occasional giddy step there, you would not guess as to what an early stage of their development these horses are at.
"I'm a psychologist!" chuckles Marnane when asked how he keeps his team - equine and human - happy, before adding rather more seriously: "I've worked in a good few yards myself so I know how important it is to have happy staff. And I know that it's nearly twice as important to have happy horses."
If a happier horse is a faster horse, then there are sure to be a few bullets among the drafts from Bansha House this year.
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