(This is Part I of a two-part post on Coolmore Stud)
John Magnier’s Coolmore Stud near Fethard in Co. Tipperary, Ireland, is the most successful stallion operation in the world because it has always managed to come up with a big horse or two or three during good, bad, and uneventful times. The stud’s physical presence extends to North America, at satellite farm Ashford Stud in Kentucky, and to Australia, at its facility in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, but its influence spans the globe in both hemispheres, including South America, South Africa, and Japan — and really anywhere racing is conducted. Would you believe the 2008 Nanoli Stud Pune Derby winner in India was a daughter of top Coolmore stallion Montjeu? How about the ridiculous number of Coolmore-owned (and co-owned) Group 1 winners sent out from Ballydoyle by Aidan O’Brien? And now in the US there’s 3-year-old Dunkirk planning an assault on the 2009 Kentucky Derby via the Florida Derby against what looks like a very deep crop of 3-year-olds. World economic gloom and doom aside — the World Bank expects the global economy to shrink for the first time since WW II — Coolmore keeps ticking, and it is positioned with a deep bench of stallions and racehorses and sharp management and creative advertising to weather the current economic storm.
For years Sadler’s Wells was the marquee stallion at Coolmore and the toast of Europe, followed closely by the outstanding Australian/European sire Danehill, but like any successful corporate enterprise or sports franchise the stud had their successors waiting in the wings, and now, with the retirement of Sadler’s Wells and the death in 2003 of Danehill, the next generation of Coolmore super sires has emerged: Galileo and Montjeu, both sons of Sadler’s Wells; Danehill Dancer, a son of Danehill; Giant’s Causeway, a son of Storm Cat, in the US; and Encosta de Lago, a son of Fairy King— Sadler’s Wells’ full brother– Down Under. Galileo, Danehill Dancer, and Montjeu led the general sire list in Great Britain and Ireland in 2008 by prize money. Galileo’s son New Approach won the 2008 Epsom Derby, Danehill Dancer led the 2-year-old sire list, and Sadler’s Well’s daughters kept him on top of the broodmare sires list, with Danehill in third.
The emergence of the new big three in Ireland and the stud fees they generate couldn’t have come at a better time for Coolmore because 2008 packed a double wallop for the Irish stud. First off, the “protection” that Irish stud farms enjoyed for some 37 years from the government – no taxes on stud fee income – came to an end after the European Commission ruled it illegal after a four-year inquiry, brought about by initial complaints from Britain and Italy. The EC ruled it as unfair “state aid.” The net effect is that Coolmore – and other Irish studs – will now not have tax-exempt income to offset a bad economy, but because Coolmore has established the top three young stallions on the continent they are guaranteed a solid stream of high-priced stud fee income over the next few years. In 2009, for example, it’s estimated that Galileo stands for €150,000, Montjeu for €125,000, and Danehill Dancer for €115,000, even though all three are officially listed at private fees.
Back to the economy, the worldwide recession has hit Ireland hard. Sparked by the US sub-prime mortgage debacle and stock market crash that’s led to credit squeezes, the housing market and construction industry in Ireland has collapsed. The forecasts for the Irish economy in 2009 and 2010 are uniformly gloomy, and this will no doubt affect Coolmore’s business – the big three horses, aside. The stud has already made the necessary adjustments, however, by cutting stud fees by an average of about 30 percent from last year’s fees, according to published reports.
But Coolmore, more than any other stud farm on the continent, is positioned to make the best of bad times. For one, its sheer size – the farm stands 21 stallions in Ireland – and variety of young horses and proven older stallions, including national hunt horses, will draw business, and the farm’s penchant for cutting deals and offering a variety of payment schemes, from payments against sales proceeds to foal and mare shares, will keep stallions busy.
Its strategy of diversification on three continents and its active and vigorous participation in the shuttle business also will allow Coolmore growth options during a period when most farms will be happy minimizing losses.
The facility in the Hunter Valley will stand 17 stallions in 2009, headed by the incredible Encosta de Lago (Aus$302,500 stud fee in 2008), the leading sire of Group 1 winners in the world in 2008, with eight. A son of Sadler’s Wells full brother Fairy King, Encosta de Lago is the sire of champion sprinter Sacred Kingdom, winner of the Group 1 Chairman’s Sprint Prize in Hong Kong in 2008 and an unlucky loser in 2009 when third to Dim Sum. In 2008, Sacred Kingdom was named the top turf sprinter in the world at 123 pounds on the World Thoroughbred Rankings.
The Australian facility also allows selected Coolmore stallions from Ireland and Kentucky to do double duty – and make twice the money – on Southern Hemisphere breeding time, and this year the shuttlers will include such as Danehill Dancer, Dylan Thomas, Rock of Gibraltar, and Tale of the Cat, among others.