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A look at how Coolmore Stud went from a potato farm in Ireland to a world powerhouse of breeding in the horse racing industry

The Early Beginnings Of Coolmore

For almost a century, until 1945, the Coolmore farm had ploughed its’ own furrows as a provider of agricultural produce, potatoes in particular. And then along came a London Stockbroker and Irish landowner by the name of Vigors who bought the farm with a view to developing a bloodstock and breeding operation there. Vigors already owned an existing operation on land at neighbouring Tullamaine Castle but this did not offer the acreage necessary for such a dream and the wide open spaces of Coolmore were more suitable for the fulfillment of his plans. Shortly after the purchase, his son Tim, a decorated world war two fighter pilot joined the operation, becoming nominally the head of operations at the farm on the death of his father in 1968. Tim had learned “the trade”  working at Goffs, the world famous bloodstock agency based in Ireland, where he had acquired much of the basic knowledge and experience needed to lead the Coolmore stable to success.

Tim had already established his credentials as a major player in the bloodstock game, and had already made shrewd investments with the purchase of a number of winners of the British 2000 and 1000 guineas to stand at stud. Additionally, he had developed connections with American breeding circles in Kentucky which would help Coolmore to penetrate the American market in the years to come. Indeed, throughout the 1960’s and early 70’s Vigors continued to build his reputation as a breeder of considerable repute with horses sired by Coolmore stallions winning time and again. In 1973, he concluded two major deals which would lay the foundations on which today’s Coolmore Empire is built. Early in that year, the sale was agreed of 50% of the bloodstock operation to Vincent O’Brien – a well respected trainer of winning thoroughbreds in the European racing arena – thus providing an in-house trainer to turn the horses foaled at Coolmore into champions.

Building The Coolmore Bloodstock

His second coup was the purchase of the stallion Rheingold for £1million. Racing only as a two and three year old, Rheingold won eleven of his starts and was placed in four other outings. Over the period of some fifteen months, competing in Ireland, Britain and France, Rheingold brought home almost $1million in prize money and with such a winning blood line, expectations of prolific progeny were high. Sadly the expectations went unfulfilled and despite a number of successful offspring, Rheingold was sold in 1980 to a Japanese racing conglomerate where he would live out his days until his passing in 1990.  Nevertheless, in spite of such a disappointing conclusion to his career at stud, the income generated by his arrival and work at Coolmore generated much of the wherewithall required to begin its global expansion.

Expanding the Breeding Pool

At the same time as Rheingold was standing at stud in Coolmore, O’Brien also introduced two American-bred horses, which he had trained to be successful milers, Thatch and Home Guard, and, more importantly, brought in his son in law, John Magnier to manage the operation. Magnier who was already running a smaller breeding and training operation at nearby Ballydoyle, brought with him to stand at stud two established sprint winners, Green God and Deep River offering two additional characteristics to would-be breeders.

The final brick in the building of the Coolmore castle came in 1975, when Vigors and O’Brien announced that they were going into partnership with billionaire and racing fanatic, Robert Sangster, and that Magniers operation, Grange Studs would all be amalgamated into a single operation. Now Coolmore had Vigors’ experience and knowledge of bloodlines, the training skills of O’Brien and Magnier and the finance provided by Sangster with which to grow, and the new team immediately began to put their knowledge of the bloodstock industry to good us.

Hunting for Coolmore’s Global Talent

 Through the connections in North America the search began for potential winning thoroughbreds, in particular the offspring of a horse called Northern Dancer, a Canadian bred horse which had been the first from his country to win the Kentucky Derby and who would go on to win fourteen of his eighteen races before being retired to stud, with winnings of more than $500k accrued – a considerable sum in the mid sixties. However this sum was dwarfed by his earnings at stud as his efforts over the next fifteen years, when his prowess produced 645 named foals of which more than 400 went on to be winners. As a result he was twice named sire of the year in North America, and four times received a similar accolade in Europe. Two of the foals sired by Northern Dancer were brought to Ireland for training at Coolmore. These were Nijinski and the Minstrel, both of whom would prove to be not only outstanding race winners, but also excellent sires of future champions. So successful did the search for top sires in North America prove to be that, in 1985, Magnier took the decision to set up an operation in the USA at Versailles in Kentucky in the heart of raceland.

Coolmore American Expansion

Success followed success as winners from Ashford Farm, the name of the Coolmore operation in America, began to win race after race. Thunder Gulch was the first of their horses to top the listing of leading sires, after having led the field home in two major classics, the Kentucky Derby and Belmont stakes, during his time on the track. Moreover, Ashford had purchased the breeding rights to a horse by the name of American Pharaoh, which had previously won the Triple Crown of American racing and who would go on to sire many winners. 

Ashford also had perhaps the most expensive horse in terms of stud fees in Uncle Mo, a horse which was retired to stud after his three year old season. His fees for services are more than $100,000. 

Coolmore - An Australian Expansion

And so, with Coolmore Ireland long established and the Ashford stud also building a fearsome reputation for producing winners, a new “market” was sought out – Australia - and in 1996 Coolmore, Australia came into being at a stable with a long and successful history of producing winners. While the Coolmore operation with which we are familiar today started in earnest in 1975 when John Magnier joined forces with Robert Sangster and Vincent O’Brien, the stud farm now occupied by Coolmore Australia has a history which dates back much further than that. Settled in 1824 by George Bowman and established as ‘Arrowfield’, this property has a precedent of producing racehorses of the highest quality tracing back over 100 years. The 1920 Melbourne Cup 

winner Poitrel, champion racehorse and sire Heroic and high-class galloper Manfred are examples of some of the wonderful racehorses which were bred at the Jerrys Plains property by the Moses brothers during the first quarter of the 20th century.

Coolmore Australia was finally established at Jerrys Plains in 1996. Located on over 8,000 acres, including 5,000 of irrigated river flats and undulating paddocks, the pastures have been shown by agronomic studies to be amongst the highest quality in Australia. Careful management has ensured that the land continues to provide the optimal conditions for the growth and development of thoroughbreds of the highest quality. Those ‘raised and grazed’ at Coolmore’s stud farm include the likes of Fastnet Rock, Redoute’s Choice, Special Harmony, Sea Siren, Vancouver, Pride of Dubai and Winx.

Building the Coolmore Talent Pool Down Under

Fastnet Rock, for example, proved only marginally extraordinary in his career on the track, not winning any of his races as a two year old. As a three year old his performances improved considerably with success in eleven of his twelve outings, with six wins and four second placings. It was planned on the basis of these performances to take him to the UK to race in the Australian off-season as it were, but this plan did not work out due to travel sickness of all things, and he was returned to Australia and retired to to stud. This proved to be a master stroke since in 2007 he covered 257 mares, making him the second most prolific sire of the season. In 2008, he repeated this performance with 248 coverings at a stud fee of $82500. By 2013 this fee had risen to $275,000 making him the moste expensive stallion in the field. All told Fastnet Rock has sired more than seventeen Group one winners, including multiple winners such as Mosheen, Sea Siren and Atlantic Jewel. Indeed his progeny have proved their worth by winning 155 various stakes events, with his total of group one winning offspring now totalling 42.

As the early years of the twenty first century slipped by an unforeseen benefit of the international nature of Coolmore became apparent – that of the facility to  move horses  between the USA, Australia and the United Kingdom. Not only was a simple matter to move horses between continents to take part in major events, it also became increasingly more popular to move sires from country to country to perform their equine duties. Typical of this globe trotting group is the horse Choisir. Bred in Australia, he flitted between his home tracks and those in the UK chalking up winners in both sides of the world. With wins in the Golden Slipper Stakes and the Group 1 Caulfield Guineas, he was taken as a four year old to Britain to race in the major contests. His visit proved successful, with victories in the Ascot Jubilee Stakes and the July Cup at Newmarket, serving to underline his quality and breeding potential. 

These features were noticed by the Coolmore Stud and he was purchased two days after his triumph at Newmarket and retired to stud in Australia, being designated a shuttle stallion, who would travel between his home and the UK “doing his duty”. Choisir died prematurely in December 2021, having sired eleven individual Group One winners.

One of Choisir’s offspring, a horse by the name of Starspangled Banner, enjoyed a successful international racing career with wins in Australia in the Group one races, the Caulfield Guineas and the Oakleigh Plate, in the UK in the Golden Jubilee Stakes and, like his sire Choisir, in the July Cup at Newmarket, before going on to win at the Curragh in Ireland in the Renaissance Stakes in 2013. 

Shortly after this triumph he was acquired by the Coolmore stud to become one of their standing stallions. And at this point in his life, he encountered a problem few followers of the sport of kings even think about – he proved to be virtually important and sired only 63 foals from over 160 coverings. Only three of his named foals have proved to be winners – which simply demonstrates that breeding thoroughbreds can always be thwarted by ill-luck.

Coolmore - Continuing a Breeding Legacy

Despite this misfortune, the Coolmore operation looks set to continue its’ winning ways with new stallion-sires joining the stable recently. Typical of this is one of the most recent arrivals – Wootton Bassett – with victories in the UK and France as well as on  Australian track. Now Wootton Bassett is going to perform stud duties at Jerry Plains as well as joining the renowned band of shuttle stallions, siring winners on both sided of the globe. Often referred to as the Home of Champions, Coolmore Australia, as befits an operation with such a name, offers personalised attention from breeding to foaling with three purpose built foaling units with round-the clock supervision provided by a team of equine veterinary experts, and an on-site hospital -just in case. Facilities such as these almost exceed in quality those offered by hospital maternity wards. But such care is to be expected when each new arrival has the potential to earn many millions of dollars from exploits on the track and in the stables.  Coolmore has certainly come a long way from its’ humble beginnings and now – not a potato to be seen. 

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