How Dwyer's operation keeps on producing quality horses for the sales

Strath Burn - sold at the Tattersalls Craven Sale in 2014 - winning the G3 Hackwood Stakes at Newbury last July. Photo: Steven Cargill/

How Dwyer's operation keeps on producing quality horses for the sales

A glance at the Tattersalls roll of honour reveals the range and quality of horses that have advertised the breeze-up sales to good effect in recent years. For instance, at one end is the progressive sprinter Strath Burn, last year’s G3 Hackwood Stakes winner, who later ran a cracker against older horses when going down by a short head in the Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock. At the other is last season’s Ascot Gold Cup winner, Trip To Paris.

They might be two very different horses but both boast an early association with vendor Mark Dwyer, of Oaks Farm Stables; Dwyer sold Strath Burn for 62,000gns to Stephen Hillen at the 2014 renewal of the Tattersalls Craven Sale and was also involved with Trip To Paris, who was sold by Dwyer’s long-time business partner Willie Browne for 20,000gns to Federico Barberini at the 2013 Tattersalls Guineas Sale.

Dwyer and Browne, whose Mocklershill is perennially among the leading Craven consignors, have partnered on a host of high-class performers down the years, several of whom have graduated out of Oaks Farm Stables.

Strath Burn, who was owned by Paul Chapman at the time of his sale, is the latest feather in the cap for the Malton-based operation, which also counts Gimcrack Stakes winner Sir Gerry, successful sire Captain Rio and David Elsworth’s promising 3-year-old Justice Law among its breeze-up flagbearers.

Dwyer turned his hand to trading horses full time following a high-flying career as a jump jockey that was underpinned by a formidable partnership with trainer Jimmy Fitzgerald, for whom he partnered Forgive’n Forget to win the 1985 Cheltenham Gold Cup. Eight years later, he tasted Gold Cup success again when steering Jodami to victory in the iconic contest for Peter Beaumont.

Successful switch

By the time injury forced Dwyer to hang up his boots in December 1997, Oaks Farm Stables was already up and running, and with it a successful switch to pinhooking lay waiting.

“I had been a Flat jockey and that never really left me,” says Dwyer, who was a leading apprentice on the Flat in Ireland before switching codes. “I had traded a bit when I was riding, buying and selling, and it went from there. I started breezing in the early 1990s. I was lighter then, so I’d ride them in the breeze-up myself.

“Then I became associated with Willie Browne - to be competitive in the foal market, we felt we had to pool our money to buy the better foals, and from there we graduated to buying yearlings to sell as 2-year-olds.”

Today, Oaks Farm maintains a strong presence on the British and Irish sales circuit, not just as a breeze-up consignor but through the sale of yearlings, a sphere in which they have been represented by the likes of St Nicholas Abbey and Bushranger.

At home, Dwyer is supported by a team that includes his daughter Catherine, who rides out every day, and head man Guy Brewer, Yorkshire’s point-to-point champion, who joined the operation this year following spells as an assistant to trainers David O’Meara and Brian Ellison.

Farm facilities, meanwhile, include 30 purpose-built stables and 50 acres of post and rail paddocks. Breezers gain their early education through the use of a six-furlong sand and fibre gallop.

Difficult autumn

“We had a sand track to begin with,” says Dwyer. “Then we moved to woodchip and now we use a sand and fibre gallop.

“We also have access to a four-furlong grass gallop, which is very useful as it gives them something else to look at. And we’ll take them up to Malton a couple of times before the sale, give them a spin in the horsebox.”

Yearling hunting begins early in the sales season at Arqana in August and takes in all the major sales in Europe and North America from then onwards. While Dwyer has been involved in ‘upwards of 30 horses’ in previous years, a difficult autumn of buying has contributed to a drop in breeze-up numbers for 2016.

“In previous years, I’ve had shares in upwards of 30 split with Willie [Browne],” he says. “Through one thing or another we’ve cut back a bit this year and are about a third down in numbers. It was very hard to buy yearlings last year, to buy the ones we wanted anyway.

“We do all the yearling sales. Deauville is the first stop, not an easy place to buy but we’ve always managed to come away with one or two. My job at Doncaster [Premier Sale] is selling the yearlings through Oaks Farm, so Willie does all the looking and if I get a chance, I’ll look over the short list.

“Conformation and movement are the two most important things for us. Sire power is important but we’ll forgive a lot on pedigree. We try not to get too tied up with first-season sires but invariably we’ll have one or two, which can work in your favour.”

Increasingly reliant on times

Strath Burn, who is from the first crop of Equiano, arrived at Oaks Farm six weeks before his date at the Craven Sale. Highly tried throughout his career by Charlie Hills, the colt was second in the Prix Robert Papin and Cornwallis Stakes as a 2-year-old and trained on well last year to land a deserved Group victory in the Hackwood Stakes before his near miss in the Betfred Sprint Cup.

Justice Law, meanwhile, remains an interesting prospect for David Elsworth. The son of Acclamation, a £100,000 purchase by his trainer at last year’s DBS Breeze-up Sale, defeated the highly regarded Tashweeq when breaking his maiden at Newbury last August.

“Strath Burn was always a straightforward type of horse,” says Dwyer. “We always liked him but it was hard to say that he’d end up where he has. He was close to winning his Group 1 last year and hopefully it’ll happen this season.

“We liked Justice Law all along. David came up here to see him and liked him. We knew he would be better with time but he still breezed well.”

The breeze-up market has become increasingly reliant on times in recent years - while not everyone will judge a horse on its breeze-up time, it is striking how many different sets of clocking equipment are in evidence at the breezes. However, buyers head to the Oaks Farm draft in the knowledge that their 2-year-olds have not been gunned to produce their fastest time on that particular day. Clocking is an aspect of the business that Dwyer is becoming increasingly concerned with, and he remains wary of any plans by the sale companies to introduce official times.

Imposing individual

“We are concerned about it from the point of view of the welfare of the horse,” he says. “If we’re totally tied into times, we’re on a back foot because I’m not physically going to get a horse to do a fast time in March or April if they’re not ready for it. If we have a fast time, it’s because the horse is doing it naturally. I don’t like the idea of trying to get them to do 21 seconds if they’re not ready.

“It’s a market that is getting trickier because it’s one that can be influenced by times. It’s become more difficult to move the lesser horses on. Take Trip To Paris as an example. We knew he was a nice horse at home but he wasn’t a precocious type and couldn’t go quick.”

Dwyer has a select draft of two colts by Invincible Spirit and Holy Roman Emperor catalogued to this year’s Craven Sale. The Invincible Spirit colt, offered as lot 47 as the property of Highbank Stud, is bred to be fast as a son of Hilary Needler Trophy heroine Loch Jipp, a daughter of Belong To Me from the family of G1 winner Willa On The Move. The Holy Roman Emperor colt, lot 68, is a half-brother to two winners and from the further family of G1 winners Broken Vow and Forever Together.

“We’ve had a very good run with them this year because we haven’t been held up with the weather,” says Dwyer. “We like the Invincible Spirit a lot. He’s developed into a big, imposing individual with a lot of power. He has a great constitution.”

Further ahead, Dwyer is also looking forward to unleashing a Redoute’s Choice filly at the Arqana Breeze-up Sale, which will be held this year at Deauville on May 14.

“We think she is particularly nice,” he says of the filly who is out of Listed winner Sunday Nectar. “She’s going well and wants to please - we like her attitude a lot.”  

Oaks Farm maybe down on numbers this year but quality remains a key ingredient of Dwyer’s draft. With Strath Burn and Justice Law also on the books, further success in 2016 isn’t likely to be far away.

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