Mshawish, an ace pinhooker and a breeze-up sale on the crest of a wave
A pinhooker’s ability to identify value in the market is crucial when it comes to making a success of a season. As challenging as that may be, the real kudos, however, must go to those who are not only willing to take a chance on a real bargain but transform it into an elite breeze-up prospect.
Johnny Collins, who generally offers 25 breezers a year through his Brown Island Stables in County Cork, Ireland, knows that feeling well. Only last month, he pulled off a tremendous coup when selling a More Than Ready colt for 300,000gns to Charlie Gordon-Watson at the Tattersalls Craven Sale. The colt had cost just $17,000 at Keeneland seven months before.
In the process, he became the most expensive breezer to sell out of the Brown Island academy, outselling the winning Stasios, a Street Boss colt who blossomed from a $22,000 yearling into a 280,000gns 2-year-old.
Pride of place, however, goes to the G1 winner Mshawish, who was picked up by Collins for just $10,000 at the 2011 Keeneland September Sale despite being a son of leading sire Medaglia d’Oro. Over four years later and the horse boasts earnings of nearly $2.5 million for Al Shaqab Racing.
In between, he also a provided Collins with a good payday at the 2012 Arqana May Saint-Cloud Breeze-Up when selling for €170,000 to Mandore International. Consequently, he is a valuable flagbearer for the sale, which overall is riding high off the back of a strong recent run that includes other G1-winning graduates Robin Of Navan and The Grey Gatsby. This year’s sale takes place at Deauville this Friday and Saturday (May 13-14).
Royal Ascot winners
Collins describes Mshawish as ‘by far the best horse’ that has been through his hands, but there have been plenty of other talented pinhooks, several of whom have kept his name to the fore this year.
More Aspen, a More Than Ready member of the Fall Aspen clan, yet a mere $5,000 yearling purchase, was G2-placed at Meydan in February. Hurricane Red, who was sold alongside Mshawish at Arqana in 2012 for €30,000, is a G3 winner in Sweden who landed the Listed Pramms Memorial at Jagersro on May 4.
Several Royal Ascot winners have also graduated out of Brown Island during its 12-year history of trading, notably the 2008 and 2011 G2 Norfolk Stakes winners South Central and Bapak Chinta.
Collins also trades in National Hunt stock and was represented in that sphere during the 2015-2016 season by high-class hurdler Petit Mouchoir, who has been G1-placed at both Aintree and Punchestown in the past six weeks.
One ongoing theme within Brown Island is the success garnered from buying out of Keeneland. Invariably still searching for stock at the bitter end of the marathon auction, it was out of the September Sale that Collins purchased More Aspen and Bapak Chinta in addition to Mshawish. South Central was purchased out of Fasig-Tipton, another happy hunting ground.
Sire power increasingly important
“A lot of my success in the ring and on the racetrack has been with American-breds,” says Collins, who got one of his first tastes of the American market when buying for fellow pinhooker Thomond O’Mara while riding as a freelance trackworker in Kentucky. “So the American yearling market is highly important to me.
“I’m basically looking for an athletic [type]. But, of late, the market has become a little bit more selective and sire power has become that more important. Sometimes those stallions who are obscure to the European market can work, especially at Goresbridge [May Breeze-up] where you have a proportion of buyers looking for dirt horses - it was there I sold a good Big Brown horse, Pullman Brown. I’ve had success with several of those types but we’re finding now more and more that the buyers need to really know the stallions.”
Take South Central as an example. The colt was by the disappointing Kentucky stallion Forest Camp, a dirt-orientated son of Deputy Minister who was later sold to stand in Korea, and the stallion’s only stakes winner in Europe.
Collins also enjoyed a memorable profit at Goresbridge last May as the vendor of a Birdstone colt that sold for €145,000. By a stallion who has had only a handful of runners in Europe, he was picked up through agent Chad Schumer for $13,000 as a yearling.
So why take a punt at $10,000 on the Medaglia d’Oro - Thunder Bayou yearling when he came up for sale in Book 2 at Keeneland in September 2011?
Memories of ‘babyish’ Mshawish
“He was very babyish when I bought him,” he says of Mshawish. “He was born in mid May and basically was just like a big foal.
“I have a very good head man, Liam O’Keeffe, and a brilliant team of staff at home. I wouldn’t be able to do it without them.
“This particular horse did very well over the winter, transformed in fact, and like all the good horses I’ve had, he had a great mind. He’s a tough horse and has just kept improving, like More Aspen. I remember he was a great horse to gallop.”
Mshawish was initially trained in France by Mikel Delzangles, for whom he won a listed race in Deauville and filled in the frame in the G1 Prix Jean Prat and G1 St. James’s Palace Stakes. He was transferred to Todd Pletcher in the U.S. midway through 2014 and has since become one of the most versatile horses in training, posting G1 victories in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap on turf and Donn Handicap on dirt. He is set to stand at Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky once his racing days are over.
Collins echoes the thoughts of many of his peers when it comes to the current breeze-up season, citing the selective nature of trade as the backdrop to the headline lots.
“Trade is select,” he says. “Having said that, I don’t think there’s been as much money for those horses perceived as the right ones.
American buyers expected at Deauville
“You have to be within a certain percentage of the times [breezing] to be well done. But I don’t think timing is the be-all-and-end-all and ours aren’t drilled at home. I’d rather see them gallop out well.”
There is hope that plenty of top-end money will transfer to Arqana for the May Sale, staged for the first time alongside Sunday’s French Guineas meeting at Deauville as Longchamp undergoes renovation.
It is one of the more select sales on the breeze-up calendar, and this year the vibes are strong that a number of American buyers will make the trip to Normandy to complement the usual strong buying bench.
Collins will send five horses to the sale, among them three highly regarded American-breds. It was at this sale last year that Collins sold a Lonhro colt - a $17,000 pinhook through the BBA Ireland - for €260,000 to Al Shaqab Racing. He returns this year with a pair of youngsters by Darley’s champion Australian stallion, a former shuttler to Kentucky, in lot 71, a filly out of Royal Crystal from the immediate family of multiple G1 winner Blind Luck, and 105, a colt out of listed winner War Tigress.
The late Claiborne Farm stallion Arch, meanwhile, is represented by lot 52, a colt out of listed winner Much Obliged.
The quintet is completed by a Lope De Vega filly (lot 4) and a son of German stallion Santiago, who sired G3 winner Chopin out of a first crop of nine. Catalogued as lot 32, he is a half-brother to G1 German Derby winner Kamsin.