12 March 2018

Pat Connell is no stranger to success in flat racing, having bred Group 1 winners and been involved in successful stallion operations during his time in New Zealand. Upon his return to Ireland, he set up Peria Stud in County Waterford and is hoping for his first Cheltenham Festival success with Getabird (IRE), who is favourite for Tuesday’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.


What is your background in racing?

I rode as a kid and worked in Rathbarry Stud for a number of years before moving to New Zealand. I lived there for 16 to 17 years and owned a share in Volksraad, who was New Zealand champion sire eight times*.

I returned to Ireland and bought a farm in Tallow, while also working at Rathbarry again. I now run our own farm with my wife and daughters, as well as running Al Eile Stud for Michael Ryan.

*Pat Connell was one of four members of the partnership, who purchased the well-bred Volksraad for 21,000gns through BBA Ireland, with the assistance of Liam Cashman. Starting off at a fee of $2,500, the son of Green Desert would be crowned champion sire eight times, a modern day New Zealand record. Having died in 2011 at the age of 24, he is now a successful broodmare sire, including through Able Friend.


You must be very excited to see Getabird (IRE) going into the Cheltenham Festival with such high expectations. How do you fancy his chances?

There’s a great thrill in having a runner at Cheltenham and to have the favourite of a race like the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is a brilliant buzz- that’s what we do this for. He’s obviously a very good horse, but after that, all we can do is be hopeful and hope luck is on our side. I don’t like to get carried away!

What would breeding a Cheltenham Festival winner mean to you?

I’ve bred five individual Group 1 winners on the flat, but I would trade any of those for a Cheltenham Festival winner. My heart is in the national hunt, but it’s tough to make money from breeding national hunt horses alone and that’s why I also breed flat horses. It’s harder to breed good national hunt horses as they have to get to the track and then stay sound. 


Regardless of what happens, he’s already impressed. How did he strike you in his early years?

He was a grand foal- correct and well-balanced, with a good temperament. He very much takes after his dam, as all her stock do. As he was the first foal out of the mare and by a young sire, I didn’t want to put him in a sale as he wouldn’t make his price, so when Walter Connors bought a bunch of foals off me, I asked him to include Getabird (IRE). 

I knew he would be well looked after with Walter and Una- they do a great job and that’s been key to Getabird (IRE)’s success- he’s been with all the right people from day one. From Walter and Una, to Colin Bowe, and Willie Mullins… they’re some of the best in this game.


You bought the dam of Getabird (IRE) privately for €5,000 at the Tattersalls Ireland Derby Sale. What did you see in her?

I’ve always loved that family- it’s the family of Long Run, and she was stabled beside me at the sale by a man I knew- Paul Giles. She was a good, strong mare and so, he told us the price. We broke her and she had loads of ability. Unfortunately, she was injured in her point-to-point and looking back, I should have kept her for the racetrack. 

I think it’s important for us to race more national hunt fillies and retire proven mares to stud. The ITBA and race planners have done great work in increasing opportunities and prize money, and I believe breeders should take advantage. People may look at the dam of Getabird (IRE) and think different, but the horses she was working with showed us she was talented.



What other progeny of Fern Bird (IRE)’s do we have to look forward to?

I have a full-sister to Getabird (IRE) and I sold a very nice Ocovango colt foal to Walter Connors at the end of last year. Both look very like their dam, as Getabird (IRE) did, and she’s currently in foal to Getaway. She’s due to foal in the next week and we’ll make a decision then on where she’ll go, but I’ll imagine we’ll stick with the same formula. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!


You sent her to Getaway in his first season and he’s had a fantastic start. What drew you to him?

I’ve always liked Getaway, both his form and as a type. Physically and mentally, he suited the mare and he was good value. I sent five mares to him in his first season and got five colts- I’ve been very lucky with him. 

We are very lucky with the exceptionally high calibre of national hunt stallions we have in Ireland. In fairness to the stallion farms, from Grange, to Rathbarry, to the Beeches, to Boardsmill- they put up the money and buy bloody good horses. We send our mares to Group 1 winners and there is no comparison between their form and those of the stallions standing in France, for instance. I don’t think stallion farms always get the credit they deserve.


What other young sire is exciting you at the moment?

I think Leading Light (Grange Stud) has a good chance- he had good foals. I also think Karpino (Glenview Stud) looks interesting.


Do you think it’s our stallions that make Irish horses the best in the world?

Ireland has always had a high standard of bloodstock, both mares and stallions. But the people are very important- we’ve always had top-class people continuously raising standards, world leaders like John Magnier, Vincent O’Brien, Liam Cashman, Jim Bolger, etc. 

I do worry about continuing this. We have to keep raising standards, and with our current staff crisis, that is hard to do. Sourcing staff isn’t necessarily the problem; it’s maintaining the high calibre of staff. 

The number of colleges and their degrees has increased over the years, but I think our old farm apprenticeship system was the best foundation. It lasted three years and included placements with the best farms, covering all topics, including grassland management. 

At the end of the day, horses need to be mucked out and the work has to be done. We need to educate them on practical work, providing them with placements at the right places, giving direction and nurturing those with the ambition to succeed.

As a shrewd trainer once told an ex-jockey who was becoming a trainer, “What would you know about training? You’ve never had to look down in your life!” Hopefully everything works out. You can’t learn what we do in a book. There’s a huge satisfaction in breeding winners and we’re very lucky to work at what we love.

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