Colm Santry

published: 06 Jul 2015 in Movers and Shakers

COOLMORE Stud’s nominations and sales manager Colm Santry has led a fascinating and fulfilling life in the world of bloodstock. He has experienced every part of the industry and now lives his life travelling between sales, race meetings and stud farms with a mobile phone that scarcely stops ringing.

Born in Cork, Ireland into a family who had been involved in horses for generations, the eldest of five children it was inevitable that Colm would have a career in the equine world.

Q: So what involvement exactly did your family have with horses?

A: “My grandfather was actually a trainer and lots of my uncles and cousins are or were involved in horses in some way, shape or form. My uncle Tony is President of the Show Jumping Association of Ireland, currently serving his third term in that role. My sister Jean was an All-Ireland Champion Show Rider for two years in her younger days and my mum Carmel is a judge at all the major show classes across the south of Ireland. I began riding at an early age and spent most of my childhood in the saddle.” Cross country running was another hobby where he represented Ireland.

  Show jumping would take up much of the spring, summer and autumn and then in the winter, the focus switched to fox hunting. At that time of the year, a family outing consisted of a trip to the local point-to-point (an amateur jump meeting) on a Sunday.

  “That really is all we did growing up, I was around horses all the time. It was a very good grounding for the industry I am in now. I suppose you could say we just lived and breathed horses.”

Q: There was never really any other job you wanted to do, other than be involved with horses?

A: “From a very young age I made up my mind that I would commit my life to being in the horse business, just like a lot of my family. I was very lucky I had spent so much time around horses when I was younger and it was a natural progression to work in the industry.I think there is a big difference between people who have been brought up around horses and have that ‘understanding’ that it really is a seven-day a week job and those who haven’t. In many ways it’s something of a vocation, long hours and very hard work.”

Q: You first went to work for Coolmore Stud in Ireland 30 years ago, but you’ve been to different countries since then haven’t you?

A: “After six months at Coolmore in Ireland, Christy Grassick sent me to work at Cambridge Stud in New Zealand. I work in a fantastic industry in which young people are actively encouraged and given the opportunity to travel and learn, to see how people do things in other countries. This was my opportunity and I grabbed it with both hands. When I left Ireland I had never been on a plane in my life, so flying out of Cork heading for New Zealand was quitean experience!

  “I went to work for Sir Patrick Hogan for two seven-month stints. I’d go out there in July and work through to February. I’d work at the yearling sales at the end of each stint and actually that first year I was there was the for opening of New Zealand Bloodstock’s Karaka complex.

  “Cambridge had three main stallions back then with Sir Tristram (IRE), who was a major success story of course, Danzatore (CAN) and Gold and Ivory (USA). I can still remember walking into Danzatore’s box having been at Cambridge for just a week. Sir Patrick asked me put a bridle on him and take him to his paddock. I was very young, so to be given the responsibility of handling a stallion at that stage was a huge thrill. I have great admiration for Sir Patrick and his achievements. I’ll always be very appreciative of the opportunity he gave me. I guess he had a bit of an Irish traveller in him also.

  “Cambridge Stud was also responsible for my first trip to Australia. The stud had a yearling draft, which I accompanied to a sale on the Gold Coast during the second season I was there. I guess that would be about 27 or 28 years ago now and I can still remember flying into Brisbane airport.

  “I then returned to Coolmore for a season, before travelling to Coolmore’s Ashford Stud in Kentucky for two years. There were great sires there at the time like Storm Bird, Assert, Woodman and El Gran Senor, who is one of my all-time favourites. ‘Senor’ was the first horse I ever covered a mare with at Coolmore, which was particularly special considering I grew up watching him as a racehorse.

  “After my two years at Ashford I teamed up with Michael Kirwan and Peter O’Brien on the shuttle stallion flights to Australia. We have been friends for 30 years, having met at Coolmore. I’d like to say that I taught them all they know, but that probably wouldn’t be entirely true! We shared some great times together in those early days, working with the likes of Danehill, Bluebird, Last Tycoon, Scenic, Fairy King and Al Hareb. Each of us enjoyed our time in Australia so much that we all made Australia our home.

  “One great early memory is when we got together along with a large Irish contingent to witness Vintage Crop’s Melbourne Cup win. I headed to Baramul in the Widden Valley with Al Hareb. I lived there for three breeding seasons, with Al Hareb shuttling between Australia and Ireland.

  “While I probably didn’t realise it at the time, I was essentially living through the revolution of the bloodstock industry which was being driven by John Magnier. He is a visionary and foresaw the capacity of the bloodstock industry to become a global one before anyone else. The international nature of the industry that we are part of today is due in no small part to his dynamic approach.

  “The fact that Coolmore, decades later, is still the world leader of this global industry is testament to Mr Magnier and the people like Michael Kirwan to whom he has entrusted responsibility for the growth of the business in Australia over the past 20 years. Really I’m privileged to be a part of it and it’s exciting to look forward to a bright future in Australia with Tom Magnier leading the way for us.”

Q: You’ve actually experienced a few different facets of the thoroughbred industry haven’t you?

A: “I experienced the stud work early on, but also I held an amateur jockey’s licence here in Australia for a while and rode quite a bit of track work before work in Sydney. I used to gallop Melbourne Cup winner Might and Power, who was very aggressive in his trackwork and I’d have to strain every sinew to hold on to him, whilst riding track work for Bart and Anthony Cummings.

  “I had great fun riding in amateur and picnic races around NSW. One day at Yass picnics, I had three rides for my great friend and trainer, the late Tony Wildman, and rode three seconds. Tony came away from the meeting with a big trophy for the best training performance and I came away with, well, three seconds! Riding a winner for the Nivison family at the Walcha races was also a great thrill. I was a popular man in Walcha that day!”

Q: You’ve been lucky enough to work in different countries around the world. I guess things are not always done the same way?

A: “In Europe, owing to the poor weather at certain times of the year, young horses can spend quite a bit of time inside, which is very different to here in Australia. Mares are foaled outside at Coolmore Australia and healthy foals won’t have any reason to spend time in a box until they are weaned, given the weather, so it’s a fantastic environment for a young horse to grow up in. Ireland is a great country to rear horses, but I believe Australia is probably the best country in the world to breed tough, sound horses.

  “If you take Coolmore’s farm at Jerrys Plains for example, the conditions are perfect, the weather, the configuration of the land along with its nutritional benefits, the access to water. It’s a genuinely exceptional environment for raising quality racehorses and that is reflected in the fact that high class racehorses are nurtured and developed on the farm each and every year.

  “I’m sure the sun and the heat are significant factors, they stimulate growth and that is in evidence with the horses bred here. It extends beyond just Coolmore, with Australian-bred horses consistently shining on the world stage for many years now. It is a fantastic endorsement of the work of the Australian breeding public and Australia as a whole as an environment for raising quality racehorses.”

Q: With the quality of horseflesh you have been lucky enough to work with, who are a couple who stand out in your mind?

A: “When I look back and think about it, to have worked everyday with both Sadler’s Wells and Danehill in Ireland, was an honour. I know they were champions and well bred, but they really both had incredible temperaments and I can still see it in their sons and grandsons today. It’s in evidence in the likes of So You Think, Fastnet Rock, Adelaide, Zoffany and others; they have that same wonderful temperament which is necessary to deal with the pressure of racing and training here in Australia.

  “You really need that in a racehorse here, even more so than America or Europe. There are hundreds of horses out on the track in the morning and they are going every direction, it’s very full-on here and the horses are under a lot of pressure mentally and physically from an early age.”

Q: There would be a huge difference in training methods between Australia and other countries wouldn’t there?

A: “Track work here is very different to other countries, especially Ireland and Europe. Here the horses go out on the track and are exercised for a short period. They have a canter and gallop around before going back in their box, the trainer might not have even seen them in the dark and many of the horses are put on walking machines in the afternoon.

  “In Ireland or Europe in general it’s very different. The exercise process is more drawn out and there is greater variety to the exercise. You might see a horse under saddle for up to 90 minutes and that affords a trainer a huge amount of observation time to really get to know a horse. That’s obviously one of the huge benefits in that part of the world to not training at an active racecourse. There are very few time constraints on how trainers go about conditioning the horses as compared with Australia.”

Q: I understand you had a lot of success off the track with that great horse Juggler, who won many Gr.1 races and represented Australia in the Dubai World Cup?

A: “When Juggler retired from racing, sound, he was basically just standing around in a paddock, bored.

He was kindly given to me to ride by Peter and Helen Horwitz. For a couple of years we hunted together and I have to say he is one of the best horses I have ever ridden. Juggler had a great temperament for eventing with a very easy-going nature and was a very brave, talented horse. He was a clean-winded horse who did everything very easily. I could never get him off the bridle and he jumped for fun. I evented him for four years and we actually made it to international level. He’s now 25 years-old and living out his days in the Hunter Valley as a nanny.”

Q: Getting back to things at Coolmore, you have some exciting times ahead there?

A: “Coolmore recently purchased Vancouver and Pride of Dubai, high class colts both bred at the farm, with a view to them eventually retiring to join our roster in Australia. Earlier in the year, Coolmore also purchased Champion 2YO American Pharoah in the US, who has since gone on to become the first horse in 37 years to win the US Triple Crown. Naturally I’d love to see him join our roster in Australia one day as I believe he would be very popular here.

  “More immediately we have the 2014 Cox Plate winner Adelaide (by Galileo) who debuts at stud this year. He’s a most exciting proposition as horses with his ability don’t come around very often. It goes without saying that we have a host of other exciting young prospects, including So You Think, Pierro and Declaration of War.

  “Gleneagles is another young horse in Europe to keep an eye out for. He recently won the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot for Coolmore and looks to be the dominant three year-old up there this season. He’s an amazingly well-bred colt being by Galileo and out of a sister to Giant’s Causeway.”

Q: I guess you don’t have a lot of time for anything much outside of your job, it would be very full-on but you would also meet a lot of great people?

A: “My life really does revolve around Coolmore and my clients, most of whom have become my friends. I have some wonderful clients and I take great satisfaction in seeing them do well. Greg and Jenny White from South Australia, the owners of Fenway, are a great example. Fenway, a High Chaparral filly, was the first yearling I purchased for them at the Inglis Easter Sale and she has since won the Vinery-Gr.1 at Rosehill, which was a great thrill. I also purchased Gr.1-winning fillies Sacred Choice at Magic Millions and Costa Viva at Melbourne Premier. I don’t purchase a lot of yearlings, however I have tried to learn as much as I can about buying Gr.1 horses from Dr Demi O’Byrne, who I regard as the finest judge of horseflesh around, his record is spectacular. Luckily for me, he’s been good enough to tolerate my company around the sales grounds for many years and it’s been of great benefit to me identifying racehorses.

  “Michael Crismale, chairman of the ATC, and his wife Gail are also wonderful clients and friends, they are like family to me. I introduced Michael to racehorse ownership when they purchased black type filly Shalang, and some of the other horses I have been instrumental in securing for him include stakes winners Shania Dane, Tavarnelle, Langborghini, Mentality and Gliding.

  “My longest-standing clients would be Gold Coast-based Dr Denis and Claire O’Brien. We have been together from the start. We first met when I was working with Al Hareb at Baramul Stud and we recently sold an Encosta de Lago filly for them through the Coolmore draft at Easter for $460,000. Kerry and Jenny Pooley have been with me since Baramul days also and we’ve enjoyed a great relationship on and off the race track.

  “Away from Coolmore I do indulge in some fly-fishing when in Ireland and of course I still enjoy riding. My four year-old daughter Ella loves riding too, she rides every day and I’m sure she will be involved in horses throughout her life. She just loves them!

Q: Colm, do you have any advice for a young person wanting to start out in the industry?

A: “I’d encourage anyone to learn as much as you can about horses and horsemanship at an early stage. Really, that’s the most important step. Just being around horses, you’re learning about them without even knowing it. We never stop learning about horses and often I think the more we know, the less we know. While living in Sydney I did a marketing course in 1998 and a communications course in 1999 at Sydney University and I believe they really helped me get ahead. 

  “I’ve had a wonderful life so far in this industry, from having lunch with a Prime Minister to meeting The Queen at Cambridge Stud in New Zealand and having the pleasure of showing Taiona and foal to her. I have met many people from all different walks of life and it has been a great career. It really is an amazing industry to be involved in, long may it last.” n

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