'It was never about the money'
Gerry Callanan wants a fair crack of the whip for small-scale thoroughbred dealers, reports Siobhán English
Published 29/06/2016 | 02:30
Small-scale thoroughbred horse breeders are often left outside the circle in Ireland when it comes to matters within the bloodstock industry, but one man who is now actively trying to address and re-balance the system is Gerry Callanan.
In recent weeks the Co Kildare man has fought, and won, a case in the Small Claims Court to reclaim costs incurred from a 1pc foal levy on stallion fees which he says is unjust.
But he says his fight will not stop there to ensure that small breeders like him are treated more fairly in a world so clearly dominated by large-scale stud farms throughout the country.
For almost 30 years Mr Callanan of Nanallac Stud outside Monasterevin has been breeding thoroughbreds for both National Hunt and Flat racing, but it is only in the past decade that he says life for the small breeder has become extremely tough.
"We've always been battling against the bigger operations, but stud fees keep rising, as do sales fees and then we have the foal levy. I have no problem with paying my way, but the foal levy needs to be fair for everyone," he said.
It was back in 2010 when Mr Callanan bred a colt foal by Footstepsinthesand that the issue of the foal levy came to a head.
It had been introduced 10 years earlier, but when the breeder had to pay a levy over and above what he believed was correct, he decided to take the matter into his own hands.
"I paid €7,500 for the covering that year even though the advertised fee was €12,500, but when it came to paying the levy I had to pay it for the higher fee (€385 compared to €231) which I believed was totally unfair. The difference did not amount to much, but it was the principle of it.
"That foal by Footstepsinthesand (later named Carried) was sold for €7,000 but it cost me twice that to get him to the sale so I ended up at a serious loss."
Over the following months Gerry Callanan decided to appeal it to Horse Racing Ireland, an appeal which was later turned down, so he decided to pursue it in the Small Claims Court.
It took five years to get this far and the case was heard in Naas in May, when Judge Desmond Zaidan found in favour of Mr Callanan who later received a refund of €154. Horse Racing Ireland has since lodged an appeal.
Commenting on the suggestion of reviewing the current system in place for collecting the foal levy, a spokesperson from HRI said: "The Foal Levy Committee regularly reviews the levy structure and potential alternatives and has concluded that the current tiered/banded approach represents the most equitable way of securing vital funds necessary for the breeding sector.
"The Committee is considering ways in which the wording of the instrument could be improved to increase clarity. Any changes would require HRI Board and Ministerial approval."
Mr Callanan stressed that for him it was never about the money.
"I felt it was unfair to expect people to pay more than their dues. Also in the case of NH sires there are different fees for colt or filly foals, but breeders are expected to pay the levy for the colt's fee every time.
"It is fine for the bigger breeders but we only have a handful of broodmares here and there are so many more like us who agree that it is unfair.
"And what some people do not realise is you can still register your foal without paying the fee on the day. That is not very clear."
Mr Callanan believes that the foal levy on stallion coverings was introduced in 2010 without consulting breeders. Presently some 50pc of the income from the levy is donated to the Irish Equine Centre, with another 25pc each to Irish Thoroughbred Marketing and the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders' Association.
"Personally I think that the Irish Equine Centre could do with a lot more money for all the great work they do. What happens if there is a disease outbreak? I don't believe they have enough resources to cater for the industry as it is.
"I suggested that instead we put a 1pc levy on all sales at Tattersalls and Goffs which would derive more income but that was shot down because it wouldn't suit pin-hookers. I have been constantly battling to have the levy reviewed to make it fairer.
"Because you are a small breeder you are not listened to, plus the ITBA is supposed to be on the side of the breeder but unless you pay your membership you have no benefits, even for those who still pay the levy which goes to the ITBA anyway."
Gerry Callanan also argues that small breeders like him have supported the industry through thick and thin, especially at a time when many high-profile stallions were not so popular.
"I remember covering mares with the late Danehill and also Invincible Spirit when they stood for less than €7,000. A few years later Danehill's fee was private. In my opinion the small breeders have always 'made' the big stallion until their fees get too high."
There is no denying he has had enormous success as a breeder over the decades.
Together with his wife Bernie and four daughters Maria (34), Sarah (33), Aine (30) and Denise (25), they have jointly bred and produced for sale a host of black-type winners. Having learned the trade as a young man for many years at Kildangan Stud, he began to expand his breeding operation in the 1990s with two mares.
One of the first to breed winners was Twany Angel, a daughter of Double Form he received with a foal at foot by Cut Above (later named Maleva) in a swap for bales of hay with Jim Ryan in 1986. That was the start of a hugely successful breeding family that continues to this day.
Twany Angel went on to breed nine winners, including the Group 1-winning sire Mount Abu. One of her most prolific daughters was Angelic Sounds, a winner of one race on the track before retiring to stud where she produced 13 foals, eight of those being winners.
"She bred a host of winners including Army of Angels, by King's Best, who we sold for €250,000. She also bred the Group 2 winner Seraphina and Chicago Girl, who was her last foal." Another daughter, Zameyla (by Cape Cross), went on to breed the Group 1 winner Serious Attitude.
Such was their success in the early days that they won the Small Breeders' Award in 1992.
Angelic Sounds died on New Years' Eve in 2014 but her legacy lives on through some of her other daughters living at Nanallac Stud, including Alegranza and her daughter Crossanza, who this year produced a filly by Exceed And Excel. "We have had great luck with that family from the start but it's a real family business here as well and everyone has truly played their part in its success," he concluded.