Connell signals big jumping ambitions
Barry Connell's purchase of Our Conor last week was the latest and seemingly most audacious in a raft of high-profile equine signings that signify his growing ambition.
A founding member of the NCB and Merrion investment houses, the 53-year-old former amateur rider has been spending freely of late. The first public display of his financial clout came when he paid £250,000 for Mount Benbulben, a point-to-point and bumper winner for Gillian O'Callaghan, at Brightwells sale in April 2011. A leading contender for Sunday's Powers Gold Cup, Gordon Elliott's eight-year-old's earnings since then stand at €74,700.
Minsk was the next conspicuous acquisition, bought privately on the eve of the 2011 Irish Cesarewitch. A well-backed market leader for the prestigious Curragh handicap, he completed his hat-trick there for John Oxx. Fifth to The New One at Cheltenham, Minsk has endured a mixed time for Dessie Hughes, his income for Connell is also just shy of €80,000.
Last spring, Connell returned to Brightwells to cough up £300,000 for Old Kilcash, a 'point' winner for John Nallen. Third in a good Leopardstown bumper on its debut for John 'Shark' Hanlon, Old Kilcash subsequently disappointed badly at the Foxrock venue.
Like Minsk, Inis Meain was another that excelled on the Flat prior to being bought privately by Connell last autumn. Both were likely to have commanded six-figure fees, and Inis Meain generated an initial dividend by picking up €4,000 for fourth in yesterday's Lincoln.
Then came Golantilla, bought from Sean O'Brien in Kilworth for €375,000 after winning a 'point' and a bumper at Cork in January. On its debut for Connell and Tony Martin, the Golan five-year-old was an encouraging third in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham.
Connell, a native of Blackrock, now has most of 50 horses in training. None, though, will have demanded quite what it took to prise Our Conor from the Man About Town Syndicate, with speculation rife that the Triumph Hurdle hero cost in the region of a cool €1m.
Noel Hayes, spokesman for the five-strong syndicate that acquired the four-year-old for a mere €4,500 in 2010, didn't confirm that figure in an interview in yesterday's Sunday Independent, though the €1m fee did appear to be indirectly corroborated. That is a lot money for a National Hunt horse that lacks the collateral earning potential of a Flat stallion. However, the only value any commodity has is whatever someone is willing to pay for it and Connell paid what was necessary to acquire the favourite to deny Hurricane Fly in next year's Champion Hurdle.
For what it's worth, this corner would suggest that Our Conor's position at the head of that ante-post market is unwarranted, chiefly because the best juvenile hurdlers, already battle-hardened from the Flat, struggle to improve much thereafter.
Remember, since Persian War won the first of three Champion Hurdles in 1968, Katchit is the only Triumph winner to follow up in the two-mile championship event as a five-year-old. Anyway, that's an aside; Connell knows the pitfalls of jump racing and is in it for sport.
Already a popular and approachable individual on the domestic scene, he is fast emerging as jump racing's third indigenous, heavyweight benefactor after JP McManus and Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud. Because he is paying premium rates for horses with proven potential rather than sourcing raw material, his modus operandi is more comparable to that of McManus than Gigginstown. Whether or not Connell really did have to top €1m for Our Conor will remain a topic of idle conjecture, but his increasing willingness to support Irish bloodstock, producers and handlers so wholeheartedly is a tremendous boon for jump racing in this country. Long may it last.
O'Brien has doubts over Kingsbarns' Guineas bid
Kingsbarns drifted to as big as 10/1 for the 2,000 Guineas last night after Aidan O'Brien revealed that his unbeaten Group One winner may not be ready in time for the Flat season's opening Classic at Newmarket on May 4.
The exciting son of Galileo, two from two last year, had been as low as 6/1 second favourite for the mile contest behind Dawn Approach. However, speaking ahead of watching a whole host of his best prospects gallop after racing at the Curragh, the Ballydoyle maestro said that a pulled shoe which resulted in a hoof infection caused Kingsbarns to miss 10 days' work.
"It's nothing major, but I wanted him to be here and I tried to get him here, so the Guineas is a worry," he explained of the precocious colt.
out of luck in Japan
Blackstairmountain could manage only ninth under Ruby Walsh in the Pegasus Jump Stakes at Nakayama in Japan on Saturday, though Willie Mullins has stated the dual Grade One winner is still set for a tilt at the more prestigious Grand Jump on April 13.
Jump races in Japan are started from stalls and the trainer suggested that a poor draw didn't help his charge's cause over the two-mile trip.