The husband-and-wife team of Paul and Sara Thorman at Trickledown Stud, one of the most recognisable names in any sales catalogue, have revealed a change of emphasis that will see the operation concentrate more on pinhooking rather than breeding in the coming years.
Trickledown consigned over 300 horses annually in its pomp but, after reducing the broodmare band to just four ahead of the breeding season, Paul explained how he and his wife Sara will bid to enjoy life a bit more whilst running a more streamlined version of the outfit.
On the decision to scale back the broodmare band, he said, “We’re only covering four mares this year. If you are paying 20 or 30 quid a day to keep them, that concentrates the mind.”
He added, “It all came down to whether I could breed each mare I had for profit and, most of the mares I had, they were there to keep stallion numbers up when I was involved with the stallions.
“I’m no longer involved with any stallions so those mares became obsolete. It’s all about making economic sense of it-you’re better off with four or five good mares rather than 15 ordinary ones.”
Trickledown consigned over 100 horses last year at various sales, many of which were on behalf of or in partnership with long-standing clients and, while the aim is to maintain those relationships, Thorman expects that numbers to fall over the course of time.
He said, “We thought we were cutting back last year but we’ve been terrifically well-supported by a number of people over the years and two or three of them have asked us to keep selling for them.
“We sold well over 100 horses last year and, at our height, we would see about three times that number. Yes, we’ll keep consigning but, by natural progression, in terms of younger people tending to go to younger consignors, I’d expect that number to keep declining.”
Thorman added, “But in deciding to scale back a little, it came down to a few things; we have always pinhooked but we didn’t have our own farm and, when the farm that we were operating from got sold for building purposes, we decided we wanted to spend our time doing other things.
“We have grandchildren we’d like to spend more time with. Without the farm, we spend a lot more time in the car going around and seeing horses but, seeing them every couple of months isn’t the same as seeing them every day. We will still be consigning for people and look forward to doing that for as long as we can but there is a change of emphasis to the whole thing.”
That change of emphasis has been largely funneled into the pinhooking of foals to yearlings, of which, Thorman points to it being a more practical facet of the business to concentrate on compared to breeding a large number of mares.
He explained, “We bought quite a lot of foals last year. You know that when you buy a foal, it will cost you somewhere between 10 and 15 grand to get them to a sale the following year. Win or lose, you can see how much you are in for and how long you are in for. If you do your dough, you’ve got a choice of either letting them go at a loss or racing them. It’s finite. Whereas with mares, it’s an open-ended book.”
Thorman added, “If you look at some of the sales results lately, with mares being led out without a bid, it shows that we all need to up our game. My way of trying to do that is by going from 20 mares to four mares and investing a bit more on the ones I’m paying daily keep on rather than having a farm full of soldiers and not generals.”
He may carry a reputation for being a man who knows what he is doing when it comes to purchasing young stock with a view to reoffering them at public auction in a bid to turn a profit but Thorman does not underplay the role luck plays in the transaction.
“Because the budget won’t stretch to those expensive foals, we bought several foals between 10 and 30 grand knowing full well that, even at that level, something would have to happen with the individual or the pedigree for us to make it work.
“We’ve been lucky over the years and were buying Royal Applauses and Acclamations before they were popular. I like to do a lot of research, not so much into the families, but more so into where the half-brother has gone into training and that sort of thing. If there’s a foal who is a half to a yearling that we saw and liked and say it had gone into training with an Archie Watson or some trainer who does well with two-year-olds, those are the types of horse we tend to like.
“We bought a Mohaather (GB) filly at the Tattersalls February Sale because we knew there were two siblings to run for her. Now, we had outrageous luck because her half-sister won that night at 25-1 by about half an inch. There’s a 90 grand colt to run for Richard Hannon in the pedigree so I feel we have a chance.”
He added, “One year, I decided that I was so crap at picking foals that would turn out to be improvers, that I just decided to buy brothers and sisters to yearlings who’d gone into training with Richard Hannon Snr. I bought five foals and four of the siblings won for the Hannons. Three of them made profit at the sales and I thought, why bother going around looking at foals and knocking this for turning out half an inch or that for being too big? Fresh news may not be everything but it’s a big part of it, isn’t it? Why not work with the most recent information you’ve got to work with? It’s not a bad template.”
Thorman is backing Solder’s Call (GB) to be the next Royal Applause (GB) or Acclamation (GB) but admitted that nobody would have tipped Havana Grey (GB) to scoop the champion first-season sire title this time 12 months ago. Therein lies the beauty of this game.
“You need luck. We picked a Ulysses (Ire) a couple of years ago, bought him out of our own draft for small money, but he turned into the most beautiful yearling and we got 140,000gns for him. We didn’t get that because we were geniuses, but because the dice rolled our way and the horse came up, as did the stallion, who was hot at the time. When you do this for long enough, you realise the importance of luck.
“Who would have picked Havana Grey this time last year? Tell me who this year’s Havana Grey is going to be because that’s the one we all hope we’ve bought one by. I’m a big fan of Soldier’s Call and, while I only managed to buy one by him last year, I think he has a lot going for him. “The Clipper Logistics outfit have 24 to go into training by him and they’ve gone to Archie Watson and Karl Burke. I think he’d have to be a pretty moderate stallion not to make a big impact this year as he’s been given a great chance. I’d be big on him.
“But this is an extraordinary industry. I had clients who had breeding rights to Time Test (GB) and, when they were making 90,000 to 100,000, I told them to sell. Now the market has reacted too much the other way and I think he’s a bit of value. We’re great for putting horses up on pedestals and then throwing stones at them. I think we react too negatively or positively to fashion and it tends to even out to a level over time. But isn’t this the best part of the season, those first-crop two-year-olds?”
Trickledown Stud has been a constant on the sales scene down through the years and, while Thorman is at pains to point out that he is not the retiring kind, he does admit to being as excited about spending more time with his grandkids as he is about seeing how Soldier’s Call performs with his first runners this spring.
“Mick Channon was interviewed the other day and, to paraphrase him, he said, ‘I wish could meet the fella who said life begins at 40 because I’d give him a smack in the mouth.’ How right he is. When you get the other side of 60, does it matter if you sell another 100 grand horse or another winner? I’m pleased to wake up every morning and, touch wood, we’re both healthy.
“Grandkids have provided us with that viewpoint. I mean, our own daughter, she spent the majority of her younger days hanging out in the hay net in the tack room whilst we were flat out on the farm. We’re not retiring but we’re going to try and enjoy life a little bit more.”