TDN Interview with Segenhoe GM - Peter O'Brien.
In this series, the TDN catches up with European expatriats working in the Thoroughbred industry around the world. Today’s installment features Peter O’Brien of Segenhoe Stud.
Hometown? Dalkey, Co. Dublin, Ireland
How did you end up where you are now? I was fortunate to grow up beside John McCormack whose father, Tom, was a racing journalist. We went racing all over the country during the summer with Mr. McCormack and once he saw our level of interest, he plied us with breeding books and inspired in me my desire to follow my dreams and have a career in the equine industry. Having little hands-on experience, Michael Osborne took a huge chance with me and arranged a job at Taylor Made Farm. I now know that nurturing young people and spending time to teach and empower their talents is tantamount, and I was truly blessed to have Mike Helmbrecht as my manager at Taylor Made, who spent his own time in the evenings teaching me husbandry and also the value of hard work (Gerry Butler and I had to muck out close to 60 boxes each evening!). John’s brother, Bernard, allowed me to see the workings of Windfields Farm when Northern Dancer was at his prime, and those times are truly cherished. I then did a season at Coolmore and headed to Australia for the first time to Gooree Stud, and on to the leading trainer Neville Begg. For anyone starting out, spending time with a trainer is essential grounding for whatever path you choose in the breeding industry. My subsequent years were spent at Coolmore, graduating to assistant manager, and again it was the people and the attention to detail, led by Mr. Magnier, which instilled in me the core values that are necessary to have success in the job we love. Dermot Ryan, Michael Kirwan and Harry King were my mentors, and days scanning and looking at animals with Demi O’Byrne were invaluable for me. I spent 10 years shuttling stallions, starting with Ahonoora at Ra Ora Stud; Lindsay Park with Alzao; Persian Heights and Bluebird; Tirol at Stockwell Stud; Night Shift and Brief Truce at Woodlands Stud; Scenic at Collingrove Stud; and of course the great Danehill at Arrowfield Stud. Again, I had the benefit of working for some of the most famed horsemen in Australia, who gave their time to teach and guide me, notably Colin Hayes, Peter Keating, Peter Orton and above all else Peter Flynn at Woodlands, who gave me the confidence to believe in myself. John Magnier allowed me to the opportunity to manage Coolmore Australia when it was taken over in 1996, and it was an honour to work with Michael Kirwan and develop not only the business but the magnificent property into one of the showcase studs of the world, whilst working with champion stallions like Encosta De Lago and Danehill, and the very best mares in the country. My years at Coolmore were unforgettable and my debt to the Magnier family can never be repaid, but I was open for a new challenge and I have now been at Segenhoe Stud for over two years as general manager working for the Maloney family. The property is so unique and is the perfect environment to rear athletes, with 10 kilometres of river frontage as well as both flat alluvial soil balanced with undulating hills. The Maloney family had purchased some magnificent breeding stock prior to my arrival, so my job was made easy even before I commenced. Our sales over the past two years have been a credit to our wonderful team on the farm, and if the current group of 2-year- olds that were reared at Segenhoe are anything to go by, then we are in for exciting times ahead.
What have you found to be the major difference between racing/breeding in Australia and your home country? The obvious differences between Australia and the Northern Hemisphere has many layers. Foals are born outdoors and barring injury or illness, spend the entirety of the first 18 months living out, which to me leads to stronger-boned animals with terrific feet and a tough constitution. Speed is king here and the grounding the horses get in their youth is needed, as the good racehorses here are made of iron. They run far more frequently than in the North, which is a testament to not only their constitution but also the tough colonial pedigrees. In saying that, I firmly believe that it was the introduction of the shuttle stallions that was the catalyst to launch the Australian Thoroughbred on to the world stage.
Name one home comfort that you miss? Home comforts I miss could be described in one Sunday. Mam’s fry in the morning, go to Croke Park to watch the Dubs win yet again, Sunday dinner with the family followed by pints in Finnegan’s with the lads. Pure Bliss!
Favourite sport or hobby outside of racing? I love all sports, but any good championship match, either hurling or football, is impossible to beat.
What would you say is your proudest accomplishment? My years spent with Danehill. Not only the best horse I have or will ever work with, but the kindest, most gentle and willing animal, and I look with pride now when I see his lineage dominate not only the stallion ranks, but also the broodmare sires tables in both hemispheres. A once in a lifetime horse.