It Takes A Team

8 min read

Welcome to TDNAusNZ’s ‘It Takes A Team’, brought to you in conjunction with Thoroughbred Industry Careers. Here we highlight and celebrate some of the heroes of our industry. The strappers, riders, stud-workers and people behind the scenes of our champions. The people who are up late into the night foaling or up at the crack of dawn to trackwork, working tirelessly to keep the industry running.

Today we chat to a freelance sales leader who has taken his craft all around the world. Conall Meegan grew up in Ireland and has travelled the world more than once working the horse sales circuit. Currently travelling around Australia, Conall was recently lucky enough to take the highest priced lot at the Magic Millions Sale through the ring.

Conall Meegan - Freelance Sales Leader

TDN: Can you tell us a bit about yourself, how did you get started in the industry?

CM: Being asthmatic as a child, close proximity to most animals exacerbated my condition. This condition, however, did not deter my love of animals and from my earliest recollections, all I have wanted to do was work with them in some capacity. Since both of my grandfathers were farriers, it is perhaps not surprising that my love of horses, in particular, developed into ambitions of working within the thoroughbred industry.

I started out my career 2011 where I made the transition from riding sport-horses for Irish Olympic Rider James Kernan to pursuing a career in racing. In the summer of 2011, I travelled to Australia along with my parents to visit my older siblings who were living in Perth, WA. It was from there I got the opportunity to work for some of the best trainers on the West Coast Fred Kursley and Daniel Morton. I started out as a stable hand and strapped at weekly race meetings at Belmont Racecourse. Both trainers provided me with a firm foundation of Australian racing and their knowledge and expertise were invaluable.

Conall Meegan (centre)

In 2015, I got the opportunity to work in one of the world’s premier thoroughbred operations as part of an 8 month cooperative education programme through the University of Limerick at Lane’s End Farm, Lexington Kentucky. I started out in the Foaling Unit and finished my rotation preparing yearlings for thoroughbred sales such as Saratoga, Fasig-Tipton that convinced me to travel the globe and pursue the sales circuit in both hemisphere’s once I completed University.

TDN: You’re originally from Ireland, how many times have you been to Australia to work the sales?

CM: Born in the UK, raised in Ireland and currently grazing in Australia. It wasn’t until 2016 that I considered following the Australasian sales circuit. I have spent the last 3 years travelling the globe following the sales programme, gaining experience with some of the leading consignments in Australia including Bhima, Aquis Farm and Yarraman Park Stud while meeting as many industry leaders possible and learning as much as I can along the way.

Conall working for Yarraman Park at this year's Magic Millions Sale

TDN: Do you find the way things are done here very different to overseas?

CM: For sure, back in Ireland we are unfortunate in the sense that we don’t have a hot climate where good weather is constant. I think that having a good climate on a horse's back plays a vital role in the preparation process and naturally, they will thrive quicker. One thing I do think is beneficial to us is that we have exceptional limestone rich grassland for young stock to thrive on, we have natural irrigation and prepping yearlings is more of an intense process than those in the Southern Hemisphere. That said, both ways of preparing yearlings work very well.

TDN: What kind of opportunities has freelancing the sales opened up for you?

CM: l think for me, freelancing the sales circuit has given me the opportunity to travel the world and work in an industry that I am truly passionate about, working with like minded people who possess similar long term goals as you. It gives you the chance to meet some of our industry leaders while learning from their experiences also.

At some stage in my career, I would like to have my own farm with a small broodmare band while producing stock to sell and race in my own colours. One thing is for sure, completing the sales circuit exposes you to all the right people who have walked in the shoes you want to walk in someday.

TDN: You recently got to take through the top Lot at Magic Millions, how did it feel to lead a horse that went for so much money?

CM: It was an amazing experience, I won’t lie. To be affiliated with the Mitchell brothers of Yarraman Park Stud was a very rewarding experience and it’s very fair to say that the team I worked with on the Gold Coast was arguably one the best teams I have ever worked with.

Conall at the Magic Millions with the $1.7 million sale topper

Each team member was very competent and highly skilled in their own way. Yarraman Park Stud presented a beautifully prepared draft of yearlings at Magic Millions. The quality of horses that were presented combined with the strength of our sales team was a genuine reflection of the results; leading vendors on average, leading vendors on aggregate and a sale topper of $1.7 million. They say that “teamwork makes the dream work” and I feel this was very much the case.

TDN: Did you feel any added pressure taking him through the ring?

CM: I guess there were always moments of pressure and indeed nervousness but in truth, the same case is made to whatever horse you present in the sales ring. As a leader, your main goal is to realise as much profit as you can for the farm you are affiliated with and for their clients while presenting the horse to the best of your ability.

TDN: Who’s your favourite horse you’ve ever taken through the ring?

CM: AtTattersalls Book 1 I led through a chestnut colt named Star Shield who was by the Darley Stallion Helmet out of Perfect Star. He had a beautiful temperament, a great mind who loved his work and wasn’t phased by the stress or anxiety the sales bring. He was trained by Roger Varian in Newmarket and won a number of races at stakes level. Similarly, the I Am Invincible x Oakleigh Girl colt was definitely up there with one of my favourites also.

TDN: What’s your favourite Australian sale?

CM: It would have to be the Gold Coast Magic Millions Sale. It is the opening sale of the Australian sales series and it sets the scene for the remainder of the circuit. It brings about the “magic” of the millions raceday where buyers from all over the world come together for a great days racing followed by the commencement of the MM Yearling Sale.

TDN: What about internationally?

CM: Tattersalls Book 1 is definitely the highlight for me. It is recognised as the world’s elite Thoroughbred Yearling Sale and I can understand why. I think every vendor's dream is to prepare and present their product at Tattersalls Book 1, where some of the most regally bred yearlings go under the hammer every year. Newmarket is a wonderful place to be when the sales are on; watching horses work up the Rowley mile in the mornings before work is something that should be experienced.

Conall with Siyouni

TDN: Do you have any advice for anyone looking to freelance the sales and work all over the world?

CM: The best advice I could give would be to associate yourself with a reputable stud farm, who are quite active at the sales. From there it will give you the confidence to work with yearlings, and get the relative hands on experience needed to present a horse well. It is from there that you will be provided with the right network to travel around the sales circuit and seek employment.

I was always told from a very good judge that “you cannot make a first impression twice”; meaning when showing horses to perspective buyers, you have essentially one chance to make a good impression. That window of 2-3 minutes is very important in making it onto a buyer's shortlist. In reality, each parade is not a perfect one, things happen and horses will sometimes let you down. The most important thing is you have to enjoy it, work is tough, hours are long but all up it is a very rewarding experience.