‘I just love the game’

Paramount Sales has quickly become one of the leading shippers in America with Jack Christopher, Life Is Good and Kameko as examples of the recent graduates.

Pat Costello, who immigrated to America in 1984 and climbed the ranks in the industry before founding Paramount Sales in 2001 with fellow Irish ex-pat Gabriel “Spider” Duignan, shares all about his racing backstory in this week’s Q&A.

From winning 10 years at the trot to revealing which horses in the Paramount Sales draw he’s most looking forward to at next week’s September Yearling Sale at Keeneland, the top operator provides a compelling topic.

Brian Sheerin: We know a lot about Paramount, but tell us a little more about yourself.

Pat Costello: America has been great to me, as has the horse trade. I would consider America my home. I came here in 1984 to clear out stalls and worked my way up in this business. I took advantage of the opportunities that came my way and started working on them. I worked at Ashleigh Stud for a year before going to an equine hospital as a stable foreman where I learned some medical stuff which was great training for me. From there I went to Crescent Hill Farm and ran it for 10 years before starting my own place. My wife and I rented a place just outside Keeneland called Drumkenny Farm and we boarded for people there and getting all the Sam-Son Farm mares was a huge boost for us at the time. They’ve been a top Canadian outfit over the years, so that was huge. We were with Drumkenny for seven or eight years and Paramount grew out of that. As the man says, the rest is history.

BS: Who were your greatest mentors?

pc: Michael Osborne was brilliant to me. When I got here he was running North Ridge Farm and he was a father to all of us. He played an important role in my career.

BS: And how did your relationship with Gabriel Spider Duignan, another Irish expat, develop?

pc: Spider arrived about six months after I arrived in America. He started working with Bill O’Neill of Circle O Farm and was only 15 minutes away from me. We became fast friends and remain so to this day. There is a great Irish community here and we all take care of each other.

BS: Yourself and Spider initially had great success through pinhooking.

pc: None of us had money to start, so what we did was, we set up a syndicate made up mostly of Irish. I think we raised about $40,000 and bought eight horses in our first year. We were working with little money, which we got from friends we had built, but we managed to turn that into $80,000, so we doubled our money in that first year. We kept pumping the money in and getting a few more people in and it ended up being a pretty big game. We decided after a few years that we could do this for ourselves, so that’s how it evolved. The four of us are still doing that now; Spider, Adrian Regan from Hunter Valley, Ted Campion from Dundrum Farm and myself. Every year we crochet a few together.

BS: We are knee deep into the yearling season in America and in Europe. I know you’re on a very different budget now than when you first started, but what are the most important things to consider when buying a yearling?

pc: When we started it was definitely a steep learning curve for us and we learned through our mistakes. We rely mainly on a good physical. If the horse has a good pedigree to match the physique, we’ll be happy with that, but our primary focus was concentrating on the physique. We have liked this approach for years.

BS: Was there ever a moment when you thought you had cracked the code or can you ever think like that in this game?

pc: One of the last years of the syndicate, which we operated under the name ‘The Lads’, we had a strong year. We bought a horse for $100,000 as a foal and got $900,000 for him as a yearling. There was another one that we paid $70,000 for and that turned into about $600,000. We thought we all knew it by the time the sales season started the following year. But what happened? We were handed our ass. Luckily we were young enough to accept it and learn from it. You should always be humble when buying these horses and you should trust your judgment.

BS: Have you ever thought of dipping your toe into the European market given that grass racing is expanding in America and there doesn’t seem to be a range of turf stallions there?

pc: We stick to what we know, which is why we focus on America. Personally I think the peat bulls are starting to get some more recognition here and the whole thing is expanding. They also want to win the Derby in the American market, so it is the dirt horses that they want most here. While Saratoga has nearly as many grass races as it does on gravel, and grass races are certainly gaining in importance here, it’s the dirt horses that have the upper hand. But I’d say grass bulls are definitely getting more relevant in America, yes.

BS: Lately it has been noticed how many European buyers, especially on the wind-up circuit, have bought yearlings in America.

pc: Yes, and they have done well. I do believe there will be another boatload this year as well. They are very sharp people who come by and know what works. I think it works well and it gives them an edge. They work hard at what they do and they are very good at it.

BS: Looking at some of Paramount’s graduates, we’ve already mentioned Jack Christopher, Life Is Good, and Kameko, but can you identify specific highlights?

pc: It is very special and we are so lucky to have some great customers who entrust us with their stock year after year. They produce beautiful horses and we are allowed to sell them. Life Is Good, he’s just such a good ant we’ve seen for a long time and Jack Christopher is an incredible 3 year old. We have to pinch ourselves. It’s been an incredible year. People see the results we get and you get repeat purchases from it. When people have had success buying from you, they tend to come back.

BS: And looking ahead to the September Yearling Sales at Keeneland next week, you have another strong concept to look forward to.

pc: We do and I’ll just highlight a few instead of listing them all. Hip number 52 is an Into Mischief filly. She is out of Grade 3 winner Song Of Spring (Spring At Last) and is also a beautiful physique with a page. The family goes back to Dream Rush (Wild Rush) and Dreaming Of Julia (AP Indy). Malathaat (Curlin) is also in the pedigree, so it’s very exciting. Into Mischief is one of the best sires here, he gets it done every weekend so we think she is one to look forward to and be well received. We also have a Munnings filly [Hip 112] who is the most exciting. Munnings has come the hard way, I think at one point he was at $15,000, and you couldn’t reach him this year, he was so popular at $85,000. This is a half-sister to the stake-winning Stitched (Mizzen Mast), who is running a Grade 2 in Kentucky Downs this weekend, so hopefully we’ll get another update there. She is a beautiful filly. Finally, Hip 272 is a Gun Runner foal and this sire is phenomenal. While I’ve been in America I’ve never seen a sire do what Gun Runner has done in two years, and this is a very well-balanced colt of his. He has a great walk up to him and being by Gun Runner makes him as good a prospect as there is. We have a nice draft of 15 or 16 horses, but those are the three I would highlight.

BS: You mentioned the extraordinary start Gun Runner made at the stud. Justify is also clearly off to a good start. Are there any other stallions whose offspring are of particular interest to you?

pc: Justify has got off to an incredible start and his stats are comparable to Gun Runner’s at the same stage of his career. He’s very exciting, that’s for sure. Not This Time is another. He was at one point for 10 out of 15 grand and the story is that he will get $125,000 next year. He is a brilliant horse and a stallion for the future.

BS: What gives you the most pleasure in your role?

pc: I just love to see how horses we’ve had here are doing well. Especially with horses you’ve hooked up, if they go through and become good racehorses, it gives you great satisfaction when they confirm that your judgment is correct. That’s a big part of the game. I also enjoy the art of selling a horse and get great satisfaction from getting a good price on behalf of our owners. I just love the game. When we are not at the races ourselves, the television is on and there is always racing here. From the top down; breeding mares, pin hooking, seeing the new bulls come in, selling horses, we are involved in every aspect of it. It’s our passion. Some people play golf, but I have horses and it’s a pleasure to do what you love.

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