Newtown Stud’s Cathy Grassick talks to Helen Sharp about a life in bloodstock and taking the helm at the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association.
Cathy Grassick is a force to be admired. Not only is she a bloodstock agent, pedigree expert, breeder, adviser and consignor, but she will soon become the first woman in 25 years to take up the role of chair of the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association (ITBA).
Grassick learned much of the art of the bloodstock industry from her parents. Following the loss of her father, renowned bloodstock man Brian Grassick, Cathy now runs Newtown Stud in Kildare alongside her equally talented mum Sheila and sister Sally Ann.
The Grassicks bred two of the top-five lots at the 2021 Tattersalls December mare sale. Both horses descended from the family line established by Cathy’s father, Brian. Group 1 placed 2-year-old filly Flotus (Starspangledbanner) – who was sold for 1m gns and listed-winning – and Group placed Shades of Blue(Kodiac) was sold in foal to Frankel for 850,000 gns.
“It was wonderful seeing two families that Newtown Stud has nurtured since its foundation by my father and mother, hitting the headlines. It was also very special as we still have Enjoyable (dam of Shades of Blue) and Floriade (dam of Flotus) breeding with us on the farm. This spring, Enjoyable has foaled a beautiful Invincible Spirit filly and Floriade a beautiful Starspangledbanner filly, so hopefully there is even more excitement to come.
“My father and mother were very much a team,” says Grassick. “I was lucky to have two amazing and supportive parents who always encouraged us to work hard to reach our goals and dreams. My father had many wise words and I still frequently will ask myself ‘What would Brian do?’ but one of my favourite pieces of advice he gave was: ‘A high standard of work carried out consistently over a period of time will not go unnoticed, and it’s something I aspire to every day.”
The bloodstock industry can seem impenetrable to anyone wishing to begin a career. However, Cathy admits to having learned from the best, which included championing the younger generation in the industry, just like her father did.
“I would have to say that I have always found that many people in the bloodstock industry are very willing to help and support young people to start the world over. I had my own experience of this when living and working in Australia – bloodstock agents such as John Foote, Kieran Moore and Damon Gabbedy helped educate me on the Australian industry and horses.
“My father was so open to helping young people and educating future generations. He would encourage young people in whatever way he could and was also open to giving his time to education and courses and giving lectures whenever he could. His enthusiasm has been passed onto both myself and my sister, and we both try whenever we can to help other young people get started, whether in the form of work experience or giving lectures to such excellent courses as the Godolphin Flying Start, Irish National Stud Course, RACE and various other courses. The Young Irish Thoroughbred Breeding Association is also an excellent way to learn and get experience and meet other like-minded people.”
In the next few weeks, Cathy will take up her role as chair of the ITBA, taking over from John McEnery of Rossenara Stud. “I am very excited to take up the role. It is a privilege for me to be the first woman in 25 years to hold the position following on from Eimear Mulhern. She will be a very tough act to follow but I will endeavour to do so. In turn, I hope to encourage many more women and young people to get involved in the organisation at the council and local level to keep the organisation vibrant and current.”
When it comes to supporting breeders at an organisational level, Cathy has a clear idea of what is working and what may need work. “I think our thoroughbred breeders are very well supported by several amazing organisations, including the ITBA, the Irish European Breeders Fund, Irish Thoroughbred Marketing, and the Irish Farmers Association Horse committee. Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) has also been a powerful champion of breeders. This can be seen very clearly in creating the IRE Incentive scheme in conjunction with the ITBA. HRI’S Suzanne Eade has been very clear in her support for the Irish breeders from the start
of her new role as chief executive.
“I think, in general, the industry needs to work on improving our communication skills, both to hear our breeders’ issues and demonstrate the excellent work that goes on behind the scenes on their behalf. We must also work on communicating these issues to the politicians and external media so that they can understand the importance of our industry as a worldwide recognised brand and from sporting prowess, income generated to the economy, tourism, and providing vital employment in rural areas.
“Minister of Agriculture Charlie McConalogue, along with junior ministers Pippa Hackett and Martin Heydon in the department of agriculture, have an excellent understanding of our industry and have been great supporters, as have TDs and senators in key areas such as Michael Lowry, Jackie Cahill and Fiona O’Loughlin, but we need to be able to take our message to those who don’t or won’t hear it and give them the good news stories.
“We are farmers every bit as much as any other type of farming. However, the infrastructure required to produce these worldclass animals is costly. We see increases weekly across the board in the cost of raw materials and fertilisers in the same way as other farmers. If we don’t look after and support our young equine farmers entering the business, our position in the top echelons of the breeding and racing world will be short-lived. As it stands, we are the third-largest producer of thoroughbred horses in the world behind the USA and Australia. This is no mean feat for a country of our size and population.”