Considered as one of the most knowledgeable persons on thoroughbred horse racing by insiders, a publisher, journalist, and the founder & CEO of Team Valor International, Barry Irwin wears several hats which fuel his passion for thoroughbred horse racing.
"I drove a lot of famous people nuts asking them questions” Irwin explained. But there were things I wanted to know and I was in a perfect place to pester racing's greats for answers."
He had the inside track from racing greats and after a long and satisfying career, he decided to join the industry as a bloodstock agent.
According to Team Valor International’s website, over the course of a decade, Irwin bred, raced, syndicated, bought and sold several hundred horses, including It, 's the One, African Sky, Moscow Ballet and Torsion.
"The creative challenge of spotting and developing the equine talent, coupled with the satisfaction of being able to allow other people to realize their dreams, is an intoxicating combination," he said. "I am indulging my desires of being a track coach, screenwriter and Hollywood producer all rolled into one."
His client’s referred to him as “B Eye,” referring to his uncanny ability to spot the horses with the best potential from the most unlikely venues in the world.
After a decade as a bloodstock agent, Irwin formed a partnership with longtime friend Jeff Siegel syndicating horses as Team Valor.
Irwin has won the Gr.1 Dubai Duty-Free race on the Dubai World Cup undercard with Ipi Tombe and then later with the Animal Kingdom. This year Irwin has three Dubai World Cup race day hopefuls, Nisreen, Spanish Mission and Oleksandra.
Ten Furlongs Spoke to Barry Irwin about his plans for the three Team Valor stable stars:
Q: What are your plans for Oleksandra and Spanish Mission before and after the Dubai World Cup race day?
A: Oleksandra flies from Los Angeles to South Florida on March 12, breezes on the grass course at the Palm Meadows training centre 2 minutes from my winter residence near Lake Worth and March 17 flies to Dubai. Shes races in the Gr.1 Al Quoz Sprint (over 6 furlongs) on Dubai World Cup night. She will then return to Southern California after the race, take a break of a few months and prepare for the Breeders’ Cup in November at Keeneland, where she won a Group 3 last fall.
Spanish Mission goes up by 2 furlongs for the Gr.2 Dubai Gold Cup. He is quite a versatile colt. Our other Dubai World Cup Carnival horse, Nisreen has returned to France already.
Q: In a different interview you’ve said that Spanish Mission could be a Melbourne Cup horse. How do you see his career progressing towards the Melbourne Cup?
A: Spanish Mission is a late-maturing colt who figures to improve with age. This year we plan to do a little more travelling, but will likely not consider the Melbourne Cup until next year when he is 5 and figures to be stronger. I expect him to improve from season to season. I know 3-year-olds can win the Cup, but generally, older horses have done better.
Q: You won the Dubai World Cup with the Animal Kingdom earlier and now you are back to win on the night of the 25th anniversary of the Dubai World Cup. How does that make you feel?
A: We love racing on World Cup night and at the Carnival and have done so for many years. Way back in 2003 we won the Group 1 Duty-Free with IpiTombe. She won all 3 of her races that winter and set a time record in each one. She was named Horse of the Year, which is something we are very proud of. More recently we did well with Euro Charline placing in the Duty-Free. This season we also placed second in a pair of GroupTwo races with our mare Nisreen.
Q: What kind of horses are they? Do they enjoy the crowds or are they divas? When & How did you come to buy them?
A: Spanish Mission is a laid-back horse that is unperturbed by crowds of people. A lot of horses that train in Newmarket are well-seasoned horses as they often walk down the streets. Oleksandra is calm when she is in her own environment, but when she knows it is race day, she is on her toes and ready for action. We bought Spanish Mission after he raced a couple of times in England. I bought him with former U. S. Ambassador to Finland Earle Mack and just recently Mr Mack’s 50-per cent interest was bought privately by my long-time partner Gary Barber, a motion picture producer with a very large and quite successful international stable. Oleksandra was bred by one of our breeding partnerships in Australia. Her dam Alexandra Rose was bought by me in South Africa, where she was a Group 2 winner. She placed in a black-type race for us in Dubai, won a Group 3 at Santa Anita and then was sent as a broodmare to Australia, where she is still in production for us. She was trained by Neil Drysdale, who trains Oleksandra.
Q: What do you feel are the most significant changes in Dubai’s racing calendar?
A: The biggest change was moving from Nad Al Sheba to Meydan, which is one of the absolute finest training and racing complexes in the world.
Q: With the firm establishment of the Dubai World Cup race in the global racing calendar and the launch of the Saudi Cup, what impact do you see on the global racing industry?
A: Racing is on the decline in North America, which is one reason we have shifted our base to Europe. We enjoy racing internationally and welcome very much the introduction of the Saudi Cup day of races and can see a time in the not-too-distant future when our stable will have more horses based in the desert during the winter.
Q: What were your opinion of the Saudi Cup race meeting and the racecourse? Have you had a chance to see it?
A: As we already had made our plans to race in Dubai this winter and I knew we would not be going to Saudi, I have not focused on it very much, but plan to in the future. I actually raced a horse once in Saudi that I sent to an owner “on approval.” It won a nice race and the sale was consummated after the win, so I have had some exposure to racing there.
Q: What do you enjoy most about racing at Meydan?
A: The competition is great because horses come from all over the world to race there. The atmosphere on World Cup night is fabulous and, although well attended, the crowds are not so overwhelming that it detracts from one’s enjoyment and ability to navigate the premises such as Royal Ascot of the Kentucky Derby.
Q: What would winning on Dubai World Cup night with Oleksandra and Spanish Mission mean to you?
A: The sheer excitement of the experience and the satisfaction of winning importantly these are the draws for me.
Q: How did you get involved with horses and who are your stable stars?
A: An aunt and a great uncle were responsible for getting me interested in racing. My first love is Athletics and horse racing is very similar. Are most accomplished runners at present are Technician and Axana. Technician, trained at Manton Estate by Martyn Meade was Champion Stayer and Champion Stayer among 3-year-olds in France last season when he won the Group 1 Prix Royal Oak. Axana was Champion Miler regardless of age or sex and Champion Mile at 3 in Germany, where she is trained by Andreas Woehler.
Q: Please tell us more about the values you feel define your passion for thoroughbred racing and how do you see them working for you in real life?
A: I have operated a stable of international horses owned by racing partnerships that I form in the name of Team Valor International. There is a lot of competition for new owners. And the landscape of racing is always changing. So I have been forced to be innovative. By nature, I am a problem solver. My passion for winning at the highest level has driven me to think outside of the box. I am known for this in America and elsewhere. One example is the Animal Kingdom, who set several first in winning the Kentucky Derby in terms of his parentage and having never run on dirt until he set foot on the Churchill Downs track the day of the race.
Q: Who is your racing leadership hero? And why?
A: F. E. (Jimmy) Kilroe developed racing in Southern California to reach a pinnacle of international competition when he was the Director of Racing. He was a true intellectual who elevated the game in many ways. He personally encouraged me when I first go into racing and I learned more about the concept of international racing from him than anybody else. A Grade One race is named in his honour in Southern California.
Q: How much would you say, faith, friendships and happiness influence your daily life?
A: I am a workaholic and spend most of my waking hours involved in the pursuits of racing. My wife Kathleen Irwin shares my passion and we work side by side. I rely on her for guidance and friendship and loyalty. I could not do what I do without her. Recently Godolphin Flying Start graduate Jessica Berry has joined our team and quickly become a valuable addition who has taken over great responsibility in the operation of our far-flung stable. Ours is a small, closely-knit company—something that I have always strived for—and we work very closely together.
Q: Who is your favourite racehorse of all time and why?
A: Swaps, bred in the same state of my birth California, winner of the 1955 Kentucky Derby and holder of World Records from 8 to 13 furlongs. I wrote a book on his career for the Eclipse Press series on famous racehorses. What drew me to him is the same thing that draws me to any horse I buy—his flawless and effortless ease of motion.
Q: Tell us something about yourself that not many people would know.
A: I am modest to a fault. I have difficulty accepting congratulations after a win, I am horrible at accepting any sort of compliment and I find it very difficult to talk about myself. A lot of people refuse to believe this because I project an air of self-confidence, but I have my wife as my witness.
Q: What would you like to achieve in the next five years?
A: I would like to be successful in establishing Team Valor’s base in Europe.
Q: And finally, what or who inspires you to struggle continuously and raise the bar?
A: My racing partners. I am inspired by the satisfaction I derive from knowing that I have been in some way responsible for making their lives more meaningful and exciting. For us, racing is about one thing: pride of ownership. And I strive to achieve that on their behalf.