Hit The Bid may only be a four-year-old but he looks capable of challenging for top sprinting honours when he is fully mentally and physically developed.
So far he has been beaten a neck in the Rockingham at the Curragh in Ireland, carrying a hefty 9st 8lb as a 3-year-old against hardened sprinters and then ran flying machine Caspian Prince and world class Marsha to within three lengths in the Group 2 Sapphire Stakes, also at the Curragh.
He was then only a neck behind the warrior that is Take Cover and a length and a half in front of subsequent Breeders Cup Juvenile turf winner Declarationofpeace in the Al Basti Equiworld sponsored Mercury Stakes at Dundalk. When he broke his maiden in no less than a Group 3 race, it was clear more was to follow.
A handsome well-made son of Exceed and Excel out of Selinka by Selkirk, he will only get better as he matures. Third on his Meydan debut in January, he clearly thrived and won nicely a month later. Last Thursday, he was pitched into Group 2 company in the Meydan Sprint where he finished third to the superstar Ertijaal and Godolphin’s Blue Point.
“He is owned by a great bunch of ten lads from all over the world — the Straight To Victory Syndicate. I can’t praise them enough, they just leave things to me, I do what I want to do and I suppose that’s what gets them results.
“I have an app on my phone which I use to keep them informed with video and photo updates so being in different time zones doesn’t matter,” he added.
“The goal out here is the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) on World Cup night and he will then return home to be prepped for the King’s Stand Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot and the Nunthorpe (G1) at York.”
The quiet soft tones of his County Kildare accent act as a foil to what lies beneath, a man fiercely driven with total focus towards success on the highest stages in the racing world.
It is rare to meet a person whose sole aim is to achieve Group 1 winners and I get the feeling nothing else will suffice and that even Group 2s and 3s will seem like a failure to him.
He may never have the biggest stable numerically but it could become one of the most powerful.
Bunyan said: “I’d love to be chasing big winners all over the world and think maybe 60 to 80 horses would be enough.”
He oozes confidence in his own ability to select a top class horse at the bloodstock sales with zero assistance from an agent. It’s so refreshing to come across such self-belief in an age where an agent is nearly needed to select a cup of coffee at Tattersalls yearling sales. And furthermore, we aren’t talking ‘put your hand up until the bidding stops at a ludicrous sum of money’ for this man has made a habit, call it an addiction, to paying relatively small amounts for his carefully selected and steadily growing band of classy horses.
All the credit for this amazing gift Bunyan bestows on his late father, Arthur, who instilled in his son a rare brand of self-belief and confidence most exceptional in that it is totally devoid of any trace of arrogance and is coupled with a degree of humility.
“Dad was the most amazing horseman I’ve ever met, a genius and a great judge,” said Bunyan.
“He was in racing over sixty years in all roles from groom to trainer and was the most influential person in my early years. At the age of seven, I used to ride the racehorses to the gallops and then swap and drive the car — perched on a pile of cushions. This soon transferred to riding up the gallops myself.”
And we are talking the wide open sheep littered spaces of The Curragh not a railed in circular track. Such a young child would never be allowed this freedom nowadays although this story is very familiar to me as my own children, Sophie and James, followed the same pattern, and it didn’t do them any harm!
It’s no surprise that Bunyan left school early to work in the yard. He spent a season with the universally loved Jonjo O’Neil, who he admits he should have stayed longer with. But he continued his education with the most astute and intelligent man ever to hold a trainer’s licence, John Oxx, whom Bunyan describes as “a pure gentleman who leaves no stone unturned with his horses”.
Oxx was followed by the legendary Dermot Weld, a man with no peers in Irish racing. In 1999, Bunyan accepted a job offer to pre-train horses in Japan, unique in the fact that he spoke no Japanese and the staff no English. The evenings were spent trading languages with the lads working for him. The two years spent there gave him invaluable experience and in managing racehorses in arguably the world’s most stringent racing environment. He returned to Ireland in 1999 and became assistant to Ken Condon at the onset of that man’s career, remaining until the time to go it alone in 2011.
He started up with a couple of horses and no financial backers and has stayed that way. His system, which he has diligently stood by, has been to select and purchase lower price horses with nice pedigrees, that for whatever reason, have slipped through the nets of the big guns buying at the auctions. As soon as they win, he is not afraid, indeed even happy, to sell them on to those that maybe missed them first time around and always for a tidy profit.
Not a system for the faint hearted as very few would rejoice in another trainer winning with their horses. But not so this humble man,
“When I sell one and it wins for the new owner and trainer I am the next happiest person,” Bunyan says. “It’s so important when you sell a horse that it progresses, always leave a bit for the next man.
“It doesn’t bother me to sell a good horse because there are always going to be more to buy at the next sales and I know I’ll pick some decent ones.
“I like to buy a horse with scope and if I don’t get a buzz when I first see a horse come out of the stable, I’ll walk away.”
Bunyan’s recent good sale was Beat The Bank. bought for 30,000 Guineas and sold on after winning a Dundalk maiden. Now trained by Andrew Balding he has won both a Group 2 and 3 and looks nailed on for Group 1 honours this year.
As well as selling good horses to fund the next batch of equines Bunyan is not a man to waste his efforts on those lacking in talent,
“I prefer to be honest with people and tell them not to waste their money on horses who can’t win for them,” he explains.
“Horses in our yard are treated like royals, if I could find a hotel like this, I wouldn’t want to leave it.”
Unusually, in the current struggle to secure good staff in racing yards, Bunyan has no such woes.
“My lads at home are second to none, the best team of lads possible.” He boasts. “All bar one are Irish and I look after them very well.”
With twenty-five charges — his biggest string yet — Bunyan goes into the new season in Ireland with huge hopes and excitement for the future.
But not before Hit The Bid is primed to maximum revs for World Cup night and The Al Quoz Sprint.
— The author is a former trainer and mother of leading jockeys James and Sophie Doyle.