Ryan unearths grey diamond in the rough

In-form trainer tells Chris McGrath how his 'little club' has been saved by several extraordinary buys

John Ryan parked his car and began walking towards the sales complex. The grey horse was one of the earliest lots in the catalogue and he hoped that most bidders would be keeping their powder dry. As luck should have it, a lot of people seemed to have been held up at the racecourse, where the last race had been delayed. The place still seemed pretty deserted.

Such are the narrow interstices between luck and judgement where he was already accustomed to plying his trade. It was April, the start of his fourth season as a trainer. Ryan and his wife had already decided that it might have to be his last. "Last autumn we sat down and said that if things didn't pick up this year, we'd have to fold the business," he remembered this week. "What was the point of banging your head against a brick wall? We didn't want to get into a position where we'd be endangering house and home."

As he neared the sales ring, he noticed a screen updating bids. He gasped. They were already on to the grey horse. Evidently there had been several withdrawals. Ryan broke into a sprint and burst into the ring as though his career depended on it. (That is the cruelty of his vocation. Every time, this could be the one. Almost invariably, it is not.) The gavel was raised. The colt by Haafhd, 10,000 guineas, last call. Ryan frantically waved his catalogue at the auctioneer. Five minutes later, he was signing a chit for the last bid, 16,000gns. "I'd shown a right turn of foot from the car park," he grins now. "Obviously it was one of those things that are meant to be."

That was only the end of the beginning. He still had to tell his wife, as casually as he could dare. "Oh, by the way, I bought that grey horse." And, critically, he had to find somebody to pick up the bill – small as it was, by the deranged standards of the bloodstock market. It was plenty big enough for Ryan, 41. At the yearling sales, last autumn, he had told his wife that he was just popping into the gents. When he returned, he sheepishly explained that he had just bought a colt, with no pedigree to speak of, for a grand. That was little more than the value of its carcass to an abattoir. "They obviously decided it would turn out cheaper to let him go than take him home," he said. "But when things are tight, and there isn't a grand to spend on a horse without an owner, it was enough."

Why should these punts prove any less pathetic than those made by so many other trainers led astray by dreams, folly, or sheer bad fortune? Well, at least Ryan had pedigree on his side. His father, Mick, trained a number of good horses, not least an Irish 1,000 Guineas winner in Katies, and in his heyday landed some enormous gambles for the flamboyant Terry Ramsden. Mick's father had in turn been a horseman of the old school, working at Lord Derby's stud.

Even so, just look where these young colts ended up, crammed into a quaint backyard, a tiny nook behind an alley in Newmarket, where some studs and stables are maintained as extravagantly as palaces. Ryan has just 10 horses in training here. Last week, however, he took the grey horse across town to the July Course and won one of the most prestigious juvenile races of the season. Silver Grecian had already cruised home in his first two starts, and now here he was, impudently sweeping from last to first.

Ryan had found three patrons to share the colt. One had won the Scoop6. "He had been given one of those outsized cheques," he said. "We were coming out of the Thai restaurant on the high street when he came walking past carrying this thing. 'Here,' I said. 'I could help you spend some of that.'"

The big question now is whether these gentlemen will be able to resist the offers already coming in from bigger operators. "So far, they've been offers we can refuse," Ryan said. "I believe, if they did get one big enough, that they would reinvest. Of course, the chance of coming across another one like this is a million-to-one. But they're human. They'd have to think about it."

And what of the yearling, the one snaffled for a grand? Iver Bridge Lad has won his last two races, latterly a Listed race at Sandown. This looks suspiciously more like judgement than luck.

"I've no right to succeed in any shape or form," Ryan said. "It's only through bloody-mindedness. Something makes you believe that every day when you get up, and it's still dark and pissing down, what we're doing, we're doing for a reason. There's only a handful of us, and it's down to all the extra things they put in – cutting up carrots when a horse is off its feed, that kind of thing.

"I can't be flash the way some people are, with brand new jackets and bridles every spring. But you see these huge strings walking down the heath, and you know that a lot of them never even make it on to the track. And you think: 'Let me give those ones a chance in life.' Only decide which ones, before you ever put a saddle on them. Because if they're not quite ready, and get thrown in the deep end, life is bloody hard. In our little club, they're going to get looked after."

Turf account: Chris McGrath


Roker Park (7.55 Hamilton) On a roll since being fitted with cheekpieces, and the decisive way he settled the issue at Newcastle last time suggests he remains fairly treated off a 4lb higher mark. Could soon be promoted out of handicaps.

Next best

Ashram (4.55 Newbury) Back to form and this looks an ideal opening for a colt good enough to be beaten only two lengths in the Dewhurst Stakes last autumn.

One to watch

Treaty Flyer (Alison Thorpe) has been improving at a modest level and has not finished yet, to judge by the way she got her rivals in trouble before stopping in her tracks three out at Stratford on Sunday.

Where the money's going

Coral shortened the Sir Michael Stoute pair, Conduit and Tartan Bearer, to 2-1 and 4-1 respectively after news that Youmzain misses the King George VI Stakes and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot next week.

Suggested Topics
Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
Review: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Manchester United manager David Moyes looks on during his side's defeat to Everton
footballBaines and Mirallas score against United as Everton keep alive hopes of a top-four finish
Tour de France 2014Sir Rodney Walker on organising the UK stages of this year’s race
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Brown Findlay as Mary Yellan in ‘Jamaica Inn’
TVJessica Brown Findlay on playing the spirited heroine of Jamaica Inn
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
Football Vine shows Suarez writhing in pain before launching counter attack
People White House officials refuse to make comment on 275,000 signatures that want Justin Bieber's US visa revoked
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
Lukas Podolski celebrates one of his two goals in Arsenal's win over Hull
Arts & Entertainment
Quentin Tarantino, director
The speeding train nearly hit this US politican during a lecture on rail safety
news As the saying goes, you have to practice what you preach
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher

£130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

Do you want to work in Education?

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit