Derry man purchases new horse for former Manchester United supremo . . .
Stephen Hillen - the Derry-born bloodstock agent - underlined his reputation as one of the leading lights in the business recently with no fewer than five winners at four different race meetings on the same day.
And, to make matters all the more interesting, is the news that one of these purchases, “Nautical Haven,” who won the opening race at York racecourse priced at 5/1, was acquired by Stephen for none other than Manchester United’s managerial legend, Sir Alex Ferguson.
Forty-six years-old Hillen is considered one of the top independent bloodstock agents in Europe, and Saturday, July 24th, proved to be a busy day for him as he had horses racing at Newmarket (2), Ascot, Chester and York.
Having developed a long-standing relationship with fashionable northern trainer, Kevin Ryan, Stephen’s reputation within the industry continues to grow having dipped his toes in the bloodstock profession some 13 years ago.
The eldest son of the late Charlie and Mairead Hillen from Derry’s Beechwood Street, Stephen is now well settled in Newmarket having left for England to seek his future as a jockey as a determined 18-years-old.
However, it became clear at an early juncture into that career that his developing physical stature would not be conducive to his chosen profession. So, rather than give up, he opted to try his hand at training before switching to the bloodstock game, identifying young horses with good potential.
“July 24 certainly was a busy day,” Stephen told the ‘Journal’..
“Obviously, we had been keeping an eye on the horses we purchased and it was great to see them all win.
“Following a few telephone calls, everything went well and we managed to secure the horses for our clients,” he added.
Extremely happy with the steady growth of his business, and having already enjoyed significant success, Stephen also spends quite a lot of time in Ireland keeping check on young horses, from foals to yearlings, in the land of his birth.
“I actually get back regularly, but I don’t always get the chance to go home to Derry to see my mum, brother Dermot and sister, Fiona. Naturally, I’m on the telephone to my family on a regular basis, but I try to get back home at least three times a year.
“And, I’ll definitely be back this October as my sister, Fiona, is getting married so that should prove to be a great family day out for us and I’m really looking forward to that,” said Stephen.
Hillen spent four years with Barry Hills before moving to Lambourn, the ‘Valley of the Racehorse,’ where he was assistant trainer to Paul Cole for 10 years.
It was during his time at Lamborn that Stephen began to source good value National Hunt horses which would be trained by Jessica Harrington in Ireland.
Some of his early purchases did well, including “Studmaster,” a Ladbroke Hurdle winner at Leopardstown and a Grade 1 winning Novice Chaser by the name of “Bust Out.”
Stephen started up as a bloodstock agent back in 2003 and one very successful purchase was a horse named ‘Benbaun’ which cost him £10,000.
During his racing career, “Benbaun” would go on to win eight Group races including The Prix de l’Abbaye Group One at Longchamp, the race staged prior to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, earning in total over £850,000.
The “Grey Gatsby” was also purchased by Stephen as a yearling at €24,000 and the tenacious grey has won in excess of £2 million in prize money.