Virginian Profile: Peter Bance

2013 has been a big year for Virginian Peter Bance. In July, he advised partners John Moores and Charles Noell through the purchase of all of the bloodstock held by Ireland’s Kilfrush Stud; in December, that same partnership set a European record for a broodmare when selling Immortal Verse for 4.7 million guineas at Tattersalls December.

“I was expecting that result,” Bance said of the purchase price. “If you look back on the last 10 years of top broodmare sales, between Keeneland and Tattersalls, [Immortal Verse] fit the mold. Conformation, pedigree, racing ability – she was everything. Plus she was in foal to Dansili, who has had his greatest year ever this year.”

A native of Richmond, Bance has been involved in the horse industry since his high school years at Saint Christopher’s School. A son of longtime Virginian horsepeople Peter and Betty Bance, Bance attended Hampton-Sydney (majoring in “girls and booze”) before finding his way back to the industry.

“For summer money at Saint Christopher’s, I’d buy a horse for $2,000 and sell him for eight,” Bance recalled. “Take a horse off the track. I started working on horses then. It was one of the gifts my mother gave me.”

After graduating college, Bance worked in insurance, running the horse insurance division for Johnson & Higgins, then the largest privately-owned insurance brokerage firm in America. In 1980, he formed Bluegrass Thoroughbred Services, a sales agency concentrating on stallion syndication, sales representation and racing partnerships. Bluegrass, which Bance runs in partnership with Virginian John Stuart, has been responsible for such top-quality graduates as Rio De La Plata, Blue Bunting, Eddington, Theysken’s Theory and Stopshoppingmaria.

The connection with John Moores and Charles Noell, who operate under the stable name of Merriebelle Stables, is not an accident for Bance. Noell and Bance attended St. Christopher’s School in Richmond together, graduating in 1970. Noell moved to Monkton, Maryland after Harvard Business School, fox hunting and steeplechasing, and is still a member of the board of the National Steeplechase Association.

Noell now resides in Austin, Texas, with partner Moores, where they are involved in the business of creating and building new software companies. Their investment in the racing and breeding industries has grown tremendously in the last year and Bance cites a healthy business and the expansion of the pair’s European interests as the driving force.

Merriebelle has purchased two farms in Kentucky, Chanteclair Farm (formerly owned by the late Saud bin Khaled and Karen N. Woods) and the former Stonewall Farm. In May, they purchased the 120-acre Irish estate Ardbraccan in Navan, County Meath. In July, they purchased all of the bloodstock held by the Irish operation Kilfrush Stud, including approximately 30 horses of all ages.

“They have been dabbling in horses with me since they bought 25 percent of Kingmambo around 1990,” Bance said. “Charlie really wanted to plunge deeper into the business – it’s his passion more so than John’s.”

The business plan with the new acquisitions will be primarily commercial, according to Bance.

“We look at every horse and make a decision, but our plan is to sell them, and if they bring the right money, then we’ll let somebody have them, but if they don’t we’ll race the fillies and sell the colts,” Bance said.

The partnership will also adopt a drug-free approach to its American stock, avoiding race-day medication and employing trainers known for their more European training style.

“They are embracing no-2-year-olds on Lasix, they are embracing no race-day medications, no performance enhancing drugs,” Bance said. “Therefore you’ll see we’re using people like Graham Motion to train.”

Bance has been an out-spoken proponent of the Lasix ban, citing first-hand experience with his own international clients as evidence of the negative impact the drug has on the American industry.

“I’m watching abuse of drugs by trainers kill off our industry month-by-month,” Bance said. “When I was in Newmarket, a long-time client of mine from Buenos Aires showed up looking for stallions for the first time ever at Tattersalls because he didn’t want to buy a stallion who had run on Lasix.”

BBA Ireland’s Adrian Nicoll purchased Immortal Verse on behalf of a new partnership to be established within Coolmore. The daughter of Pivotal was a dual-Grade I winner in Europe, including the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot.