Tuesday, 24 June 2008
: Highgrove Stud maintained its presence among the leading vendors at the Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale this year, but it's the performance of Highgrove-bred horses on the racetrack that keeps the buyers coming back. NATHAN EXELBY reports.
| Espurante wins the PJ Bell|
Photo by Racing and Sports
Ron Gilbert says there's no comparison between selling a big priced yearling and watching a horse you have bred compete at the highest level on the racetrack.
One, he says, is more a feeling of relief and the other is 'pure joy'.
In the few days after another highly successful Easter Sale for his Highgrove Stud, Gilbert and his wife Debbie watched on with pride as the Falbrav colt Fravashi made a stunning debut at Canterbury and Espurante became the latest black type winner off the farm when taking the Listed PJ Bell Handicap at Randwick.
“The whole aim of breeding is to get black type horses, in particular Group 1 winners,” he says.
“The bigger the race, the bigger the excitement.
“The yearling sales are something that I really enjoy – I love taking good horses to the yearling sales.
“But, watching Fravashi and Espurante winning those races is far more exciting than getting the $1million yearling.
“It's more a relief than anything at the sales.
“It's such a long process getting them there and you tend to feel the pressure.
“First off, you have to hope the foal is a good type – if you haven't got a good type, then people just aren't interested in buying them.
“Fortunately it seems as though we get our fair share of good types.
“Then when you get a good type of foal, you've only got another 18 months to go!
“Believe me, there's a lot of things that can go wrong between the time a foal is born and the time it leaves the sales ring.
“So there's a lot of pressure, especially when you have a team of very good horses going to the sales and that's why it's relief more than any other emotion when you are lucky enough to get the big money for them.
“That's in contrast to watching one of your horses win. You may sell them to someone else, but you never really lose ownership.
“I feel ecstatic for the people who bought them when our horses win.
“I'm happy with what I get on the day of the sale – I rarely pass a horse in because I feel as though the people judging them are the best in the world and who I am I to say they are wrong?
“From that point, it gives you a real sense of satisfaction when one of them does make it as a racehorse because it franks those high priced figures people are prepared to pay when horses off the farm are running and winning races.”
Highgrove Stud, based on Queensland's Darling Downs, has built a reputation for breeding and rearing horses of the highest quality in recent times.
The stud was leading vendor by average at the 2006 William Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale and the good fortune has continued in the past two years, in particular last month, when Highgrove sold five horses at an average of $692,000, including two horses that sold for $1.1million each.
Both were Redoute's Choice colts and were sought out by the sale's leading buyers, with Darley securing the colt from Angelic Smile (by Dehere) and Ingham Bloodstock securing the Sequin (by Lure) colt.
But while it is satisfying to have those sorts of sales results, Gilbert is conscious that sales prices are only driven by what unfolds on the racetrack and in this regard, Highgrove continues to be a major player.
Incredibly, horses off the farm have a winner to runners strike rate of 73.2%.
Just as impressive is the stakes performer to runners ratio, which sits at a healthy 43.7%, including a stakes winner to runner strike rate of 15%.
In winning the P.J. Bell, Espurante joined a growing list of black type winners that include Porto Roca, Jet Spur, Stella Artois, Stockade, Omnitrader, Pure Joy, Legally Bay, Time Out and Get To Work.
Fravashi soon joined that that elite group when he romped home in the G2 QTC Sires Produce Stakes last month.
He may have missed his chance at Group 1 glory when beaten just over a week later in the T.J. Smith, but the post race report showed why he flopped as a long odds-on favourite and he is sure to be a major player in the big three-year-old events when he returns.
The highly regarded broodmare Stella Artois is a perfect example of how the wheel is constantly turning for Highgrove.
She was sold by Highgrove back when the farm was still making a name for itself.
The Geiger Counter filly was sold as a yearling by Highgrove for $15,000 and went on to dual Listed successes among seven wins.
At Easter this year, Stella Artois' Redoute's Choice colt was sold by Arrowfield for $1.3million.
Gilbert is very aware that racetrack success is what drives the yearling market and while she was only a cheap yearling, her deeds were an important part of the early success for the stud.
Highgrove has been operating for the best part of a decade and Gilbert says little has been changed in that time.
“The feeding program is exactly the same now as it was on the day we opened and the foals are all still reared in the same paddocks.
“To be truthful, because the farm started so successfully, I have been afraid to change anything!”
One thing that has to change though is the broodmare band with Gilbert conscious of maintaining pace with the ever changing trends of this industry.
“We have 24 mares at the moment but I need to do some culling,” he said.
“We only have 160 acres in total and that means you have to be more realistic on the numbers.
“I like to make sure each paddock has a six month spell each year, which means we can't have too many horses on the property at the one time.
“I sold Espurante's dam La Rose Noir a couple of years back and hopefully the people who bought her do very well out of her now,” Gilbert said.
“It's not as if I'm selling mares that are useless, it's just that I need to keep the numbers in check.”
Highgrove's two million dollar yearlings this year come from dams who started at opposite ends of the expectation spectrum for Ron Gilbert.
Angelic Smile was secured by Gilbert from the Lindsay Park dispersal in 2002 for $200,000 and continues to be an outstanding investment.
“We were actually looking at another mare from that sale, who went for quite a bit more money and Mark Pilkington suggested I have a look at this mare,” Gilbert said.
Since being acquired by Highgrove, Angelic Smile's yearlings have fetched $250,000 (for Pure Joy, by Fusaichi Pegasus), $280,000 (for Long Shorts, by Secret Savings), $550,000 (Fravashi, by Falbrav) and now $1.1million for this year's Redoute's Choice colt.
She has since produced another Redoute's Choice colt and is in foal to the same stallion.
Pilkington's recommendations have proven golden for Highgrove over the years, with Anacarde (2 sold for $890,000) and Fragmentation – whose Easter colt was the equal highest price paid for a Fastnet Rock
at $800,000 – among others he has steered Highgrove into.
“Mark tells me I should set aside something in my will for him!”
Gilbert speaks in glowing terms about Angelic Smile.
“I believe she is headed towards being one of the top few mares in Australia,” he says.
“Her progeny just keep coming out looking like they will be able to gallop and that's a huge advantage with a mare.
“John Hawkes will tell you how good Pure Joy was, but unfortunately she only had a handful of starts.
“And even though Fravashi only won a midweek maiden and on a wet track, it was in the style of a really good horse and they are now talking about Group 1 races for him.”
Gilbert is particularly proud of the Fravashi mating.
“I sent Angelic Smile to Redoute's Choice on the strength of Pure Joy, but in between I was very keen to go to Falbrav,” he said.
“I particularly liked that mating with the Dehere mare and even though it probably wasn't the most commercial option I had available for her at that time, I really thought it was worth the punt because I liked the mating so much.
“As it turned out he was an outstanding type and $550,000 was an awful lot of money (the highest price paid for a Falbrav in Australia last year), so I really do hope Fravashi can go on and live up to the early promise he has shown.
“Really, what he has done as a two-year-old is a bonus because you would expect he can only get better at three.”
While Angelic Smile was always expected to do big things, Gilbert has his wife Debbie to thank for securing Sequin, a daughter of the wonderful producer Subterfuge (by Machiavellian) who was purchased as a yearling for just $100,000.
“To be honest, I didn't like her but Deb liked the fact she was by Lure and was fairly keen on her,” Gilbert recalls.
“We were sitting up in the restaurant area (at the Newmarket sales complex) when she came into the ring and she got to $90,000 when Deb said 'there's that Lure filly.' So she rushed out, put in a bid and all of a sudden we owned ourselves a new filly.”
While Gilbert is happy to heap praise on Mark Pilkington's other recommendations, he can't resist a dig when it comes to Sequin.
“We sent her to Lindsay Park and Mark told us to get rid of her because she wasn't much good,” Gilbert recalls.
“Fortunately we held onto her and then out came (her half-relations) Scintillation (G1 winner in Hong Kong) and Shania Dane (multiple Group winner, multiple G1 placed).
“Sure enough, her first foal Get To Work (by Snippets) was a stakes winner and she's already proven herself a good producer.
“So I reminded Mark about her when he was on the inheritance trail!”
Bob Ingham thought enough of Sequin's Redoute's Choice colt to go to $1.1million to secure him at Easter.
That followed a $375,000 yearling at Easter last year – the highest price paid for a Falbrav filly in 2007.