Bren O’Brien



Big spenders come and go but winning stays the same for Widden

In different circumstances, Spendthrift would have been celebrating a marquee moment at Eagle Farm on Saturday as Sheeza Belter won the Group One JJ Atkins Stakes, representing a breakthrough success for her sire Gold Standard.

Instead it was Hesket Thoroughbreds and Widden Stud popping the champagne barely two weeks after securing the son of Sebring to stand at Widden’s burgeoning Victorian base.

When Spendthrift founder B. Wayne Hughes passed away in August last year, it set in chain a series of events which would end the American powerhouse’s involvement in Australia.

As can often happen in family businesses, generational change can precipitate an alteration in strategy and in the case of Hughes’ son-in-law Eric Gustavson, he didn’t see the continuation of the Australian business as a priority.

Spendthrift’s plan to leverage the value of its bulging American stallion roster had not really captured the imagination of the Australian market and while the early seeds of the local stallion strategy were providing some shoots, there was nothing substantial enough to prompt a change of tack.

It became clear very quickly that this was not be a ‘phased exit’. Everything was on the market, the farm, its facilities, the breeding stock, the racing stock and the stallions.

It has been sold off with dizzying rapidity and less than six months after Gustavson’s announcement, you’d be hard pressed to find any record of Spendthrift’s seven-year presence in Australia.


The former Spendthrift Australia property. (Photo by Magic Millions)

One of the major beneficiaries has been David and Jenny Moodie’s Hesket Thoroughbreds. Hesket had been involved with Spendthrift through the MyRacehorse venture and pounced to secure the well-appointed 600-acre farm at Romsey, north of Melbourne, as well as the emerging stallions Dirty Work and Overshare.

In a deal announced early in May, that pair were to be added to Widden Victoria’s growing roster, but at the time there was no news about where their former barnmate Gold Standard’s future may lie.

Gold Standard certainly didn’t look like a game changer. A Group Two winner on the track, he served modest books of 53, 71, 45 and 26 in his four seasons at Spendthrift Australia, standing at a fee of $5500.

Buyers were lukewarm on his first yearling crop, which averaged just $7600, with the standout the $50,000 paid for a filly bred by Mt Hallowell Stud at the Magic Millions Perth Yearling Sale.

That standout filly was purchased by Justin Warwick, the former trainer in both thoroughbred and harness racing and now a cattle trader. Sheeza Belter began her career with Luke Fernie and at her third start was a brilliant winner of the WA Magic Millions at Pinjarra.

Warwick had previously sent his star mare Quilista to Peter and Paul Snowden and the father-son combination were happy to take his phone call again.

Sheeza Belter headed across the Nullarbor, missing the feature WA two-year-old races and only making a brief appearance at the Sydney carnival because of the seemingly endless heavy tracks.

William Pike and Sheeza Belter. (Photo Grant Courtney)

Her talent had proven enough of a lure to preserve the breeding career of her sire and a day before she won the Group Two BRC Sires’ Produce, it was confirmed that Hesket and Widden had also secured Gold Standard.

If that deal looked like a canny one after Sheeza Belter’s Group Two success in late May, it now looks to be a piece of genius. With the Snowden polish, and thanks to a smart ride from fellow WA exile William Pike, she delivered in the final Group One two-year-old race of the Australian season.

Widden, Australia’s most historic stud, with 150 years of continued involvement by the Thompson family, is no stranger to swooping when an international outfit cuts and runs.

Just last year, it took the opportunity to set-up in Victoria when Sun Stud’s Australian business interest vaporised. Having added a few of its own stallions to the former Sun Stud roster, it now has the added power of the ex-Spendthrift trio, giving it the largest roster of any Victorian stud, 13 stallions in all.

Thanks to Sheeza Belter, and Spendthrift’s sudden exit, it also now has a Group One-producing stallion who will finish at least second on the freshmen sires’ table at the end of the season.



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