Bren O’Brien



COMMENT | Down to the wire – Why Kiwis keep coming up trumps in Australia’s best races

While commercial thoroughbred breeding has never been as powerful as it is right now in Australia, New Zealand-bred horses continue to win many of Australia’s best races. Bren O’Brien investigates the Kiwi philosophy that underpins that success.

The New Zealand ability to make the best out of what you are presented with has been popularised as the ‘Number 8 Wire’ mentality.

The fencing wire, ubiquitous in its use on New Zealand farms over the generations, became a national symbol for Kiwi ingenuity, of the ‘can-do’ pioneering attitude which has helped a fledgling nation overcome isolation and scarcity of resources.

A similarly adaptable and innovative approach has sustained New Zealand thoroughbred breeding over many years.

At a relative disadvantage to better resourced Australian counterparts, the Kiwis have had to be very canny in how they invest in bloodstock, backing a quality over quantity model, focussing on pedigree and producing horses that may not always excel in the sales ring, but continue, as they did on Saturday, to come up trumps in Australia’s best staying races.

In 2013, Curraghmore’s Gordon Cunningham paid AU$23,000 for Baggy Green. By Galileo out of a Danehill daughter of five-time Group 1 winner and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe runner-up, User Friendly, it would be a pedigree which would fetch a pretty penny in most sales houses in the world, but in speed-obsessed Australia, where Galileo was surprisingly on the nose, she was largely overlooked.

Cunningham saw the opportunity, backed in the pedigree and the famous Kiwi pastures as a nursery and Baggy Green subsequently produced two Group 1 winners for him, Tofane and Saturday’s G1 Metropolitan Handicap winner No Compromise, before he sold her on in 2017 prior to either of that pair making their racetrack debuts.

It’s a pedigree page which has exploded with elite success ever since, with Baggy Green’s half-sisters Youngstar and Funstar both becoming Group 1 winners, while her subsequent colt, Benaud, has been placed in a G1 Australian Derby.

As things stand right now, Baggy Green, the $23,000 broodmare, sits at the heart of one of the most valuable female families in this part of the world.

When she was offered for sale earlier this year as part of a Valachi Downs dispersal, Baggy Green was sold for NZ$1.75 million to Yulong Stud, who also bought her Ocean Park yearling filly, for NZ$460,000.

A month earlier Yueshang Zhang’s massively expanding Yulong outfit, who are about to become Australasia’s biggest breeding outfit, had paid $3.1 million for the triple Group 1 winner Tofane.

The underbidder on Tofane was Katsumi Yoshida of Japan’s Northern Farm, who had already purchased Youngstar for AU$1.4 million and Funstar for AU$2.7 million over the past two years.

None of these riches have flowed back to Cunningham, but he can take satisfaction in knowing that taking a different tack to the prevailing market has proven such an amazing success, both on the racetrack and in the sales ring.

Kiwi breeders, even Irish-born ones like Cunningham, have been used to shopping smartly when it comes to building their broodmare bands, and zigging when others are zagging.


The Group 1-producing mare Baggy Green (Photo: Gavelhouse).

Another great example of that attitude has been what the Anderton family have done at White Robe Lodge.

The South Island-based stud is remarkable in that while the thoroughbred world around it, particularly across the Tasman, obsesses about speed and precocity, it has focussed on stamina and horses that need time.

Last century, White Robe stood New Zealand champion stallions Noble Bijou and Mellay, both unraced but beautifully bred horses, while more recent residents include Group 1 producers Raise The Flag and Yamanin Vital.

On Saturday, another White Robe Lodge stallion joined the Group 1 producers club, when Ghibellines’ son Smokin’ Romans scored a shock win in the Turnbull Stakes. Smokin’ Romans is White Robe through and through, bred by the Andertons out of the stakes-winning Yaminan Vital mare Inferno.

Darley-bred Ghibellines may have held a stallion’s pedigree, being a son of Shamardal out of the very successful Camarilla/Camarena family, but despite a juvenile Group 2 win was not determined commercial enough to warrant a position at stud in Australia.

He has delivered 55 individual winners for White Robe, including six at stakes level. It has taken time, but Smokin’ Romans, now clear favourite for the Caulfield Cup, could be the horse that takes the stallion to a new level of prominence.

Ethan Brown celebrates winning the Turnbull Stakes on Smokin' Romans. (Photo by Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images)

White Robe Lodge's resident, Ghibellines. (Photo: White Robe Lodge)

And it’s not an unusual occurrence to see these off-Broadway Kiwi sires produce a star.

Grangewilliam Stud stallion Zed, the sire of Cups heroine Verry Elleegant, was so off-Broadway at one point he was covering Clydesdale mares.

Shocking may have been a Melbourne Cup winner but was largely off the radar at Rich Hill Stud until I’m Thunderstruck’s recent heroics, while Little Avondale Stud’s Per Incanto has burst to prominence off the back of a flood of Hong Kong winners, plus the performances of the likes of Lost And Running, who won Saturday’s G2 Premiere Stakes, in Australia.

Turn Me Loose is another Kiwi sire making giant strides and on Saturday his filly She’s Licketysplit confirmed her favouritism for the upcoming G1 Thousand Guineas with a win in the G2 Edward Manifold Stakes.

All in all, Kiwi-bred horses won four of the 10 races staged at either Group 1 or Group 2 level in Australia on Saturday, despite having less than 15 per cent of runners in those events.
It’s no fluke result. In 2020/21, New Zealand bred horses won 18 of the 74 Group 1 races in Australia, while last season it was 16 of 74.

Not all of them are by low-profile stallions, or from cheap broodmares, but as a rule it proves the value of the more patient approach embraced by the likes of Cunningham and the Andertons, continuing the fine history of innovation by New Zealand breeders.



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