For anyone to be a commercial breeder in the standardbred industry in New Zealand means they usually need a benevolent banker and a determination to stick it out for the long term.
It is a part of the harness racing industry that sees a lot of participants come in all gung ho and leave a short time later, wiser and poorer for the experience.
A small number have been able to structure their breeding operations in such a way that not only are they profitable but they produce a high quality and successful product to boot.
At the forefront of this small group in New Zealand is the founder of Studholme Bloodstock, Brian West.
Recently we travelled to his magnificent 300 acre property at Coes Ford in Canterbury to spend an afternoon with Brian to get an over view of his involvement to date and what the future holds.
When did you first develop an interest in the Harness Racing Industry.
My first memories were as a thirteen year old.
That interest grew to the point where in my early twenties I purchased my first horse. I used to go to local dispersal sales looking to pick up well bred stock with a view to trading them further down the track.
Anyone you turned to for advice in those early days.
Jim Dalgety was a great help in those early days and I still seek his advice at times today.
He has a wealth of knowledge and is very generous with his time.
Alec Purdon and Des Callaghan (Tara Lodge) were two others that I sought out in those early years and they both helped me immensely.
I am indebted to them all for their help.
How did Yonkers Breeding Partnership come about?
In 1986, I set up Yonkers Breeding Partnership in conjunction with four close friends of mine.
We floated the partnership and it ended up with 100 investors all up.
The aim was to target the top end of the yearling market.
The partnership purchased the bloodstock and things looked to be coming together nicely when out of the blue the government of the day completely changed the tax structure for bloodstock.
That completely compromised the financial viability of Yonkers Breeding Partnership.
As a result we sold down the bloodstock over a period of three years at a significant loss.
The partnership was very fortunate however as the funding borrowed from Barclays Bank was secured against the bloodstock and not the investors so the money lost by the investors was minimal.
In 1986, we set up Club Classics Syndicates as an outlet for some of our bloodstock. The first syndicate was made up of seven horses with seven different trainers but we were having trouble selecting the seventh horse for the package. Robert Dunn went and looked at a group of horses we owned and to our surprise chose a smallish plain looking Stampede colt as the seventh horse.
Of course he turned out to be Defoe 1:53 ($423,372) and that gave the syndicates a lot of creditability going forward. We were based at the old Watties farm in Shands road at the time and we had employed Michael House to do all the pre-training of the syndicate horses which also helped in their success.
How did Yonkers Breeding Partnership (1989) come about.
After the wind up of Yonkers Breeding Partnership, a few of the investors wanted to start again.
So we wrote to the 100 original investors and offered them the opportunity to be involved.
About 10% took up the offer and together we formed Yonkers Breeding Partnership (1989). We purchased the ten best pedigreed mares from the original Yonkers portfolio.
How long did Yonkers Breeding Partnership (1989) last for?
A little over twelve years all up.
Most of the investors were coming up to retirement and wanted to free up some cash.
The Bloodstock was valued and purchased by Studholme Park (BD West)
The partnership made a profit every year of its twelve years, something I and manager, Jack Hartley, were very proud of, as they were very difficult days in the standardbred industry in New Zealand.
At what point did the bloodstock operations evolve to their present name of Studholme Bloodstock?
Studholme Bloodstock was formed in January 2003.
Taking ownership of the bloodstock formally owned by Studholme Park (BD West)
Why did you move from the Shands road property as it was beautifully set up
I was looking to down size our breeding operation to create more leisure time, at the same time a developer made an offer to purchase the Shands Road property.
I wasn't sure where I was going to go but I ran into an old friend of mine in real estate and not long after that he convinced me to have a look at the farm we are presently on.
I would have to be honest and say when I first saw the property as I drove in, I was less than impressed as the house and outbuildings looked very run down.
But my friend convinced me to have a look at the farm and I am glad I did because it is an outstanding property.
I purchased 70 acres at first and then further down the track I purchased an additional 230 acres of an adjoining property to give me the 300 acres we presently have.
It is a beautifully set up farm with 10 acre paddocks and shelter to each paddock from the easterly and the southerly winds.
The earthquakes destroyed the main house (built in 1863) and I have yet to finalise its future with the insurance company but I have restored the other buildings on the property including the fourteen box ‘mews’, a two-storey stable complex and recently refurbished a small cottage which is now my home.
How many stocks does the farm carry?
Can vary from time to time but usually we would be carrying 100 horses and we finish up to 200 cattle as well.
We run the cattle behind the horses and we crop some paddocks each year.
All our paddocks are sown with a grass mix that has a heavy emphasis on red clover which seems to suit our soil type here.
Any outside clients
No, I have turned down dozens of approaches over the years.
I do have breeding arrangements with a few people on a 50/50 basis and race some fillies with friends.
I would calculate that Studholme Bloodstock owns outright about 70% of the horses on the farm at any one time.
I am in breeding and racing arrangements with long term clients and friends: Peter Smith and Winky Foley (Kahukuri Bloodstock), Neville Tilsley, Mike and Sue Grainger (Grainger Bloodstock), John Purvis (Grassy Meadows Farm), Vicky Purdon, Mike Gourdie, Gavin Chin, Graham Gimblett and Ken McDonald of Master Musician and For a Reason fame.
You didn’t sell fillies at the sales for a period of four or five years there not long ago .Why?
When I first set up Studholme Park, I sold every foal I bred as that was the only way to pay the bills and keep our heads above water. Buyers of yearlings are generally looking for a reason not to buy and unless they are faultless in conformation and pedigree they were not giving me a return on my investment.
As I became more financial and aware that our fillies were being sold at a loss in most instances, I decided to retain all fillies and try them as a race horse. The result of this decision has been very positive for my farm. These days we will sell the odd filly but they have to tick every box before I enter them in the yearling sales.
This year I retained nine fillies which have all been broken in.
What trainers do you use?
I stopped counting when I got to seventy. These days though I mainly use Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen while I also have some with Cran Dalgety and Robert and John Dunn and Grant Payne.
Different fillies suit different trainers.
Secret Lotion and Art Critic never really settled at Marks and Natalies but have been in great form since joining Robert and John’s team so I am not afraid to move them if I think it might help.
One year I sent seven fillies to Nicole Molander in Sydney.
They all won enough money to pay their way and came back home with smart mile rates besides their name which is always helpful when selling at the sales
How many have you got for next years’ sales and could you give us a rundown on their programme from weaning up to sale day.
I will have 12 colts and two fillies barring injuries for next years’ sale.
We run them in small mobs right through from weaning.
They are fed a barley based mix that I have made to our specifications which has a 16% protein component.
We change the mix on the 1st of August, reducing the protein component to 13%
The hard feed is supplemented with lucerne/red clover baleage and some meadow hay.
We have 14 double fenced yearling paddocks which we use during the sale prep.
The sales prep starts on December 1st, we bring them in from the paddocks at seven in the morning. Following breakfast, they will be put on a walker for 30 minutes.
They stay in for lunch and are put back in their paddocks at two in the afternoon and they stay there overnight.
We do that right up to Christmas and then give them ten days off to freshen them up.
We will then start again in early January and go right through to the sale which is usually around the 20th February.
A lot of trainers/buyers like to come and see the horses on farm and we fit in around them as much as we can. Also, we are part of the very successful sales bus tour. Our main marketing push comes in the form of a booklet showing a photograph of each yearling.
Whom would you rate the best horse you have raced –bred—seen
The best horse I have raced would have to be Secret Potion 1:57.5 ($285,313) who won both the Great Northern Oaks (Group1) and Nevele R Fillies Final(Group1).
Close behind would be Lancome 1:54.9 ($461,278) who won 13 races including the Harness Jewels 4 year old Diamond (Group1)
The best horse I have bred would have to be A Bit Of A Legend 1:54.7 ($720,710) who has won 17 to date including both the two and three year old divisions of the Austrlasian Breeders Crown (Group 1)
The best horse I have seen would have to be Lord Module 1:54.9 ($251,750)
At his peak he made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up with his speed and power.
What have been some of the major changes that you think have been positive for the industry in your time.
Two stand out for me.
1.) The DNA testing regime was a major step forward and made those mistakes of the past impossible.
2.) The other was the introduction of shuttle stallions which allowed the breeders in the southern hemisphere access to the best stallions in the world.
Jack Rice, a USA lawyer and John Curtin had to fight tooth and nail to establish shuttle stallions and yet neither has ever had their contribution recognised which is a shame as we wouldn't be where we are today without their efforts.
How do you see the future of harness racing and breeding in New Zealand.
One of the major impediments to the future of the harness racing industry in New Zealand is the archaic governance structure that we have in this industry.
The ‘Clubs’ run the industry in New Zealand. Clubs were set up to run race meetings and that should be their primary focus.
The industry should be governed by a board of directors elected by industry participants, licence holders, breeders and owners.
Such a board would free the industry from the glacial pace of change we have under the current structure.
The other major problem that needs attention and soon is the lack of any incentives for people to breed.
The number of mares bred this last breeding season was the lowest for 45 years and is in a downward spiral.
The focus so far has been to increase stakes and that has been successful to a point but still the numbers of mares bred continues to decline.
We need to incentivise the breeders to breed.
There are several ways you can do that and there are several places overseas which run breeding incentive schemes.
Which one would best meet the New Zealand industries needs further evaluation but one thing is certain, the French have it right, twelve and a half percent of every dollar earned is paid to the breeder.
If we don't start to reward the people who produce the product that keeps our industry alive then we may not have an industry long term.
Thanks for taking the time to speak to us Brian. It is much appreciated.