Day At The Track

Spicers breed a derby winner

10:06 AM 20 Apr 2018 NZST
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Watching the New Zealand Derby unfold in front of your eyes was something that had to be seen to be believed.

Think Terror To Love’s first New Zealand Cup, Flashing Red’s second, and Father Christmas winning on debut at Oamaru.

The last race may only be dear the heart of the scribe and his syndicate members, but you get my drift. This race had it all. From go to woe it was electric and by the end you were scrambling to catch your breath.

Sitting behind the Chairman of Harness Racing New Zealand, Ken Spicer, I looked down at his reaction at having possibly bred a New Zealand Derby winner. Lips pursed and looking for encouragement, he didn’t find any in the faces of those around him!

“I was standing behind Bob Masefield one of the owners of Sheriff. We couldn’t hear the commentary and Bob sought of shrugged his shoulders and slammed his race book and I thought bugger, we had just got beat in one of the biggest races of the season,” said Spicer.

“Soon enough as the replays came up on the big screen and it became clear we had won, it was a great feeling and made for a great night.”

Ken’s wife and co-breeder of Sheriff, Anne Marie, was a little more confident on the result having the aid of a commentator with an eye for a close finish.

“I was standing down the stable watching on the TV so I knew he had won as when Mark McNamara calls a horse home he’s usually pretty much on the money. Watching the race I didn’t think he was going to win, he did so much work going down the back and never had a breather but it was incredible really,” she said.

Despite a lot of goodwill on race night from friends and fellow race goer’s, the occasion took a while to sink in for the Spicer’s.

“Watching the race was exciting but it wasn’t until a couple of days afterwards that it actually sunk in that as a breeder we’d actually bred a derby winner. It’s really just starting to sink in now, we’ve bred a derby winner and its really cool,” said Ken.

It must be bloody cool when the horse who has just broken the clock in the biggest pacing race for three year olds in Australasia was raised in your own back yard.

The story behind how Sherrif came about is also bloody cool, and one that goes to show that sometimes everything happens for a reason.

“We’ve been friends with the Sandford’s for a long time and when it came time to retiring Inspiring Dash, I said to them that Anne Marie and I would be keen to breed from her with him when she had finished racing. We started breeding and her third foal Jen Marie came about,” said Ken.

“The idea was that she was to go to the sales but she had a bit of a twisted front foot and wasn’t the best of lookers and was slightly on the small side.”

“She failed the final inspection with PGGW so we paid the Sandford’s out and raced her in David Butt’s care where she won her first start. She had a lot of high speed, and that was shown in the first start where she beat Miss Moonlite who was a pretty good filly at the time. She got a bit crook and never showed her true potential.

Her true potential would be in the broodmare paddock being from a prolific family that descended from broodmare gem, Witchlight.

The dam of the derby winner Jen Marie is a direct descendant of Witchlight via Lochaime (Lordship), Awesome Dream (Soky’s Atom) and Inspiring Dash (Falcon Seelster). When you throw in her own dam sire, Christian Cullen, there really isn’t a weakness in the maternal line, particularly when you look at some of the other progeny who were around at the time from this family.

The likes of Corumba, Flying Sands, Bella Chip (Bella’s Boy, Winter Rose, Bettor’s Strike), Lento and Awesome Armbro had all scorched the tracks prior to Jen Marie’s arrival from Inspiring Dash.

Just after making a decision to retain Jen Marie upon her failed inspection, her full sister and first foal from Inspiring Dash was just starting to make some noise from the barn of Michael House.

“She had awful front legs as Ken mentioned and when she was turned away from the sales we made the comment that she was always going to be a full sister to Rona Lorraine who at the time had just won the Caduceus Club fillies race for two year olds in Auckland. As it turned it out, she was actually a half-sister to Venus Serena as well.

Lightning was to strike twice with another Group One winning daughter to be bred from the Sandford’s and Spicer’s broodmare gem, Inspiring Dash.

A similar story to the plight of Jen Marie just about struck again when the Spicer’s took Venus Serena home from the sales. Only this time, the astute breeders were to pull on the wrong rein.

“We ended up taking her home from the sales but we had another filly at the time that was a half to Cowgirls and Indians and we decided to keep her and let Bob and Jenny have Venus instead, which was a great choice to make in hindsight,” joked Spicer.

Everything happens for a reason as they say and although the daughter of Mach Three would go on to win just shy of $800,000 and Multiple Group 1’s, as Ken said; “That’s just how it goes.”

Still with plenty to smile about, Jen Marie was just starting to leave her foals.

“In a paddock of 14 mares, Jen Marie would be the last one you would pick out on type and she is also the smallest, but she leaves the most amazing foals every year.

“She’s plain but the thing about her is she has a big backside, a big chest and she’s long barrelled but she’s not the prettiest thing as a complete package and her short tail does her no favours,” joked Ken.

“We got it wrong slightly with the first mating going to Real Desire but as it transpired that foal won a couple of races (2012 - Real Dash) and she’s done a job with Bettor’s Delight.

That she has, with the Robert Dun trained Wrangler being her second foal with earnings in excess of $60,000 in a brief career to date.

Standing at 14.2 hands on a good day, Jen Marie might be what you would call a risky prospect for a commercial breeder to be sending to a sire like Bettor’s Delight.

Size matters at the yearling sales and selling a small yearling can be a tall ask.

Thankfully for the Spicer’s, Jen Marie’s progeny have only inherited the quality traits of their mother.

“None of her foals are big but she throws the length in to them and you can see that with Sheriff who isn’t the biggest but has inherited his mother’s scope.

Anyone that has been on the Canterbury Yearling tour has had an opportunity to take in the magnificent property that is Rosedale Farm on the outskirts of Christchurch for which the Spicer’s have developed over quite a lot of years. 

“We’ve been here 30 years now and did all the planting ourselves, it used to be a dairy farm and only had water to a couple of paddocks and was covered in scotch thistles. It was just four big paddocks of over 40 acres.

“We’ve just been around horses all our lives Brad having grown up in Ashburton going to the races and in his later years my dad actually trained a few. Anne Marie’s father was an MP and raced a good horse with George Noble called Seafield Rose. She was actually one of our first broodmares together and we started breeding from one of her daughters Bibi Maizoon,” said Ken.

The early interest from both families has transpired into a lifelong passion of breeding commercially and the Spicer’s have been no stranger to success at the sales having bred multiple six figure horses such as Wrangler, Better Think Quick and Corona to name a few of the more recent ones.

“We’re breeding from fourteen mares altogether and have some lovely maiden mares in foal for the first time this year. Kate Black who is Kate First’s last foal and Black Rain who is out of Rona Lorraine,” said Anne Marie.

“We’re quite excited about a mare called Flo Jo who is an unraced Jereme’s Jet mare who we bought at the Mixed Sale and her first foal is Smokin By with Mitch Kerr who has won his first two starts. She’s a half-sister to Inspiring Dash and Gail Devers.

Ken found himself wondering with so many from the same family whether the time had come to diversify slightly.

“I was thinking 5 or 6 months ago maybe I had too much of the one breed, and Sheriff comes along and you think maybe it was a smart move. It can go either way cant it, if none of the mares produces quite as you hope then the pages start to look a little thin in the sales book but now we have the derby winner on nearly seven of our sales pages.

As they say, you can’t have too much of a good thing!

And that good thing has seen the Spicer’s reach the pinnacle in the past fortnight, a height that wouldn’t have been reached without the training brilliance of Nigel McGrath.

“He’d been pestering us for 15 years to give him a horse and it was only when Maverick was sacked by Davie and Catherine that Maverick ended up there and he’s done a super job with him.

“He deserves so much of the credit because he thinks outside of the box as a trainer and is very particular with minor details and coming up with a plan,” said Ken.

“Winning a Derby was special but Maverick winning on Cup Day when he went 3:08 was my biggest thrill,” said Anne Marie.

The next big thrill might be just around the corner with some of Sheriff’s younger brothers starting to come to the fore.

“We’ve just gone and picked up Sheriff’s half-brother El Dorado (Art Major - 2016) from  Stephen Boyd’s place who we have a small share in with a group of friends that raced Kate Black, Mavericks half-sister with us previously.

She’s in foal and has a beautiful Bettor’s Delight colt at foot presently which we believe is her best foal yet,” said Anne Marie.


This article featured in the Breeders Update, click here to read the most recent issue:

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Courtesy of Brad Reid
NZ Standardbred Breeders Association

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