A few people have asked me lately how it eventuated that I transitioned from the Bloodstock industry to being a cattle breeder. I bred cattle before I even knew what a Bloodstock Agent was, so the move was a return, and it was always on the cards. After 22 years of having my own Bloodstock business, I wanted to travel less and spend more time at home with family. There was also another intrinsic reason.
Our bloodstock business consisted of two main parts. Our breeding arm where we produced yearlings for sales conducted in Australia, and our goal was to sell 100% of our and our clients produce. We would also trade in our breeding arm, where we would buy mares with the express intention of adding value and selling again. The second part of the business was International trading. Finding horses that we felt would be better suited to a different racing theatre or more highly valued in another country. We traded horses to and from England, Ireland, USA, Germany, South Africa, Argentina, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Mauritius and even Venezuela. At heart though I’m a breeder, not a trader.
Breeding in the Thoroughbred world for the vast majority is about selling all you produce. There are very few who have the luxury of keeping and racing their stock. They don’t get to build families, generation after generation. The economics dictate that they sell at least the majority of what they produce. One of the great exceptions to this and a breeder I greatly admire is Aga Khan IV and his forebears. For more than 100 years they have been breeding remarkable thoroughbreds. In fact it took nearly that long to produce Zarkava, the unbeaten winner of the 2008 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. She traces ten generations of Aga Khan breeding back to Mumtaz Mahal. A remarkable mare described as “as near perfect as imagination can conceive”. She was remarkably quick and passed her speed consistently. Without her, every modern great would not exist. She is in the pedigree of everything from Secretariat to Black Caviar. Mumtaz Mahal appears in Winx’s pedigree more than 10 times.
Zarkava. “The greatest reward a breeder could have” Aga Khan IV
Building families was never going to be possible for me in thoroughbreds, but in cattle it’s a different story. I can retain enough females to build a herd, the generational gap is much smaller so we can build families quickly compared to thoroughbreds. That is where our Speckle Park journey originated. The desire is to use the lessons of decades in Bloodstock with the accumulated knowledge of wise and successful breeders of both horses and cattle. I’ve been fortunate over the years to have some very successful breeders give me their time and I eagerly took on board what they shared with me. It has guided how we started our program and continues to drive our approach.
We have come through what I call our establishment phase. We have 153 females to join this spring with about two-thirds of these carrying the Te Mooi prefix. Since our establishment, we have purchased live animals from 16 different programs in Australia and New Zealand and we are about to put the third generation on the ground from some of our original purchases. Our methodology was to select animals that had the structure we looking for, had sound breeding records and had good unmanipulated temperaments.
We then used all tools at our disposal to maximize our chances of producing superior stock. We use the breeding theories of the legendary Federico Tesio, known as the Master Of Matings as well as the theories of the aforementioned Aga Khan IV, who used the dosage system very effectively. Dosage is an analysis of all the data of a stallion’s progeny to determine which traits they consistently transmit, speed or stamina. It gives a numerical indication of an animal’s strengths. It’s much like recording raw data for growth,EMA and IMF and then converting to an EBV. Data analysis in breeding thoroughbreds is widely used because it works. Winners to runners ratio, average prize money, percentage of black type performers, sales results, sectional times, stride lengths, VO2 max, lung capacity, blood lactate levels, and on and on and on. Open any Thoroughbred website and you will be inundated with numbers.
Arrowfield stud is one of the most esteemed studs in the World and this Spring sees the arrival of Hitotsu, the Champion Three Year Old who won both the AJC and VRC Derby’s, a feat I believe only completed before by Mahogany in 1993 and Phar Lap in 1929. There is a video on the website of his very talented trainers Cairon Maher and David Ustace. Their comments about Hitotsu are as you would expect, glowing. But the role data played in informing their opinion and hence their approach to his racing career is interesting. They measure stride length, lung capacity, recovery times, etc which informed their decision-making. The data led them to believe Hitotsu was elite before he had proven it on the race track. That’s what data does, it gives you a preview and informs decision-making.
Champion 3yo Hitotsu, Bound for Arrowfield Stud. .
Thoroughbred breeders will utilize all that information to see if Hitotsu is suitable for their mare, and meets their breeding objectives. Their decision won’t be based on glossy photos or gut feel, they will avail themselves of all the information out there. Just as they do, we will use every tool available to us to produce the best cattle we can. All our matings are planned with the idea that we will be retaining the progeny. We have to sell females due to not having won Powerball, our cash flow requires it. We do however retain as many females as finances allow. Our goal is to build families, improve performance, and supply commercial operators with the genetics that will improve their bottom line.