Archive for March, 2016

Dior Mia Amore, the Australian-bred Tintin In America filly I featured almost exactly 3 years ago in a blog, hit the track at Pinjarra on Monday and won easily in a near track record time. Replay here,  Nevele R news story here

I don’t want to bore you with Tintin progeny stories, but I am damn proud of him! Especially when, as I’ve covered often, it is so hard for new sires to get some traction – whatever the price they are set at.

I Am Special, the dam of Dior Mia Amore, was a good Live Or Die mare. Live Or Die is one of the damsires I have suggested would suit Tintin, having  Shadow Wave twice in his sire’s pedigree, and Spinster twice in his dam’s pedigree. And I Am Special has a nicely constructed maternal line herself. Since going to Tintin In America she has gone “up in the world” with her next foals being by Art Major and Bettor’s Delight. Still, Tintin’s filly foal is holding her own right from the start, with one start for one win – and obviously a real turn of speed.

Tip o’ the hat to Brett Coffey, the breeder.

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In a recent blog following the yearling sales, I made this comment about the mixed/cool reception Rock N Roll Heaven received this year as a sire:

Rock N Roll Heaven was in favour at first, but now there is word around that some of his foals can be hard to gait. He was dropped in a big way at these NZ sales.

A couple of trainers mentioned that Mark Purdon had some that didn’t gait well, and so he wasn’t buying them/didn’t like them. That may be true, and it is his prerogative. I haven’t spoken to him yet. And there may well have been other trainers experiencing a similar thing.

What intrigues me is that a possibly off-hand remark by one person or a few people can become so influential in a sire’s early career, whereas it may be valid personal experience of a small number of his progeny, and in a context that is quickly lost in the retelling. It’s been the same for many a sire – Sundons are mad, Art Majors don’t want to be there, Mach Threes don’t have heart, Somebeachsomewheres are highly strung and hard to gait, Rocknroll Hanovers bash their knees, and so on. With luck and time, the “pudding” is eaten and a reputation is made based on more solid ground and more foals and racehorses and winners. Sometimes there is an element of truth – that sires can leave certain traits in a percentage of their foals. You want the good traits like conformation and speed to be in a higher percentage of foals, i.e. that a sire “stamps” his progeny with some traits that are consistent and favourable, and these make up for other traits that are perhaps less endearing in some of his foals!

All wasn’t doom and gloom for the “Heaven” yearlings at the New Zealand yearling sales – a total of 9 were offered, 7 were sold and 2 passed in for the same reserve of $20,000. So the average of ones sold by auction was $17,500. The highest price was $25,000 for my own filly from Zenterfold, bought by Merv and Meg Butterworth (strictly speaking this one was bought by Merv Butterworth when his wife wasn’t looking!). The Butterworths also bought a “Heaven” filly in the Christchurch sale for $17,000.

I can only speak for my one, but she’s been left in the care of Tony Herlihy, who reports she broke in well, gaits well and is bowling around nicely.

Benecio, the Australian bred Rock N Roll Heaven x Miss Brazillian, trained by Purdon/Rasmussen in New Zealand.

Benecio, the Australian bred Rock N Roll Heaven x Miss Brazillian, trained by Purdon/Rasmussen in New Zealand.

And at the race meeting on Easter Saturday at Addington, I noted the Purdon/Rasmussen team had two starters in race 2 by Rock N Roll Heaven – the winner Mackenzie, a 3yo filly, (formline now 8 starts, 3 wins, 3 places) and the third placegetter 3yo gelding Benicio (formline now 7 starts, 3 wins, 3 places). A couple of races later,  they got another win with Rock N Roll Heaven 3yo gelding Heaven Rocks, which gives him a 2 starts, 2 wins record. Today at Motukarara on the grass track, Cran Dalgety lined up his very talented Rock N Roll Heaven gelding Alpha Rock for another win (so far 6 starts, 5 wins, 1 place) off a very awkward draw, but what a talented young horse from a lovely family (dam Sparks A Flyin).

And here’s a comment from trainer Greg Hope about talented filly Emily Blunt (breeder Pat Laboyrie):

She is a lovely gaited filly but is also one of those fillies that lifts bigtime off the place on raceday. The other thing that has really pleased me all the way through with her is she has never stopped improving the whole time.

In New Zealand, “Heaven” has 60 registered foals of racing age showing on the HRNZ database, for 28 qualifiers (fractionally under 50%), 22 starters and 14 winners (23%), and 7 of those winners have had 3 or more wins. For small numbers and an oldest crop of just 3yos, Rock N Roll Heaven is tracking well.

His Australian stats seem to be proportionately about the same so far, with 88 starters and 44 winners. He was rated 2015 Australian leading first crop sire & 2nd Aust. 2yo sire. But although he can leave precocious types, those startlingly natural 2yos that show up in the top babies’ races, it is as 3yos and older that his foals will shine – as is the case with almost every sire.

In America he is a star sire.

So the “disappointment gap” and perhaps the rumours and perception about him currently, are probably more due to high expectations rather than to his actual performance as a sire.

The expectations were that

  • a really fast sire
  • of smaller size
  • and with a renown great gait

(all of which he had himself) would bring those things to his progeny in spades i.e. fast early types that were easy to gait. If only breeding was that simple!

Look at his own record – he was an outstanding 2yo, but the improvement in him from 2 to 3 years old was astounding! He developed into not just a fast horse, but a really tough one as proven by his Little Brown Jug heat wins. At 2 he won 4 of his 9 starts and a record of 1:50.4. But at 3 he won 16 of 21 starts and a record of 1:47.6. He retired to stud before racing as a 4yo but his gelding half-brother Clear Vision is showing just that sort of top level consistency as he ages. His dam Artistic Vision raced from 2 through to 7, and got her record of 1:50.2 as a 4yo.

North American top filly Sassa Hanover

North American top filly Sassa Hanover

It is a family that can run at 2 but gets better. And in the end, isn’t that what you want in a horse? Their gait early on is less important in the context of their potential to improve.

It’s timely to remember, as a couple of people have told me lately, Christian Cullen was really hard to gait and took about 3 months to get it right.

People want a sire that leaves fast, early types, and yet I’ve heard that in Australia some are viewing Sportswriter as a sire whose progeny “show speed early but don’t go on with it”. Boy it is hard to please some people!

Early reports can be skewed by the natural traits so many yearlings or 2yos show before they mature mentally and physically. And if they are pushed to be early 2yos, then some of those traits (like being overly keen/headstrong, or difficult to gait, or even hitting itself) may show up more strongly, or may take the will to race out of the horse. That’s why good trainers read their horses and know how to adapt their training to get the best out of a horse.

Several things will help Rock N Roll Heaven – his fillies appear as good as his colts, and as his current 2yos move into their 3yo season his reputation will right itself. Also his own pedigree is rock solid and is matchable with many mares.

The ideal thing would be to bring his service fee down from around $9000 to say $7500 with the same sort of discounts already offered. This would bring him closer to more proven sires like American Ideal and new kids with big support like A Rocknroll Dance and He’s Watching, both of whom will now be strong competition for him over the next couple of years. He needs a fee that still holds him as a top sire, but gives breeders an incentive to stick with him. Perhaps the new partnership between Pepper Tree Farm and Alabar will see some movement there. I hope he will remain available to New Zealand breeders, but I doubt we have earned it!

I went to Rock N Roll Heaven when he was $11,000 (but got a standard payment date discount to $9,500). I like him a lot, but until the rumours change, I could not contemplate going back to him for a foal bound for the sales at his current price of $9000 ($8,300), when I could pay two thousand dollars more and get Art Major – and possibly get twice the sales price for a yearling, certainly much less risk in terms of reputation.

Having said that, “Heaven” still strikes me as one of the classiest sires we have. The 2018 yearling sales are a long way off, and so much will happen on the racetrack and at the rumour mill by then!

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No, I am not promoting a milk-based formula for horses, although I do know that milk proteins are a key part of some popular supplement feeds.

This blog is looking at our industry as a whole and trying to find where breeders sit in terms of the industry’s returns.

To get some comparison, I have looked to the giant in NZ that is the benchmark of how to make things rural turn into things that deliver global success, and also how it handles bad times and its relationship with its suppliers, the dairy farmers.

innercowheroFonterra, one of the world’s biggest dairy product companies.

Now, I don’t agree with everything that Fonterra does. This is not about acting like them – but there might be some things that our own small and vulnerable (but resiliant) industry can learn from. I am very aware that analogies fall flat on their faces when taken to extremes, so this is more a look at “how does their industry manage this issue?” rather than a detailed comparison.

Recently I heard that Fonterra had made a record breaking profit. At the same time its Milk Price for farmers (i.e. the price it will pay for the milk that dairy farmers produce) has dropped to a level which is simply not profitable for most farmers, and is forecast to stay there for a couple of years more. Ironically, the two things are interlinked – stay with me, it does relate to horse racing – because the overall profit for Fonterra was driven by lower raw milk prices, which in turn allowed much better profit margins on items that use milk but are not “just milk” – e.g. cheese and yogurt – and which have a high “value added” factor and a growing market.

So that is how Fonterra can be having a record profit year while many dairy farmers in New Zealand have their backs to the wall.

The basic product - milk

The basic product – milk

The driver for this situation is not Fonterra’s greed as a monopoly, but worldwide trends. In a nutshell, there is an over supply of milk globally based on previous encouraging good signs (“get into dairy, it is white gold”) and a slower demand in large key markets like China and Russian based on their own economic situations. However while the global demand for basic milk products has gone down, there is still good demand for cheeses and yogurts and other dairy-based products.

It is also important to know that Fonterra is a farmers’ cooperative, so some of the profit made can be distributed back to farmers via a less direct route than the basic “farm gate” milk price. And that is the situation at the moment where Fonterra is releasing a good dividend at a time that will bring some help to cash flows over the difficult winter period when many cows basically go off production.

The longer term implications for most NZ dairy farmers depends on how resilient they are. And that is a mix of factors like debt burden, size, flexibility (ability to move partially to dry stock farming in the short term,  for example), and market niche. The farmers most likely to suffer are those that have highly capitalised their production to intensify outputs and reap the rewards of the very high “farm gate” milk prices we have had for a number of years. So newly set up farmers in Southland, for example, are probably mortgaged to their eyeballs and also reliant on expensive irrigation to maintain the intensive farming methods they have set up. Many of these farms may well go broke if bank support flags. Whereas in the Waikato, which is a more traditional dairy farming area, experienced farmers with larger farms, lower debt ratio and less pressure to farm intensively or with some dry stock alternatives, are likely to get through the hard times.

Now I am no dairy farming expert, only a listener of analysis thanks to our excellent national and rural farming media coverage which I catch online or listening on my radio on the way to and from work – tip o’ the hat to Radio NZ National.

This is a “helicopter view” actually more like a Boeing 747 view as the Auckland to Christchurch plan flies over the Waikato where I live in New Zealand.

But it puts a different perspective on our industry which sometimes we lack when we are literally at the grass roots level.

What can we learn from this?

First thing that strikes me is that the producers – those producing milking cows/milk – are recognised absolutely as key stakeholders (financially and structurally) in the industry. Their role in producing and managing a dairy herd (from which basic and value-added products come) is recognised in a range of ways, not just the “farm gate” price for milk. As shareholders of Fonterra, they get dividends and that is what is helping them now. They are not just stakeholders, they are shareholders.

In the harness racing industry, breeders are not recognised as key stakeholders in the same way. When profits from the racing industry are ploughed back to stakeholders it is usually in the form of payouts to clubs and into stakes. While this is a welcome move for the industry overall, it is not shared by breeders unless they are also successful owners or trainers. Many are, many are not. There is nothing going back directly as a “dividend” to breeders.

Value-added products

Value-added products

If mares and foals are the equivalent of dairy cows and milk, then the equivalent of cheese and yogurt is our own “value added products” – race horses. So many would say it is only fair that those who add the value (owners, trainers and drivers) get the rewards of higher stakes. However this doesn’t recognise that what breeders produce takes a while to mature – or as our Mainland cheese advert says, “Good things take time.” In one sense a foal is raw material, but what has been put into it and the mare, plus the experience of pedigree matching, and then the added resource of the weaning, handling, good feeding while growing and sometimes preparation for the sales is not just cosmetic. These things, if done well, optimise a foal’s potential to be the best it can be.

When we raise the concept of “breeders bonuses” or a performance-based percentage of stakes paid to breeders, the response is usually about the cost – “Where will the money come from?”

The Fonterra factory at Hautapu, just down a road or two from where I live.

The Fonterra factory at Hautapu, just down a road or two from where I live. specialises in high-value products including cheese, casein, whey protein concentrate, hydrolysate, lactoferrin, milk protein concentrate and lactose – bound for the domestic market, as well as international markets in Asia, Europe and the USA.

The Fonterra example shows that when you look at an industry in a more integrated way (particularly vertically integrated), the producers of your basic product will be better looked after and/or given better signals that help them predict the future and make choices which align with the industry’s direction and their own “business”. Fonterra gives clear signals via its forecast Milk Price – and estimate that is regularly adjusted of where the Milk Price is heading. The Milk Price is a price calculated on all the product as if sold as the basic product to the world commodity market i.e. basic market value. The sale of value-added products then make up the rest of the income. Profit is used for capital investment, maintenance, R&D and other costs  – but also allows a dividend to be paid back to shareholders (farmers). In some cases, including now, an early or additional dividend can be paid to help farmers through difficult cash flows. This is not a subsidy or a guaranteed safety net. They are still vulnerable to global ebbs and flows, changing interest rates and the consequences of their own decisions. Or indeed a stuff up by Fonterra.

So for our harness racing industry, there is a strong case to be made for a model that at the very least returns a dividend (as bonuses, credits or percentage of stakes) to breeders. And at the far extreme, a model that totally restructures and integrates our industry to provide contracted (but forecastable and adjustable) prices for foals, plus additional returns as a dividend potentially based on performance of a foal as a racehorse (i.e. when value is added to the product).

The devil would be in the detail, but it is a scenario I will have a look at in more detail in a future blog.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI believe there is a lot of confusion about the harness racing industry’s consumers versus the industry’s stakeholders. For the dairy industry, it’s those who drink milk or eat cheese, versus farmers with dairy cattle. In our case it’s punters versus breeders /owners /trainers. We need to structure our services to meet consumers’ needs because our success depends on their interest in our product. But we also need to structure our industry to meet stakeholder needs because our success depends on their ability to produce a good product. It’s a balance companies big and small struggle with, but I think there is a lot we can learn from those who do it well.

In future I will do a similar comparison with the wine industry, which we can also learn from.

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Appropriately it is the Geoffrey Small/David Butcher combination that got Kiwi Tintin home first in his first raceday start.

Kiwi Tintin first win 18 March 2016

Kiwi Tintin first win 18 March 2016

The win came at the Manawatu meeting yesterday, and from the inside draw he had to do a little bit of work to hold the lead, then increased his margin to win comfortably at the end in a 28.7 last quarter, without David Butcher having to push him.

Kiwi Tintin is owned by the Kiwi Tintin Syndicate and was bred by Hambletonian Ltd (David Phillips) from the now retired Road Machine mare Tall Blonde.

He’s a chestnut, same as American Flyebye, the Tintin In America filly who also won her first start and has since won 4 from 9.

The two other winning credits for NZ bred Tintin In America so far are Dame Puissant and the late Zee Dana, but there are a number of Australian bred Tintins of course. He has 17 NZ qualifiers, including a few 2yos in the last couple of months – His Royal Harness, Manihiki Pearl, Tintin Naturally, plus 3yo Claus who looks a nice one for trainer Stan Moore in Rangiora. He’s had a week off after qualifying and is back in work now, so keep an eye out for him.

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Beautiful sunny Cambridge morning, and I’m at the modest workouts (looked up the fields last night and only a few are turning up). Amongst those having a run is Souvenir Glory, Kym’s 6yo Elsu mare (1 win, 3 placings) – we know her as Georgie, the filly bought as a weanling from Alabar and who has accompanied Kym as she learns more about training. The older she gets, the better she gets – the horse and the trainer lol. So it was with some anticipation I am at Cambridge to see how the long hours Kym has put in to bring Georgie to race fitness have resulted. Kyle Marshall is driving her. A few other C1 horses and a much higher graded horse Risk are in the workout heat with Georgie. That’s ok. We can get a line on where she’s at.

Then I hear the workout announcer call the horses to the track, and the names that leap out for me are Lazarus and Chase The Dream.

What?? First thought – hah, nice joke. Next thought – oh my god, that’s the All Stars colours out on the track! Third thought – Bugger!

However, I’ve got to report that all went well. The heat included those two stars, plus Risk (C5 star in the making), Dave Iremonger’s Waipipi Falcon and Souvenir Glory (both C1). Others had defected or got shuffled into the next heat.

Off the arm we go, and Souvenir Glory heads to the front. Leads them around in a tactically sedate pace (great drive Kyle) for most of the race and when – as we know it will – the last half rush happens, she fights on like a tiger. I’d love to say, “and wins” but we save that for dreams.

Fact is, she “whacked on very well” as the course announcer said, and was a very respectable 4th behind Lazarus, Risk and Chase The Dream in that order.

Proud? You bet we are. It’s not often your C1 pacer gets a chance to strut her stuff on the racetrack with the top guns of harness racing. Talking to their drivers afterwards, they were only looking for a fast last half workout as part of their preparation for the big races coming up. A salute to them for making it a race where everyone got their wishes and no horse got crushed. Only regret? One of the few times I didn’t take my camera.

Georgie blew up a little across her back, so there is still improvement there…Kym says she was full of herself tonight and ate up well.


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