Published: September 2016
MORE accustomed to the horsepower of motorbikes as he was growing up on the family farm at Scone, Nick Hodges gradually came to realise that his future was in the thoroughbred industry. He hasn’t regretted the decision and these days is busy as the general manager of Riversdale Farm, which was established by his parents Alison and Peter, and has a wonderful reputation as a broodmare farm and for the preparation of yearlings.
It was late afternoon in Kentucky in July 2002 when Nick Hodges received a phone call from his father Peter that decided the direction his life was to follow. Nick was at the famed Airdrie Stud on the Old Frankfort Pike, Midway, preparing yearlings for the Keeneland sales, while Peter was home at Riversdale Farm on the New England Highway three kilometres north of Scone.
After an exchange of pleasantries Peter launched a serious question. He and his wife Alison wanted to know whether their son would prefer to continue travelling or would like to grasp the opportunity of running Riversdale.
An addendum was that if Nick intended returning to Riversdale he should do so in the immediate future. The inference was that his parents were tiring of the ever-present workload on the farm and could quite possibly sell the property, unless he was soon back to ease the burden.
“Dad said if I wanted to keep travelling then to do that, but if I wanted the farm to be there when I came back I’d better come back now,” Nick said. “That’s what brought me back. My parents had done everything themselves and they’d had enough.
“They’d worked seven days a week for a lot of years and Dad still hasn’t had a holiday. I think it was all getting to the stage where they were looking to do something else and if I had not come back to the farm they’d have sold.”
Over the time since with Nick as general manager, Alison looking after the accounts and Peter filling the roles of float driver, farmer and handler of general maintenance, Riversdale’s profile has increased enormously. Primarily operating as a broodmare farm, Riversdale specialises in foaling down mares, reproduction and yearling preparation for Australian and international clients.
“We are in a great spot because we have easy access to Arrowfield, Darley, Emirates and Vinery and Coolmore and Widden are not that far away,” Nick said. “And, of course, we also have Newgate coming on the scene as well. That means we are ideally placed to take mares to all the leading stallions.”
Although Riversdale’s accent during the past 30-plus years has been mainly on looking after broodmares, the farm’s yearling and weanling preparation side has begun making quite an impact as this year’s results illustrate. The draft to the Inglis Australian Easter sale featured a colt by Medaglia d’Oro (USA) from the Charge Forward mare Frontal. He brought the farm’s highest-ever yearling price of $700,000 when knocked down to the China Horse Club/Win Star partnership.
“We prepared the yearling for Greg and Jodie White’s Robrick Lodge. We’ve been doing their yearlings and we are fortunate to be able to prepare the quality stock they produce. It’s been great for the farm.”
Then at the Magic Millions Gold Coast Weanling Sale Riversdale had the Dundeel sales-topper when Musk Creek Farm paid $240,000 for the colt by Dundeel (NZ) from the Gr.2-placed General Nediym mare Celebrity Gal. The youngster was bought with the idea of selling him at next year’s yearling sales. It was also significant that Riversdale had the highest average for its weanlings at that sale.
It is further evidence of the farm’s standing in the thoroughbred community that other buyers of Riversdale stock have included names such as Aquanita Racing, BBA Ireland, James Bester, Darley Racing, Darley/De Burgh Equine, Ciaron Maher Racing, Paul Perry and Sun Bloodstock. Now, reflecting on the past 14 years, Nick is comfortable that he made the right choice to return home.
“The future is looking very bright,” he said. “We have some very good permanent clients on board, and we’ve got some great clients, whose mares come for the season. Riversdale is producing good horses and we are getting good results in the sales ring and on the track, which is where it really counts.
“We feel that this has come about by following the basic rules of keeping it simple and not over-extending ourselves. Our policy is to not overstock and we don’t push our horses when we are preparing them for the sales. Taking a line through what we have been achieving, we are very positive about the future.”
Apart from having 12 months overseas in the early part of the century Nick and Riversdale have, quite literally, grown up together. He was just two when his parents purchased the property, which is situated in the heart of Australia’s ‘Thoroughbred Horse Capital’.
“There wasn’t much on the place when Mum and Dad moved there from Willow Park. It had been an old wheat farm and there was a lot of antique machinery and old sulkies lying around, which made it a very interesting place for my brother Ben and me as inquisitive youngsters. My parents had a couple of appaloosa stallions at Riversdale early on and my father was doing some cropping and basic farming before they started taking horses on agistment.”
Although helping with the chores around the farm in his years as a student at schools in Scone, Nick was more enthusiastic about motorbikes as a youngster. “During my childhood and teenage years I was very much into motorbikes. I’d ride them all over the place, but while I was doing that I was still working around the farm and amongst the horses.”
On finishing his secondary education at Scone High School, Nick went to the University of Newcastle where he undertook a degree in geology. “I felt I needed to do something outside the horse industry so that, if I needed to, I had something to fall back on later in life,” he said. Once that course was completed he joined BHP Billiton’s Mt Arthur North open cut coal mine at Muswellbrook.
“I was doing geo-testing at the mine but I only stayed for about six months,” Nick said. While he was going through school and university his parents were quietly building up Riversdale’s business.
“I suppose by the time I left university Mum and Dad had a couple of valued clients and were foaling down 25 to 30 mares each year. Everything that was being done was done with money earned from the farm. Dad did a lot of the fencing himself and he built the first four wooden stables, which are still there, from second hand timber. The infrastructure has been slowly developed from there to the point where we have all the facilities required for foaling mares, walking mares on to stallions, preparing weanlings and yearlings for sales and for having routine veterinary examinations.”
It was during his time at Mt Arthur North that the thoroughbred industry began to take a hold on Nick, but he was not ready to settle down at Riversdale. On leaving the mine he headed on an overseas tour and this took him to the United States and Brereton C. Jones’s famed Airdrie Stud in 2002, where he did yearling preparation.
“We took about 80 yearlings to the Keeneland sales. We did July yearlings as well. I think it was the last year they had the July Select Sale.”
It was as the sales preparations were coming to an end that the phone call came from his father, which presented Nick with a unique opportunity that not many others are given. “The farm was there and the horse industry had always been a labour of love, so I thought I should give it a go,” he said.
At that stage besides foaling down around 30 mares “a couple” of yearlings were also being prepared for the sales. “After I came back we have steadily been getting more numbers on the place and we were doing more sales preparations. Mum and Dad have a couple of broodmares of their own, I’m involved in shares in eight and we have about 40 permanent boarders for clients. We foal down about 60 to 65 mares for the season and the number of yearlings we are preparing for the sales has been growing pretty much each year.”
To assist in the promotion and marketing of their yearlings when the farm’s numbers were small Riversdale joined with Senga Bissett and Ivan Woodford Smith’s Ashleigh Thoroughbreds and Byerley Stud, owned by Jen and the subsequently deceased Martin Hawcroft, in 2007 to establish Southern Cross Breeders.
“That was actually driven by Senga and the idea behind it was to have an increased presence at the sales with bigger drafts, rather than just going with one or two yearlings,” Nick said. “It was a move which worked well and it helped us receive a greater response to the yearlings we were marketing and presenting.”
It was around the time Southern Cross Breeders partnership came into being that Nick and his wife Jasmine, who had a hairdressing salon in Scone, were married and they now have three sons. Oliver, at six, is the eldest with Lincoln, five, and the youngest Edward is coming up to his first birthday.
“We’d gone to the same school in Scone but Jasmine was a couple of years younger than me, so I didn’t really know her. Then when I came back from overseas it just happened that Jasmine was living in a house across the road from Riversdale and everything went from there.”
These days Nick, Jasmine and the boys live on Riversdale, spreading over 168ha (416 acres) after the recent purchase of a 47ha (116-acre) neighbouring block, while Peter and Alison reside on the 101ha (250-acre) Glenoak, which is about 15 minutes away.
“We use Glenoak for stock, such as pregnant and dry mares, that don’t require routine veterinary examinations. We are also developing plans for the care of younger horses. Along the way we have deliberately limited our numbers in order to maintain the highest standards of care and we pride ourselves on the fact that a horse is just not a number at our farm. We haven’t done a lot of advertising and we’ve generally relied on word of mouth, because we pretty much do everything ourselves, and it seems to be working.”
Most notable among Riversdale’s long standing clients are Sandy Tait and Jill Nivison, who have been using the broodmare services since the days Peter and Alison ran the farm. Among Sandy and Jill’s mares to have visited the farm are the triple Gr.1-winning Dolphin Street (FR) mare Spinning Hill and Spectrum’s 2004 AJC Oaks-Gr.1-winning daughter Wild Iris, who was foaled at Riversdale.
In more recent times notables racing from Riversdale include Black Jag, by Excites, and Longeron, by Lonhro, who are both from the Hodges’ Thunder Gulch (USA) mare I’m a Showoff. Sold to Lucky Owners Pty Ltd at the 2010 Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale for $75,000, the courageous Black Jag was on-sold for $110,000 later that year. He is raced by the Grand View Park Syndicate managed by Mark Timms. Black Jag has registered 10 wins and more than 20 placings, has earnings in excess of $600,000 and he is “dearly loved” by Mark.
At the Gold Coast the following year Hawkes Racing secured Longeron for $85,000 and his record stands at nine wins and 14 placings for prize money topping $460,000. Like Black Jag, Longeron’s numerous owners are very fond of the horse.
“They are both sound, gutsy horses,” Nick said. “Black Jag is unreal the way he does his absolute best all the time and Longeron has developed into a similar type of horse. It is very pleasing to have bred horses like them and to have them representing the farm.”
With Riversdale’s continually growing numbers the Hodges decided to withdraw from the Southern Cross arrangement three years ago.
“One year Southern Cross and Riversdale combined had 27 yearlings, so we had reached another level by then. At this point, where we were doing large numbers in our own right, we felt we needed to fly our own flag at the sales. We came to an amicable agreement with Ashleigh and Byerley whereby we went back to concentrating on the horses we were preparing and selling under the Riversdale name.”
In the first year of selling solo, in 2014, the Riversdale draft included Miss Idyllic, who was bred by Nick, as well as Claudia Jean and Get That Jive, who were each stakes-placed winners at two.
The Robrick Lodge-bred Get That Jive, who is by Street Sense (USA), went on to be three times placed at Group level in New Zealand as a three year-old.
“We’ve had plenty of other good winners around the place since then and we feel that Riversdale is ticking along nicely,” Nick said. “The feedback we are receiving is positive about the way horses we have prepared are progressing once they go to the breakers and then into stables. That’s what it is all about because we want people coming back for the horses we are preparing for the sales.”