Published: April 2016.
A wet day and the chance discovery of a pile of Stud Books started a young Peter Jenkins on a life long obsession with thoroughbred pedigrees. These days the New Zealander puts his extensive knowledge to good use as part of the bloodstock team at Arrowfield Stud.
AS CHAIR of Racing Australia, Racing New South Wales and Arrowfield John Messara, AM, is the most powerful person in the nation’s thoroughbred industry. Those who have dealings with him also know that he is a man of his word, as Peter Jenkins learned first hand.
About 16 years ago Peter was about to cross the Tasman to look after nominations at Arrowfield. However stud manager Peter Orton’s departure to Vinery and a subsequent restructure of Arrowfield management meant this position was no longer available. On advising Peter of the changed circumstances John said, “don’t worry, you will come and work for me one day”. John was true to his word when, in 2007, he decided to overhaul the group’s executive structure.
“We met up at the Magic Millions broodmare sale on the Gold Coast in the middle of the year,” Peter said. “John told me he intended to increase his executive team because the investment by the likes of Coolmore, and Darley had made them increasingly competitive.
“His feeling was that the only way Arrowfield could compete with those operations was to adopt a more professional approach and that there would be a role for me.” This opened the way for Peter to become the operation’s bloodstock and pedigree consultant.
“At that stage I’d been involved with Stoney Bridge as general manager for six years. I told John I would like to complete my commitments with Stoney Bridge and we agreed I would start the following February.
“As part of the bloodstock team my role with Arrowfield is to undertake pedigree research analysis of current and prospective stallions and plan matings for the farm and clients. It is the sort of position I had been looking for all my life. Working at such a level is fantastic for me after starting right at the bottom and being in the mid-range at Stoney Bridge.
“I really appreciate working with the top quality animals, like Redoute’s Choice, Snitzel and Flying Spur, we have at Arrowfield. Importantly Arrowfield, as a team, is producing the right results as breeders or co-breeders of four Gr.1 winners last season in Wandjina, Sweet Idea, Hot Snitzel and the South African champion two-year-old Majmu.
“With all that has happened in the eight years I’ve had at Arrowfield the time seems to have gone by in a flash. It’s my dream job . . . the best I have ever had.”
As Peter says it is a long way from Stratford, about half way between New Plymouth and Hawera, in the Taranaki region of the north island, where in his earliest days his parents had a herd of Jersey cattle and ran a dairy farm. After his parents sold up Peter spent a lot of his time during school holidays on a dairy unit managed by his elder sister Noelene and her husband Winston.
“I didn’t really have much to do with horses until I was about 10,” Peter said. “Friends of my parents, Cyril and Merle Taylor, were prominent breeders in Taranaki and had a horse at the time named Kartika. She ended up winning the New Zealand Cup, in 1972 when it was a Gr.1, and being able to go out and give the horses on their farm a sugar cube was inspiring stuff.
“Then one day it was too wet to go outside and pat the horses. I was stuck inside with the old folk and noticed the volumes of Stud Books, which the Taylors explained showed the parentage of the thoroughbreds and I was fascinated. I think from that moment on I was hooked.”
Within six months he had saved sufficient money from his paper run to buy his own Stud Book and his eventual pathway in life was settled. A talented soccer player and a National League basketballer at 17, as well as being a state level distance runner Peter had photos of sports stars on his bedroom wall but they were soon accompanied by posters of the likes of Gunsynd, Glengowan and Dayana.
He also began going to the races at New Plymouth and to the trials of a Sunday at Hawera, where in those days the 1975 MVRC Cox Plate-Gr.1 winner Fury’s Order was trained. Peter would also write away to studs such Ra Ora and Te Parae asking for brochures and became an avid reader of the monthly issues of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Bulletin.
However, on completing his education at Palmerston North Boys’ High School, where was a boarder, he tried a variety of jobs while testing his hand at punting. “Everyone told me I should go to university but I felt all I wanted to do was get out into the world and to play sport. I loved going to the races and having a bet up until I was about 20, I call those times my punting years. That’s before I realised I should start doing something with my life.”
In 1980 Peter joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force, becoming a paramedic. That meant he spent a lot of time in helicopters, which he says gave him “an adrenalin rush” but after seven years he was finding himself becoming desk bound so he resigned.
By that stage, 1986, he had become a committee member of the Marlborough Race Club at the top of the south island and had sufficient funds to buy a horse. He went to $12,000 for a filly by the Sovereign Edition (IRE) stallion First Mint from a strong European family at the Waikato sales.
“She wasn’t much good,” he said. “She ran fourth at her first start and went backwards from there.”
That did not deter Peter from wanting to be a breeder, which led through to him buying the Double Speed (USA) mare Leacroft for $600 at a South Island sale so he could learn the pitfalls at a lesser cost.
“I got to know a lot of people through being on the race club committee including Tom Burn, who was the secretary of the Wellington branch of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders for decades. He’d heard I was getting out of the air force and said a position was coming up with a multi-millionaire named Arthur Williams, who was establishing a stud farm in Wellington and was looking for energetic, young people. When the job was advertised I applied but I didn’t hear anything for a month or two.”
After two inspections of the farm during which time Arthur Williams did not ask a question of him, Peter was eventually appointed as administration officer of Ashford Park Stud. Within a month he became racing manager and later, when Arthur was debilitated by a series of heart attacks, he began running the whole operation which by then included Normanby Farm in Kentucky.
“Almost before I knew it I was in control of a farm in each hemisphere, looking after horses with trainers like Tommy Skiffington, Bobby Frankel and Andre Fabre,” he said. “I could not have had a greater baptism of fire, but I was young and I just dealt with it.”
Unfortunately Arthur had secured stallions for the stud before Peter was brought on board and he says they were “dreadful”.
He says “probably” the best was Great Charmer (USA), who was a half-brother by The Minstrel (CAN) to the US Triple Crown winner of 1977 Seattle Slew. “Great Charmer was showing promise as a sire but he died young so that was the end of that.”
With Williams being abrupt and difficult to work for there was a high turnover of staff. Fearing that his days would eventually be numbered Peter abandoned the project, rather than risk having a sacking on his curriculum vitae.
At that point he decided to set up a Eclipse Bloodstock as an agent and helped found the Levin Pedigree Group, whose members had a deep and abiding interest in bloodlines. With a young family to provide for, he has a son Bryn, who is studying law and a daughter Cealidh, who is studying to be a veterinarian, he found life as a bloodstock agent was a struggle.
“We kept pushing on, made some good buys and eventually established a solid client base,” he said. Around that time he also expanded his experience and knowledge of the business by working for a summer at Pegasus Stud just outside Lexington in Kentucky.
“I figured I wasn’t really a horseman and Pegasus was one of the top yearling preparation farms in America. I’d mucked around with horses but I felt I needed to develop some skills in the practical side to give me a better understanding of the whole industry.
“Pegasus didn’t stand stallions but the farm had some very, very nice yearlings when I was there by the likes of Nijinsky, Sharpen Up, Alydar, Secretariat, Vaguely Noble, El Gran Senor and so on.
“The Nijinsky colt I looked after made $500,000. He was named Jendali and went on to win a Gr.3 at Royal Ascot and a Listed race at Newmarket. While I was there I met some leading identities such as Vincent O’Brien and Robert Sangster, so although I did it all for food and board only, no pay, it was important episode.”
On returning home Peter started syndicating horses when the Magic Millions first came into New Zealand in 1989. “We thought the sale presented a good opportunity and we bought two yearlings, syndicated them within eight weeks so we were underway. Although we had a lot of winners we didn’t have any huge successes with the syndicates but we had more than 100 clients, some of whom went into the broodmare side of things, so that was a positive.”
While he was “battling along” Peter struck up an association with Gary Hackett, who had been a commercial fisherman before turning to breaking standardbreds. “I had met Gary about 10 years earlier through Heather Page, who later married Kevin Frew and went on to become a successful trainer based at Mount Gambier in South Australia.
“Gary, who had a place at Pukekohe, south of Auckland, decided to sell his farm and was thinking about putting together a small thoroughbred broodmare band. When he put his farm on the market a property developer named Michael Tololi turned up from Auckland and bought the farm.
“He asked Gary what he was going to do with the money and he told Michael I was going to buy him some quality mares and hopefully sell their progeny for a profit. Michael liked the idea and asked me to put together a business plan. He came on board and that was the start of Chatham Lodge, which was probably, outside of the Velas, the first private breeding operation in New Zealand that didn’t stand stallions.”
As a result, in the middle of 1996 Peter, Gary and Michael headed for the northern hemisphere in search of suitable mares. The tour took them right across the US, to the United Kingdom and into Europe, coming back with a handful of mares from the many inspected.
“The mares all turned out to be profitable propositions,” Peter said. “We offered the first yearlings from the mares at the 1999 Karaka Premier Sale and the five we sold averaged $217,000 which was the first time in about two decades that anyone had beaten the Cambridge Stud average.”
Heading the entry was a colt by Lure from the Diesis mare Dragoncello (USA), who went to Shadwell Farm for $NZ450,000, which was quite a return from a mare bought for £20,000 from a paddock in Newmarket. Two years later her yearling by Octagonal went to Victorian Peter White for $NZ400,000.
“Dragoncello is without doubt the best mare I’ve ever bought,” Peter said. “She’d had a broken pelvis so she’d never raced, but her second dam was the very good American race mare Spicy Living, which attracted me. It was also the family of Adraan, who I think is one of the best horses ever seen in Australia but unfortunately he died after having just one crop.
“The first three yearlings we sold from Dragoncello realised more than $1m from a service fee outlay of $75,000, so that was a hell of a start for little guys against the big guys.”
The last mating Peter arranged for Dragoncello was to Galileo (IRE) and she was subsequently sold in-foal. She produced a filly who raced as Gallant Tess and was a multiple Gr.2 winner as well as being five times placed at Gr.1 level to earn $813,500.
“That went fantastically for a few years but Gary had a divorce and Mike didn’t want to take all the investment, so my era with Chatham Lodge came to an end in 2000.” With that Peter went to Glenmorgan Farm, which was being conducted by Brett Jenkins.
“They were standing Generous, who had won the English Derby in 1991, and I secured the Breeders’ Cup winner Chief Bearhart (CAN) the year I was there. Chief Bearhart sired the New Zealand Filly of the Year Shikoba from a mating with Summary, a mare I had bought in Sydney for clients Sue and Micaela Murray.”
On leaving Glenmorgan Farm he continued to do “some trading” while working for the business directory company UBD. His role involved selling websites, which he says paid “fantastic money but was boring”, compared to his previous involvement with thoroughbreds. In 2002 he received a phone call from Michael Tololi, who said that although Chatham Lodge was finished he wanted to establish a stallion station.
“I told him he would have a tremendous amount of competition with Cambridge Stud, Waikato, Windsor Park and others but Michael was adamant and that was the beginning of Stoney Bridge.” Peter dutifully found the Gr.3-winning Red Ransom horse Ekraar, who was owned by Shadwell Stud. “After we’d done the deal Angus Gold said Shadwell wanted to run Ekraar one more time in the Milan Gran Premio de Jockey-Club-Gr.1, which we felt we had to go along with. He won but Shadwell honoured the agreement that had been made so we had a very advantageous deal with Ekraar from the start.”
Peter also secured the Storm Cat horse Storm Creek (USA), who was enjoying success in America. Storm Creek proved his value by siring, among others, the Levin Turf Classic-Gr.1 winner Eileen Dubh and the Singapore Derby-SinGr.1 winner Chase Me, who was bred by Peter. “So with Ekraar and Storm Creek we were underway and over the next five years we built up to having eight stallions at Stoney Bridge.”
As general manager of the farm he was responsible for everything from acquiring the stallions, doing the marketing, selling the nominations, the promotional work as well as arranging valuable race sponsorships. Of the seven stallions he selected six sired Gr.1 winners and sired a total of 12 between them.
“Among those horses were Lion Tamer, who won the Victoria Derby, the New Zealand Derby winner Habibi and Rising Romance, who won the Australian Oaks. We put together an exceptional record and I am very proud of what we achieved.”
Sadly the global financial crisis impacted negatively on Michael’s property business, which lessened the money available for re-investment in Stoney Bridge. As a result Peter elected to grasp the opportunity to move to Arrowfield.
Over the time since he has been instrumental in securing the outstanding son of High Chaparral (IRE), Dundeel, before he won the $4m Queen Elizabeth Stakes-Gr.1 at Randwick.
He also influenced John to send the champion mare Miss Finland to Street Cry (IRE) for a mating, which resulted in producing last October’s MRC 1000 Guineas-Gr.1 winner Stay With Me.
As well as his designated duties Peter has used his writing capabilities to produce a number of papers and studies for the defence in the artificial insemination court case and to contribute to Great Thoroughbred Sires of the World as well as Bluebloods.
He is also currently writing a book on the influence of the Aga Khan’s studs and breeding in Australia and New Zealand. Although he is a very busy man, Peter and his partner Sarah could not be happier.