Irishman Ross Hatton has found his nirvana at Cornerstone Stud, seduced by the horses, people and lifestyle of the Barossa Valley. It’s a far cry from Kilkenny, but the thoroughbred heritage runs deep in his veins and he’s delighted to be part of the resurgence of the famous South Australian property.
SINCE being established by Colin Sidney Hayes half a century ago, Lindsay Park, at Angaston, has occupied a very special place in the Australian thoroughbred industry. A parkland of natural beauty with its rolling hills, magnificent trees and green pastures, the property has been the breeding and training ground for thousands of winners and for the establishment of a multitude of records.
However, after Colin’s death in 1999 Lindsay Park went through a period of uncertainty until his grandson Sam Hayes became involved in 2005. The son of the late Peter Hayes and a nephew of leading trainer David Hayes, he set about revitalizing the breeding arm, first as Lindsay Park Stud and then six years later, in deference to his grandfather’s initials, as Cornerstone Stud.
Sam’s strategy has worked and the property is once again occupying a position of importance in the breeding of quality racehorses. Among those playing a significant role in this restoration is Irishman Ross Hatton, who is responsible for the stud’s client relations and nominations.
“I feel very lucky to be part of what we are continuing to build at Cornerstone and everything is in place for us to grow further in the coming years,” Ross said. “We feel we have put together a quality roster of stallions over recent years, I think the support we have received from breeders countrywide is recognition of that.”
Now in his fifth year at the stud Ross has been so captivated by all that is around him he doubts he will ever leave. “Cornerstone itself is a wonderful property, but for me the beauty of the Barossa Valley comes through not just in the magnificent lands that surround us, but the people make it the greatest place on earth for me.”
His devotion to this region was further intensified when he met local girl Kim, with whom he has a two year-old daughter Mia. His enthusiasm has been further invigorated by the support received upon the sudden death of his younger brother Conor in September 2014. He has another brother Shane and has “great admiration” for him as he has recently started up his own videography business in Ireland.
“Sam, and former stud manager David Burke have been fantastic through various ups and downs in recent years,” he said. “So have Sam’s former business partner Darren Thomas, his new business partner John Frankhuisen and everyone else at the farm, past and present. I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by such terrific people, to be part of such a vibrant industry, and I still haven’t even come close to tasting all the wines of the Barossa.”
Yet this could hardly have been farther from his mind when he was growing up more than 16,000km away in the medieval city of Kilkenny, which is known as the home of hurling, in the south-east of Ireland. The eldest son of Tom, who drives internationally for George Mullins Horse Transport and nursing home administrator Hazel, there were horses on both sides of his family as he grew up.
Ross says his “hero” is his grandfather John Brophy, who was a small but successful breeder. A cousin of the famous Irish trainer Paddy Mullins, his achievement highlights feature breeding Royal Athlete, who was prepared by Jenny Pitman to win the 1995 Grand National Steeple at Aintree. Ironically, Royal Athlete traces to a mare named Australia.
“I was home watching on the television but I think my interest in horse racing went up by 10-fold that day. From then on, through my teenage years, I spent as many hours as I could, outside of school, at my grandad’s farm.”
Once he had finished his secondary schooling in 2001 his grandfather arranged through Coolmore’s Eddie Fitzpatrick for Ross to begin working with the redoubtable Tim Hyde, at Camus Park, in Cashel, County Tipperary.
“I think I landed at Camus Park about three days after I had finished my high school exams,” Ross said. “There were about 50 yearlings to be prepared for the major sales at Newmarket and Doncaster as well as Goffs and Fairyhouse in Ireland. That was a bit of a shock to the system.
“Edmund Ryan was the manager, a hard-taskmaster but an excellent horseman who taught me much about yearlings. One of the best but simplest pieces of advice he gave me was that, if you look at enough bad horses then the good ones will be much easier to find.”
Once the yearlings were sold his grandfather introduced Ross to Michael Osborne, who had returned to Ireland after being chief executive of the Emirates Racing Association. Michael Osborne suggested he work at Kildangan Stud, in County Kildare, as a lead-up to applying for the six-month Irish National Stud course. After spending three months at Kildangan Ross was accepted into the National Stud’s breeding course in January of 2002.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Irish National Stud and made some long-lasting friendships out of it. We still keep in contact all over the world these days,” he said.
With the course behind him Ross moved on to the Meadow Court Stud of Eimear Mulhern, who is a daughter of former Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey and in more recent times has become chairperson of Goffs, Ireland.
“The vacancy came up towards the end of the Irish National Stud course. I saw an ad for a stud hand position in the newspaper and to be honest I really only applied initially because I had an interest in history and politics and knew Eimear’s father had served three terms as Taoiseach of Ireland. I was in my early 20s at the time and now living away from home, so I was thankful Eimear and stud manager Paul O’Loughlin looked after me so well during my time working for them.”
During the three years Ross was at Meadow Court he had a general grounding in the business, preparing yearlings and dealing with mares and foals and doing “just about everything”. As 2005 was unfolding he began feeling the “travel itch” and Eimear organized a trip to Australia to further his experience at Coolmore at Jerrys Plains for the 2005 breeding season.
“I landed in Sydney without knowing anyone or anything at all, but met another Irish bloke named Joachim Quinn who was also on his way to Coolmore for the season. We ended up buying this 20 year-old Holden Commodore wagon together after about a week on the farm. We called her ‘Big Rhonda’ and she became known as the Jerry’s Plains Tavern bus. Somehow, she managed to get everyone home most nights. It was a bit of a culture shock, but I absolutely loved my first experience of Australia.”
That year Coolmore stood such luminaries as Choisir, Danehill Dancer (IRE), Encosta de Lago, Fastnet Rock, Galileo (IRE), High Chaparral (IRE), Rock of Gibraltar (IRE) and Royal Academy (USA).
“I worked in the resident mares and foals area of Coolmore. Michael Kirwan, Peter and Adrian O’Brien, Colm Santry, Bryan Carlson, now of Emirates, and Andrew Magnier, a nephew of John, were all there and they were all brilliant to work with, as were so many others I could add to that list who I still keep in contact with.”
On completing the season at Coolmore, Ross headed back towards home via the Newmarket December Sale at Tattersalls.
Once the sales were over he linked up with Harry McCalmont’s boutique breeding farm Norelands Stud in County Kilkenny, which was being managed by Matt Gilsenan, with the help at the time of Ross’ cousin George Williams. Tragically George, who was “like a big brother” to Ross, was killed while felling a tree on the farm in 2010.
Harry, who had previously raced the Keeneland Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup-Gr.1 winner Danish, was then racing Ace, a Gr.3 winner who was five times placed at the elite level. Although foaled 10 years apart, Danish and Ace were by Danehill from the stakes winning Sassafras mare Tea House. It was while at Norelands that Ross decided on a change of direction.
“I got caught between a couple of mares one day and I could feel the wind going by me as they lashed out,” he said. “That started me thinking that I can’t do this the rest of my life and that I should work on getting some paper to my name.
“To begin with I didn’t tell anyone except for my grandfather that I was going to do a languages and marketing degree at the Waterford Institute of Technology. He said he would back me if money became an issue. When I told my Mum and Dad the day before I was going to enrol they were delighted. With quite a history of farming in the family, not many Hattons had done the university thing before, so it was big thing for my parents.”
After starting at Waterford Institute of Technology, which has around 10,000 students and 1000 teachers, in September of 2006 he continued working at weekends.
“When it came to January, Matt asked me whether I’d like to foal down some mares at Norelands whenever it worked in with my lectures at the university, which was about 40 minutes away by car. I kept saying yes to Matt when he’d ask me if I wanted to work and ended up being the foaling manager for the entire four years I was going to university.
“It was tough going because I was studying as well as doing the foaling and my record was eight hours sleep one week. I probably did well to come through it alive, but I could never have done the study without the job and the support of Harry and Matt.
“In one of the seasons I foaled down Cozy Maria, the dam of Zebedee, the year he proved himself a very good two year-old in Europe. That is quite unique happening considering it has gone the full circle with Zebedee now standing at Cornerstone. Other mares foaled down included the dam of young New Zealand shuttler Power, a sister to Derby winner Oath and a whole host of other high-class mares, some of them have actually followed me to Australia.”
During his off time from Norelands Ross did yearling preparations at Marc de Chambure’s Haras d’Etreham in the Normandy region of France and the major German yearling sales in Baden-Baden before joining friends to travel around France in a campervan during the Rugby World Cup in 2007. When learning French and other languages did not come readily Ross subsequently decided to concentrate solely on securing his marketing degree, which eased the burden of his studies.
This enabled him to combine the duties of studying full time and being foaling manager at Norelands in 2008, 2009 and 2010, which was a role he filled again in 2011 after receiving his degree. In between times, in 2008 and 2009, he also did some “sales preparation” at Barouche Stud, in County Kildare, which was owned by Barbara Facchino and managed by Rory Matthews.
“They were really nice people and over the years I found it makes life a lot easier, if you are dealing with good people and good horses,” he said. Also during the European autumn of 2008, Ross travelled to the Doncaster yearling sale in order to take one specific yearling through the sales ring. He had picked the colt out of a paddock at Jimmy Murphy’s Redpender Stud in Kilkenny earlier that year and that yearling was Canford Cliffs.
“I was out in a paddock with Jimmy in spring of that year and put my eye on the ripper Tagula weanling standing in front of me. I fell in love with the colt and told Jimmy I wanted to go to the sales with him. I like to think that I got it right that time and it is a big thrill to see progeny by that Tagula weanling racing in Australia now.”
In 2010 and 2011 he used the off-season at Norelands to further widen his practical knowledge at Limestone Stud, also in County Kilkenny and owned by John O’Connor who is also managing director of Ballylinch Stud, which neighbours Norelands. “John was actually setting up his own farm at the time,” he said. “He was doing this, that and the other in his role at Ballylinch and needed someone to give him a hand to get the ball rolling and prepare some of his own yearlings for the sales. He is another who has had a good influence on my career path, he always had wise words for me during my time working for him.”
In October 2011 Ross learned that the Thompson family’s famed Widden Stud needed staff to prepare yearlings for the following year’s sales. “Ireland had become a very different place economically by the time I finished university, I waited around a year, but there were no worthwhile job opportunities on the horizon. I felt it was best to get out and it is the best thing I have ever done.”
With that he sent his curriculum vitae to Widden’s general manager Derek Field and “got the job”. Quickly arranging a visa and flight tickets, he had left Ireland within the space of two weeks of his appointment not to return, apart from holidays.
“Widden is an absolutely beautiful place and I enjoyed my time there,” Ross said. However, after three months at Widden he began to feel that with his academic qualifications he should be looking for an appointment on the administrative side of the business.
“I called David Somers at Eliza Park as I’d known him from when I was at the Irish National Stud and he was the stud manager there at the time. David said they needed an extra pair hands at the Melbourne Premier sale, so I bought a car and drove down. We had a super team of people there and I made quite a few friends, especially David ‘Doc’ O’Callaghan and Phil Marshall, who I always enjoy catching up with every time a sale rolls around”
A conversation with bloodstock agents Paul Willets and Damon Gabbedy while showing them a yearling led to him being introduced to Adrian Hancock, who has long been one of the South Australian industry’s most highly respected identities. “The great thing about getting to the yearling sales was that I was able to meet people in the industry.”
Out of work after the Melbourne sale, Ross’s good friend Sebastien Domange suggested he ring Cornerstone Stud’s David Burke and ask about working at the Adelaide yearling sale. When he did Ross discovered a position had just opened up handling client relations and nominations.
“Dean Elliott, who had previously held the position, had gone to Centrebet, so everything just fell into place for me,” says Ross, who started at Cornerstone in March 2012. “It was pretty amazing that in my second year and again in 2014 and 2015 we were standing a horse like Dalakhani, who I’d seen racing a few years ago in Europe.”
A son of Darshaan, Dalakhani, who has just been pensioned from stud duty in Europe, won eight of his nine races, highlighted by his 2003 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe-Gr.1 victory over Mubtaker and High Chaparral, and was second on the other occasion. That was in the Irish Derby-Gr.1 at The Curragh where he was runner-up to Alamshar. The winner was trained by John Oxx and was ridden by Johnny Murtagh.
“I was at the Derby and actually backed Alamshar to beat Dalakhani because he was an Irish-trained horse and Irish ridden,” Ross said. “I remember celebrating that day when Dalakhani was beaten but little did I know that about 10 years down the line I would be promoting him in Australia.
“Also standing a horse of the calibre of Hussonet at Cornerstone was a thrill because he was a pure champion. I wish we had even more broodmares on the farm by him. He was the sire of 30 Gr.1 winners and it was a sad day a few months ago when he passed away.”
With Dalakhani unable to shuttle this year and Hussonet no longer on the roster, Cornerstone has introduced fresh blood with the High Chaparral horse Free Eagle (IRE) standing in an agreement with the Irish National Stud. “We believe we are replacing quality with quality and it is another connection, from my earlier years in Ireland and my time at the national stud.
“Free Eagle won the Prince of Wales’s Stakes-Gr.1 at Royal Ascot last year, beating the likes of The Grey Gatsby, Criterion and Gailo Chop and on his retirement he was the highest rated older horse in Europe, which is quite an achievement. In fact, he is the highest rated racehorse to retire to stud in Australia this year. Added to that, seven-time Irish Champion Jockey Pat Smullen described Free Eagle as the best horse he has ridden, which is high praise indeed.”
Free Eagle will stand at $18,700 including GST and is being joined by another newcomer in ATC Skyline Stakes-Gr.2 winner Valentia, who is by Fastnet Rock from the Mister C (USA) mare Smart Company. The sales-topper at $1.35m at the 2013 Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale, Valentia will command a fee of $11,000.
“Quite simply one of the most impressive horses I have laid eyes on, from a speed family, breeders who see him will send mares, simple as that. He is one of only six colts by Fastnet Rock to win a Group race at two, and the Skyline is a sire making race, having already launched the careers of Choisir, Snitzel and Hinchinbrook.”
Being a six-time winner as a two year-old, Europe’s champion first and second season sire Zebedee is the most precocious son of Invincible Spirit (IRE) ever and is standing his second season at $16,500. The ever-reliable Good Journey’s fee has been set at $11,000, tremendous value for a stallion who has his starters averaging more than $63,500 in earnings. Rounding out the roster is Ambidexter, whose first yearlings averaged a sale price of $30,000 in 2016, at a fee of $5500.
Ross says everything is continuing to move forward at Cornerstone Stud and with the quality of stallions being matched by the quality of mares arriving on the farm, it won’t be long before another champion emerges from this most famous of properties. One cannot help but feel both John Brophy and Colin Hayes would be very proud of their respective grandson’s achievements.