It was well over thirty years ago that Ballarat veterinarian Dr Kim McKellar took a call to give a Thoroughbred named Bonecrusher an ECG on the back of a poor run. Today it is easy to draw the parallels between the mighty Kiwi galloper and what Dr McKellar is trying to achieve at Wyndholm Park, the stud he owns with wife Liz.
Wyndholm Park stands stallions with pedigree and performance like Bonecrusher’s sire Pag-Asa, at prices that attract moderate mares like his dam Imitation (NZ) to give breeders a fair chance of breeding a good horse without breaking the bank. As McKellar says “Everyone is entitled to a Champion.”
Kim what sparked your interest in Thoroughbreds?
“Bonecrusher was the horse that got me started. I was just a knockabout vet at the time, although I was a doing some equine work, but not a lot. On the back of a poor run I was asked to go out to Noel Kelly’s stable and do an ECG on Bonecrusher and so to avoid the paparazzi I went out there at 6am. As I was walking towards his box a bloke came around the corner with a gun and asked me “Where are you going?”. When I told him I was going to look over Bonecrusher he left me in no doubt that I should sit down and wait until he had rung the horse’s trainer, Frank Ritchie, and got the OK for me to touch the horse. While I was sitting there on a bucket waiting for the go ahead I was just looking at this most magnificent animal, and that’s what got me going in Thoroughbreds.”
And where has the journey taken you so far?
“I’ve been fortunate to deal with some great horses and people. I’ve tended to horses like The Phantom, The Phantom Chance and Tie The Knot to name a few while I have bought some good horses along the way. I was involved in the purchase of horses of the calibre of Let’s Elope, Richfield Lady, Weekend Delight and Shiva’s Revenge. Of course, Let’s Elope and Shiva’s Revenge quinelled the 1991 Cup and we might have had the trifecta but that Weekend Delight bled. More recently I’ve dealt with the likes of Jameka, Srikandi, Mosheen and Azkadellia.
“As an owner I raced a good Irish import called Mayshiel who missed out on a start in Brew’s Melbourne Cup courtesy of the VRC Committee’s balloting powers. There was some compensation when he ran third a couple of days later in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes.”
Around the time Let’s Elope was cutting a swathe through the top races in the land you bought Wyndholm Park. It’s fair to say the farm’s current focus isn’t on churning out precocious types for yearling sales.
“The farm’s “raison d’étre” is to give breeders who want to own and race their own horses a variety of stallions at prices that make commercial sense.
The commercialisation of the stallion market, and subsequently the yearling market, has created an imbalance where few can consistently make a profit. My attitude is there are some really good horses out there at realistic fees, they just need to supported.
“My philosophy is if someone has the right mare and the patience required of an owner/breeder then we probably have a stallion that will get you a horse that will win races and can have some fun with. These are the people the industry needs to attract and retain for its long-term existence. Those looking for a quick return on a two-year-old are the ones more likely to get burnt and leave the game as quick as they came.
“Victoria has moved to program races for more mature horses which I think is a great initiative, but in New South Wales the lure of the glamour of the precocious type drives programming geared to two-year-olds.
Given a two-year-old is probably the equivalent of a 14-year-old human the industry pins too much of its focus on the performances of teenagers rather than the grown adult, in the latter instance say a five-year-old horse. To the industry’s detriment rarely does the success of a five-year-old add value to his stud fee such is the fixation with juvenile racing and the quick profit.
“I think people need to be patient, treasure their horse until the day they find out it is not good enough and then find a nice home for it. The owners who keep pushing their horses early, and part with them before they fully mature, just won’t last.”
Do you think the Victorian model will survive or will the commercial realities of the market eventually swamp what Victoria is trying to achieve?
“No, I think it will survive. Over time the balance will shift as those owners that focus on the quick return will at some stage get sick of it, the numbers just aren’t there.
“The Victorian model of encouraging the mature horse to keep racing has had a significant effect on starter numbers across the state. Victoria’s average starter numbers stand up very well against other states and that has to be linked to a shift towards keeping horses in training. There is a correlation between those starter numbers and turnover and so by extension increased returns to the industry available for prizemoney.”
Going back to the Wyndholm Park roster, its small but diverse mix is led by Rebel Raider. Standing a Victoria Derby winner, particularly one that wins at 100/1, is always a tough gig, why did you take him on?
“I was at Flemington the day he won the Victoria Derby and couldn’t help but be impressed by the speed he displayed in his final few furlongs. He left a lasting impression with me, but it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to stand him a few years later that I realised just how good he was. There aren’t too many horses that can win a Gr.3 race over a mile at two, back up the next season and win two Gr.1 Derbys (he won the South Australian Derby as well) and then as a five year old win a Gr.3 sprint over 1200 metres.”
I see he covered just nineteen mares in his first season in 2011 but then jumped to 80 next season and has been serving commercial numbers ever since. Was there a reason for the slow start?
“He started a Spring campaign in 2011 running fourth in Adelaide, but then busted himself up in his box one day. It appears his stud career was then hastily arranged which was to his detriment. I was able to get him for the following season and since then, with one exception, he’s bounced between 80 and 100 plus mares ever since. And the great thing is he is super-fertile, generally around the 90% mark. He’ll often
get sent mares that have spent the Spring with other stallions without success and the owners want one last shot at getting the mare in foal. He just nails them first time. He’s just fantastic.
“And on the track we are just getting to see the sort of results we had hoped for. Leon McDonald and Andrew Gluyas have put great faith in the horse and out of their 70 or so winners for the season in Adelaide, at last count 23 of those were by Rebel Raider. Leon and Andrew sent Pretty Punk down to Tasmania this year and won the Group 3 Hobart Cup and had a third in the Launceston Cup with her.
“She was bred and is part owned by Harry Perks who, at present, is probably the most successful breed-to-race owner in Australia without a stud operation and he has put over twenty mares to him, so the horse is getting every chance. He’s also had some nice horses like Rockstar Rebel who was second in a Queensland Derby-Gr.1, and Rebellious Lord who has won two from five starts and is on his way back from injury.”
Despite his success his fee remains the same as when he stood his first season with you. “We aren’t necessarily trying to make a lot of money out of his service fees and there is something to be said for having others share in the success. There are a lot of owners with moderate mares, horses that might have won three or four minor races, who just want a nice horse to keep them in the racing game. He offers them that. I know of one chap that took thirty years to have his first winner and Rebel Raider provided the breakthrough. He was over the moon. At the other end of the market he is starting to have a few runners in Hong Kong so he is getting exposure, it just takes time.”
And he has Crackerjack King as a barn mate. What did you see in the grey?
“It was a similar story to Rebel Raider in that we only got him after he had a first season where he wasn’t well patronised. But I liked what I saw in the flesh and on the page. “Gary Chittick from Waikato Stud once told me “it doesn’t matter whether a stallion is bred to run 5 furlongs or two miles it must have speed” and I read where David Hayes had been forced to work “Cracker” with his sprinters as his stayers couldn’t keep up with him. Interestingly his record shows he never started in a race at shorter than 1800 metres so we will never know if he could have had sprinter’s speed.
“Then you only have to look at his pedigree to see he has class. His dam has to be one of the world’s leading broodmares. How few mares are there that can produce five individual Stakes winners, three of them Gr.1 winners. He was hardy, travelled the world to race and acclimatised quickly to our conditions when third in the Underwood Stakes-Gr.1. And Shamardal’s stock have done a great job in Australia with the likes of Faint Perfume and Puissance De Lune and now he is showing he is a sire of sires with Lope De Vega getting recent Gr.1 Santa Ana Lane.
“The key with “Cracker” going forward will be boosting his numbers to a level where we can confidently judge if he is passing on his ability. That may take a year or two as we only have yearlings now from the farm. Again he’s a stallion where patience will be rewarded.”
Your third stallion Sports Edition certainly isn’t in the same mould as your two stayers. “No and we might not have gotten him if he hadn’t broken down as a two-year-old. At his first start he beat all but a Gr.1 winner in Almalad, then he won in Listed company at his next start before breaking down.
“He’s an imposing type and we are watching what the market thinks of the young sons of Northern Meteor. Zoustar’s early results suggest he, for one, is going to make it so it is nice to be able to offer an inexpensive stallion by the sire. Like Rebel Raider and “Cracker”, Sports Edition has pedigree as he’s a brother to a Gr.1 winner in Amanpour and a half-brother to the dam of Rapper Dragon who was so revered in Hong Kong. The good thing with him is we can recommend him to owners whose mare need a bit of speed in the pedigree.
“The overall picture is we stand three stallions at $6,600 so breeders aren’t burning a lot of money to get to horse’s we feel have an attractive genetic mix, two having excellent racetrack performances on the board and the third showed enough talent at two to win a Listed race from just two starts.”
Do you think there is a strong market for stallions in that range in Victoria?
“Definitely. In general the cost of buying stallions to stand in New South Wales and northern Victoria is ridiculous and that is reflected in the fees at which horses have to stand at to cover the stud’s outlay. That then eats into any return a breeder might get on their stock and of course increases the risk of a loss. Whereas the rest of Victoria has a broad range of horses standing at attractive service fees all of which get to run for the same prizemoney, and across the board these lesser-fee stallions still perform pretty well.
“You’ve only to look at Darren Weir, his stable is full of horses with pedigrees that aren’t “bluebloods” yet they win races and earn prizemoney. He just looks at a horse and if he likes it then away he goes. Darren has broken the rules regarding pedigree and proven it’s the horse type that needs to be involved as well. Significantly he’s not a trainer that pushes his two-year-olds and he has a fair percentage of mature gallopers.”
Are there other aspects of the industry that you think need attention?
“I’d like to fix the Stud Book! Most small-time breeders have no idea of the regulations surrounding the registration of a foal. For the first few months they’ll just be enjoying seeing their pride and joy grow and unless they are guided by a stud that has a band of support staff, like secretaries, to point them in the right direction, then they run the risk of being penalised for registering late. The regulations around movement of horses are the same. I’m in the industry and if I can’t grasp them how is the hobbyist expected to stay on top of matters.
“I also think that the industry brings in too many integrity related changes and uses welfare as the excuse when they plainly have little to do with welfare itself. Integrity and welfare are two separate issues and should be kept that way. All the current practice does is reduce the impact when there are genuine welfare issues that we need to address.”
What advice would you have for anyone just entering the industry?
“Look, listen and analyse. It is an extremely complicated game so don’t be sucked in by the brand names and expensive advertising, instead look at what’s winning races.”n