Joe Heather

IT’S a dream come true to have your first sire get a Golden Slipper winner in his first crop and this provided a wonderful start for Joe Heather, who was appointed general manager of Telemon Thoroughbreds at Innisplain in 2018. Joe, who has been around horses all his life, is pragmatic about how long Sidestep will remain in Queensland but is excited about the new sire provided by Godolphin in the shape of dual Gr.1 winner Jungle Cat (IRE).

SIDESTEP (Exceed and Excel-Dextrous by Quest for Fame (GB)), Australia’s Champion First Season Sire of 2018-19, will be standing only his second season at the Telemon Thoroughbreds this year but general manager Joe Heather is almost resigned to losing the horse. “The lease agreement we have with Godolphin is for a minimum of two years,” Joe said of Sidestep, a STC Golden Slipper Stakes-Gr.1 second placegetter and sire of this year’s winner Kiamichi, whose 2019 fee is $22,000.

“Obviously we would like to keep him at Telemon, but we will understand completely if it is decided Sidestep deserves a place in the Hunter Valley. It will
all be decided at the end of the breeding season.” While there is a question mark over Sidestep’s future, the possible loss has already been softened by Godolphin agreeing to stand the exciting sire prospect Jungle Cat (IRE) (Iffraaj (GB)-Mike’s Wildcat by Forest Wildcat), at Telemon in his first Australian season. Twice a winner at the elite level in the Meydan Al Quoz Sprint-Gr.1 and MRC Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes-Gr.1, Jungle Cat is already in strong demand at his service fee of $13,200 and can be expected to enhance the property’s reputation.

It is a tribute acknowledged by Godolphin’s managing director Vin Cox. “I know the quality of the farm from my time in Queensland, so that is a huge attraction,” Vin Cox said.

The 97ha (240 acre) site on the banks of the Logan River at Innisplain, which was taken over by Dan and Rae Fletcher late in May last year, has had a very impressive history since being established as a thoroughbred stud in the 1990s. The farm has been home to such notable stallions as Success Express (USA), Mossman, Written Tycoon and Bel Esprit at various stages of their stud careers.

Significantly in 2013, while standing at the property, Written Tycoon was responsible for siring Golden Slipper Stakes winner Capitalist and Winning Rupert, who had five wins from six starts.

Capitalist and Winning Rupert are held in such high esteem that both horses were added to the Newgate Farm stallion roster on their retirement from racing. Telemon was also the breeding and raising ground for Gold Edition, who was a dual Gr.1 winner of 17 races and $3.2m, Mossman’s amazing son Buffering, who was a winner of the Al Quoz Sprint and six other Gr.1 races for earnings topping $7.2m, and dual Gr.1 winner Zoustar, who is proving a remarkably successful sire
for Widden Stud.

“We are situated in what is considered to be the ‘golden mile’ for horses in Queensland,” Joe said of the farm. “There is no better climate, pasture or topography anywhere thoroughbreds are bred.

“Considering the farm is boutique in scale, compared to the multi-national operators in the Hunter Valley, the track record of the place is truly remarkable.
The constant theme is the property’s success story and this is the feedback you receive when you speak to trainers or bloodstock agents, as they all have a lot of confidence in the type of animal that can be bred and raised here.

“We have a tight knit team whose job is to run the property in the best way possible and to keep producing those types of horses. We are working on developing a premium band of broodmares on the farm of our own and in partnership with clients, who we want to bring along on the journey.”

They are heartfelt words from a Queenslander for Joe was born and raised on the Gold Coast where his father, the late Jeff Heather, was battling along
as a trainer. The family had a property in the Gold Coast hinterland, at what has since become known as Pacific Pines, complete with stables and training facilities and whenever he could Joe would accompany his father to the Gold Coast track or race meetings in the south east of Queensland.

“Dad was a very old fashioned country horseman, who taught me a lot of the basics,” Joe said. “I’d head down to the track in the mornings with him where I got to know a lot of the old trainers. I was able to pick up the little nuggets of wisdom that you only hear around the coffee van.”

The first Gold Coast Magic Millions sale Joe attended was a mid-week tried horse sale in 2000 when his father “snuck” him out of school to accompany him.
“Under strict instructions from Mum he was to come home empty handed, Dad still went ahead and bought an old Rechabite gelding named Arginess. Dad managed to train him win a couple of times and that’s probably when the bug really hit me. During those early years I’d also tag along to the country race circuit meetings Dad went to.”

With his future direction already decided, it was during his last three years at Pacific Pines High School that Joe began expanding his knowledge by undertaking work experience at the then Ingham’s Woodlands Stud at Denman.

“I was 15 when I first went down to Woodlands in 2002,” Joe said. “Dad thought he’d taught me as much as he could, so it was time for me to go and learn from some professionals. “Going down to Woodlands on work experience led to me working there as a casual during school holidays. I graduated at Pacific Pines towards the end of 2004 and two weeks later, in December of that year, I started full-time at Woodlands so I went there virtually straight out of school.”

Looking back on the years he was at Woodlands Joe says he could not have had better tutors than the late Peter Flynn and Scott Holcombe. “I couldn’t have asked for two better mentors for a young person going into the industry. Peter had a wealth of knowledge and was renowned for horsemanship and you would never stop learning things from him and added to that, Scott is probably one of the most professional operators in the industry.”

Initially Joe worked in the foaling unit, doing some night watch, which he regarded as “great” because of the numbers involved. “The first season I was in the foaling unit we foaled down 413 mares of which, from memory, 120 were born in the month of August. When you are working through huge numbers like that you learn a lot because you see so much happening. Then, after that, I ran the weaning barn and after that I went into the covering shed with the stallions.”

In the years he worked at Woodlands Joe had the privilege of dealing with stallions of the calibre of Canny Lad, Commands, Octagonal, Quest for Fame and Lonhro. “It was amazing to be able to work with those sorts of horses. Lonhro was my absolute favourite, he is probably the most intelligent horse I have ever worked with.”

There are also particularly fond memories of Canny Lad. He has his “soft spot” for the Bletchingly horse after he taught him how to go about the handling of serving mares. “I went into the serving barn one day with Peter Flynn,” Joe said. “I asked him ‘what am I supposed to do now’? He handed Canny Lad’s lead over to me and said ‘just hold on to that and don’t worry, he’ll show you just what to do’ and he did. After that I was right.”

In May of 2008 Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley purchased Woodlands Stud from the Ingham family. Incredibly that first season Darley stood Bernardini (USA), Canny Lad, Carnegie (IRE), Commands, Dubawi (IRE), Elusive Quality (USA), Exceed and Excel, Henny Hughes (USA), Librettist (USA), Lonhro, Manton, Nadeem, Octagonal (NZ), Quest for Fame (GB), Refuse to Bend (IRE), Shamardal (USA), Strategic, Street Sense (USA) Tiger Hill (IRE) and Untouchable.

About a year later Joe, with “five or six others” left Darley to join Glenlogan Park at Innisplain. At that stage Glenlogan was standing Bradbury’s Luck, Falvelon, Jet Spur and Show a Heart. Having sired Gr.1 winner Heart of Dreams, plus the likes of Mimi Lebrock, Gotta Have Heart, Crossyourheart, Heart of the Citi and Satsang,
Show a Heart was on a roll.

“Glenlogan was making a big push and had Show a Heart really firing. A team of us joined Glenlogan, including Rob Petith, who had also been at Woodlands and Darley.”

Joe was appointed broodmare manager of Glenlogan, under the general management of Steve Morley. “Although I had spent my early years in the state I hadn’t worked in Queensland until then, as my work had previously been in the Hunter Valley. It proved a great introduction to the Queensland breeding industry and it enabled me to meet a lot of people involved in the industry, who have since become clients.”

He also made friends and happily amongst them was his wife Elizabeth who he met when they went on a “blind date” at the Gold Coast in 2010. They were married in 2015 and now have two children, Lachlan, who is three, and Sarah, two.

“One of the things I like most about what I do is that while it is a busy, demanding lifestyle the family can be involved,” he said. “Beth looks after the office and does the accounts, while the kids already love the outdoors and the property will be a brilliant place for them to grow up.”

While the romance with Beth was blossoming his reputation was very much on the rise, which resulted in Joe being “head hunted” as the Queensland nominations representative for Nathan Tinkler’s Patinack Farm, which had established an operation at Canungra. At the time the stallion roster consisted of Monaco Consul (NZ), Raheeb, Teranaba, Trusting and Wonderful World.

“Canungra is where my family is from, so we really enjoyed getting back to that area. I valued the experience I had at Patinack because it was my first introduction to nominations and bloodstock work. I think it was really important as far as developing my profile with clients was concerned because previously my roles had been on the farm all the time.

“Through my time at Patinack I met a lot of really great clients, who have stuck with me ever since, so on that level it was very important. It was also a very important step for me to be working in the office and be able to understand how that side of the business went, as well as having the opportunity to study pedigrees. I still did bits and pieces on the farm, mainly in the covering shed, but mostly I was handling nominations.”

Significantly, among those breeders he met during his stay at Patinack were Dan and Rae Fletcher. “I was at the broodmare sales at the Gold Coast when
I met Dan and later I showed him around the farm at Canungra, which was the beginning of our friendship.”

On leaving Patinack Joe was involved in “setting up” a farm known as River Junction at Gympie, which is in the Wide Bay-Burnett region of Queensland some 160km north of Brisbane. “We had a boutique band of broodmares and racehorses at River Junction and we had fantastic horses to work with, which were primarily trained by Tony Gollan.”

These included Traveston Girl, by Flying Spur, who won four races and finished second to Amicus in the 2014 MRC 1000 Guineas-Gr.1. Other notables were Whiskey Allround, by All Bar One, who was a Gr.2-placed stakes winner and Looks Like The Cat, by Husson (ARG), a winner who finished third in the BRC J.J.Atkins-Gr.1 in 2014 as well as being four times placed in Gr.2 and Gr.3 events.

“Looks Like The Cat was subsequently traded to Hong Kong, which was my first experience of brokering an international private sale,” he said.
“We had some fun with them and other horses we bred and raced.”Joe was at River Junction for the four years prior to joining Telemon Thoroughbreds. “River Junction has downsized since and, basically, the farm has come along with me, using us for all their foaling down and sale preparation. We advise on their bloodstock as well and River Junction is probably our biggest client and our biggest supporter.”

While at River Junction Joe reconnected with Dan, who was looking for someone to run the thoroughbred stud business he was establishing on the property
he and Rae had purchased.The name of Telemon, which Dan and Rae adopted, stretched back to 1844 when the property was officially licensed and spread over a massive 89,600 acres.

It became a thoroughbred breeding ground in the 1990s and operated as Noble Park and Racetree Stud before being leased by Sun Stud. When that lease expired in May 2018 Telemon Thoroughbreds became operational and Joe began his role as general manager on June 1.

Originally from western Queensland the Fletchers were enjoying an amazing ride with the brilliant Sunlight, who won five races including the $2m Magic Millions Two Year-Old Classic and featuring a third in the Golden Slipper from her three minor placings during the 2017-18 season. Dan is a co-breeder of the filly, who is by Zoustar from the Charge Forward mare Solar Charged, while Dan and Rae and their daughters Shannon and Jordan are co-owners with others. The ride has soared even higher for them this season with Sunlight showing her exceptional ability and courage to capture three Gr.1 to take her career earnings to $4,371,450.

“It is incredible that the Fletchers should be so involved with Sunlight and that we hadn’t even been going 12 months when our first sire produced a Golden Slipper winner,” Joe said.

However, he was not at Rosehill Gardens as Godolphin owned and bred Kiamichi, with Damien Lane aboard, raced to victory in the world’s richest race for two year-olds. “I was busy on the farm with a few things and I was sitting in a paddock when the Golden Slipper was run and watched the race on my phone.

“It was a huge thrill, especially as during my time at Woodlands I looked after Sidestep’s dam Dextrous and his second dam Many Hands. I couldn’t be happier with the way things are going and it is great to have that continuing relationship, which has gone through Woodlands to Darley and now to Godolphin.

“It is great to have the rapport that we do have from Godolphin and the trust they are showing in us by enabling Telemon to stand horses such as Sidestep and Jungle Cat is quite humbling. Whatever happens with Sidestep, the future couldn’t be brighter now that we have a Gr.1 winner in both hemispheres such as Jungle Cat. We are thrilled to be able to stand him in his first season in Australia and it is being appreciated by Queensland breeders.” n