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Lime Country Thoroughbreds have had an exciting past week...

Niagara (AUS) (Encosta de Lago[AUS]-River Moon[AUS]) will stand for $5,000 + GST this season.
Niagara (AUS) (Encosta de Lago[AUS]-River Moon[AUS]) will stand for $5,000 + GST this season.

Courage, and determination, combined with good equine and sound business skills are reaping rewards for Jo and Greg Griffin of Lime Country Thoroughbreds.

Members of the Hawkes Bay/Poverty Bay branch of the NZTBA, the energetic and enthusiastic couple took a huge leap of faith when they established their business at the historic Okawa Stud property in Hawkes Bay nine years ago, one of only a handful of new equine operations to be established in the Central Districts in recent years.

Lime Country Thoroughbreds started out as a pre-training, breaking in farm with a division for agistment, sales preparation and permanent boarding broodmares, and in 2013 their operation went to the next stage with their foundation sire Niagara (AUS) (Encosta de Lago[AUS]-River Moon[AUS]).

The past week has seen Niagara's first weanlings successfully hit the market place at the New Zealand Bloodstock National Weanling sale, and one of Lime Country's early graduates Fascination Street (Elusive City[USA]- Piece of Cake[AUS]) gain her first stakes win.

"It's been a great, great week," said a rather tired and jaded Jo Griffin after the weanling sales, "I am looking forward to getting back to the Hawkes Bay."

The week started with a win by Fascination Street, bred by the Griffins, and followed with the weanling sale where they presented five weanlings for an aggregate of $198,000 with an average of $39,000. Four of those weanlings were by Niagara and they averaged $25,600, and the fifth was an Ocean Park filly out of Miss Jaydeejay – owned by Trish Dunell who sold for $58,000.

Overall Niagara was the second leading first season sire of weanlings behind Ocean Park who was represented by 11 foals (average $37,227), whereas Niagara's five netted an average of $29,600. Not surprisingly Tavistock was the leading sire of weanlings with seven sold for an average of $37,357.

"We took nice horses to the weanling sale," Griffin said. "Being in the Hawkes Bay we don't have the people coming though the farm like they do in the Waikato and I wanted to show them off. I knew he was a bit of a sleeping giant in that regard and I knew his foals would create an impact when people actually saw them.

"The people that seriously looked at them were people who we think a lot of in the industry, like the Treweek's from Lyndhurst, the Harveys and the Devcichs. I was happy with the good feedback that I got from them, and even Sir Patrick was very gracious in his comments. These are the people that underpin our industry and their approval matters."

"The opening bid for the Granita colt was $50,000, Joe Barnes was the underbidder and he went to Ampulla Lodge in Victoria for $60,000, they wanted him and would have kept going, he will go through the sales ring in Australia as a yearling. The Devcich's bought the Still a Rockstar colt for $32,000.

"Niagara got 101 mares in his first book, which is pretty good for a stallion who missed the Stallion Register, and in a year when there were plenty of good stallions around. In his second year he served more, with 119 mares, and a lot of repeat business, people just liked his foals. This year we have had bookings already, before the sale, and that hasn't happened before."

Ironically it was at the May sale in 2009 that the Griffins bought Granita (Bigstone[IRE]- Café Miss[AUS]) and Piece of Cake (Snippets[AUS]- Castle Pudding[USA]) the dam of Fascination Street, and another mare Trebuchet (Bigstone [IRE]-Prunotto). They paid $14,500 for Trebuchet and $14,000 for Granita, and they were both in foal to Iffraaj(IRE). Piece of Cake was the cheapest at $8,000, and the following month her daughter Lamington Vegas, also by Elusive City (USA) came out and won the Lister Ryder Stakes.

"They have been a great investment those mares, the Iffraaj out of Trebuchet sold for $90,000 and the Iffraaj out of Granita is the Lister winner Twilight Granita and she sold for $41,000, according to Griffin.

"After the success of Lamington Vegas I sent Piece of Cake back to him, and that was Fascination Street who sold for $34,000 to Challenge Syndications Limited in 2012. I am so, so happy for the syndicate, they have been so patient with her, and Lance, Andrew Scott and Dave Keenan have done wonders getting her back to top form."

Fascination Street has now won four races and has been stakes placed in the Group Three Gold Trail Stakes and the Lister Ryder Stakes.

Piece of Cake produced a Keeper filly after Fascination Street and she was sold to Darren Weir at the Select sale this year for $40,000. She is currently in foal to Niagara. Another daughter Chocolate Cake a winning sister to Lamington Vegas and Fascination Street is also resident at the Okawa property and she has a cracking Niagara colt to go Karaka this summer.

"Piece of Cake is one of my favourite mares, and while she was carrying Fascination Street, she almost drowned. We have a paddock at Okawa that's known as the tank paddock and it has a dam in it with an island in the middle. One wet cold miserable day when we went to feed out, there was even snow on the ranges, and there she was on the island in the middle of the dam all snug and warm with a rug on.

"We thought she would swim over for her feed, we checked on her a couple of times during the day and when she hadn't left the island, I made Greg swim over in the freezing cold and swim her back. The water was a little deeper than we thought and he actually had to get on her back while she swam back."

That kind of dedication isn't surprising from Greg who grew up in the country and around horses. His father was a shepherd who worked all over the North Island and used to buy "dog tucker" horses and develop them into show jumpers or eventers and Greg was always the pilot. He was also in the Wairarapa Pony Club champs team at one stage.

Jo also came from a farming background and grew up riding horses on a farm in Awhitu in the Manukau Heads area. As a college student she worked at Isola for David Murdoch, and when she left school she groomed show jumpers for John Cottle and Alan McIntosh when they were both Olympic riders .

"I eventually went to university to do a Bachelor of Business Studies in Marketing and Advertising, but I never actually finished it. I got into that line of work and was lucky to work for some big corporations and good people and I learnt a lot, and that was how I ended up with the role of Industry Marketing Co-Ordinator for NZTR," she said.

A position she held while establishing Lime Country Thoroughbreds, never afraid of getting involved, Jo joined the committee of the Hawkes Bay/Poverty Bay branch of the NZTBA a few years ago and this July will join the NZTBA national council as a representative of the Central region.

"I am keen to have a go and I have the time now, the association needs to be strong to keep this industry going, and I feel I can contribute to that," she enthused, "Greg and I are committed to this industry and we need this industry to succeed.


- Michelle Saba