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John O’Brien reflects as gift horse scores Group Three triumph

Girl Of My Dreams heads off her competitors in the Group 3 Taranaki 2YO Classic. - Photo:  NZTM website
Girl Of My Dreams heads off her competitors in the Group 3 Taranaki 2YO Classic.

Photo: NZTM website

The dashing win of Girl Of My Dreams (Gold Centre [Aus]) in last weekend's Gr. 3 Phoenix Park 2YO Classic (1200m) at New Plymouth produced a somewhat bittersweet moment for the man who bred the promising filly at his Newmarket Lodge property where he stands her unheralded sire Gold Centre (Aus) (Danehill [USA]).

Popular Central Districts-based veterinarian and NZTBA Councillor John O'Brien continues to cement his family reputation for breeding quality thoroughbred performers that was established in the 1970s through the deeds of his parents Jack and Kay and their Sovereign Lodge operation at Ohau.

Champion galloper Kingdom Bay(NZ) was one of the outstanding sires to stand at Sovereign Lodge after being bred and raced by the O'Brien family whilst his sire Otehi Bay (Biscay[Aus]) was the foundation sire that helped Jack coin the Stud's famous motto "breed for speed".

Although successful in his chosen field as an equine veterinarian, it is no surprise that son John has continued the family legacy after being raised in the intoxicating environment of his parent's stud farm.

"I guess it was a natural progression for me to become involved in the racing and breeding side of the business after growing up with it at Sovereign Lodge, although I spent most of my youth dedicated to becoming a vet" noted O'Brien when asked about his formative years.

"After completing my studies at Massey University I managed to luck into a job with Colin Hayes at Lindsay Park in Australia through one of my lecturers who was a friend of the vet that was based there," he explained. "He mentioned my name to him and I landed the job there to start my career way back in 1978."

That Lindsay Park role set O'Brien on the path to starting his own veterinary consultancy which he established back in New Zealand in 2000. Eight years earlier he had begun his own foray into breeding with the development of his Newmarket Lodge Stud which operated primarily as an agistment operation in the early years but has since developed into a small but significant breeding venture which numbers Gr.1 winner Gallions Reach (Victory Dance[Ire]) amongst its best performers.

Although he still classes himself as a private breeder, O'Brien's Newmarket Lodge property has been home to six stallions to date with the latest being the resident Gold Centre. Others to stand at the Stud include Val D'Arno, Magic Ring (IRE), Sakura Seeking (USA), Turbulent Dancer (USA) and Colombia.

"I ended up taking Gold Centre after being approached by Brent Thompson of New Zealand Bloodstock," explained O'Brien."The horse had shown plenty of promise in a limited first campaign in Melbourne but had been retired due to a bad lung infection."

By Danehill (USA) from the AJC Oaks winner Circles of Gold (Aus) (Marscay), he is a full brother to multiple Gr.1 winner Elvstroem (Aus) and a half to Haradasun (Fusaichi Pegasus), both of whom are making their mark on the Australian breeding scene."

"I liked his pedigree and felt there was definitely an opportunity for him here so he commenced duties at the Stud in 2006 and was initially well supported but as with a lot of stallions, that support has died away which is a shame but also a reality of the breeding game," said O'Brien. "He has had about fifteen individual winners including Miss Centrefold who has won four for us but just hasn't had that very good horse that breeders are looking for.

"Mind you, Girl Of My Dreams might just be the one if Saturday's performance is anything to go by."

It was that victory that has O'Brien mulling over the decision he made to gift the filly to Byerley Park-based trainer Leo Molloy, and friend and fellow vet Andrew Grierson.

"I bought Girl of My Dream's dam O'Noyoudont and her dam Famous Affair at New Zealand Bloodstock's May sale in 2008 as I liked the look of both of them," said O'Brien. "O'Noyoudont was in foal to Spartacus and we ended up mating her to Gold Centre when she foaled that year.
"She produced a colt from that mating which we sold to Leo and Andrew at the 2011 yearling sales and they ended up selling him on to Singapore for a tidy profit at the following Ready To Run Sale.

"Her next foal was the filly that has turned out to be Girl Of My Dreams but, like a lot of private breeders, we just couldn't afford to race her ourselves, so I offered her to Leo and Andrew knowing they had done well from the first colt and to their credit they didn't hesitate.

"Of course looking at it now you can think what if, but I'm thrilled for them and the owners they have in the filly, and I got a huge kick out of watching her win last weekend."

O'Brien has fielded several enquiries about his stallion after the filly's impressive win and is hopeful they will translate into opportunities in 2014 after what she and her older brother, a winner at two in Singapore under his racing name Yin Jie, have achieved.

O'Brien is in a prime position to witness the increasing numbers of young horses sold to overseas markets as his equine consultancy is one of the country's official operations responsible for vetting the horses for sale to offshore interests.

"It's just a fact of business that we are going to see more horses heading to international markets while we can't provide meaningful stakes and opportunities with our local racing product," noted O'Brien."People have to make a living and this is where the current opportunities lie although it does drastically weaken our local product.

"Despite the negativity that exists at present, I am positive though about the future for our Industry with initiatives such as the new Pearl series for fillies and mares.

"The forces behind the series are all to be congratulated and I'm hopeful that it will start to see more opportunities for owners to cover their investments and ,in turn, the trickle-down effects to the Industry will be beneficial to us all."


- Kevin Robertson