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Silent Achiever wins the Waikato Guineas for the Hickmans

The impressive win by Silent Achiever (O'Reilly – Winning Spree) in the Group Three
H S Dyke Waikato Guineas recently brought both satisfaction and pride to her owner and breeder Kevin Hickman. "We were very thrilled and it was quite nice to win after being told all week that we couldn't beat the colt," said Hickman the owner also of the boutique farm Valachi Downs that sponsored a race earlier in the day at Waikato. The colt in question was Ocean Park (Thorn Park- Sayyida) the favourite for the Guineas on the back of his smart form of three wins and a second from four starts, the last win being in the group three Wellington Stakes. However Silent Achiever's form going into the Guineas was hardly what you would call shabby either, from her four starts she had won twice and been placed second and third, with her last start win being in the group two Championship Stakes, where she had also beaten the colts and geldings. Her third placing in the Eight Carat Classic was also at Group Two level. She will take on the colts and geldings again in her next start in the Group Two Avondale Guineas and may then tackle the group one Telecom New Zealand Derby and then head to Australia. "At this stage the Derby is still on the table, but Roger (her trainer Roger James) thinks that she is capable of taking on the fillies in Australia so we are aiming at getting her there as well," according to Hickman. "We will decide whether to pay the late nomination for the Derby after she runs in the Guineas, she is still nominated for the Oaks here in New Zealand which is a fortnight after the Derby and depending on how she runs next we may head there instead of Australia." Hickman, a member of the Canterbury branch of the NZTBA, bred Silent Achiever from Winning Spree (ex Quietly Lucky), a Zabeel mare he purchased for $10,000 in 2006 from a Highview Stud dispersal sale. At that stage she had had four foals and left a couple of winners, and had not been served. "We sent her to No Excuse Needed (GB) and bred Anotherchancetaken, and he is Group Two placed after running third in the Wellington Guineas last season. The second foal we bred is Silent Achiever. "She missed to O'Reilly, but left a colt to Sahkee's Secret who made $70,000 at the Select Sale last week, and now she is back in foal to No Excuse Needed." The colt was presented at the sale in the Valachi Downs draft which featured 12 yearlings across the three sales, including a half brother to Shamrocker (ex Bohemian Blues) by Lucky Unicorn (AUS) for $200,000. Winning Spree is one of around 40 mares that the Hickman's own and is a resident at their Valachi Downs property in Matamata. Valachi Downs was established around six years ago. It started out as 50 acres, but as the Hickman's enthusiasm for the thoroughbred industry grew, along with the number of mares they had, they decided they needed to buy the adjoining dairy farm and the property now consists of 215 acres. Valachi Downs also has a small group of outside clients. Hickman and his wife Joanna are both South Islanders and remain living there sharing their time between properties in Queenstown and Christchurch, but when Hickman decided to take on a hobby business he decided the best place for the operation was Matamata. "Ninety per cent of the top stallions in New Zealand are less than 30 minutes away, it has rolling hill country to build and strengthen joints and ligaments, and it has quality soil types that produce quality grass that grows 365 day of the year. You have to give your foals the best chance and Matamata can provide that. "Basil and Lyn Treymane run the operation. Basil is a good horseman and I stay out of the horseman's side and run the breeding and business side of the operation." Hickman puts a lot of time and effort into planning his matings, and with 40 mares it's quite a time consuming task. Already he is busy planning the matings for the 2012 breeding season and hopes to have them all sorted by April. "My main philosophy is line breeding with some judicious in-breeding; I spend a lot of time on the female line, and like my mares to have a strong bottom line. I believe that a lot of aspects are passed from mothers to daughters and you have to try really hard with your matings to give yourself a better chance. "I choose different stallions for different reasons and I am a great believer in sex balancing in pedigrees, so when looking at stallions, I know which stallions will line up with most of my mares. I like to have them all planned by April, especially if you are using the top stallions it's important to get booked in early." Hickman has shares in a number of stallions including Zabeel, No Excuse Needed(GB), Sahkee's Secret(GB), Lucky Unicorn(AUS), Tavistock and Showcasing(GB). He also sends around half a dozen mares to Australia to be mated each season and at the moment is a big fan of Bernardini(USA) Authorized(IRE) and Teofilo(IRE). "I often send over my maiden mares to give them a good start, breeding mares in Australia does give you a good chance to go to some exciting shuttle stallions. On the whole though, breeding is an unsolvable puzzle and we all have our own funny ideas." They may seem like funny ideas, but if they produce individuals like Silent Achiever then they must have some merit. In her pedigree she has four lines of Knight's Daughter coming through both O'Reilly and Zabeel. Hickman's interest in thoroughbreds was sparked about 20 years ago, when he was introduced to the game by his friend Snow Reardon. "Snow is wheelchair bound subsequent to a rugby accident and following horses is something he can still do. I had been an athletic coach for 20 odd years and I was looking for some kind of hobby or interest I could get involved in, I wanted something else I could enjoy." Hickman's wife Joanna (nee Beckett) was a top runner and held the New Zealand track record for a 400 metre sprint for over 25 years. He believes that competitive spirit she had is now transferred to her interest in their racehorses. "Joanna is very supportive, we started off with small shares in a few horses which we raced with friends like Snow, including the South Island Breeders Stakes winner Jan Valachi. "I was looking for something that could give me an interest as I wound down my business interests and breeding thoroughbreds has certainly done that," he added, "when I first decided to establish Valachi Downs, I was only going to have 20 mares, but that's doubled, and you know how it is with horses they seem to have a habit of multiplying. "We have a number of racehorses as well as Silent Achiever, about 25 I think at the last count, not all fillies either. It's almost a full time job keeping track of them all, but we are certainly having some fun."

- Michelle Saba