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Jonathan Hope celebrates his first Group One winner

Well known Cambridge veterinarian Jonathon Hope admits to experiencing a few anxious moments awaiting the outcome of the ARC Haunui Farm Diamond Stakes (Gr 1).

The race was eventually won on protest by Warhorse (General Nediym [AUS]-Rathlin Island[AUS]) after Rollout The Carpet, who was first past the post, ran an erratic last 400 metres veering across the track and interfering with and taking the line of Warhorse. In a valiant effort, Warhorse came from a length behind Rollout The Carpet at the 100 metre mark to finish half a head behind the winner, Silk Pins was a mere nose back in third position.

"It was a nail biter for a while," said Hope the breeder of Warhorse, "I didn't know if it would go our way, and it's not really how you want to win a group one race but I will take it. They were all good horses fighting out the finish.

"Hopefully now Te Akau Stables will take him to Manawatu for the Sires and he can prove himself again. I haven't spoken to them but I believe he will eventually go and fly the flag in Singapore and he will do well up there as he obviously likes a little bit of sting out of the ground."

Warhorse is raced by Singaporean Tang Weng Fei and is trained by Jason Bridgman at Te Akau Stables in Matamata. He made his race debut at Ellerslie in October on a dead track and finished second to Silk Pins. He was unplaced in his next start six weeks later in the listed Wentwood Grange Stakes, then started the year off perfectly, easily winning the group three Eclipse Stakes also at Ellerslie on a slow track. Back there for the Karaka Million he charged home late to finish third, before coming out six weeks later to race in the Diamond Stakes.

He was purchased by David Ellis from the 2011 Premier Sale for $100,000 from the Trelawney Stud draft, the same draft that presented Silk Pins as well. Although he was bred by Hope it was rather fitting that Warhorse is a graduate of the Trelawney draft as Brent and Cherry Taylor played a big part both in the purchase of his dam and his mating.

"I have a lot to thank Brent and Cherry for. I couldn't have done it without them, and it was wonderful that I was able to celebrate my first group one winner at a party for Faith (Brent's mother) after the Diamond Stakes. I can tell you I wasn't too flash the next day – we really celebrated hard and it took a bit of getting over.

Hope has always had an interest in horses since he started as a vet in Cambridge in 1974.

"I had a few mares, both thoroughbred and standardbred and the odd racehorse, and a fair bit of success. A few years ago as some of my older mares were starting to breed out I had to make a decision now to either stay in the game and do it properly or get out.

"I chose to stay in and decided I was going to buy one decent broodmare from the Sydney Easter Sale. I set myself a budget of $A200,000 and then established a criteria for selection and set about trying to find the perfect premier quality mare."

The criteria stated that the mare couldn't be a stakes winner, as young stakes winning mares from that sale are usually way too expensive, but she had to be closely related to a stakes winner, either a half, three-quarter or full sister. She would have to have a good strong pedigree to support that with strong commercial sires and she could be unraced, as unraced mares can still make good broodmares.

Along with that she had to be carrying her first foal, and had to be served by a southern hemisphere bred stallion, along the lines of a Zabeel, O'Reilly, Pins or Encosta de Lago but not necessarily that expensive, but still a strong type of stallion from a commercial stud.

"She had to be in foal to a good stallion because basically it's a numbers game so it had to be a stallion with numbers on the ground. It had to be the first foal as I couldn't afford to buy a mare that was going to be downgraded from Premier if the first couple of foals didn't come up and the third foal turned out to be a filly which we all know are hard to sell.

"I also knew that the budget wouldn't allow me to buy a young mare in foal to Redoute's Choice or Encosta de Lago, so I studied the catalogue and narrowed it down to two mares and Rathlin Island was one of them. She was an unraced half sister to California Dane (AUS) (Danehill [USA]) a multiple group two winner in Australia now at stud and out of Storminwinter (USA) (Seattle Slew [USA]), a winning sister to Williamstown(USA) a multiple stakes winner in America and a successful sire.

"She had a pedigree with plenty of black type besides California Dane and Williamstown. There are another couple of stallions like Capote (USA), Baldski(USA), Exceller(USA) and Broad Brush (USA) quite close up. She was by Giant's Causeway, and she had good strong sires in her female line like Seattle Slew. In the Southern Hemisphere Giant's Causeway may not have matched what he has done as a sire in theNorthern Hemisphere but it is still fantastic blood.

"To be honest I would have preferred an Irish pedigree but I thought this one may just click down here. She was in foal to Fastnet Rock (AUS) and even though he was unproven at the time he still ticked all the boxes for the stallion criteria.

"That said, I wasn't able to get to Sydney so I went to Brent and Cherry and said you guys have to be my eyes and ears and check out this mare, which they did and Cherry went ahead and bought her for me. It was a huge leap of faith on both sides, but I couldn't have done it without their help, I am totally indebted to them," he stressed.

The mare then returned to New Zealand and foaled down a gorgeous filly at Trelawney Stud, and after many round table discussions with the Taylors another suitable consort General Nediym was found for Rathlin Island.

"We chose General Nediym for all the reasons we had discussed earlier and as it turned out it was his last season at stud. After she foaled to him I entered into a foal share arrangement with Sir Patrick and Justine Lady Hogan and Rathlin Island went to Zabeel for the next two years and produced two fillies. I have done the vet work at Cambridge Stud since its inception and love working with Sir Patrick. He is a fantastic stockman. This season I sent her back to Australia and she is in foal to Commands (AUS).

Rathlin Island's first foal, the filly by Fastnet Rock, sold at the 2010 National Yearling Sale for $375,000 and recouped all the expenses for Hope. As Epona Princess she went on to become a stakes placed winner at two. Warhorse sold the following year for $100,000.

This year when the first Zabeel filly went through the ring she had the added advantage of being a half sister to a stakes winner and a stakes placed winner and sold for $120,000.

"It was a little bit disappointing but to be fair she was a little bit weak behind like her mother, and Rathlin Island only carries her foals for 11 months and that makes them a little bit weaker but they soon catch up with time," he added.

On the other hand Bruce Perry, who purchased the filly on behalf of his client Bruce Neill a former Australian cricketer, couldn't be happier.

"I thought she was the pick of the Zabeel fillies in the sale," said Perry.

"Bruce has three or four well bred Zabeel mares on his farm Cressfields, in the Hunter Valley and was keen to buy another one. I thought she had terrific residual value as she was a half sister to Warhorse who had just won the Eclipse Stakes and to Epona Princess who was stakes placed.

"She is a really nice type, quite athletic, well balanced and maybe a little weak behind but she will be great given time, and that is exactly what Zabeel's need, and she had great bloodlines. You don't often get the chance to buy fillies with bloodlines like Giant's Causeway, Seattle Slew and Turn-to in their pedigree.

"We thought we would have to pay more for her, and actually bought her after she was passed in, so we were quite happy to get her."

Harking back to Hope, when he landed his first veterinary position out of Massey University in 1974 he was hoping to specialise in small animals.

"I grew up in Takapuna and my only contact with horses was when I went to visit my brother who had taken up farming. I come from a family that had no interest in racing. They did however have a doctor in every generation and I did have the hard word put upon me by my uncle, a prominent cardiothoracic surgeon, to follow in his footsteps but I plumped instead for veterinary science.

"My first job was in Cambridge, with the highly respected equine vet Bruce Voyle who was the only equine specialist around at the time. Unfortunately he died suddenly and I got thrown in at the deep end and I had to pick it up as I went along. I learnt an awful lot very quickly especially from people like Sir Patrick, and Jim Morris, and I soon developed a love of horses.

"Until now the most successful horses I had bred were the dual stakes winner Tip The Wink (Stravinsky[USA]- Kape Dancer) and her stakes placed half-sister Volks Dancer, along with an Australian Grand National winner Marlborough (Zabeel- Belle Venus).

"These days my partner Jenny Sutherland, who has always had a passion for horses, and I are also quite involved in standardbreds and we have shares in the best two and three year-old trotters of last season in the southern hemisphere, Flying Isa and Paramount Geegee. Racing horses in a syndicate is such fun I would encourage anyone wanting to get involved in racing to join a syndicate.

"Winning is such a wonderful sensation and if it happens to be a group one winner and one that you have bred, well, it's even better."



- Michelle Saba