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Taranaki breeders rewarded with a Group One winner

Retired Taranaki dairy farmer Graeme Hill nervously watched last weekend's Group One Queensland Derby on television on the edge of his seat and didn't like the chances of the Viking Ruler colt he had bred during the early stages of the race.

However, he was worried unnecessarily, as Court Ruler (ex Free Court), under the guidance of expat kiwi Larry Cassidy, cruised to the lead in the long Eagle Farm straight and went on to win by a long neck.

"I was a little bit worried, I thought he had got too far back on that very heavy track, and would have quite a bit of ground to make up – his mother could handle wet tracks but not as bad as that was," said a very proud Graeme Hill.

"It was a huge thrill and exciting to watch – I wished I had been there. However there was plenty of celebrating going on here."

"I knew he had ability after he won the Group Three Wellington Stakes, and we knew he would stay the distance after running fourth in the New Zealand Derby, but gee its exciting breeding your first group one winner.

"He was a nice horse from the word go and he just kept on improving and made a nice yearling. His half brother, Categlory won a Stratford Cup and was placed in the St Leger and I bred and raced Jennibegood (Jahafil-Tier Dance) to win a Whyte Handicap, but he is my first group winner.

At 74 years young, Graeme Hill and his wife Annette live in Manaia on a lifestyle block where they look after their four mares. Hill was a dairy farmer and successful Friesian cattle breeder and that is where he acquired his funds to pursue his hobby of breeding and racing thoroughbred horses.

"My grandfather raced horses with a lot of success in the 1950's and that is what got me hooked. My horses race in his colours – tangerine with grey braces. Anyway it wasn't until the late 80's that I was able to afford to buy my first race horse and that was when I bought Free Court (Pompeii Court- Freequently).

"She had all the requirements I was looking for in a filly to race and breed from. She had pedigree and conformation, and she descended from a mare called Dixie that my father used to follow so that made me take a second look. I originally owned her with my mate Graeme Blake but unfortunately he has passed away now, and we sent her to John Wheeler to train.

Free Court won eight races and was placed a further 10 times, she is a half sister to the St Leger winner Freequent (Mistral Dancer). She retired to stud in 1996 and Court Ruler is her sixth foal and the fourth winner.

"Graeme Blake bred the first foal by Grosvenor, then I sent her to Felix The Cat and she produced Categlory, then she went to Four Seasons and produced Free As the Wind who won one race and then went to stud. She has a Keeper foal and is in foal to Viking Ruler. Her next foal is Freezem who is racing this weekend and she is a winner.

"She has a four-year-old named Boussac by Pentire, and I race that as well, and the two-year-old One Cool Cat gelding that we couldn't sell. Her last foal is a Keeper colt.

"Ideally I like to breed to sell, but it doesn't always work out that way so I just bring them home and race them. I only breed from the mares that win, and like wise I only go to stallions who were good performers on the track themselves and who have subsequently left winners.

"That's why I started supporting Cambridge Stud. They had a great young stallion line up, were successful and I figured I might latch on to some of their luck," he added with a smile.

As well as Freezem, due to race from the Hill racing team this week, there is Pete The Pirate, the first foal of Jennibegood by Pentire. He has won two races, the most recent being over Queen's Birthday weekend. The Hill's also have a three-year-old Viking Ruler colt and a Lucky Unicorn filly from this mare. Jennibegood is in foal to One Cool Cat.

The Hill's are also breeding from Danceonthemoon (Victory Dance-Melissa Moon), a winner of three races from the same family as Master O'Reilly, Mendacity, Unpretentious and Amore Mia. Her third dam is Lady Patine (Crest of the Wave- Princess Patine), a half sister to the mighty matriarch Soliloquy.

"A couple of years ago I also managed to buy Sweet Grove (Grosvenor), another mare from this family, to add to my band. I paid $4,000 for her and this year her Don Eduardo filly sold for $80,000 at the Karaka sales. We are hoping for big things from that filly. Sweet Grove is leased out at the moment, as I have plenty to keep me occupied here. However it all seems worthwhile when you get that group one winner!" he concluded.



- Michelle Saba