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Crafty Dancer thrills his Te Aroha breeders

"A lovely result all round" was how Te Aroha breeder Gray Swney described Crafty Dancer's Australian Steeple win on Saturday. Gray, who bred the horse with his wife Merle, added "It's nice to see people getting a lot of enjoyment out of him."

The Swneys are long-time clients of Windsor Park Stud and were original shareholders in Silver Dream and Star Way, both of whom figure in Crafty Dancer's pedigree. Gray and Merle raced his dam Craft who was "no great shakes as a racemare but she's also left Cranko who was a pretty handy jumper."

They offered her Just A Dancer colt at the 1998 New Zealand Bloodstock Ready To Run Sale but there was no interest in him, so Gray approached John Wheeler who had previously trained horses for the Swneys. The Taranaki Racing Club No. 1 Syndicate, managed by club secretary Carey Hobbs, leased him for three years with a right of purchase and later extended the lease by a year. The right of purchase was exercised two weeks ago.

Craft, nursed by the Swneys through indifferent health for several years, was put down after foaling a filly to Casual Lies in 2000. She has been retained by the Merle and Gray and will be trained by John Wheeler. They're also breeding from Crafty Dancer's G3-placed three-quarter sister Gallery (by Star Way), who has a weanling filly by Danske and is in foal to Casual Lies.

The Swneys now live in town after selling their dairy farm three years ago, but Gray continues to work with their three mares and foals on their 40-acre property five minutes from Te Aroha. He speaks warmly of his friendships with John Wheeler and the Schicks of Windsor Park Stud who "keep an eye on me." In return the Stud has had more than two decades' of loyal support for its stallions.

After a while Gray slowly unfolds his family's passion for breeding and racing horses, his many years as committee member, president and now patron of the Te Aroha Jockey Club, and his other big success as a breeder. His father's estate was left the mare Paddy's Sister and Gray sent her to Star Way in 1981. The resulting filly fetched $140,000 as a yearling - the Swneys' best-ever price - and went to Australia. Named Shankhill Lass she won five Group races including the VATC The Thousand Guineas G1.


- Susan Archer