|Katie Lee after her impressive win in the '1000 Guineas'. Picture compliments of Trish Dunell|
“It didn't really hit us until a few days after the 1000 Guineas what a fantastic achievement it was, it is only now starting to sink in, it's incredible. For the first time I am thinking about getting a really large photograph and putting it on the wall in the lounge," said a very humble and extremely proud Baker.
Baker is no stranger to good horses, and plenty of Hallmark graduates have made their impact on the racing world. Horses like Kingdom Bay, Diamond Lover, Carson's Cash and Lycra gained their early education at Hallmark, and helped establish Denny as the superb horseman he is. In recent years other graduates have included Awesome Planet, Miss Jesse Jay, San Bernardino and Rags to Riches.
But this filly is special, and if it hadn't been for the fine horsemanship and husbandry skills of Denny, this family may well have gone by the wayside and she may not ever have been bred.
It's a family that the whole Baker family cherishes and when Miss Jessie Jay lost a Darci Brahma foal earlier this spring, they were devastated.
Denny first became associated with this family in the mid eighties when his friend and neighbour Lance Wallace asked him if he wanted to take a mare he had been offered who was highly strung and a bit of a handful, her name was Estella Dawn.
“I thought hang on I know this family it was one of the Malcolms' old families and Estella Dawn (Hasty Cloud – Nam Sang) was a sister to a pretty good horse in Rising Damp. There are some good horses in this family including that great horse Sir Dane (Summertime-Casa) and it had potential, so I agreed to take her."
Denny commenced had his career in the breeding industry at the Malcolm family owned Kinross Stud, situated in Te Kauwhata where Hallmark Stud is now.
“She was pretty highly strung but she could gallop, she won a couple of races, and we decided to send her to Blectchencore (Bletchingly-Sing Again). She and had a filly she was a little bit off set and we knew we would get hammered at the sales, so we decided to keep her. We liked her she was deep girthed filly, the type of horse we both like.
“In the end we leased her to Keiran McCarthy and Trevor Hurley a couple of dairy farmers from Taranaki. As Miss Distinction she won a race for them, and they sent her back. At that stage Lance had just expanded his dairy farm and couldn't afford to give any grass to a horse!
“His first reaction was the normal – sell her, or give her away – but I really liked her when I first broke her in, so I ignored that comment, and encouraged him to stay in.
“He suggested giving her back to Trevor, but on the condition that she only go to Hallmark stallions, unless we agreed otherwise and that is how the partnership and the family has developed.
“Miss Distinction went to Spectacularphantom and produced Miss Jessie Jay. We took her to the sales, and couldn't sell her either. A good judge of a horse Paul O'Sullivan really liked her but felt at the time there wasn't enough black type on the page, so home she came.
“Trevor's reaction to not selling was similar to Lance's, but fortunately he agreed and gave me the time to break her in and get her going along. She was a highly strung type of filly as well, but nursed along she was fine, and it paid off. Miss Jessie Jay won nine races including the Group Three Fayette Park Stakes and the Levin Classic.
“I'm pretty sure his former wife Delma had a bit of hand to play in this as well, she loved horses and was keen to stay involved. I rang her after the 1000 Guineas and she was pretty excited about the filly as well. She lives in the deep South these days but is still racing Miss Krisdel (Spectatorial- Miss Distinction) from Jack Georgetti's stable and she's won a couple of races.
“The same pattern followed with her second foal Miss Katella (The Commander) she didn't sell and was a bit hot to handle, she came back here and I worked on her, and then she went to the Kevin Gray. Her success was a credit to the way he handled and trained her.
“When the two fillies that Trevor bred retired from racing they came up here for us to look after and we continued with the partnership arrangement whereby they went to Hallmark stallions, and if they came right or the family took off that we still had a share with him, and Trevor has been as good as his word," added Denny.
Keiran McCarthy, Miss Dinstinction's other racing partner, also bred from the mare. In 1999 he sent her to Jahafil, and she produced a filly, as Gee I Jane she became a multiple group one winner for Kevin winning six races including the Telegraph and the BTC Cup.
As well he bred the next two foals, one of which is The Silence Sir (Istidaad) a winner of nine races.
“With that early success of Miss Jesse Jay and Gee I Jane, we started to take a more commercial approach with the matings, Trevor has his input and the three of us discuss them all before we make the final decisions," emphasized Denny.
Miss Dinstinction has also left a winner in The Hood (Spectatorial) and has an unnamed three-year-old filly by that sire as well. Her 2006 filly by Pins (a three-quarter sister to Katie Lee) has been named in Australia, and the mare has produced a Darci Brahma filly before visiting High Chaparral.
“When Trevor bred San Bernardino he sent Miss Katella to Gold Mine as we suggested the merit of crossing Gold Mine over the Sir Tristram blood, and thats worked. San Bernardino he has now won four races including the Listed Rotorua Plate last month.
“Miss Katella is in foal to Pentire – she has a full brother to San Bernardino at foot and another at the yearling sales this summer. He is a lovely colt and potentially as good as his brother.
“We came up with Pins for Miss Jessie Jay because of his performance as a racehorse in Australia and his temperament, Katie Lee was always such a laid back filly, and she has proved that by the way she kept going after being knocked over in both the 2000 and the 1000 guineas. She is mentally tough – she's got class, she has no fear, as she has never had to fear anything, before she went to the yearling sales, I made sure she was handled well, she had plenty of attention."
Miss Jessie Jay is back in foal to Pins. Her first two foals by Spectatorial; Ka Ka's Prosperity and Éclair Fantastic are both winners.
“And it was a similar thing with the Oratorio mating we tossed the idea around and shortly after that we were in Ireland, and while we were at Ballydoyle Aidan O'Brien said Oratorio was the best horse he had handled. He said he was the loveliest horse and so kind and that added some merit to our decision.
“We sold her at the yearling sales, last summer. She was beautiful and intelligent and I am sure she will be something as a racehorse, she is already a trial winner.
“You know at Karaka in the walkway where we parade the yearlings we have a big jar of lollies, and it is always covered by a piece of muslin to keep the flies and sticky fingers out. Well this filly walked past the jar dozens of times a day – one time someone had inadvertently left the cover off, and as she was walking past, she stopped and picked out a couple of Eskimo lollies and then kept walking. She has no fear either she knows she doesn't have to be frightened," he stressed.
“I feel for people when they despair when they get a filly, and I understand that the current market makes them feel like that, but if anything Katie Lee is proof that fillies are equals to colts. She doesn't lack size, yet she is not overly big. If you are looking to buy a horse you should look for the good in a horse, and if you like what you see be it a colt or a filly, then look for what might be bad, and judge it on that and not its gender," he added wisely.
- Michelle Saba