This week we talk to Rich Hill Stud’s John Thompson. The Waikato farm has had a fantastic few weeks with their home-bred horses doing well in both domestically and across the Tasman.
How many mares do you breed from? Our broodmare band between various partnerships is around 50
Do you support any stallions outside of Rich Hill Stud’s roster? We have previously had shares in outside stallions, but at the moment we don’t have much, as we have invested in our own stallions in last five years like Aces High and Vadamos, and before that Proisir and before that Shocking. With the number of stallions we’ve got versus the number of mares in our broodmare band we found we couldn’t really justify taking many shares in outside stallions just at the moment, we always look at it and like to be involved with other farms, we have shares in a few that have recently gone non commercial
What is the process for making mating decisions? We are great believers in physical type, so that’s always been our number one priority, in terms of mating a mare characteristic to match a stallion and vice versa, at the end of the day we’re trying to produce an athlete and sales product, so it’s important that their conformation and temperament is good. I like to look at crosses that have worked previously and try to replicate them somewhat, particularly if you look at Shocking’s pedigree, he’s by Street Cry so we try and look back at and try and work with bloodlines with Street Cry in them. Proisir is by Choisir – who’s by Danehill Dancer so we look back at bloodlines that have worked with Danehill Dancer, to keep those successful replications going
Do you breed any with the intention to retain to race? At stage now where with some of our mares now where we need to retain fillies out of mares, that you’d like to keep the family current and keep breeding from that family.
What is it about New Zealand-bred horses that makes them successful? I really believe it’s a combination of a number of factors. Obviously, our environment is second to none. I’ve worked overseas in a lot of other breeding jurisdictions the likes of Kentucky, Ireland, England and travelled. Japan. There’s no doubt that we don’t have the extremes that some other places have, our temperate climate aids the horse to grow year-round as our grass grows all year round, whereas a lot of countries that just doesn’t happen, freezing winters, or extreme heat.
Also, as I eluded to people a lot of the mating decisions in New Zealand, people come to the farm and view the stallion and try to match types, because New Zealand is a trading nation after all and a lot of people have to sell the horses they are breeding to keep going, they realise the horse can’t have any flaws in conformation, that’s a big advantage for our reputation to be breeding correct, sound horses. The New Zealand Stud farms strike rate with stallions, has been very good, our breeders have access to successful stallions at affordable prices which is the crux of it really.
How many yearlings are Richhill Stud preparing for the 2023 sales? We have around 40.
Do you have a favourite cross? When I first started out my parents were shareholders in Zabeel, he’s just been such a phenomenal broodmare sire and broodmare influence that I think having Zabeel in a pedigree is such an advantage to New Zealand breeders. Often if you look at a lot of stallions progeny their best performed horse is out of a Zabeel mare. I really like to see Zabeel in a pedigree
Proven stallion or new season sire? It really is dependent on where a mare is at in her breeding career, often with a younger mare it is nice to send them to a proven stallion in the first 2 or 3 years when it’s important that they get their progeny out there running, obviously we’re very fortunate on that farm that we’ve got four proven stallions that we can utilize. But, when you do have a new stallion you have to remember they are going to be judged by their first crop once they hit the racetrack, so if you’re expecting others to support your horse, you have to do it yourself too, which is what we’ve always done. It’s not always a simple equation, we’d all love to breed our mares to the best stallion possible but it doesn’t always work that way.
Best breeding advice you have received? When I was younger bought cheaper mares with good families behind them. I was always told a good stallion can bring those families back, it happened to us when we had Pentire and he sired 16 Group One winners, we bred horses like Prince of Penzance and Mufhasa and they weren’t from expensive mares, but they had good pedigrees in behind them, and we were able to bring those strengths in the pedigree forward, that’s probably the best advise I’ve received, “proven stallions can upgrade pedigrees”
Who do you admire in the thoroughbred breeding industry? I’ve been very fortunate to have some good influencers who I worked for, I spent time with Sir Patrick Hogan at Cambridge Stud and he taught me some really good aspects as to how the industry operates. Also of course my parents – my father was Equine Vet, he was well known for his worth ethic which I believe has rubbed off to a certain extent. I also spend time overseas, and was particularly lucky to work for two very good horsemen and successful breeders Allan Lillingston at Mt Coote Stud and Fred Seitz at Brookdale Farm, if you look back at what they achieved, they were very successful breeders and they had a huge attention to detail and I think that is one of the most important things in our industry, is attention to detail.
If you could own any broodmare (past or present), who would it be? There’s been some wonderful mares in New Zealand’s history, the ones that stand out for me are obviously Eight Carat who was at Cambridge Stud while I was there, if you look back in Proisir’s pedigree there’s a magnificent mare called Sunbride so if we could bring her back to life that would be great, she was a Te Parae (now Little Avondale) Stud foundation mare. The other one is the Dennis brothers magnificent family of The Dimple or one of those mares, if you could recreate any of those mares you’d be throwing Group One winners everywhere.
If you could spend a day learning the tricks of the trade on any farm in the world where would you go? For various aspects I would go to White Robe Lodge, Brian Anderson’s achieved some great results, his recipe to breed to race and sell has been very successful. Also Waikato Stud, Garry and Mark Chittick – I would like to learn diplomacy off Garry! I do admire a lot of the other Stud Masters around, for example Windsor Park Stud – Rodney Schick, Mapperley Stud – Simms Davidson, Curraghmore Stud, Gordon Cunningham is a great sounding board for me too.
Proudest moment as a breeder? I think it’s hard to beat breeding a Melbourne Cup winner – Prince of Penzance – the incredible hype around the horse, of course Michelle Payne was the first woman to ride the winner of a Melbourne Cup. The horse then featured in movie of course “Ride Like A Girl” later on, he was by Pentire who was our foundation stallion, again out of a mare who didn’t cost a fortune, that is something I’ll always cherish that’s for sure.
What do you think contributes to Rich Hill Stud’s success? Attention to detail, we have always been quite selective in the stallions we take on, we get offered a lot to stand, we don’t want to have 30 stallions, just want a nice roster that we can be proud of. We have a great team involved, a lot of my staff have been with me for some time, they have been here for ups and downs, fortunately recently there’s been a few ups. Of course the involvement of my parents early on, with Allan Galbraith, everyone had their own particular ideas to bring to the table and at the time it worked well, hence we ‘ve now laid the foundations for what we have now. Colleen (my wife) does a lot of the marketing and work behind the scenes as well of course which is of immense help to me.
Is there a race you would love to win with a Rich Hill Stud-bred horse that hasn’t been won before? Obviously winning the Melbourne Cup was great. However, if looking at things now, you would have to look at The Everest now because it’s become such an institution in Australia, if we could breed a sprinter good enough, we’ve had horses off the farm like King Mufhasa, Recurring and those sorts of horses who on their day could well have won The Everest. New Zealand is known for breeding our classic horses, but we can also bred sprinters, as Roch 'N' Horse, and Levante have recently shown.
What are Rich Hill Stud Stud’s goals for the future? We are always striving to improve yourself in our industry, you have to or you get left behind, I think our main focus will now going be to try and race some nice fillies of our own, instead of having to sell them, and keep our broodmare band very current so we can utilise the success our stallions are having from a commercial aspect.
Finish this sentence. The best part of being a thoroughbred breeder is … getting up in the morning with something to look forward to, sums up the day really