Whanganui-based stallion Unusual Suspect has proved a more than useful sire.
Standing at the Auret family’s Letham Stud, the now 19-year-old stallion has produced a host of well-credentialed horses, including the stakes winner Unusual Countess and multiple Melbourne metropolitan winners So Unusual and Unusual Culture.
The latter, who was a debut winner for Fraser Auret, has now won four of her past six outings for the in-form Ciaron Maher and David Eustace stable, including victory over a mile at Flemington last Saturday.
Breeders Nigel and Adaire Auret are deriving great satisfaction out of Unusual Culture’s success, in addition to the broader feats of the stallion from limited numbers, with Unusual Suspect averaging 20 foals per crop as he enters his seventh season at Letham Stud.
Unusual Suspect was a top-class racehorse, winning more than $1.5 million and clocking up 10 wins in four different countries including a victory in the Gr.1 Hollywood Turf Cup (2400m).
“We’re just rapt with the way it's turned out,” Nigel Auret said.
“I’ve never been a fan of huge crops and I think what we're doing is working for us, so I’m very pleased.
“When I started out in the game 40 mares was a big book for a stallion. We've got our own select mares that we like to breed from, and it just made sense to stand our own horse rather than pay service fees all the way down the line.”
Having previously held a trainer’s licence, Auret has taken a step back and these days has a number in work with son Fraser, who trains successfully from nearby Marton.
“A couple of years ago I started my process to go into a bit of retirement, so I've cut my broodmare band in half and stopped training horses completely, so it made good sense for Fraser to train them, and it's all worked out really well,” Auret said.
“I've only got a dozen mares of my own so the percentage of Unusual Suspect offspring that have come from this place it's actually quite phenomenal.
“We decided some time ago instead of taking them to the yearling sales, we would try them and make sure we knew the stallion was going to do the job for us, which he has. We do trade them as trialled or raced horses and the whole package has worked really well for us.
“Especially since they started performing so well in Australia it's been really advantageous to us financially.”
So Unusual’s dam Highland Rose and Unusual Culture’s mother Cultured Pearl are among the Auret broodmare band that have been wedded to Unusual Suspect in recent years.
“Both of them have been prolific breeders, so we've got a whole lot of younger siblings to the good ones in Australia which is pretty exciting,” Auret said.
The next batch of yearlings rising two are in the process of being broken in at present, with siblings to So Unusual and Unusual Culture among 10 youngsters presently undergoing their early education at Letham Stud.
“I've got a very good breaker that comes and helps break them in,” Auret said.
“That's the next crop of two-year-olds to come along but we've got some really nice two-year-olds that have been through the system and they'll step out in the spring as three-year olds. We’ve also got a couple of older ones that have just taken a bit more time, but they are really good middle- distance horses.
“For me, New Zealand's success has always been good middle-distance horses.
“That's where New Zealand needs to really concentrate on as far as I’m concerned but plenty of people think otherwise. We’ll never be able to compete with Australia when it comes to early speed.”
The phone will no doubt be ringing for the Auret-bred and raced Something Unusual, who won on debut at Friday’s Whanganui meeting, with the three-year-old gelding a strong winner over 2040m.
Unusual Suspect will stand at $10,000 + GST this season, and Auret said the model of retaining homebreds to trade as older horses was working for him, just as it had with Mettre En Jeu who was the stud’s first foray into standing a stallion.
“I've just put Unusual Suspect’s service fee up because I think he justifies it,” Auret said.
“People may not realise quite how well financially it works out to do what we're doing. Having said that I wouldn't want a great big book of mares anyway because I'm getting a bit longer in the tooth and it's just a nice boutique operation tootling along nicely.
“Mettre En Jeu was a horse that we just tested the waters with. It was the first time we'd stood a stallion, he was pretty much a fun horse that we carried on with but even his results were pretty good for the opportunities that he got.”
Meanwhile, Auret said the racing future of stakes winning mare Unusual Countess was up in the air after her last-start fourth in the Listed Great Easter Stakes (1400m).
“She pulled up sore after her last start unfortunately and we're just tossing around an idea of whether we send her to stud this season rather than racing her again.
“She’s got a good record, but it could have been a whole lot better except for a couple of soundness issues that sort of curtailed her career a bit.”