In this week's Dunstan Horsefeeds Meet The Breeder, we catch up with Christopher Grace who bred Gr.3 Sweynesse Stakes winner Johny Johny and has had a tremendous amount of success over the years.
How did you get into thoroughbred breeding?
Well, I was a young person at the ripe old age of 16, my father financed me into a mare called Beginner from the Alton Lodge clearing sale by the Fletcher family. I had her for a while and sold one or two horses.
Then, at the age of 21 (1962) I bought the top-priced filly at the yearling sales for 2,300 guineas, a mare called Hakawai, her half-brother was called Tatua. I had done a lot of moonlighting etc to be able to afford my horses. and father said to me if you’re going to do that, I have to sell a weanling and another horse both from the family of Beginner – one was called ‘Chantelle’ and the other ‘Our Fun’ and they both became group-winning horses.
Unfortunately, Hakawai died at 4yo so I had to buy a filly out of a three-quarter sister to her so I could retain the family. The mare was called Clearaway and she came from Colin Hayes at Lindsay Park Stud in South Australia. He definitely saw me coming to buy her as it cost me about 50 times more than I paid for my first horse.
That is how I got into it and all these years later, we are still breeding successfully from the same family as well as other families now.
From all the horses we retain, if it has been a descendant of Hakawai, we try and keep the tradition of Māori names.
Tell us a bit about the success you have had.
We have had over 300 winners and some of the horses we have bred and raced have been very good horses – the likes of Tullaroan (Generous), Tullamore (Savabeel), Galway (Savabeel), Graphic (Volksraad), Waikaha (Towkay), Beefeater (Alamosa) but the best would definitely have to be Shillelagh (Savabeel) – a dual Group One winner in Australia.
How many mares do you breed from?
About 10 – 12 a year. This year we have a lesser number as David McKinnon who looks after our property ‘Surrey Farm’ just outside of Bulls, is very particular and he only wants to have good mares to breed from so this year we are cutting back on our bloodstock.
What else do you have in your bloodstock portfolio? (racehorses, stallion shares etc)
We have a few stallion shares – Per Incanto, Almanzor, Time Test and one or two others but Savabeel has been the best one we have had. I have been lucky enough to breed two or three Savabeels each year.
In our racing team, we have Puketiro, Reputation, Kanuka, Raffle, Sindacato and I am sure one or two others somewhere that I have probably missed!
Do you breed to trade or to race? If both, how do you determine what to keep and what to sell?
We breed to trade, but we keep most of our well-bred fillies to race. We think with Savabeel at the ripe old age of 22, we might not get many more. I think in the future, with him being such a great sire for New Zealand, having a few Savabeels in our broodmare band it will certainly serve us well – we have about eight or nine Savabeel filly’s or mares in our operation.
We try and sell all our colts but end up racing the odd one we can’t sell.
Do you seek advice on your breeding decisions or how do you come to make your breeding decisions?
With myself, Susanna and David as well we get as much professional advice as we can and we then select what we think is the most commercial stallions to go to. This year for instance, it wasn’t hard this year to select some mares to go Proisir, so we are lucky to be sending some mares to him and also three to Savabeel.
We have always sent one or two to Australia also. In our young team, we have a couple of I Am Invincible fillies out of Shillelagh – both are yet to race.
What do you love about the thoroughbred breeding industry?
The horses and the people. The people that are involved in come from all walks of life and some of the horses have only cost a few bob. Johny Johny’s brother we sold for 170k as he was well-grown and then Johny Johny we only sold for $12,500 as he was just over 14hh at the Ready To Run sale and is still very small now. He has got the same size, or bigger, heart than a lot of bigger horses.
Who do you admire in the thoroughbred breeding industry?
Probably the Chittick family with Waikato Stud, as they have continued to produce so many good horses, the quality of their operation and attention to detail - they stand out to me.
What advice would you give someone entering the industry as a breeder?
“Don’t start!” laughs Susanna
“Buy the best you can afford, with the best advice you can get, then breed to the best and then hope for the best!” - Christopher
Proudest moment as a breeder?
Definitely being there when Shillelagh won the Gr.1 Empire Rose Stakes in Australia on Derby Day with an all-New Zealand performance. She was trained by Chris Waller, ridden by James McDonald and bred and raced by ourselves of course. Susannah was also able to lead her in so that added a bit of quality to it.
She had been balloted out of the Empire Rose the year before and instead raced in, and won, the Gr.1 Cantala Stakes which is considered the harder race on that day.
Finish this sentence: The best part of being a thoroughbred breeder is…
The people you meet. They are fun, they are keen, and they are optimistic. They are happy and have no grudges; and have the will to win, and if you get beaten you just hope you are going to win next time. The courage of all those people – some of them are buying million-dollar horses and others have had them given to them but they are still there enjoying it.
We have had a wonderful time, we haven’t had a lot good ones and have had a lot of bad ones, but it is all what it is about – taking part. I have been in racing administration and many parts of the industry and we have enjoyed every minute of it.