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NZTBA Councillor Libby Bleakley tells her story

Libby Bleakley

Libby Bleakley

Recently the NZTBA announced the latest winners of their Sunline Education Trust Scholarships, the Sunline International Management Scholarship and the Thoroughbred Breeding Diploma at the Irish National Stud.

The lucky winners are David Morris and Danielle Southey, and they will join a long list of young people who have gone on to make their way in the thoroughbred world, including Libby Bleakley of Highden Park in the Manawatu.

Bleakley is the caretaker of the former Broodmare of the Year Bagalollies (Zabeel –Lady’s Night[CAN]), who looks to be a contender for that award again, after her sons Werther and Gobstopper both recorded group wins in the same weekend.

Werther won the Gr.2 Hong Kong Jockey Club Cup in Hong Kong, while closer to home Gobstopper led all the way to win the Gr.3 New Zealand Cup.  

Bagalollies is owned by a syndicate headed up by the irrepressible Tommy Hepinstall who raced Tavistock (Montjeu[IRE]-Upstage[GB]) the sire of her two stakes performing sons, but more on that later.

Its 11 years since Bleakley who was then Libby Ferguson participated in the management scholarship and in her opinion the scholarship enabled her to fulfil her dream of owning her own farm, and along the way she met Sam and together they have established Highden Park.

As a youngster Bleakley loved horses, a school essay on the subject caught the eye of her primary school principal who happened to be friends of Jeff and Jan Lynds of Newbury Park. Her mother was also a teacher at the school and one weekend the pair were invited to Newbury Park.

Instantly she was hooked and from then on the focus became working in the industry and having her own farm. Following school she went to Massey University and gained a Bachelor of Applied Science in Equine Health. While studying for her degree she had a placement at Newbury Park and then moved on to former NZTBA councillor John O’Brien’s Newmarket Lodge, where shortly thereafter the manager left and she stepped in to take over.

“I was really thrown in the deep end” recalls Bleakley, “and found myself doing my first draft of yearlings without ever have done yearlings before. It can’t have been that bad as Galleons Reach came out of that draft.

“You learn very quickly on a farm, and I also knew that I needed way more experience if I was ever going to be a success in the industry.  I took a step backwards and decided I needed to fill in the gaps in my knowledge and get some overseas experience. I realised the scholarship was definitely for me, working on the best farms with the best stock and with the best people took things to a new level.

“I wanted to learn over there so I could bring back my knowledge here especially to the Central Districts. Palmerston used to be a thriving thoroughbred hub in the industry. I felt the CD could do with a bit of promotion, and  I always intended to have a farm, and I have stayed true to my word and established it here in the Manawatu.

“In 2010 we bought the property which is now Highden Park, it is straight across the road from the old Highden Stud, which we originally leased but realised it was too big for our needs. Within 30 days of moving in the farm was full. I had huge support from Nearco Stud with broodmares and they are still with us today, and I had a draft of 10 yearlings to prepare, five for our clients and five for Goodwood Stud.”

Earlier that year Tavistock raced by a syndicate including Chris Allison, Chris and John Barnao, Tommy Hepinstall, Tom Pivac and David Platt won the Gr.1 Waikato Draught Sprint, trained by Andrew Campbell and it was deemed that he would have a stud career at Cambridge Stud. Hepinstall then set about buying a mare for the above mentioned gentlemen and on the advice of Sir Patrick Hogan secured Bagalollies for $30,000, who would end up at Highden Park.

“People who know me well know I am brutally honest, and Tommy enjoys honesty. I had been looking at horses for Macau for Joe Barnes, and went down to Andrew Campbell’s in Masterton to look at a horse Tommy owned. I was brutally honest about how bad it was, which didn’t go down well, but they must have been impressed because they came back to me later and I prepared Bagalollies’ first foal for the sales in 2012.

“Then Andrew got busy with the number of thoroughbreds Tommy’s partnership was acquiring and they sent Bagalollies and Belongs In Lights(AUS) (Belong To Me[USA]-Celebrity Status) to me, and now they have six mares here.

“Even though Tommy runs the show the whole syndicate is dynamic and everyone contributes in their own way. It’s a puzzle with all the pieces it’s a business operation for them so it has to work. For a group of city dwellers they love coming here to see the foals and we love having them here, even Gobstopper stopped off here for a spell on his way back from Riccarton to Cambridge where Andrew is now based.” she enthused.

“To have clients you consider friends is great and it makes it easy to get up in the morning and go to work. We really only have three of four clients now and they are all like that.”

Bagalollies didn’t have a foal this year and she is safely back in foal to Tavistock with an early September mating. She has a Tavistock filly in Book 1 at Karaka as does Belongs In Lights(AUS) who is also back in foal to that sire.

Belongs In Lights is the dam of the stakes winners Travolta and Weissmuller both by Handsome Ransome, and Harlow Gold (Tavistock) who ran second in the Gr.1 VRC Oaks.  Other stakes winning graduates from Highden Park include Beauty Generation (Road To Rock[AUS]-Stylish Bel[AUS]) a top sprinter miler in Hong Kong who has now won six races including two listed,  and the listed John Grigg Stakes winner Strada Cavallo (Alamosa – Abenroad) both bred by Nearco Stud and Amazing Kids (Falkirk-Cadence) bred by Kelvin McGrail and Pania Hudson from nearby Colyton.

It’s an honour roll they are very proud of with such a small client base in such a short space of time, and along the way they have also managed to produce their own champion filly 18 month old Kendall.

Sam and Libby met through a close friend of Libby’s who thought she might get along with one of her friends, however it turned out she really liked his flatmate better.

“He’s a mechanic by trade and has no industry knowledge, but his father is a farmer so he was experienced in calving and fencing,” Bleakley added jokingly.

“Luckily for me he turned out to be a natural and not too much training was required. He’s great on the end of a lead rope, good on a tractor and a great father. When we first started on this property he still worked as a mechanic but after a year of coming home to a long list of jobs each night, he became an unpaid full time employee.”

Bleakley is now giving back to the NZTBA serving as the Central Region councillor, as well as training and helping educate another generation of young people with a love affair of horses. There is no doubt in her mind that the Sunline International Management Scholarship helped her achieve her dream of owning a farm and boosting the industry in the Manawatu.

Footnote: For a complete list of the scholarship winners and more details about the scholarships check out our website under scholarships, and then read some of their blogs in the news section. - Michelle Saba


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