Years of involvement in racing and breeding balanced by significant input to industry administration were rewarded when the Greg McCarthy-owned and bred filly Aretha won last Saturday’s $100,000 J Swap Contractors Matamata Breeders’ Stakes.
McCarthy approached the Group Two race with an open mind, well aware of the strength of the opposition for New Zealand’s most prestigious race for two-year-old fillies but also daring to hope Aretha was up to the occasion.
“You can never be too confident and we didn’t expect to win, but we still thought she was a better chance than the punters might have been thinking,” McCarthy said as he reflected on his biggest win.
“It was exciting the way she put herself in the race and fought all the way up the straight, so get to the win was a huge thrill. I would describe myself as fairly under-stated, but I have to admit to getting fairly hyped as they raced down the straight.”
In a virtual replay of the 2018 edition when Spanish Whisper downed She’s A Thief by a nose, this year’s 50th running of the Matamata Breeders’ Stakes was dominated by Aretha and Rainbow Dash, who were the first two from the start and finished the race with just a nose between them.
Aretha’s win was notable on a number of counts, significantly that it was a first New Zealand win for Windsor Park Stud shuttle stallion Charm Spirit. The relationship between McCarthy and the Cambridge nursery is undeniable, dating over a number of years and including joint breeding ventures.
It’s perhaps no coincidence that McCarthy’s 90-acre property is almost within walking distance of Windsor Park, while he owes a permanent debt for the sourcing of Aretha’s dam, the Stravinsky mare Tsikory.
“She’s a grand-daughter of Horlicks and when her owner Graham de Gruchy offered her to Windsor Park, they suggested I buy her instead,” McCarthy said. “It’s a very good family going back over many years and still with a lot happening for it, so I jumped at the chance to buy her.”
In his professional life as a chartered accountant, McCarthy runs a consultancy dealing with businesses and how they’re managed, but more than a decade ago his skills took him down a quite different path when he was commissioned to undertake a supply chain study for the three racing industry codes.
“In the case of the thoroughbred code I took data from NZTR trending data from 10 foal crops, from conception to weaning, right through to racing as their progress was tracked and a picture developed of what is referred to as wastage.
“We learnt that on average a horse will race 12 to 13 times in its lifetime, an average of five starts per year, and all added up to looking for ways and opportunities in the supply chain to increase the numbers of horses racing and the number of times they race.”
The exercise took on real meaning for McCarthy several years ago when he began to breed from Tsikory. When he bought her she was in foal to Thewayyouare, but that filly died of colic as a yearling, she missed and slipped in the next two years and her 2014 filly by Pour Moi never raced after she stripped a foreleg badly.
Tsikory missed again before foaling the filly now known as Aretha in 2016 and she was to have just one more foal, a colt by Pour Moi, before having to be euthanised due to a rotating pedal bone. Adding to the loss, she was in foal to Iffraaj at the time.
“She was a challenge no doubt,” says McCarthy, “but I have to be grateful that she produced a filly like Aretha as well as the Pour Moi filly who I’m now breeding from. Her yearling colt, who is genetically something like a seven-eighths brother to Sacred Elixir, is going to take time but I like him too.”
McCarthy’s previous best result as an owner was the Bakharoff filly Sabbatical, who won the 1993 Listed Canterbury Belle Stakes at Riccarton.
“I bought her from her breeder Jim Campin, who I had become good friends with and actually worked for at one stage,” recalls McCarthy. “I was working in accountancy but becoming more and more interested in horses, so with the permission of my wife Henrietta, I took a sabbatical and worked for several months at Chequers Stud.
“I wanted to learn more of the practical side of things and it was a great experience, going down to the Cambridge track in the morning and working on the stud during the day.”
“Jim and his sons were great the way they were prepared to offer me that opportunity and I’ve still got a wonderful relationship with Chris and Mark.
“Henrietta really liked living in Cambridge too, so it made sense as time went on and we came by more horses, to buy a property there in 1995.”
Henrietta’s life and that of her husband and their two daughters took a challenging turn when Henrietta suffered an aneurism during childbirth, causing severe mobility problems. She was still able to participate in various activities, which included attending race meetings, but several years ago the family tragically lost its matriarch.
“We’ve always been a very close family and it hit us hard when Henrietta died suddenly and unexpectedly,” says McCarthy. “We were a great partnership and I’ll always be grateful for the way she at first tolerated and enjoyed the horses.”
Through all of his challenges McCarthy has maintained an active working life, which has included Board membership of New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing and subsequently the thoroughbred code’s representative on the Board of the NZRB.
“I was selected for the NZTR Board in 2011 and 18 months later I took the seat as the code rep at the Racing Board. I resigned from the NZTR Board in 2016 but I’ve remained at the Racing Board.
“Working in administration you meet a lot of people from a vastly different background to your own, and the one thing I’ve learnt is that everyone puts in a huge amount of effort.”
As for his racing and breeding activities, McCarthy recalls the words of Jim Campin when he first met him more than quarter of a century ago.
“Jim said to me that no matter who you are, if you get a good horse it will change your life. I’ve not been so lucky to get a horse like Vice Regal, but I do understand what he meant.
“I’ve also learnt that you can’t buy success in this game – a big budget certainly helps, but a lot of luck, a lot of planning and your own input, that’s what makes it so special when you get the sort of result that I was so fortunate to experience the other day.” – Dennis Ryan compliments of The Informant