In the aftermath of lightly-tried stayer Surprise Baby’s victory in the Gr.3 Bart Cummings (2500m) at Flemington on Saturday, a ballot-free exemption race for the Gr.1 Melbourne Cup (3200m), it was hard not to spare a thought for Rich Hill Stud principal John Thompson.
The popular stud master stands Surprise Baby’s sire Shocking at the Walton-based stud and bred the Paul Preusker-trained galloper from Kaapstad mare, Bula Baby.
Had the cards Thompson was dealt with Surprise Baby fallen differently, it could well have been him with a Melbourne Cup favourite instead of owners John Fiteni and Kathy Stewart, but the Matamata horseman can see the positives.
“I guess you could look at it that way but I prefer to think how wonderful it would be for Shocking and the entire New Zealand breeding industry if the horse could go on and win the Cup,” Thompson said.
“Realistically we had always looked to sell the horse but circumstances dictated that we couldn’t on several occasions.
“It did get to the stage where we would have ended up racing him ourselves but it was John Fiteni who stepped in and bought him and that decision has turned up trumps for the punt he took.”
Passed in during the Select session of the 2016 National Yearling Sale at Karaka, Thompson took the horse home before presenting him at New Zealand Bloodstock’s Ready To Run Sale of two-year-olds later that year.
Passed in again, Thompson took the next option to try and sell him off the training track which again proved unsuccessful despite the gelding showing promise in his work.
“He was passed in at the Select Sale and then didn’t breeze-up very well for the Ready To Run sale so there wasn’t much interest in him there either,” Thompson said.
“We then tried to sell him out of the jump-outs but we were getting towards the middle of his three-year-old season and hadn’t had anyone step up.
“Once they get passed in at three, the market tends to dry up for the unproven horses so we put him up on gavelhouse.com and sold him for $5,500 to John.
“When you look back on it all, it probably is a good lesson for those people who are interested in buying a staying type in that maturity counts for so much and this horse didn’t really hit his straps until he was four.
“He always showed ability but could be a little wayward which I think has eased as he has gotten older.”
To compound matters for Thompson he also sold broodmare Bula Baby before Surprise Baby went on his run of winning form.
“We took a commercial decision with the mare as her first few foals hadn’t done anything so we decided to move her on,” he said.
“Talk about that turning out to be the wrong move but at the time it was the right thing to do. Her new owner has brought her back to be served by Shocking this year so it is nice to see her back here.
“Whatever does happen though, we still have Shocking here at the stud and if Surprise Baby could go on win the Cup then that will be a massive reward for us.”
Thompson is quick to remind breeders of the success that Rich Hill has had with the Melbourne Cup as it was the breeding ground for the most recent New Zealand-bred winner of the race, Prince of Penzance in 2015.
“If Surprise Baby could win the race then it would be two Melbourne Cup winners bred by the stud in the last five years,” he said.
“It would also showcase Shocking as one of the very few Australasian stallions capable of producing a Melbourne Cup winner.
“We had that with Pentire and obviously Zabeel at Cambridge Stud but those two are gone now so the options are looking fairly limited.
“With the trend to importing the European staying-bred horses it should be heartening for the New Zealand Industry to have such a viable option on their back doorstep.” – NZ Racing Desk