Connotations around the expression ‘gift horse’ are many, but for Matamata thoroughbred enthusiast Kylie Fawcett it has a special and defined meaning.
Fawcett is enjoying a highlight of her career as the trainer and part-owner of talented racemare Polly Grey, who completed a hat-trick on her home course last weekend with victory in the Listed Team Wealleans Matamata Cup.
Polly Grey, now the winner of six of her 13 starts and more than $100,000 in stakes, was bred by the late Barbara Perry, originally from the Wairarapa but for the final years of her life a resident of Matamata.
Perry, who for the bulk of her life operated Auchenbreck Farm in the central Wairarapa settlement of Greytown, passed away at age 82 in late 2015. Remembered for her knowledge of bloodlines and as a stickler for detail, she was a stalwart of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association, providing various volunteer services such as keeping track of stallion relocations and bereavements for the Stallion Register.
An incentive to spend her retirement years in Matamata was that her small broodmare band and young stock were domiciled at Fawcett’s Oxford Thoroughbreds, 10 kilometres south of the town. The wide generational gap didn’t stand in the way of a strong relationship developing between the two women.
One of the Perry-owned mares in Fawcett’s care was Blue Heaven (Centaine), who had been purchased when she was carrying a service to Don Eduardo. The resulting grey colt became known as Don Domingo, whose best of six wins when raced by a partnership that included his breeder was the 2011 Gr. 3 Hawke’s Bay Gold Cup.
However, it was the year older Pasta Post – by Postponed and bred when Blue Heaven was based at Fayette Park – that really put the family on the map. An extreme talent but plagued by unsoundness that limited him to just 19 starts, he won eight races headed by the Gr. 1 Easter Handicap (running the 1600m in a fraction over 1.33s) and the Gr. 2 City of Auckland Cup (2400m).
Blue Heaven’s 2007 foal, the Zenno Rob Roy filly Allanah, also inherited her share of family talent and but for a feisty temperament would have won more than four of her 14 starts. Perry had not long celebrated her 80th birthday when Allanah went to stud and lived to see her first foal, a grey filly by Brighthill Farm’s champion European stayer Azamour.
The filly was entered in Oxford Thoroughbreds’ 2016 National Yearling Sale draft, but when Perry passed away just weeks beforehand, bequeathing the filly to Fawcett, she was withdrawn. At the same time Allanah was left to others who had played a significant role with Perry’s bloodstock, the King family of Brighthill Farm.
“I couldn’t bear to sell her and given how things have worked out I’m so pleased knowing that I made the right decision back then,” says Fawcett of the Azamour filly. “I knew that the family took time and even though I liked her right from day one, I was prepared to let her have as long as she needed.
“I still can’t believe what she’s achieved in what seems like such a short time. She really is the gift that keeps giving.”
Fawcett gained her trainer’s licence in the 2015-16 season and didn’t take long to prove herself, winning five races from 25 starters the following season. Never with more than a handful in her racing team, her stats less than four years after being licensed now stand at 16 wins from 108 raceday starters.
With Polly Grey’s six-win contribution, there’s no surprise that the five-year-old is top of the pops in her trainer’s eyes, and the icing on the cake was that Saturday’s 1600-metre feature marked Fawcett’s black-type debut.
Fawcett races Polly Grey with her partner Rob Joyce and brother Brook, whose battle with serious health issues inspired her to give him his first taste of racehorse ownership. Offers from talent scouts have to date been declined – and there’s no chance that any subsequent overtures will be entertained.
“Between the three of us and everybody else we’re having too much fun,” Fawcett said as she reflected on Saturday’s big result. “Besides, she was given to me by Barbara and for that reason I don’t believe she’s mine to sell. It wouldn’t feel right if I was to let her go.”
Someone watching Polly Grey’s achievements with satisfaction is Brighthill’s Nick King – even if his feelings are more of the reflective sort. At the time of Barbara Perry’s death Allanah was in foal to Tavistock, but just as had happened the year before when her foal by Cape Blanco had died at birth, so too did her Tavistock offspring.
In 2016 and 2017 her Dalghar foals suffered the same sad fate, but even worse was the loss of Allanah herself with just that one filly, Polly Grey, on her produce record.
“The bad luck we had with Allanah was unbelievable, just one thing after another, almost as if it wasn’t meant to be,” says King. “But it still means a lot to see Polly Grey win the Matamata Cup and for another Azamour off the farm, Paisley Park, finish second.
“We only had him shuttle down here for the one season, but as the results have shown in that brief time, we were on the right track. He upgraded a lot of families and for a lot of clients he gave them the right horse for the right job.
“I’m thrilled for Kylie – she does a great job and really deserves it – and even though she’s no longer with us to enjoy the success, it’s great for Barbara to be remembered like this.”
Fawcett is already looking to the autumn as she plots her next move with Polly Grey, with possibly one more start to round out her current campaign ahead of even bigger targets in the latter half of the season.
“She has come a long way so we’ve got some planning to do now. Depending on where she is in the handicap, the Thompson Mile down at Trentham could be worth looking at, but we’d like her to have some time off then bring her back and look at some of the big filly and mare races in the autumn.
“The ultimate would be to see her at Te Aroha in the autumn for the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Stakes – it really would be something to give her a shot at a Group One.” – Dennis Ryan