Every breeder aims to get a winner and most entertain that flicker of hope that their horse might win at stakes level.
Breed a seven-time Group One winner? That’s the stuff dreams are made of, though that impossible idea is the reality for South Island couple Willie and Karen Calder.
The Calders bred star mare Avantage (Fastnet Rock – Asavant (Zabeel)) who scored her seventh elite level victory on Saturday in the Gr.1 BCD Group Sprint (1400m) at Te Rapa.
Willie Calder can’t quite believe they have achieved this rare feat and if it wasn’t for a trip to the South Island Sale in 2002, it would never have transpired.
“I never thought it would happen,” he said. “It has been unbelievable. It still feels like she is our horse even though we sold her as a yearling.
“We have been in the breeding game a long time and we are just lucky we got Pins ‘N’ Needles to kick everything off.”
The Calders purchased Pins ‘N’ Needles (Pins – Raining (Centaine)) as a weanling and she went on to win six times, including the Gr.3 White Robe Lodge Handicap and Listed Timaru Cup, and became their foundation broodmare once retired.
“Pins ‘N’ Needles was such a good horse for us that we had to go to the best stallion we could with her,” Calder said. “Back then it was Zabeel so we went to him and got Asavant, who is the mother of Avantage.”
Three-time winner Asavant was a handy mare herself but was by no means the best of Pins ‘N’ Needles’ progeny. DB Pin (Darci Brahma), a standout performer in Hong Kong whose six wins include the Gr.1 Centenary Sprint, currently holds that title though his half-sister Puysegur (Fastnet Rock) looks like she could test his credentials.
The Tony Pike-trained four-year-old has three wins to her credit from eight starts, including a third in the Gr.3 Stewards Stakes Handicap at Riccarton during New Zealand Cup Week.
“Puysegur had a trial at Cambridge this week, it was a nice trial and she got second,” Calder said. “The way she is running, hopefully it is up and up with her.”
Asavant has produced three winners from three foals to race and as well as Avantage has two-time winner Morrellmac (Excelebration) and three-time winner Asathought (So You Think) who the Calders retained to race.
“Asathought started in the Dunedin Cup and has had three wins this season,” Calder said. “She was just too far back turning for home in the Dunedin Cup, she made up ten lengths in the straight though.
“She has had a couple of little niggles so we have turned her out for a couple of months and we hope to aim for the New Zealand Cup with her next season because she is an out and out stayer.
“The further she goes the better she goes.”
Avantage would still be racing under the Calders’ ownership as well if it wasn’t for a bid that came a fraction late when she was auctioned as a yearling in 2017.
“Just as the hammer went down Steve Davis caught my hand up and he said ‘sorry you’re a fraction late’,” Calder recalled. “David Ellis wanted me to buy a share in her but I just like racing horses with Karen.
“I have never missed one of her starts though, I have watched every race, and I think Saturday was one of her easiest wins. She had a bit of a hiccup as a three-year-old health wise and I think she is as good as she was before that. I think she is really back now.”
With no mares to breed from at present, Calder has earmarked Puysegur and Asathought as future members of their broodmare band.
“They are not for sale and we will definitely be keeping them to breed from,” he said. “They are the only two mares we have left since Sir Owen Glenn bought Asavant off us and ten days later Pins ‘N’ Needles dropped dead in the paddock.
“She was only 15 so that really hurt.”
The Calders’ breeding strike rate is one to be envied and though they seek advice from The Oaks Stud’s General Manager Rick Williams, Calder said he thinks they have found the recipe for success.
“Back in 2017 we had two mares and they have both bred Group One winners so that is a thrill and a half,” Calder said. “The breed seems to click with the Danehill sires like Darci Brahma for DP Pin and Fastnet Rock.
“I always check with Rick Williams after I have picked a stallion and if he is happy then I am happy.”
A fifth generation Oysterman, Calder says the two industries work well together and he is looking forward to the future and draws inspiration from the famed Dennis brothers who have developed arguably one of New Zealand’s most successful racing families.
“It works in well, we oyster in the winter and hopefully race our horses in the spring and summer,” he said.
“Avantage is an unbelievable horse and if Puysegur is half as good we will be happy.
“The Dennis brothers have done well down south, watching them has been an inspiration. They started off with The Pixie who got their breed going and we grew up going to the races and watching their horses with my mother and grandfather.
“We have been in the racing game for over 50 years. If you keep trying you get there, you can only try.” -Amie Best, NZTBA