Macau Derby winner Best Season big thrill for his breeder, Robert Thomas

Former Ashburton trainer Robert Thomas may no longer be fully immersed in the thoroughbred industry but he still admits to getting excited when one of his breed, like the recent Macau Derby winner Best Season (Bahhare [USA]-Whinny), hits the big time.

Thomas gave up training and breeding racehorses about five years ago, selling up his 50 acre purpose built training operation in Ashburton and moving to Golden Bay. He also sold out of the family that he had successfully rejuvenated to produce the stakes winners Shock Attack, and her Bahhare sons Hurrah, and Best Gift and now their three-quarter blood relation Best Season.

"I am pretty much out of thoroughbreds at the moment – well, it's on hold really. I only have one mare left and she is from that family and that is Takaka (Bertolini [USA] – Shock Attack). She has two three-quarter brothers to Hurrah and Best Gift - one is a foal and the other a two-year-old. I guess that makes them three-quarter blood brothers to Best Season as well. Anyway she is back in foal to Bahhare (USA), who is at stud
at The Pines in Rakaia," according to Thomas.

"I gave up because I had a young family that I was not spending enough time with. Tto be a successful thoroughbred trainer you have to be available 24/7 or have a big extended family network to provide help and support. Coming from overseas I didn't have any family here so I decided I would rather have the quality of life while my kids were young and the opportunity to go back to thoroughbreds is still there.

"Whinny, the dam of Best Season, was up at Rich Hill and they sold her on my behalf. I am not sure what has become of her, she is still a relatively young mare at 14 and has only had four foals. The big attraction with Whinny is that she is completely devoid of Northern Dancer blood with a good pedigree which is hard to get these days."

It was Rich Hill who sold Best Season as a yearling for $10,000 to Brian Court, and after a trial placing he was purchased by Danny Wong's assistant trainer to Vincent Chong who trains the gelding for Wong Hiu Tung. He has now won four races, three at the Macau Derby distance of 1800 and will now be aimed at the Macau Gold Cup in July which is over the same distance.

Thomas got into the family in the early 90's when he leased Shock Attack as a weanling filly from shooting identity Ian Ballinger. By Inviting (IRE), Thomas had a $15,000 right of purchase on the filly and under his guidance she won a two-year-old race and later won the Princess Mellay Stakes.

"I exercised the right of purchase as I thought it was great to get a filly from this really good family. She traces back to Easter Bride ( GB) (Emir D'Iran [FR]-Graceful Bride (FR) who is a half-sister to the mighty Sunbride. So is related to all those magnificent Te Parae horses, and in the Easter Bride branch we also have Richebourg, the dam of Romanee Conti, and the likes of Demarara and Trocanne.

"A couple of years after that, Ian also gave me Octane and Whinny was her last foal. By the time I got her she was proving pretty hard to get in foal, and John Shaw, the local vet, had a reputation for getting the difficult ones in foal, so I sent her to him and his stallion Sumayr. He was in my opinion a good choice anyway as he was potentially a good staying horse. He was a good source of El-Man-Mou (IRE) and he has some of the best staying bloodlines in the United Kingdom but it's not that fashionable down here in the Southern Hemisphere, but some people still find it very interesting.

"Single handed I think I brought this side of the family back to life, not that it was hard to do as it's a good family, and with the success of Best Gift and Hurrah it seemed logical to send Whinny to Bahhare. These are horses that need to go into the right hands. They are highly spirited horses and it's not an easy family to train, but in the right hands they have certainly got potential.

"The first stallion I sent Shock Attack was Personal Escort(USA) as he had the Mr Prospector/Northern Dancer nick, and I ended up going there three times. Those matings produced Chaperone who won four in Malaysia, Wolf Pack who won seven and was second in the Waikato hurdles, and Grace The Bride who has left the winners Honour and Cherish (Coats Choice[AUS]) and Step We Gaily (Danske).

"Then I went to Bahhare – he has the same nick but not as close up – through Woodman (by Mr Prospector) out of the Nijinsky II (USA) mare Wasnah. The first mating produced Carlisle Bay who won a race at Riccarton before going to Hong Kong to race as Best Gift and win four races including the Hong Kong group three HKJC Shatin Trophy, and run second in the group one Queen Elizabeth Handicap and third in the Hong Kong Vase.

"The next foal was the Group One WRC Captain Cook Stakes winner Hurrah who won 10 races in all including the Group Three STC Kingston Town Stakes, and the Marton JC Metric Mile. He ran second in the Group One ARC New Zealand Stakes and third in the Group One Stoneybridge Stakes, and numerous other group and listed placings.

"I sent her to Bertolini three times, and I ended up keeping one mare Takaka, and then she went back to Bahhare again to produce another filly Mahamaya who is now owned by my wife Jessica's cousin Greg Dawson. He sold an Alamosa weanling colt at the sale in May for $15000.

"When I decided to get out of thoroughbreds I sold her but she died foaling a Saperavi colt in 2012."

When they sold up our 50 acre property in Ashburton the Thomas family bought eight acres in Golden Bay, and are subsistence farming there. They grow their own vegetables, fruit and meat and Thomas goes fishing at least once a week. He is also an equine Bowen Therapist and keeps his hand in at that, although he admits there are very few thoroughbreds in the Nelson district.

"It's fair to say that I am 95% out of thoroughbreds but when one of the family wins I still get quite excited. It's an exciting industry, I have trained stakes winners here and in Australia and I have bred a Group One winner," he concluded, "but I have never trained a Group One winner and one day I would still like to do that."

- Michelle Saba


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