Derby winner first black type success for Cambridge hobby breeders

Cecile and Alex Smith were in tears for some time after their first broodmare La Magnifique died soon after foaling a Shinko King colt. Today the Cambridge couple is thankful the mare was able to foal that Shinko King colt after he became their first black type winner – in no less a race than the New Zealand Derby. And the experiences the Smiths have had in the past few years have encouraged them to keep re-investing and they are hoping C'est La Guerre will not be their first black type winner.

"We were told there was good news and bad news after she foaled C'est La Guerre," Cecile Smith said. "We had a lovely foal but the old mare's head was down and she was almost on the ground, barely able to stand.

"We said our goodbyes and agreed she shouldn't suffer any more. Now that we've been doing this a bit longer we realise it's part of what happens but I was devastated about it for some months afterwards."

The Smiths are an international couple. Alex is a Scot who came to New Zealand in the late 1950s and who played in bagpipe bands, hence their farm's subsequent name of Piper Farm. Cecile is from northern California and came to New Zealand in about 1980. They eventually moved to the Rodney district, north of Auckland, where they got into the very glamorous business of importing oven parts.

The business flourished but they found that getting parts couriered around the country was not easy with Auckland traffic, and they were convinced to move to a spot on the other side of the city, in Cambridge.

Some time later they saw a mare on a nearby farm that they liked and to their surprise were offered the chance to buy her. They eventually did, for $2700.

"We thought she was quite beautiful when we got her, though we've since found out she'd be seen as a plain old girl," Cecile Smith said.

"But she was very easy to work with and was really a great first mare for us."

La Magnifique came to them with a little pedigree and producing record. Her second dam Mexiquenna had produced the outstanding 1980s miler Atrapar and the Sydney group three winner Mr Victory, and La Magnifique herself had already produced the useful Australian winner La Merc and Tardar, a steeplechaser bought by one Kevin Myers of Wanganui before being sold to the United Kingdom. Eventually he won 10 races.

With La Magnifique dying C'est La Guerre had to be raised by a foster mare but he coped very well. Eventually he was bought out of their paddock by Jillian and Adrian Dooley of Pukekohe, who had just lost a weanling that was struck down by lightning and were keen to find a mate for another colt.

He was eventually sold in the first sale draft of Timberlee Farms, a horse preparation business run by Steve and Lisa Dunbar, who had helped the Dooleys choose C'est La Guerre from the paddock. His sale price was $16,000, more than any of the mare's other progeny, and the buyer was Kevin Myers.

"We knew he'd bought two of the mare's progeny before and we were quite happy he was interested," Cecile said. "Brian Jenkins, who's been one of our biggest helpers, said it was going to absolutely the right person because he was a great horseman who would let him take his time."

The Smiths have not surprisingly been avid followers of C'est La Guerre since and were watching the Derby closely last Saturday.

"We were hoping that he would go a good race and when he got close on the turn we had huge hopes that he might be able to run fourth," Cecile said.

"Shortly afterwards we saw how well he was going and we realised that he was going to win the Derby.

"We were amazingly quiet and calm as it was happening, though it was probably more disbelief. But people have been ringing and congratulating us ever since."

With all three of La Magnifique's progeny bred by the Smiths turning out to be colts, they have none of the family left. The experience did encourage them to keep breeding, however, and they have bought a few broodmares as well as changed their property a bit to make it suitable for horses.

The Smiths now have four mares – Tokyo Belle (dam of listed winner Tokyo Beau), multiple black type winner Balinchy, former group two winner Triassic (trained by Brian Jenkins), and You Beauty, a New Zealand Oaks-placed filly.

"This is very much a hobby for us and it gives us huge pleasure, but we did take the advice that if you are going to do this hobby you should at least try to make some money out of it," Cecile said.

"Early on we probably over-bred our mares – we had more money than sense then, though probably not now. Today we are more careful in our choice of stallions, and we are targeting the Select sale level, though we did sell our first premier yearling this year. It's very hard to buy a mare to get to that really top level."

- Alastair Bull


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