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Onawe Miller flys the Southland flag

Onawe Miller is convinced that Southland is as good as anywhere in New Zealand to breed a horse.

Outstanding horsemen such as Bill Hazlett and the Dennis Brothers have proven the worth of the Southland breed over the years, and Miller added to her own commendable record on Saturday when Orange County earned his first black type win in the Sofitel Stakes (Listed-1400m) at Flemington.

Southland has an image for many New Zealanders of being cold and with inhospitable winters, but Miller says those are myths and that the region has a number of advantages.

"People think it's not the best but we have found it's a great place to rear horses," Miller says. "The yearlings have good bone, the pasture and soil is good, and we don't get a lot of the bugs that places up north get in summer."

New Zealand's history of thoroughbred breeding has shown that Southland, Canterbury, Manawatu, Wairarapa, Taranaki and Hawke's Bay have been just as capable of producing good horses as Waikato.

But with Waikato becoming the dominant region, Southlanders such as Miller who want to remain commercial often need to visit Waikato-based stallions. Orange County is by one of the best of them – Windsor Park Stud's stalwart Volksraad.

"On top of the service fee it costs us a couple of thousand at least for a mare to go there and back to be served, but we just build it in as one of our costs," she said.
"What I tend to do is to let the foal be born in Waikato and then weaned before it comes back to us. It seems to work well."

The Orange County story begins with Midmeadow Maid, a Kurdistan mare Miller's father Harold Day bought back in the mid-1960s.

From there he bred Meadow Bell, a Bellborough mare who Miller inherited in the 1970s, and she proved a gem in the broodmare paddock.

"We decided to send her straight away to Super Gray, who Garry Chittick brought out when he was still in Manawatu, because he was the first Nijinsky stallion in New Zealand and we all knew about his reputation. Her first three foals were by Super Gray," Miller said.

The second of those would be Super Dude, whose 15 wins included the Group 3 CJC Challenge Stakes and the listed Dunedin Guineas. The third was Ingres, Orange County's granddam.

Miller got a good idea that the line would continue to breed on when Super Dude's half-sister Winter White, by Sir Godfrey, produced the Dunedin Cup winner Sopherim and the Wyong Cup winner Ronzino.

Ingres, whose foals she bred in partnership with her daughter Petrena, was thus given a good chance and went to several good stallions, including twice to Kaapstad near the end of her life. To him she got Saffie, Orange County's dam.

Saffie is actually owned by Petrena, but as she has been developing her career as a top fashion designer (she's had shows at the past two NZ Fashion Weeks), she leased Saffie to her mother for a few years and she has done the family proud.

So far she's had four named foals, of which three have made it to the races. All have won.

First off the mark was Titan Happiness (by Mellifont), a winner of six in Singapore, and then came Ain't No Pussycat (by Felix The Cat), a winner over 1100m.
As they went through the ranks, Saffie foaled a Volksraad colt who would eventually become Orange County.

"All her colts have been good but he was especially lovely. He had a great head on him," Miller said.

Orange County was sold at Karaka to Melbourne trainer Brian Mayfield-Smith for $70,000, and so far he has more than paid his price back. He has now earned $A345,000, and Mayfield-Smith thinks there's plenty more to come.

His programme could even lead the gelding to become the first group one winner Miller has bred, as he is being aimed at races like the Toorak Handicap (G1-1600m) at Caulfield in October.

Miller says she still has about five or six mares on the farm, all from the Meadow Maid family. It's a good running family, and one which shows its ability right from the time the horses make it to the races.

"At least seven or eight horses, probably more, from the family have won their first starts on the racetrack, and Orange County was one of those," she said.
"But I won't bet on them. They cost enough to get ready for me to want to risk any more money betting."

- Alastair Bull