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Robert's Blog – September 2014

Robert Dennis at the NZB Ready to Run Sale
Robert Dennis at the NZB Ready to Run Sale

Robert's Final Blog from Kentucky

Hi there everyone, welcome to my final update on my Sunline Scholarship experience. It's been a whirlwind 30 weeks that has gone much faster than I ever thought it would. It has definitely been a great experience where I have had plenty of opportunity to learn off some of the best in the business and I am looking forward to putting my new knowledge and skills into practise back in NZ. My final blog will cover my final weeks at Taylor Made in the states including a visit from Monty Roberts and the mammoth Keeneland Sale.

Monty Roberts at Taylor Made
Not long before the Keeneland sale, Monty Roberts visited for 3 days to demonstrate and teach his methods using the round pen and did a little bit of work parading yearlings. I'm sure he needs no introduction, an exceptional horseman recognised by thousands across the globe, he may be getting on in years but he sure knows his stuff.

The first session in the round pen he demonstrated with a yearling from my barn that hadn't been nasty but could be quite a handful at times. After working him for a bit and achieving the 'hook up' phase he was as quiet as a lamb and stood as Monty rubbed him all over and picked up his feet. Next he saddled him up for the first time and about 20 minutes later he was trotting unassisted around the pen with a rider on his back!

Individuals then had their chance in the round pen under Monty's guidance. When it came to my turn I picked a yearling that was quite bullish and full of himself, Monty described him as a gang leader. He took a bit more working around the pen than most before he gave in and cooperated and even then was a bit difficult to achieve 'hook up' with but by the end there was an obvious change in his attitude.
Monty also demonstrated and spoke about some of his techniques for preparing yearlings for sale and ways he educated them for parading. It was an enjoyable few days watching and learning from Monty who is not only a great horseman but a very interesting person. I must thank the Taylor brothers for organising his visit to the farm.

Keeneland Sale

The 2 week long Keeneland sale was built to be not only the finale of my 30 week Sunline Scholarship but also a highlight being the largest thoroughbred sale in the world. The last couple weeks on the farm were quite busy, putting the final touches on the yearling and having parades for clients and potential buyers. The Taylor Made managers also spend a day inspecting the sale yearlings, completing appraisals on each individual, a ritual that is again repeated when the horses arrive at the sales ground. The management group was interesting to watch and listen to with different opinions and ideas coming together from the guys to hopefully come up with an accurate valuation.

Taylor Made consigned over 300 yearlings over the 6 book Keeneland sale. As you can imagine that is no easy task. To stop becoming overwhelmed with horses and clients in one area we split into teams. Each team is led by a senior manager/s that has their own group of showman, grooms and horses.

Each team is separate from the others, usually located at least a couple barns away. During book 1 we had 3 teams, cutting back to 2 teams for the remainder of the sale. My Team in book 1 was led by Jeff, a Taylor Made account manager. It was a small but select group of 10 colts and 5 fillies, with Taylor Made's top lot, a Tapit colt out of Dream Rush selling for US$1.2m included. Each barn is split into 4 rows or 8 or 10 boxes (known as shed rows) and about 6-8 people were assigned to 1 shed row with a quad leader for each row. For book 1 I was used as a groom and a showman, which I enjoyed and found it an excellent way to meet people.

Book 1 runs for 4 days before the traditional 'dark day' on the Friday where the sale pauses for a day. Book 1 is obviously the premiere book so the sale didn't start until midday and the horses were given their time in the ring with about 160 lots in a day, usually finishing between 5 and 6pm. The theme from other US sales continued with fillies and colts by Tapit being highly sought after (average US$600k) and top War Front colts being acquired by M.V Magnier of Coolmore, with the top price of US$2.2m being shared by the 2 sires. Stats for the sale were also good with 2189 yearlings sold with aggregate (US$280m) and median (US$50k) mirroring the previous year and average (US$99k) only very slightly down.

Ship, show, sell…ship, show, sell…ship, show, sell. Hard to say fast but this is the routine for the 2 Taylor Made teams for the following 5 books. On the first day ship the horses in, appraise them and get them bathed and ready for showing on the second day before going through the ring on the third day. Then repeat with the next group of yearlings and the next. A very efficient way of selling a large number of yearlings for sure but with only one day of showing it may mean the horses miss a little exposure at the sales. Taylor Made try and combat this however by running an express lane where they put on a few drinks and invite buyers to come along and view the horses as a group, similar to yearling parades on the studs in NZ.

For the last 5 books I moved to Mark Taylor and Alex Payne's team. I remained a showman/groom for the most part but also took over as quad leader for an afternoon, took part in the appraisals and salesman briefing on a ship in day and spent time with Alex, Mark and account manager Jacob when discussing the reserve prices one evening, all very different aspects of the sales but all very interesting. Jacob was kind enough to take my housemate Sebastian and I to the track to watch the horses work in the mornings.

I was lucky enough to get an afternoon off to spend with ex-pat Kiwi, now Newmarket based vet Mike Shepard as he completed physical examinations on yearlings for his UK and Europe based clients. On the 'dark day' I accompanied Kiwi Scott Calder and Irishman Arian Wallace both of Coolmore America as they inspected yearlings by Coolmore stallions, all more great opportunities for me to learn and improve my eye when it comes to picking out a good horse, you can never stop learning!

The first week of the sales Keeneland threw a street party which was again a neat way to meet people in the industry in America, apparently it may be the first of many street parties as it was recently announced Keeneland will be hosting the Breeders' Cup next year after removing their polytrack and replacing it with a dirt surface. All of these extra activities coupled with the sales work made for some long days but it was definitely well worth it.
By the conclusion of the sale Taylor Made had sold over 300 yearlings for an aggregate of over US$28m. Unfortunately this was the first time in over a decade Taylor Made were not leading vendor by aggregate with that title going to Lanes End who amassed US$28.5m in sales, squeaking past Taylor Made. Come the end of the sale I was pretty exhausted and enjoyed a good sleep in the next day before heading out to the farm and saying my goodbyes to everyone.

Sebastian and I didn't stop there though, we spent the rest of the day checking out Margaux Stud (in the middle of a huge transformation from a stud to a breaking/training centre with a high class sand track surface), Winstar Farm (a very picturesque stud with a huge, top of the line stallion complex and stallions to match as well as a training centre) and the Kentucky Horse Park (everything equine, museums to shows to events, a couple hours there wasn't enough!). I like to think I made the most of my time in the states, getting out, seeing and learning as much as I could, all which I could not have done without the help of the Taylor Made team and my friend Sebastian who was as eager as me to explore the Bluegrass State.


It's sad but exciting to say that this is the end of my Sunline International Management Scholarship. I have met so many good and interesting people, made a lot of friends who I hope to see again, seen some great farms and champion thoroughbreds (and no doubt some future champions) and learnt far more than I could ever explain in a few blogs. My many thanks go to the Sunline Trust for putting up the funds for this great opportunity as well as the Thoroughbred Breeders association, Michael Martin, Shannon Taylor and the recently retired Sally Cassels-Brown for all the organising they do behind the scenes and for selecting me in the first place 10 months ago.

As I said, I'm sad to be finished but excited for my future in the thoroughbred industry, I'm writing this from Lady Carolyn and John Warrens homestead in England where I am currently filling a position at Highclere Stud, something I couldn't have dreamed of doing without the scholarship, it opens so many new doors for a young man like myself.

I will be back in New Zealand in time to attend Cup Week in Christchurch and will be helping out Bradbury Park at the Ready to Run Sale in November, if you see me around feel free to come up and have a chat if you're interested in anything I have done or written about or if you just want to say hello. As for long term plans, I have nothing set in stone yet but am on the look out!! If anyone would like to get in contact with me my email is

Don't forget the photo blog, the link is below. The photos from the whole trip are up there so feel free to take a look

Thanks to everyone who has read the blogs or taken a look at the photos, hopefully you've enjoyed them!

Bye for the last time,


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