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Armada's breeder eyes Hong Kong Mile

Otaki-cum-Cambridge breeder Tom Jamison is hoping that Armada (Towkay-Dance In Time by Red Tempo) will maintain his brilliant form in Sunday’s $NZ3 million HKJC Hong Kong Mile G1. He won the HKJC International Mile Trial HK-2 on 19 November, the day after Pentathon (Pentire-Star Royal by Grosvenor) claimed the CJC New Zealand Cup G2. Both horses were bred by Tom, who shares the honours for Armada with Miss J. Fleming and Mr G.G. James.



New Zealand-bred ARMADA, pictured during trackwork at Sha Tin, Hong Kong on Thursday 8 December.
PHOTO: Hong Kong Jockey Club
The timing of these two performances couldn’t have been better for Tom and his wife Marie who purchased fifty acres near Cambridge in 2004 with the aim of establishing a commercial breeding operation, retaining only those horses they can’t sell. Two years later they have about 20 broodmares and a growing profile as successful breeders and vendors.

Still based in Otaki, Tom works every second week on the Cambridge property, known as Esker Farm and managed for the Jamisons by Tom and Shelley Murtagh of Esker Lodge.
“A few years ago we were buying fillies to race and breed from, so have ended up with them as broodmares. We’re now upgrading by buying mares in foal.” Recent purchases include Make Me Dream (Sadler’s Wells), Mysterious Sound (Danzig) and Chloella (Geiger Counter).

As Tom acknowledges, Armada and Pentathon are from mares with less fashionable, old New Zealand pedigrees. “A lot of people advised me to cull those mares years ago, but I’ve always had a lot of time for the Star Lot family, and Armada’s older half-sister Dance On Deck was a good horse who won a Listed Race in the South Island.”

Unfortunately, both Star Royal (a daughter of brilliant G2-winning juvenile Star Lot and half-sister to G1 Starline), and Dance In Time (from the family of G2 winners Sharif, Far Time, Waikiki, Tawlord & Love of Mary) have died since leaving Pentathon and Armada.

However, Tom has retained daughters of both mares. Dance On Deck’s first foal, a two-year-old colt by Danske, showed promise before his sale to Australia, where his dam has foaled a Cullen filly and visited Royal Academy this season. Dance on Deck’s three-year-old sister Save The Last Danz is in work with Howie Matthews.

Tom has his wife to thank for keeping Pentathon’s four-year-old half-sister Pinders Prize (Prized) who was offered for sale, but didn’t sell after Marie unilaterally raised her reserve. Tom says, “After Pentathon’s Cup win Marie said I can top the paddocks and she’ll sort out the bloodstock!”

Nevertheless, Tom is clear about his thinking behind the matings that produced Armada and Pentathon.

“With Towkay I was looking for Northern Dancer on the top line, and Mahogany [like Towkay, by Last Tycoon] is my favourite horse of all time. Dance In Time was from a good Taranaki family but we lost three of her first four foals, and Towkay was handy to us at the time.”

“Pentire was a super racehorse with a high Timeform rating, and Star Royal was a big, strong mare that didn’t need to go to a big horse, so it was a good match on type. I also decided to breed a stayer as I didn’t think an early-maturing horse would suit the mare’s difficult temperament.”
Tom is candid and thoughtful about the dilemma that faces modern breeders who must breed good racehorses, but also have to sell yearlings to remain economically viable.

“We’ve now got a mix of mares, half are commercial, and the other half we hope will become commercial, but breeding to sell is a worry. There’s a focus on sires to get horses into the right sales, so we have to consider which stallions will sell against which ones will leave a racehorse.”
“We’re thinking about foals as units rather than athletes and that worries me. I know it’s practical reality, but it takes the romance out of it.

“Initially we only had to work out which sires would leave athletes, but now fifty per cent of our matings have to be with stallions whose progeny will be in demand at the sales. And every year at Karaka everyone is hell-bent on buying yearlings by first-season sires, which doesn’t make any sense when so few of them will be successful.”

That said, Tom does occasionally follow a hunch about a stallion. “I sent Mysterious Sound, who is short and close-coupled, to Johar just because I liked him. I got exactly what I envisaged from the mating, a lovely, leggy colt.”

“If I can breed ten mares and get lovely types that will make money in the upper part of the New Zealand Select Sale, I’ll be happy.”

But the yearling sales are not the only worthwhile marketplace. “As a breeder there’s a lot of pressure to sell yearlings, but if you’re prepared to back your judgement you can race a horse in New Zealand and if they’re good enough you can get a return, and then sell them to Australia or Hong Kong, which is important. Three or four years ago you had no choice. If we’re expanding people’s choices, we must be developing something.”
Tom has played other roles in the industry, and helped establish the Racing Board’s Destination Summer Holiday Racing programme, which he says was very positive across the board last year. The programme runs again this summer – details at: www.theraces.co.nz

His dream of working until lunchtime on the farm and spending each afternoon on “secret plans and clever tricks” hasn’t happened yet, mainly because he can’t find anyone to do the work. Tom recognises that better prizemoney to underpin the domestic market will help him employ staff.

- Susan Archer