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Around the Farm with Russell Warwick

26 June

TDN AusNZ continues its new series in which they quiz Australasian stud identities about their operations, backgrounds and thoughts on the wider thoroughbred industry. They chat with Westbury Stud General Manager Russell Warwick.

The Gerry Harvey-owned Westbury Stud will be home in 2020 to six stallions headed by Group 1 winners Reliable Man (NZ$15,000 +GST), Tarzino (NZ$12,000 +GST) and Redwood (NZ$8000 +GST).

They are complemented by an ever reliable source of success in Swiss Ace (NZ$8000 +GST), Group 1 producer El Roca (NZ$8000 +GST) and stakes winner and Group 1 performer Telperion (NZ$5000 +GST).

TDN AusNZ: Service fees have been announced, how are you finding the response to your roster given the current economic uncertainty?

Russell Warwick: New Zealand breeders are always a little slower to commit mares and COVID-19 will have people considering their options closely this year, but the initial feedback has been very positive and our fees have been accepted as being well placed in the current climate.

TDN AusNZ: Physical type, race performance and pedigree are all important criteria when selecting stallions, but if there were one you'd prioritise over the others, what would it be and why?

RW: Hard question, as we have to consider the commercial appeal as well as the ability to become a successful stallion and it is hard to achieve commercial success without being a physical type with superior race performance.

But if I had to label just one, it would be a stallion’s genetic pedigree. Even the best looking horse with a rack of Group 1s to his name is still not assured of success at stud if he is unable to find the compatible mares he needs to produce superior stock.

Sir Tristram (Ire), Star Way (GB), Volksraad (GB), I Am Invincible and Better Than Ready are just a few examples of horses who have started at the lower end, service fee-wise, due to their modest credentials, but have excelled as sires due to their genetic compatibility to the respective broodmare pools.

TDN AusNZ: Looking ahead to the next few years, are there any changes to your business model you're planning? And what is your process for reviewing how your business is placed?

RW: I think the most successful business model in racing simply comes back to one thing, producing Group 1 winners and as many high-class performers as possible. The whole adage that we all get measured at the winning post is very accurate and the attention to detail we put into breeding our horses is the determining factor toward the level of any success we can hope to achieve.

TDN AusNZ: What is the biggest challenge facing your business at the moment?

RW: It hasn’t been easy for breeders in New Zealand over recent years and we need to encourage investment into the sector. This will ultimately come from giving our breeders the incentive to breed and bolstering broodmare numbers in the country, which will ultimately improve the size of the foal crop.

The broodmare owners must have the opportunity to breed commercially and make money, while those horses not offered through the auction system require a better structured racing system which has the ability to offer improved levels of prizemoney… one is dependent on the other.

TDN AusNZ: And what do you think is the best solution?

RW: I was interested to read an article recently about rewarding breeders who end up racing horses they have bred. As we know in New Zealand, breeders make up a large proportion of the ownership pool already. If more people were given the encouragement to race some of these progeny (stakes would need to improve) then more of these mares would be retained and bred at the end of their racing careers with improvements made to the numbers being bred and the opportunity of a return on investment increased.

TDN AusNZ: You've worked for some interesting people throughout your career, can you tell me who had the largest influence on you and the lesson you will not forget?

RW: I’ve been lucky to work for a number of very successful people with different skill sets, but the one who resonates with me the most is Sir Patrick Hogan.

As a horse person, the skills I was able to learn and develop at Cambridge Stud have lived with me for a long period of time and even now a lot of the basics we do with our horses have originated from the mid-eighties and my time with Sir Patrick. The attention to detail and the desire to ensure we do the best by our horses was instrumental in Sir Patrick’s success, and one which I value highly.

TDN AusNZ: Do you have any good stories about your influences?

RW: About six months after starting my tenure with Sir Patrick at Cambridge Stud, I wanted to play rugby for the local club side and asked for Saturday afternoons off. After a brief moment of consideration he responded: “I think you should make up your mind as to whether you wish to be an All Black or a studmaster.” There was no misunderstanding the meaning of his response and his assessment was a very accurate one!

TDN AusNZ: Who currently in the industry do you look toward for inspiration, and why?

RW: I haven’t met the man, but the person I think has done a fantastic job for racing in trying times is Peter V’landys. Along with John Messara, the drive and commitment of Peter V’landys has been extremely beneficial for the industry and its stakeholders and while some of these changes could be considered controversial, or not sit perfectly with traditionalists, the overriding aim has been to implement change for the general betterment of the industry and its participants for the future.

TDN AusNZ: Who did you learn the most from, regarding horse conformation? And why do you think they were a good judge?

RW: Sir Patrick for obvious reasons, having worked at Cambridge Stud with a number of quality horses, but outside of this I have enormous respect for leading bloodstock agent John Foote who brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the table and has a wonderful balance of integrity to go with his experience.

TDN AusNZ: Who is the best stallion physical you have ever seen?

RW: I am a huge fan of Redoute’s Choice, he was a quality racehorse, has been a breed-shaping stallion and his broodmares are now making a significant impact in this role. I believe he is a stallion who will continue to play an influential role within pedigrees for many years to come.

TDN AusNZ: If different, which horse is the best physical you've ever worked closely with, and why?

RW: Gold Brose is a horse who had tremendous physical strength and left this in his progeny. We never saw the best of Gold Brose as a stallion after he died prematurely at the age of 11, but his ability as a racehorse, sire, and ultimately as a broodmare sire was undeniable.

TDN AusNZ: Which current stallion or racehorse do you think is the best type?

RW: So You Think (NZ) is a horse who is difficult to fault physically and was a terrific racehorse. He is a very good sire of both fillies and colts and complements a number of mares, while on the farm Tarzino (NZ) is a replica for his broodmare sire Zabeel (NZ), which is a great recommendation and allows him a great chance at stud.

TDN AusNZ: What physical element really hooks you into a horse and what trait can you not forgive?

RW: Movement is a big attraction for me, to have a horse that moves well and has an excellent turn of foot is a great attribute to have when standing a stallion, particularly if he can throw it on to his stock.

A number of horses run with their faults, providing training conditions are suitable and they are allowed to mature, but the one physical aspect I prefer to stay away from is a horse with a light girth, whether it be a racehorse, stallion, or broodmare. Most top horses have a good girth.

TDN AusNZ: What stallion on another farm's roster would you like to be standing?

RW: The Autumn Sun appeals as a stallion with a bright future. He was an exceptional racehorse with a cross of the best stallions in the Southern and Northern Hemispheres, Redoute’s Choice and Galileo (Ire), and I think the New Zealand climate would suit them perfectly.

TDN AusNZ: Is there an under-the-radar emerging stallion that you have a preference for?

RW: Kermadec (NZ) is a horse that has impressed with the few that we have had through the farm to date and I feel we will start to see them step out more regularly next season as 3-year-olds and he could make a significant impact in the future.

TDN AusNZ: What is the biggest challenge facing the industry at the moment and what do you think is the best solution?

RW: Leadership. I believe we need to be clear on the vision for New Zealand for the next five years, and then at 10 years and to start the ball rolling in that direction now. The Messara Report has established this for us and we now need to follow the guidelines.

New Zealand has so much to offer as a breeding nation while our horses continue to perform at the highest level internationally, but having the parochial attitudes which currently exist and a view that patching the holes created over the last 20 years is the way forward can only be a negative for our industry. We need to move forward and New Zealand must work together as an Industry and be committed to a new direction.

TDN AusNZ: What's your opinion on the 140-mare cap that the Jockey Club in America are proposing?

RW: Do I think it's needed here? I have heard the arguments for and against and have probably swayed away from thinking it was a good idea to thinking that market forces will end up being the regulator. In the current climate it wouldn’t appear to be too much of a concern in New Zealand.

TDN AusNZ: Which four people, within the industry or outside it, dead or alive, would you invite to a dinner party?

RW: Federico Tesio; his knowledge of breeding was immeasurable; Bart Cummings, to learn some of the things he knew and didn’t pass on; George Smith, one of the great judges of a yearling and John Manuel, a great thinker and role model.

TDN AusNZ: Are there any books or world business leaders that inspire you?

RW: Most successful businesses come back to the strength of their people and relationships, and this is very much the case in the thoroughbred world. I have found the book 'Good To Great' to be an inspirational read on how we should look at our business structure from a different viewpoint, understanding the roles that our people play in the business and how we can maximise opportunities accordingly.

TDN AusNZ: Which global breeding brand do you have the ultimate respect for?

RW: The Aga Khan family members have done a superb job over many years, having concentrated on breeding superior bloodlines for generations. The horses/pedigrees of Aga Khan-bred horses play an influential part throughout a number of high profile broodmare bands around the world, to the point that most prominent farms have mares from an Aga Khan family in one way or another.

In the Southern Hemisphere the Coolmore and Darley operations have been instrumental in growing their brand with great success and have been excellent contributors with their investment in Australasia.

Article courtesy of TDN's Paul Vettise.