Tales of the Past

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The GentryThe Gentry

January, 1987, was special for Aretha Franklin because she was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

It was worrying for President Ronald Reagan who underwent prostate surgery and worse for fellow Americans “Fat Tony” Salerno and Carmine Peruccia who copped 100-year prison terms for racketeering.

However, January, 1987 provided lifetime memories for Haunui Farm which had the distinction of selling two subsequent Derby winners at the National Yearling Sales. One was The Gentry, who won the New Zealand Derby and the other Wonder Dancer who triumphed in the Australian Derby.

The Gentry’s win had the Haunui stamp all over it. He was by resident sire McGinty and the last foal of the Le Filou mare Rainfall, a topline mare raced by Laurie Davis, one of the closest friends of Ron Chitty’s father Geoff.

As a contingency plan if the colt didn’t make his true value in the sale-ring Ron Chitty put together a partnership comprising himself, Laurie Davis, racecaller Keith Haub who still retained half the ownership of McGinty, and subsequent high profile owner and administrator Peter Walker.

The group became the owners of the $400,000 1988 New Zealand Derby winner for an outlay of $45,000. Wonder Dancer (Danzatore-Heavenly Belle) cost Tommy Smith $200,000 but he took his earnings past the million dollar mark when he won his classic.

Launched in 1972 and run at Perth’s Ascot Park, the Australian Derby has not been staged since 1992 but big name winners include Bounty Hawk, Sovereign Red, Family of Man , Denise’s Joy, Dayana and All Ashore, by Haunui sire Crested Wave.

McGinty’s Derby win was payback time for Ron Chitty. The previous year his budding champion Weston Lea had looked odds-on to win the classic, but tragically a week before the race he was fatally injured in a training accident.


Surfers ParadiseSurfers Paradise

The first physical step in breeding a champion racehorse, launching a sire to stardom, or bringing fame to a broodmare, takes place with the mating of the stallion with the mare.

Beforehand the compatibility of bloodlines, temperament and commercial considerations are among the preliminary planning.

Then again there’s the Ken Cheng and Gordon Fong approach. In 1987 the Aucklanders took broadcaster Jim Smith to lunch and during the meal asked him which stallion they should mate with their broodmare Lady Aythorpe, who was a resident mare at Haunui.

Smith strongly recommended Haunui Farm’s Crested Wave. The mare’s owners picked up the tab for the lunch and later gave Smith a share in the resulting foal. Smith, however, was only one link in a now famous chain of beneficiaries.

Racing as Surfers Paradise, the Lady Aythorpe foal gave Hall of Fame trainer Dave O’Sullivan his first Derby win and dramatically followed up by winning the 1991 Cox Plate, providing O’Sullivan with significant compensation for Our Waverley Star’s narrow, and famous, defeat at the hands of Bonecrusher in the iconic contest of 1986.

Haunui Farm imported Crested Wave from America in 1982. He created a big early impression, but when he failed to get precocious two-year-olds his popularity waned and service bookings had dropped off by the spring of 1990.

Two of his three-year-olds, however, brought about a dramatic change. Surfers Paradise won the Great Northern Guineas, New Zealand Two Thousand Guineas and the Derby, while his brilliant Filly of the Year, Plume won the New Zealand One Thousand Guineas.

Between them the pair won 13 stakes races to spearhead the Crested Wave renaissance which saw him crowned champion sire of the 1990-91 season. At Haunui Farm the phone was again running hot.

Just so a Surfers Paradise win would not go unnoticed Jim Smith, the colourful former racing director of Radio Pacific, had special lapel badges of support printed. They read: “I love Surfers Paradise, New Zealand Herald Derby winner 1990.” When the conquering hero returned to scale they were on show everywhere.

Smithy had got it right again.


Ron Chitty and Steve BremRon Chitty and Steve Brem at the first Karaka yearling sale

Most people identify 1987 for its October stock market crashes around the world and the ensuing global repercussions.

The New Zealand thoroughbred breeding industry was unable to escape those repercussions, but 1987 also left Haunui Farm with a more lasting and indelible imprint. It was the appointment of Steve Brem as its first general-manager and a position he held for 10 years.

As proprietor Ron Chitty explains Haunui had reached a stage where it had become a serious commercial entity and it was time to put some serious commercial management structures in place.

Steve’s path to Haunui’s gates had been anything but orthodox. He had quit university to become a statictician at Best Bets later gravitating to racing writer and then racing editor of Sunday News.

Then, for seven years, he was secretary of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders Association – interesting, challenging but not particularly financially rewarding. Becoming managing-director of the publicly listed Waikato Stud ticked the final box and offered challenges of even greater magnitude.

After three years, Waikato Stud went into receivership and Steve Brem was suddenly ticking all the boxes for Haunui Farm.

“When Steve came he took over the administration and the other side of the team got on with looking after the horses and the farm,” recalls Ron.

“The structures Steve put in place are the ones that operate today. Only the technology has changed.”

Steve Brem’s unique gift was an encyclopaedic memory, never forgetting the face of a client or the extended pedigrees of their broodmares. Recognition of the importance good public relations, attention to detail and an enthusiastic work ethic all played their part in cementing Haunui Farm’s ultimate position within the industry.

He will always be part of the Haunui story.

When he re-located to Australia it was as racing manager for Sydney’s queen of the turf, Gai Waterhouse. For Steve that was the end of the learning curve and in recent years he has flourished as a self-employed bloodstock consultant of almost guru status.

The final word from Ron Chitty “I still keep in regular contact. Anytime I want to find out what’s happening in Australia I just give him a call. Steve always knows.”


Fun on the RunFun on the Run

It has long been held that one of the compelling attractions to thoroughbred racing is the glorious uncertainty. To that could be added another truism – breeding and selling thoroughbreds will never be an exact science.

Chance will always play a part in the breeding game.

A big one that got away during Haunui Farm’s formative years was Australia’s champion three-year-old of 1984, Red Anchor.

The winner of both the Cox Plate and VRC Derby, Red Anchor was the result of a Haunui Farm mating between resident sire Sea Anchor and the imported mare Decoy Girl. But Haunui never got the credit for breeding the superstar because of selling Decoy Girl to the Setchell brothers, Peter and Graham, with the foal in utero.

An essential ingredient of Haunui policy has been to pay close attention to selecting mares suited to genetic matching with resident sires. This was very much the case when the stud bought Frenechie to be specifically mated with American import Racing Is Fun.

However, the resulting foal was hardly an awesome individual and she was offered unsuccessfully for sale as a weanling and then at two different Waikato yearling sales.

When she failed to meet her reserve on the final occasion auctioneer Peter Kelly asked Ron Chitty what he now planned to do with the unwanted filly. “Give her away I suppose,” was Ron’s response.

The ace auctioneer responded by leasing her with a substantial right-of-purchase to be raced by a five-person syndicate from the Awapuni stable of Noel Eales. She was named Fun on the Run and from then on it was fun galore.

Fun on the Run won nine of her first 14 starts and finished second on three other occasions. By the time she retired her wins had included the Group 1 Thorndon Mile and the Group One International Stakes at Te Rapa.

The final say goes to Ron Chitty: “In this game you win some and lose some. However with Fun on the Run everyone was a winner, another Group One winner was bred by Haunui and eventually a substantial right of purchase was exercised which made the whole wait more than worthwhile.”


Marie and Annie SartenMarie Leicester and Annie Sarten with Tri Belle’s Filly of the Year trophy

Few commercial activities encourage closer relationships with clients than the thoroughbred breeding industry – born out of shared risks and rewards that often lead to enduring friendships.

The Haunui Farm client base is peppered with friends, both old and new, but one is of particular significance because it boasts both human and equine elements and is widely hailed within the industry as Jim and Annie Sarten’s Belle family.

Jim Sarten died in 1981, Annie in 1989. But their love of thoroughbreds and close association with Haunui Farm has carried on uninterrupted by their daughter Marie Leicester with the continuing support of the Belles.

The Belle dynasty had its beginnings during World War II when Marie Leicester’s parents were struggling farmers in northern Taranaki. It came about when a friend asked them to provide grazing for thoroughbred mare Belle Star and later gifted her to them.

Jim Sarten mated Belle Star with Foxbridge and the resulting daughter, Belle Fox, whose multiple wins included open class sprints at Te Rapa and Ellerslie. In her first three years at stud she failed to conceive and her first, born in 1948, had twisted legs.

Another barren year followed, but Jim Sarten refused to hoist the white flag and struck gold when she clicked with Fairs Fair and produced 16-time winner and ARC Railway Handicap hero Supreme Court.

Belle Fox’s 1951 filly by Instinct and named Belle Rosa produced the champion Star Belle as a result of a 1963 mating with Summertime. Star Belle won 18 races and became the only filly to win the Ellerslie Triple Crown – the Great Northern Derby, Oaks and St Leger.

In time the dynasty founded by Belle Star was to win more than a hundred races for Jim and Annie Sarten and countless others for people who punted on the family at yearling sales. Marie Leicester, like her parents, has continued to both race and sell with much enthusiasm, with current Group 3 winner, Annie Higgins the new family star.