Story courtesy of TDN AusNZ

Since the turn of the century, Kia Ora has been on a mission to restore the famous stud farm to its former glory of the early to mid 1900s, and thanks to a combination of large-scale investment and meticulous attention to detail, that objective has come to fruition.

Nestled in the fruitful pastures of the Segenhoe Valley, Kia Ora now stands a trio of exciting young stallions to complement a broodmare band that is the envy of most in the Hunter.

Its results in the sales ring are strong, having sold a million-dollar lot at every Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale since 2018, and its future racing prospects look equally as exciting, with Monday’s eye-catching trial debutante Learning To Fly (Justify {USA}) and the sister to The Everest contender Lost And Running (NZ) (Per Incanto {USA}) just two of the many regally bred juveniles set to be unleashed on Australia’s premier racetracks in due course.

There is clearly a lot for Kia Ora’s Bloodstock and Breeding Manager Shane Wright to be excited about, but he and his team cannot afford to rest on their laurels, for matings is a process that Wright is keeping an eye on all year round.

Months before the breeding season begins, both mares and stallions are categorised into As, Bs and Cs and matched accordingly, but not before one particular element is placed under immense scrutiny.

“I’m big on physicality, I like stallions and mares that suit physically,” Wright explained.

“You can run pedigrees through and there’s all the nicks in the world, and you like to get a mating that has been proven or has something in it that stands out.

“But at the end of the day our aim is to breed a racehorse, and to do that you have to look at physicality and soundness.

“That’s always my first step, and then I line up the pedigrees to match.”

Wright and his team have access to some of the finest pedigrees the world has to offer, but that has not come about by chance. It is the product of an aggressive and equally scrupulous assault on the major broodmare sales around the globe.

“When we’re buying mares, the number one goal is to enhance the quality of our existing broodmare band,” Wright said.

“Whether we are looking in Australia, America or Europe, the mare must suit our stallions and give them the best chance. Kia Ora has always had good representation internationally and has never been afraid to find diverse pedigrees from around the world to introduce to Australia.

“We’re very lucky here at Kia Ora. You walk around the paddocks and there are nice mares around each corner. Breeding from the best female families takes a lot of the uncertainty out of it.”

Proven is paramount

Kia Ora is not only breeding from the best, but breeding with the best as well. Many of the mares on the farm are owned in partnership with people that Wright calls “good clients and friends”, including the likes of Tony Fung Investments, Steve McCann, Neil Werrett and David Paradice.

Kia Ora value these partnerships very highly, as it introduces collaboration into their stallion choices with those mares, something which Wright feels is a vitally important aspect of the farm’s mating strategy.

“My own philosophy is that if you have a maiden mare, she will go to a proven stallion at least once in the first three years,” he said.

“First, second and third-season sires all have their place in the market. If there are horses that you really like and think are a big chance, and you want to get in during their second and third year before they potentially do kick on, it’s a very good place to be if you get it right. However, I believe that you have to go proven as well to give your mare every chance.

“For us, variety is important. We know that we have a very strong stallion roster and we believe that the mares we are sending to our stallions can get them to their full potential.

“But we also look outside our gates as well. I believe that it is important to utilise the champions like I Am Invincible, Snitzel, Written Tycoon, etc.”

Like so many others, the farm has had great success sending mares to Yarraman Park’s flagbearer I Am Invincible, and this year Australia’s newly crowned Champion Sire will once again cover some of the most high-profile mares that Kia Ora’s luscious green paddocks have to offer.

In fact, he has already covered one such mare by the name of Queen Supreme (Ire) (Exceed And Excel), who set Kia Ora back US$900,000 (AU$1.35 million) at last year’s Fasig-Tipton November Sale – and it is easy to see why.

Queen Supreme hails from a truly international Juddmonte family and was twice a winner of the G1 Kenilworth Paddock S. in South Africa.

“By buying into a Juddmonte family, you feel like you are already ahead of the game,” Wright said. “Being European bred, but by Exceed And Excel with plenty of black-type Australian racehorses on the page, she had a lot going for her, and physically she really does live up to her name. She’s just the most beautiful mare.

“When we bought her, we were thinking about giving her a campaign over here and aiming at something like the Tatt’s Tiara, but she was born in Europe, did her racing in South Africa and then ran in a Breeders’ Cup, so realistically she had nothing left to prove.”

Wright is hopeful that Queen Supreme can follow in the footsteps of another high-profile import who resides at Kia Ora, one whose last two yearlings through the sales ring have made $1.2 million and $1 million respectively.

The mare in question, Maastricht (NZ) (Mastercraftsman {Ire}), had far less distance to travel when she crossed the Tasman as a yearling back in 2013, but her subsequent deeds in the breeding barn have left an indelible mark on the Australian racing scene.

A multiple Group 2 placegetter herself when raced by Alan Bell and Kia Ora owner Ananda Krishnan, Maastricht produced dual-Group 1 winner and Champion 3-Year-Old Filly Loving Gaby (I Am Invincible) with her very first foal, and she looks to have another bright prospect in the shape of Greece (I Am Invincible), who fetched a whopping $1.2 million at last year’s Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale.

Add into the mix her seven-figure colt by Justify (USA) (Scat Daddy {USA}), Maastricht’s impact in Australia looks set to strengthen further, especially with another visit to I Am Invincible in the pipeline.

“Those international pedigrees add something a little bit different – it’s changing things up and finding what works, and we’ve definitely found what works with Maastricht,” Wright said.

“Going back to I Am Invincible this year is a bit of a no-brainer. Loving Gaby was a Champion Filly and the cross works really well. Greece is a very lightly raced filly who looks to have lots of ability too.

“We have a beautiful I Am Invincible filly to bring to sale next year, but we’ll definitely be keeping one of the fillies from her soon.

“It’s a bit of a balancing act. You always want to keep your best fillies, but as a commercial farm that breeds and sells yearlings, you have to bring your best to the sales as well.”

A familiar pattern

Wright confessed to having a similar dilemma with the progeny of Gypsy Robin (USA) (Daaher {Can}) – another American import who is best known as the dam of Newgate Farm’s freshman sire Wild Ruler.

She has a yearling sister to Wild Ruler on the ground and is set for another date with Arrowfield Stud’s four-time Champion Sire Snitzel this year, while her 3-year-old daughter Pavitra (American Pharoah {USA}), whom Kia Ora race, has won her last two starts and holds a nomination for both the G1 Thousand Guineas and G1 Flight S.

“She’s in foal to Farnan and we’re very excited about that, but she definitely deserved one more date with Snitzel,” Wright said of Gypsy Robin.

“I suppose it’s the same as Maastricht going back to I Am Invincible. Snitzel and I Am Invincible are two champions here in Australia, but they are getting on in age, so if you can get fillies from these families to go on with in the future, it just makes sense.

“I think we will retain the yearling filly by Snitzel. Everything is entered for sale in the early days, then we go through the yearling selection process and work out who we want to keep and who we want to sell.

“We have kept the 3-year-old out of Gypsy Robin by American Pharoah (Pavitra). We thought that she would be a good one to keep from a breeding point of view because, being by American Pharoah, she’s a complete outcross here in Australia.”

Another horse that certainly fits into that category is Political Debate (So You Think {NZ}), who was sold by Kia Ora at the Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale for $900,000 in 2021.

Now owned by Coolmore and their partners, Political Debate has created a huge impression in his five starts to date, winning a stakes race on just his third career outing before finishing second in the G1 JJ Atkins on his final run as a juvenile.

Both his trainer Chris Waller and regular rider James McDonald have made no secret of the regard in which they hold the son of So You Think (NZ), and his status as Australia’s latest spruik horse has helped raise the profile of his well-related dam Nakataan (NZ) (Zabeel {NZ}).

With the endorsement from his connections still ringing in their ears, the team at Kia Ora did not lose any sleep over which stallion to send Nakataan to this year, with the daughter of Zabeel (NZ) once again booked to Coolmore’s leading sire So You Think.

“That was a pretty easy decision,” Wright quipped. “Political Debate as a yearling was just magnificent. There were no two ways about it, he was just the most stunning colt.

“He’s heading on a Guineas path this year and considering he’s already Group 1 placed as a 2-year-old, he’s definitely running ahead of what his pedigree would suggest. I think he’s a very exciting colt and we’re very proud of him. Hopefully for Coolmore he ends up standing in their barn.”

The home front

Looking outside of Kia Ora’s gates is undoubtedly a key part of the operation’s business model, but by Wright’s own admission, Kia Ora does not expect anyone else to make their stallions.

It is precisely that philosophy which helped ensure that Farnan was supported heavily in his debut season at stud, and although history suggests that a stallion’s second season is typically more challenging than the first, Wright is bullish that the Champion 2-Year-Old can be one to buck the trend.

Adding a mare of Lighthouse’s (USA) calibre to Farnan’s book is certainly one way of going about it, and Wright revealed that the Group 1-winning daughter of Mizzen Mast (USA) was recently covered by the G1 Golden Slipper S. winner following her $1.7 million purchase at the Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale earlier this year.

“We absolutely love this mare,” he said. “She was a Group 1 winner and a very consistent racemare around the world. Even if you take the Coolmore Classic away from her, she was so competitive in the Orr and the Canterbury.

“You would never consider $1.7 million to be cheap, but looking at how last year’s Magic Millions Sale went, when we left with her at that figure we were very, very happy.

“She’s a super mare and a beautiful, beautiful type. She has speed and Farnan will only add to that, while physically she’s a good-sized mare with good scope and quality.

“Farnan is a good-sized horse with plenty of strength and quality. The two of them should match very well together physically. Hopefully the mating can produce the next champion 2-year-old.”

Farnan will also cover G1 Canterbury S. heroine Mizzy (Zoustar), who was mated to Wootton Bassett (GB) following her $2.2 million purchase at last year’s Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale by a partnership which included Kia Ora.

Keysbrook (So Secret), the dam of last season’s G1 Champagne S. winner She’s Extreme (Extreme Choice), is another mare bound for the son of Not A Single Doubt in a mating that will produce a three-quarter sibling to the Group 1 winner.

Strong support

Farnan himself is by a son of Redoute’s Choice out of a mare by Street Cry (Ire), and that cross was precisely the reason why Group 2-winning mare Sabatini (Street Cry {Ire}) was a host of well-credentialled mares sent to his Kia Ora barnmate Prague during his debut season at stud.

The resultant foal, however, is the reason why the G1 Thousand Guineas placegetter, who cost Kia Ora $850,000 in 2018, is heading back to Prague again this year.

“She was a particular mare that we wanted to wait and see what her foal looked like before we made a decision about which stallion to visit this year,” Wright explained. “We always have five or six mares that we wait to see what their foals are when we haven’t got a handle on the type of produce they’re throwing yet, but it was a no-brainer once we saw her Prague filly.

“She is one of the best foals we have had on the farm so far. She is an absolutely outstanding type. So much quality, so athletic and stamped by Prague. I’m absolutely in love with her.

“This mare has had a bit of an unlucky start, but she has a Deep Field 2-year-old that we retained who is in training with Peter and Paul Snowden. They really like him so this mare and her pedigree page is potentially about to kick into gear.”

One member of the Kia Ora broodmare band that has already kicked into gear is Warpath (Reset), who has produced three stakes horses and six winners from as many runners, most notably the Group 2 winner Positive Peace (Stratum).

A date with Prague also beckons for Warpath this year, and with her three stakes horses to date all by sons of the late breed-shaping stallion Redoute’s Choice, it made sense to go that route again.

“These are the sort of mares who can get a young horse going and Prague has been supported by plenty just like this,” he said.

“We are giving him the sort of mares that he deserves to have, not the sort of mares that his service fee reflects.”

The very same approach is being adopted for Kia Ora’s newest stallion recruit Captivant, who has been received “very, very well” since it was announced that he would stand his first season in the Segenhoe Valley at a fee of $27,500 (inc GST).

Among the mares set to visit the G1 Champagne S. winner this year are the Group 1-placed Perfect Rhyme (Poet’s Voice {GB}) and the fellow Group 1-placed mare Carribean Sunset (Ire) (Danehill Dancer {Ire}), who has already produced three stakes horses since she was purchased for US$1 million (AU$1.5 million) by James Bester at the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale in 2010.

“She is a mare we love here,” Wright said of Carribean Sunset. “She was an import from Ireland and sadly you don’t get many Danehill Dancer mares anymore. He was a phenomenal broodmare sire.

“She has produced a nice horse from each stallion that she has gone to, and again she’s the sort of mare who is great for getting a stallion started.

“Overall, the goal here at Kia Ora is to produce racehorses that perform at the highest level.

“Our broodmare band complements our stallion roster and vice-versa and, although we highly value diversity with our mares, the sirelines that have proven themselves in Australia are where we focus and what we have based Kia Ora stallions on.”