Herbert relishing Highclere's further expansion into Australia
After revealing earlier this week he in intends to step down from his role at Al Shaqab next month, Harry Herbert has said he is now looking forward to turning his full attention to Highclere Thoroughbred Racing and more specifically expanding the brand in Australia.
Since the operation's induction into the owner ranks in Australia, starting when they sent the former Sir Michael Stoute-trained Opinion down in 2013, the Highclere silks have become a more common sight on Australian tracks and they now have ten horses in training in the country.
Herbert, whose tenure at Al Shaqab will finish at the end of April, told ANZ Bloodstock News that he hopes Highclere can continue to grow its influence in Australia.
"I am already spending a lot more of my time in Australia. I did three trips last year and three trips this year and it wouldn't surprise me if there was more, for various races or gatherings that we intend to do," Herbert explains.
"I'm very much looking forward to focusing more on Highclere Australia, it is hugely important to us going forward. We've now got ten horses down there and we are trying to increase numbers all the time."
Highclere enjoyed almost instant success in Australia, with Opinion going on to win the Metropolitan and a further three races for Chris Waller, and also finishing second in the Sydney Cup, and they will be represented on Saturday when fellow Waller-trained Group 2 winner Libran takes his chance in the HE Tancred Stakes at Rosehill.
Herbert said: "We've had a lot of success with proven horses already, with Opinion who we sent down originally and who went on to win a Group 1 and then Libran, who has won over a million down there and he runs on Saturday in a very competitive race and is reportedly in very good order."
Herbert himself will be heading to Australia again on Monday for the Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale, where he will begin to write a new chapter of the operation's success story, having been in attendance for the first time at the Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale in January.
Highclere Australia came away with three colts from the Gold Coast, one by Coolmore's former champion sire Fastnet Rock, another by Arrowfield Stud stallion Dundeel, whom Arrowfield still retain an interest in, and one by Written Tycoon.
The Fastnet Rock and Dundeel yearlings have been sent into training with Warwick Farm-based handler Bjorn Baker, who joins Gai Waterhouse, Lindsay Park, Chris Waller and Ciaron Maher on Highclere's trainer roster for the first time.
"I'd never met Bjorn until the sales, he's a good friend of Dane Robinson, who runs Highclere Australia, and I think he will be a great success with the brand. He has been highly successful and I think he's a great addition to the trainer roster," Herbert explains.
"It's important to support the younger generation of trainers and he's very good in his communication and I love his enthusiasm and character. He's absolutely spot on for Highclere. We've got a really cracking group of trainers and some nice horses."
While they are focusing on the yearling sales, Herbert is still keen to keep the proven horses from Europe a familiar strand of the operation. They have recently added that side of the portfolio,, with three-time winner Joshua Reynolds and two-time scorer Pioneertown joining the Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott and Lindsay Park stable respectively.
"We really want the horses to be a mix," said Herbert. "We want to use our advantage of knowing the form of proven horses here to continue to send them down to Australia, but then obviously to use John and Jake Warren's brilliance as yearling buyers to try and replicate what we have here."
Herbert says that a lot of Highclere members in Europe have enjoyed going down to Australia and the prize-money on offer is obviously of huge interest for syndicators like them.
"We've found as well that our Australian owners love coming up to the northern hemisphere for Royal Ascot or other big race meetings and it's great we can look after them from here and make sure they are placed in the pit lane of British racing," Herbert says.
"The prize-money down there is obviously a big pull and there is no question it is of some interest to some of our UK owners, who inevitably come into some of our horses down in Australia and they have had enormous amounts of fun.
"We've had some British couples who have come down to watch Libran run in the Melbourne Cup last November and in Sydney previously and they just had the best time and it's very attractive.
"It's great to be able to make that link with racing in other countries, there is always a real warm welcome from the racecourses and all the people, I've been hugely impressed at how well we've been looked after. All the racecourses and the people who work there really go out of their way to make overseas owners feel at home."
He also says the warm response Highclere gets from Australians does not stop at the racecourse, but is also very apparent at the sales as well.
"They make the international buying bench feel really welcome - both Magic Millions and Inglis are fantastic - you're helped all the way," Herbert says.
"It's a very robust industry and I think it is the envy of other racing jurisdictions and I'm very excited that Highclere have got a small interest, which I hope will grow, and with Dane and the team it should do.
"At the end of the day, prize-money really drives the whole thing and the statistics there on the number of people who own or part-own a racehorse is simply mind-boggling, it is phenomenal and of course this can only help the industry. It's beautifully done and you can only want to be part of it."
The team at Highclere Australia is headed by Australian-born Dane Robinson, a graduate of the world-renowned Godolphin Flying Start program and Niall Power, a former stud manager at Coolmore in Ireland, and Herbert believes the expertise the duo bring to the company is invaluable in a country where syndicates play such an integral role in the sport.
"We are looking forward to widening the portfolio down there," says Herbert.
"We have a good team down there with Niall Power also helping Dane and know there is a lot of competition in terms of syndicates.
"We are very respectful of that and know that we are only a minnow, but at the same time I think our brand can be successful in Australia with the emphasis on the quality of bloodstock that we race and the way we look after our owners.
"We're constantly going to be looking at it, constantly trying to work out how to make things better and ensure Highclere can flourish in Australia."
Read more from ANZ Bloodstock News: