'We'd have been mad not to make the jump as it's on our doorstep'
Martin Stevens talks to Jo Griffin about Lime Country's relocation to Australia
All studs consigning at the coming Inglis Easter Yearling Sale will be feeling the pressure of preparing for the marquee auction, but spare a thought for Lime Country Thoroughbreds, whose build-up has been made all the more stressful by the disruption caused by uprooting from New Zealand to new premises in Australia.
At the end of last year, Greg and Jo Griffin announced they would relocate their boutique breeding, boarding and sales operation to Think Big Stud in New South Wales. In an ambitious turnaround, they consigned from their former New Zealand property for the last time at Karaka last month – the highlight being a NZ$425,000 I Am Invincible filly out of the High Chaparral mare Different To – and they will make their debut from their new premises at Inglis in just a few weeks’ time.
Think Big Stud is being leased to the Griffins by nonagenarian Malaysian businessman Dato Tan Chin Nam, a close friend of the late Bart Cummings whose famous black and white checked silks with yellow sleeves have been carried to victory by superstars Allez Wonder, So You Think and Viewed.
Lime Country Thoroughbreds’ first Inglis Easter draft is dominated by yearlings owned by Dato Tan, including five by So You Think and a Redoute’s Choice colt out of his dual Group 1 winner Faint Perfume.
Jo Griffin was busy unpacking crates from the move and acquainting herself with the Easter lots when we spoke late last month. She explains the reasons behind the upheaval.
“Early last year we made the decision to move away from our base in the Hawkes Bay of New Zealand to be closer to the hub of the industry in the Waikato,” she says. “As we started looking for the right property we decided to do some blue-sky thinking and remove any barriers to where we might end up. To move once and do it right.
“New South Wales has one of the most vibrant, progressive and accessible racing and breeding environments in the world today. Exceptional prize-money, forward-thinking participants and world-class bloodstock – we’d have been mad not to make the jump when it’s right on our doorstep.
“We’d previously done some work for Dato Tan Chin Nam and decided to knock on the door, so to speak, and here we are.”
And what does Griffin make of her new surroundings, overseen in recent years by Dato Tan’s racing manager Duncan Ramage?
“It’s 300 acres of fertile horse heaven – that’s how I’ve just
described it on our new website,” she says. “I think the influence of Duncan’s English heritage, along with Bart Cummings’ input and Dato Tan’s love of doing things right, is immediately obvious to see through the hundreds of established evergreen and deciduous trees and hedgerows.
“We’re also lucky enough to have 2.4 kilometres of direct river frontage to fully irrigate the whole property, which has allowed for significant pasture improvements. It’s very much like New Zealand and one of the reasons we love it so much.
“Additionally, people with good stockman skills have set it up – with a healthy budget to match!
“Developments include a 1,200-metre turf track, all-weather arena, multiple stable complexes, state-of-the-art crush, foaling facilities and a purpose-built surgery barn.”
The Lime Country Thoroughbreds consignment to the Inglis Easter Yearling Sale comprises mostly Think Big Stud-bred horses this year, and the Griffins hope to develop new Australian and international breeders, owners and trainers.
But the Griffins say they are “very privileged” to sell Dato Tan’s brilliant bloodlines and the strong So You Think connection has come, serendipitously, just as the stallion career of the ten-time Group 1 winner by High Chaparral is coming to the boil.
In recent weeks New Zealand 1,000 Guineas-winning daughter La Bella Diosa won the Group 2 Surround Stakes at Randwick on her first start in Australia, star son Inference won the Randwick Guineas and finished second in the Rosehill Guineas, and the Gai Waterhouse-trained Northwest Passage has won the Hobart Guineas and Tasmanian Derby.
“At this stage of So You Think’s career it’s no bad thing to have five of his yearlings for sale,” says Griffin. “Nearly every day he’s producing a fresh winner and a good number of runners are heading to the feature races of the Autumn Carnival. Most stables have a So You Think they like and we expect our draft to be well inspected.”
Although at 91 breeding is not quite so much the focus for Dato Tan, he and his family have retained around 25 broodmares. The band is headlined by the Thorn Park mare Norzita, a dual Group 1 winner in the Flight Stakes and Vinery Stud Stakes. She produced a Fastnet Rock colt foal last year.
Faint Perfume, who was the first Group 1 winner for her sire Shamardal when she took the Crown Oaks at Flemington in November in 2009, was sold in foal to Redoute’s Choice to Sun Stud for A$700,000 as part of a reduction in Think Big Stud stock at Inglis last May.
Her second foal, the Redoute’s Choice colt who Lime Country Thoroughbreds will consign to Inglis as lot 126, has the paper credentials to command a huge price.
He has the physical appeal to match, according to Griffin.
“He strikes us in the mould of other Redoute’s Choice sons Not A Single Doubt or Snitzel, which can’t be bad when you look at where they’re at,” she says, referring to the Arrowfield Stud legend’s successful sire sons.
The Griffins’ trans-Tasman move is not the first time they have uprooted themselves, as Jo explains.
“We both grew up with horses but away from the racing industry, in showjumping and eventing and so on, and before we were married we were involved with polo and travelling the seasons between New Zealand and Australia and Britain,” she says. “While in Britain we were based at Cowdray Park in Midhurst. You can’t beat an English summer day on a good pony!
“We’d invested in some mares while travelling and after starting a family decided to settle down and head back to New Zealand to focus fully on the opportunities with the bloodstock industry.
“We’ve grown rapidly and gathered a quality group of clients over a nine-year period, in what for many has been a declining and tougher marketplace than it was 15 years ago.
“It’s all about having good clients, respecting their investment and finding out what they need from you; then you just do a great job of delivering.”
Asked what the differences between selling in New Zealand and Australia are, Griffin says she will miss the Karaka complex – “beyond question the very best sales facility in the southern hemisphere, it’s big and roomy, there’s nowhere to hide any faults in a horse but the upside of that is you also get the space to show off a great-moving horse.”
But, she concedes, “at the end of the day, the number of buyers on the grounds, along with the buzz and hum that big money and international players bring to the party is undoubtedly owned by the Australians at this moment. It’s a very exciting place to be”.
Perhaps the fact that the first Lime Country Thoroughbreds draft at Inglis is dominated by So You Think is an apt metaphor for the Griffins’ future as vendors after their move. After all, the great racehorse had his roots in New Zealand before he took centre stage in Australia and captured the attention of the rest of the world.
THE LIME COUNTRY DRAFT AT INGLIS EASTER
Lot 22 br c Savabeel-A Real Princess (O’Reilly)
A half-brother to Listed winner and Australian Derby and Metropolitan Handicap third Kingdoms by a dual champion sire in New Zealand.
95 br c So You Think-Dance On The Moon (Fasliyev)
A half-brother to Group 3 winner and New Zealand One Thousand Guineas third Awesome Planet, the dam of this season’s Emirates Stakes winner Awesome Rock.
126 b c Redoute’s Choice-Faint Perfume (Shamardal)
By Australia’s most influential living sire and the second foal out of Faint Perfume, winner of the Crown Oaks and Vinery Stud Stakes and placed in two other Group 1 races. The dam’s first foal, Iron Boss, is a winner.
305 b c So You Think-Reglisse (Zabeel)
Colt’s dam is by legendary New Zealand sire Zabeel, is a
half-sister to Group 3 winner Valpolicella and has produced two winners from two runners.
432 b f So You Think-Keep De Fortune (Galileo)
A half-sister to a winner out of a young Galileo mare who is a sister to Group 1 runner-up Banc De Fortune and to the dam of Faint Perfume.
436 b f So You Think-Maie Casey (Singspiel)
A daughter of a Singspiel mare who is a half-sister to Group 2 winner and VRC Oaks second Zydeco out of Thousand Guineas heroine All Time High.
458 b/br c So You Think-So Sydney (Dehere)
A half-brother to a winner out of a daughter of Listed-winning Danehill mare Very Sydney from the family of European Group 1 winners Caradak and Margot Did.