Ben’s love of the sport was apparent from a very young age and it was clear a career in the racing industry beckoned.
“There has always been an underlying passion, the passion has been there from a young age. My grandmother bought a horse when I was 14 years old and I became even more engaged in the sport and going to the stables.” Ben Cooper said.
Approximately ten years ago, Ben bought into his first horse starting a partnership with Matt Ellerton and Simon Zahara; the move to the industry began.
“It got me into the direct ownership side and we had a little bit of success with a horse called Mr Griswold. I had a great group of owners who are still involved with many of the broodmares today.”
The main owner Justin Docherty joined Ben in his journey in the industry. “The vision jumped into my mind of breeding and ultimately I wanted to explore this [the breeding] side of the industry.”
Ben went on to purchase a number of fillies that went on to be trained with Matt Ellerton and Simon Zahra. “I really resonated with the guys and how they called a spade a spade. We have built a good strong relationship with them. I was really comfortable with how they looked after the horses and the advice that they would give.”
Each filly they purchased had a four-five-year racing plan before retiring to the breeding barn.
At this point, Ben was not actively looking for a farm, however whilst visiting his holiday house on the Mornington Peninsula found an available plot of land in Merricks and thought it was an opportunity that couldn’t be missed.
“Although the timing wasn’t right, I said to my wife, if we don’t do it now then time will race away. We ended buying the property and the planning started.”
The location worked well for Ben in an area he was familiar with.
“The Mornington Peninsula benefits with the proximity to many different training establishments. We benefit from a lot of rainfall and fertile soil, we haven’t been lacking with our pasture which is a key stand out. There is a great community in the area and everyone works well together”.
The farm was a blank canvas for Ben and could be tailored to their needs and the appropriate paddock configuration. The farm’s prior purpose was cattle grazing. The completion of the farm was working in line with Ellerton/Zahra as to when the fillies that were currently in training would be ending their racing career and commencing the breeding.
“We were ready to go and the opportunity arose for the adjoining fifty acre property to purchase so we jumped at the chance. It took a couple more years to finish the infrastructure of the new property, but we thought the completion of the farm would give us 100 acres to work with.”
At the start of January 2018 Merricks Station was open for business and ready to welcome his fillies. “When we opened Merricks Station, we were on the farm for twelve months and therefore very engaged with the first breeding season and the arrival of the first foals. It was a real eye opener being on call during the night as the mares were ready to foal. It was amazing through all the planning to suddenly be there in the middle of the night and seeing the foals hitting the ground.”
“It has been almost a seven-year period from buying our first outright horse to completing Merricks Station.”
Ben spent a large amount of this time researching pedigrees and learning all aspects of the breeding industry. “It was my passion to learn a lot about the breeding side, at the start and I was just putting my own thoughts on it.”
Two key members of Ben’s team are Dee Gess Jones and Mat Becker. Dee was instrumental with her knowledge and played a vital role in the planning of the farm, she is the manager of Merricks Station. Mat Becker (Group 1 Bloodstock) has been very influential in assisting Ben and still advises on the bloodstock.
“He is a direct consultant and advises on the purchasing and breeding of stock.” An important part of the business is the buying and selling of broodmares and their progeny which Mat assists in also. Ben has worked hard to set up an efficient and loyal team at Merricks Station while he continues to work on his property business.
It is evident that Ben is passionate on creating a safe environment for the horses at Merricks Station. A huge amount of time and effort was spent in planning and implementing the desired infrastructure.
“At the start before the farm was operational, a few of our horses based on other farms got injured on fences and fence posts. One of the important things for me to get right was getting the infrastructure right and we have post and rail with plastic fencing which is really forgiving on the horses.”
Ben has thought through every part of the farm’s functionality and ensured it has an efficient work flow to benefit staff and horses with variety of paddock sizes to suit different scenarios.
Ben doesn’t have much spare time with two businesses, family life and racing. “I enjoy the horses that are racing and getting down to the farm and planning what we are doing next with not only the broodmares and the racing but also with the infrastructure. We are currently looking at acquiring some more land which is exciting”
Merricks Station has had a huge amount of growth since it opened its doors and are getting well known in the area.
“A lot of trainers like to spell their horses at our property because of how we look after them and because of the infrastructure that we have.”
Ben is passionate to not compromise on the space or safety for the horses as Merricks Station continues to grow.
“One thing I have learnt pretty quickly is that it is all about the relationships with the right people.”
One of those key relationships is with trainer Lloyd Kennewell. “We like the way that Lloyd goes about his business, he’s on a upward trajectory so his rise through the training ranks resonates well with our combined visions.”
Merricks Station has grown rapidly in the last few years and Ben’s passion for the industry is evident. The advice that Ben would offer to someone wishing to start a farm is, ‘find the right people to bounce your ideas off who have been down the road before who have experience of which is the best way to go and then you will get to the right result a lot quicker.’
It was in Australia that Invincible Spirit made his first serious mark as a sire of sires and racehorses, with I Am Invincible proving the long-term star. Now Spendthrift Australia have his Group-winning son Overshare on the roster, with a line-up of quality first foals being born this season.
Siring 180 winners in the 2018-19 season, I Am Invincible’s biggest achievement came when he broke the record for the most stakes winners in a season, previously held by champion sires Danehill (USA) and Snitzel, with 28 individual Australian stakes winners.
Also siring the most 2-year-old stakes winners of any stallion in Australia during the season with eight, I Am Invincible secured his first 2-Year-Old Sires’ Premiership after a tough battle with Snitzel.
This season so far he has already sired five stakes winners including a quinella in the Group 3 MRC Thoroughbred Club Stakes earlier this month with California Zimbol and Loving Gaby respectively.
The dominance of I Am Invincible’s career gives us even more confidence in Overshare. He is leaving an abundance of I Am Invincible quality in his first foals. Watch the video below to see the strong and attractive types they are.
A winner at two and multiple stakes winner at three, Overshare is the only colonial Invincible Spirit-line sire at stud in Victoria available to breeders for less than $40,000.
Overshare stood his first season at stud for $11,000, just like his sire I Am Invincible who stood his first four seasons at stud for the same fee. He bred nine stakes mares in his first season with his percentage of stakes mares and producers at 16.6%, comparable to I Am Invincible’s 11 stakes mares and 20.3% stakes mares and producers in his first season.
We have been delighted to see returning and new breeders sending quality mares to Overshare as he continues his second breeding season at Spendthrift Australia.
For more information about our stallions and breeding programs, contact Garry Cuddy on 0410 451 595 or Josh Rix on 0411 116 648.
A dream that grew from a Billboard in Paris for the renowned trotting race, the Prix d’Amerique became a reality for Pat Driscoll. “I saw what they can do in France and thought “I could have a couple of those.” Horses have never been far from Pat, growing up, his Dad had a few Thoroughbreds and during his early teenage years, Pat used to do some track work.
His involvement with the industry then reduced for a few years as he pursued a business in accountancy, however, he was still part of the industry as he remained in a few syndicates.
Pat decided it was the right time for him to buy a farm and create his dream. After much consideration and time to find the perfect land for the farm to be set up on, an opportunity arose in Ballarat. There was no doubt that Victoria was where he wanted to set the farm up.
As the initial purpose of the farm was for Trotting, Ballarat was well located for the tracks and Victoria is one of the best places for this equine field. The close location to the city was a big draw, allowing Pat to continue his work as and when required.
“When I set up the farm, one of the pieces of advice I was given, was to set it up so it could be transferable between Trotters, Thoroughbreds, Arabs and whatever is required. It is pretty well set up for most equine pursuits.”
Finding the right land from an agricultural perspective was very important for Pat. “I wanted to make investment in the land and not just a stud farm. I was looking for the right block of land that would tick all the boxes in relation to an investment but also be suitable for equine pursuits.”
Yabby Dam Racing have impressive, state of the art facilities on the farm and Pat explains the inspiration he got from his visits to France. “I have travelled to France alot and a lot of the set ups over there are fantastic. I thought wouldn’t it be good to do something really good, from not only the breeding but the pre-training, breaking in – the whole package.” So I modelled what I have on the farms with what I saw in France.’
Pat has now moved full circle, twelve months ago has returned to the Thoroughbreds. “I bought a couple of yearlings at the Great Southern Sale a couple of years ago, and some broodmares and weanlings so I can get the hang of it all. I am doing the homework slowly but what I would love to do is breed some nice horses over time.” When asked how many mares are on the farm, Pat laughed, “Too many! Way too many!”
Although Pat knew a vast amount of knowledge about the Thoroughbred Industry in his early years, it is taking some time, lots of homework to become re-acclimatised with the breeding pedigrees.
“It’s interesting going back at looking at the pedigrees. I go back to the third generation, and I know all the stallions and the dams. The industry has become so internationalised in the last twenty years, I’m back to learning all the pedigrees again.”
Pat feels very encouraged by the thoroughbred industry especially in Victoria and has found it is a very exciting industry to be part of. “If you bring in some nice mares and you stay in Victoria, you can belong to VOBIS and Super VOBIS for example. The Victorian Thoroughbred Industry encourages you to be the best as they want the best horses racing here.”
The Thoroughbred Industry has had a huge presence internationally and it is exciting to have the opportunities available to strive towards. However, the opportunities available within Victoria is endless.
“Having one good enough to win a race, then a metropolitan and then one day hopefully a Group or a Listed race and you can do them all in your own backyard. The industry caters for all levels of those wanting to invest in the industry whether it be a mid-week 2000m maiden race or a Saturday at Flemington there is opportunities for everyone.”
The farm seems to be suiting Pat as he is a strong interest in not only the equine side of it but also agriculture. “I like looking around, checking the pastures, check the new foals and doing a bit of physical work, it just relaxes you. Technology allows you to stay in touch send an email, take a phone call without needing to go into Melbourne or Sydney.” It was apparent when talking to Pat that creating a good and safe environment on the farm for the horses was paramount.
Yabby Dam Racing take on a holistic approach to running the farm and this starts from the environment for the horse. “Looking after the pastures and making the fencing as safe as possible is important to us. We have exceptionally good fencing and are fortunate enough to have a vet/surgeon Dr Sarah Gray who has set up on the farm.” Similarly, to the Trotteurs, Pat has a vision of having horses that can work through the whole cycle at Yabby Dam.
“I’d like to do it all the way through, from the broodmares, the foals, weanlings, yearlings, breaking in and pre-training. Our aim at the moment is once we get through the pre-training is to send them to local trainers in Ballarat. We are working toward seeing the product the whole way through and seeing what to do, how it influences the end result and giving the horses the best possibilities to succeed.”
When asked about the advice he would offer to someone that are doing what you want to do in the industry, Pat offered “Go and speak to as many people as possible and do as much homework as possible and hasten slowly.”
A desperate, last-stride lunge earned Flit a G1 victory in Saturday’s Thousand Guineas at Caulfield and a possible start in Australia’s most prestigious race, the $5 million G1 WS Cox Plate.
And to wrap up a landmark day for Godolphin, the talented sprinter Trekking won the G2 Schillaci Stakes and a place in the country’s richest race, the $14 million The Everest.
Flit is the only filly among the remaining entrants in the Cox Plate, run at Moonee Valley on Saturday, 26 October, in which she would carry only 47.5kg under the weight-for-age conditions.
“We’ve got that decision to make,” Cummings said.
“We can let the dust settle on today, we have to enjoy the win in a target race.”
Flit had only one, shared success to her name before today’s race, but had shown herself to be one of the better fillies among Godolphin’s vintage two-year-old crop of last season.
As well as her dead-heat win in the G3 Thoroughbred Breeders’ Stakes at Flemington in March, she had a pair of G2 second placings to her credit.
Her only blemish was a ninth placing in her lead-up to the Thousand Guineas, but both Cummings and winning rider Hugh Bowman said she should have won that race with something in hand.
“There’s not much doubt she should have won here two weeks ago,” Bowman said.
“She showed today what she would have done in that race.”
Flit again seemed to be in difficulties when midfield in a slowly run race, but she surged through the leading pack in the final 100m to beat Missile Mantra by a nose.
“She’s a quality filly and it wasn’t a real test today,” Bowman said.
“It was just a sprint home, so I don’t think we saw the best of her. I think if it was a genuinely run event she would have won more comfortably.”
For Trekking, timing was everything as he arrived with an overpowering finish to win the Schillaci by a long neck to claim the last place in the field for the Everest, run at Randwick on Saturday, 19 October.
The success also left Cummings and his team on 99 Stakes wins since he took over as head Australian trainer in July 2017.
While Godolphin will have Alizee in The Everest in its own slot, Trekking, as the winner of the Schillaci, is entitled to the slot owned by the Melbourne Racing Club.
“We ran in this race with The Everest in mind, but we won’t make a decision straight away,” Cummings said.
“I want to see how the horse pulls up, but it will come down to more than that.”
“It will be discussed by the team before anything is finalised.”
The 12-horse field for The Everest is made up by horses who run in slots purchased by various entities and valued at $600,000 each.
Article courtesy of Godolphin
Ellora Stud may well be in its infancy but Matt Brown, owner of Ellora Stud has over twenty years’ experience in the industry including a number of stints overseas. “I’ve always been interested in racing and what made racehorses tick and for me that was the breeding part of the industry. I loved reading sales books and studying the pedigrees.”
Following Matt leaving school and unsure what to do next, travelling overseas and working with horses seemed to be a good option.
“I fell into the horses and enrolled onto the Irish National Stud course and worked on a number of studs in France and Ireland.”
For Matt to have the opportunity to be working on the practical side of breeding and being out with the mares and foals seemed like an opportunity not to be missed.
Matt and Claire are certainly not newcomers to the breeding industry in Victoria as have spent a number of years at Rosemont Stud and prior to that worked in the Hunter Valley. Matt’s first job was on a stud in New Zealand at Windsor Park Stud,
“It gave me the best grounding for the industry. It is a very practical place and it really taught me a lot, probably the most of any place I have worked.”
Ellora stud has been in operation for over two years and is going from strength to strength ‘we always bred our own horses; my wife is partner at a vet practise in Seymour and we needed somewhere to have our own horses. The next logical step was to open the doors to clients.
Matt has taken on much of his experience that he gained overseas and put it into practise on the stud. “I have had a lot of experience around the world and can handle many different situations that arise. As my wife is a stud vet we can offer a full service.” It can give a huge amount of security to clients knowing that an experienced vet is always on call should it be required. Ellora work hard to deliver the best possible service for clients and the passion for this is evident when talking to Matt.
It is evident that Ellora Stud is a huge team effort with Matt and Claire and they have some high hopes for the future. “I want to breed really nice horses, that is always what I have wanted to do and race a few of those and hopefully be successful.”
Matt has worked with many successful mares in his career and many that have gone on to sell for impressive sums. I expect it won’t be long until he is doing the same for his own broodmares.
“In my time on other farms I have looked after many horses that have gone on to be very very good horses.” As a new farm it is not yet clear how successful many of the mares may well be, however, Matt is confident he has a small but good group of horses already.
Ellora Stud has been set up using much of the implementation that Matt has seen first-hand whilst working overseas.
“I’ve taken a lot of ideas from where I have worked around the world. I have laid the stud out in such a way that I believe is the most efficient way to benefit clients.”
Based near Avenel in North-East Victoria, the farm has very good pastures for breeding and is well located to other farms in the area. There are a number of different sized paddocks in order to cater for the needs of their clients.
The advice that Matt would give to someone wanting to start in the industry is “be wanting to take on advice that is given and deal with as many people as possible in order to put yourself out there. If you care about what you do and you are a good operator then you will get on well.”