Above: Hit’Em Hard winning on debut at Albury
A charitable deed by a Victorian breeder five years ago is being repaid across the border in Albury, New South Wales, in a feel good story for the racing and breeding industry.
Rhys Holleran was a novice breeder when he bought a service fee to Three Bridges stallion Stryker in a charity auction conducted by Thoroughbred Breeders Victoria to raise funds for teenager Joey Lynch who was battling a rare form of cancer.
It’s been five years since the auction but the wait for Holleran has been worth it, with the horse produced from the service fee – Hit’em Hard – winning on debut at Albury last week.
And more importantly Joey has done well in his battle with cancer.
Holleran was in the radio business for 30 years and ran the billion-dollar Southern Cross Media group and facilitated the massive merger with Austereo to form Southern Cross Austereo
Now in the horse industry and absolutely loving it, Holleran recalls how he received an email from TBV outlining the auction and it just happened that he was in the market for a stallion to cover his mare, La Cachette (Choisir).
“We hadn’t finalised anything for the mare and she had one foal to Written Tycoon called Hazel’s Diary and we were looking for something and it was for a good cause,” Holleran recalled.
“It was for Joey Lynch. His dad Michael Lynch works for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
“So I thought that was a good idea so I put a bid in and it was successful. The real generous people were the people at Three Bridges where Stryker stood.”
Holleran said his winning bid was around $6000, and while Stryker is now about $3000, he couldn’t care because it went to a good cause.
“Michael Lynch rang and thanked me and the people at Three Bridges were just extraordinary and although I got something out of it, they are the ones who donated it and good on them,” he said.
“It was all worthwhile. Joey Lynch is well now and he is on the board of CanTeen – teenagers with cancer.
“I just think it is a nice story.”
Holleran said that after the foal was born his stable name was “Boxer’’ because he was by Stryker and in keeping with the pugilist theme, he officially races as Hit’em Hard.
He was foaled down at David and Kayley Johnson’s Rushton Park at Dhurringile, near Murchison.
And when he arrived home at Holleran and partner Leanne Hulm’s farm, Hazel Park at Kialla, near Shepparton, there was no Mike Tyson about him.
“He was the friendliest horse when he came off the truck and the whole family, we just love this horse,” Holleran said.
“He is a great horse with a ton of personality.
“He had a little bit of a niggle and we never rush our horses and we only ever run them as three year-olds and we would never run them as two year-olds. Our philosophy is that we’d like to leave them for a bit more time.
“He had a trial at Benalla last year and one at Narrandera not so long ago but he had a few niggles and he was still growing so we tipped him out and took him nice and slow and he made his debut on the racetrack last Thursday.”
The stable weren’t the only ones who thought he’d go all right as he started $1.80 favourite over the 900m scamper on the soft five track at Albury.
Holleran said it was the first horse they had had that had won on debut.
“We had another one, Star Of Tennessee, but she got disqualified (was demoted from first on protest),” he said.
“But she also won at Albury on Thursday so we had a double. She is a horse (Starspangledbanner/Miley) I bought at Inglis.”
Hit’em Hard is a half-brother to Hazel’s Diary which has won three races for Holleran who also bred the mare.
Holleran said it was a real family affair when Hit’em Hard won.
The four year-old gelding is trained at Albury by his sister-in-law Donna Scott who is Leanne Hulm’s sister.
“Blake McDougall rode him and he is our niece’s partner and Donna is my sister-in-law and Leanne and I breed horses and spell horses at our farm” Holleran said.
“It’s a big family thing for us and all the owners in the horses are family too, plus a few other people.
“But what a thrill it was with Hit’em Hard winning and it was the end of a really nice story.”
Holleran said they had a band of broodmares of varying ages on their farm and another 14 racehorses which are trained exclusively by Scott.
They started Hazel Park in 2011 with one broodmare and Holleran said their best horse so far is another one he’s bred, Lord Von Costa (Von Costa De Hero/Cashed Up Lady) which has won two stakes races – the Creswick Stakes (1200m) and the Victorian Sprint Final (1200m) at his last start in July.
“I had a very long career in media and my chairman (Tim Hughes) was a part owner of Von Costa De Hero and as it turns out we have got the best one by him,” Holleran said.
“Tim owned Serenade Rose (multiple Group winner, including Group 1 winner of VRC Oaks and AJC Oaks).”
Holleran said he couldn’t put a head collar on horse seven years ago and described himself as a corporate guy who had previously raced a couple of horses with a few mates.
But he is quick learner and was called upon to strap Lord Von Costa at his last start victory. It’s another part of the business he loves.
He said his partner Leanne was from a family of farmers who had always had been involved in racehorses part-time.
“I started getting involved in it and just fell in love with it and it’s a thing I have been incredibly passionate about,” Holleran said.
“We have had a bit of luck and a few of our horses have done okay and Donna is a super trainer and has got a lot of clients other than our horses. She is in every one of our horses and it’s a family thing.
“Our property is name after their grandmother, Hazel Hulm who died a couple of years ago and was 95 years of age. We have got Hazel Park Racing in Albury with Donna and the farm here, Hazel Park.”
Holleran has a half-brother to Lord Von Costa, a three year-old (Our Last Cash) which will race in the New Year and is described as an exciting prospect. He said the full sister to Lord Von Costa, Lady Von Costa, has a foal to Magnus (The Great Man). And there is also an unraced Moshe gelding, My Boy Mo, out of Hit’em Hard’s dam, La Cachette.
He said Our Last Cash was special to him as the colt was orphaned with the death of Cashed Up Lady.
Holleran said that while it’s a cliché to say racing is dreaming, he has been lucky that a lot of their dreams have come true.