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.’