Darren Dance is no stranger to the winner’s circle as founder of Australian Thoroughbred Bloodstock. Recently he has been making his mark in the breeding world. Darren grew up in Warrnambool on a dairy farm, so the nurturing of animals was a natural instinct for him. As a regular attendee at the May Carnival, the passion for horses has driven a career in the industry for Darren. It is the foremost love of horses that has kept Darren involved in the industry and allowed him to experience both the racing and breeding side of our sport. ‘I love being on the farm, the animal husbandry side of it and being around the horses. I love sitting on the deck and watching them gallop up and down the hill. I enjoy the hands on being with the horses.’
Darren has been around horses for over thirty years when his first horse was purchased. ‘I bought my first galloper in 1989, Moly who went on to win two Group 1’s, The Oakleigh Plate and The Newmarket.’ Following this impressive start in the thoroughbred industry it is no wonder that Darren wanted to keep rolling with his success. ‘Buying a share in the horse and then being lucky to have a few Group 1’s and the horse then going to stud is where it all started.’
It was after this that Darren and his wife Liz took the decision to buy a small farm just out of Ballan which was developed into a Thoroughbred Stud, Manningtree Park. ‘I got involved the syndication of racehorses, spelling the racehorses which then got sent back to the trainers and then got involved with a few mares and then decided to go down the breeding path.’ Darren’s Thoroughbred farm now has approximately thirty-five mares and twenty-two foals this year. Three years ago, a new branch of Darren’s breeding division was launched as Esker Lodge Australia which is turning into a large operation. This year it is expected Esker Lodge will offer ten yearlings at sales around Australia. ‘Initially we would send the mares off to foal down and get in foal and would wean them ourselves’. It is a team effort as Darren’s wife Liz works alongside him every day, ‘without her support and
passion for horses we would not be where we are today.’
Although Darren has been in the industry for many years, when it comes to the breeding side, he is self-taught and having to make use of the hands-on experience. There are many different challenges that arise from the breeding industry Darren explains. ‘The toughest part about breeding is to be able to predict what sires are going to be fashionable in three years’ time. When you are mating the mares trying to choose the right stallions so that they will have commercial value later on. It is difficult to work out what the hot stallions will be in two- or three-year’s time. There are strategies with proven sires but there are also some that you will be willing to take the risk on. If you get it right the rewards can be great.’
Darren has the ability to follow horses full circle with the developments of Esker Lodge and it is going from strength to strength. ‘The breeding side is completely different to the racing side of it. It is a very exciting industry to be in. To be able to produce outstanding athletes as yearlings and then watching their careers unfold on the track is really exciting.’
Working in the breeding industry requires many different skills to the racing industry and Darren has worked successfully across both of these. ‘I think in this game we spend our whole life looking forward and waiting and wishing our life away in order to get to the next race. You need patience for breeding, but a lot can happen really quickly which can be really exciting.’
Darren has bred many successful horses over the years but to be able to follow them and now the progeny through is an exciting time. ‘My favourite horse of all-time would-be Platelet who won two big Group 1’s in Adelaide. A filly that was brought out a paddock privately and she only cost $30,000 and ended up winning $1.4m on the track. We sold her to Cressfield Stud for a large sum of money. One of her foals by Exceed and Excel was sold at the Magic Millions for $1.8m.’ To be able to have the success with the filly is a fantastic effort but to be able to watch the progeny following in her footsteps is very impressive. It is very heart-warming to hear of the legacy that this filly is upholding.
Darren works extremely hard as do many in the breeding industry as it is a seven day a week job. The hard work is paying off as Darren is seeing the benefits come to fruition. The advice that Darren would pass on to someone wishing to start in the industry is ‘I think it is imperative to get involved with good experienced people. To try and find the right stock so you can get off to a good start especially if you are looking to breed to sell. In most cases you need to spend a bit of money to make a bit of money. It is important to buy good stock and send them to good horses and have good people that can advise you in the right direction.