For long time breeder Mike Hirst, the win of Jimmy The Bear over 1400m at Flemington last Saturday was a by-product of his passion to breed a VRC Derby winner, a feat he went agonisingly close to achieving with Southern Moon in 2019.
Hirst is hoping that the Patrick Payne-trained three-year-old can continue to add to his impressive record of three wins and a second from six starts
“We are hoping he can keep going the way he is going,” Hirst said.
“He has sort of shown that maybe he is not at the top class but I think for this time of the year he’ll go all right.”
Hirst warns that the background to his aim of breeding a Derby winner is a lengthy one and includes sourcing a specially bred mare and stallions by Sadler’s Wells.
“I had this breeding theory around this mare called Lalun who won a Kentucky Oaks (1955) and was the dam of Never Bend and Bold Reason who ran second and third in the Kentucky Derby,” he explained
“And Never Bend is of course the sire of Mill Reef and Riverman, and Bold Reason is the dam-sire of Sadler’s Wells, so I was trying to breed a Derby winner.
“I thought I’ll try and find a mare who is a direct descendant of Lalun and I spent a lot of time on the stud books back in 1990-something and there were only three in Australia and one of them was a two-year-old filly in Rockhampton and it hadn’t had a start.”
A quick phone call was made to connections, with Hirst saying he knew they paid $11,000 for the then unraced filly at sales but he was willing to pay $20,000.
He was quickly told no and that the filly was going to be a really good horse.
“It had its first start and ran fourth and I rang him up and I said I’ll give you $15,000 and he said no, no, it’s going to be good,” Hirst said.
“I said all right and I think it ran sixth its next start and I rang back and said I’ll give you your $11,000. He said no and I said all right but I want to buy it and every time you run it and if it doesn’t win I’m going to take $1000 off the price.”
The connections soon changed their minds and Hirst bought the filly, which had one third in seven starts, for about $3000.
Named River Royal, she was by River Of Light (USA) and out of Royalty Plus (USA) which was by King Pellinore (USA).
“I just started to breed her to stallions that had Riverman or Bold Reason in them so I could get sort of start getting back to Lalun,” Hirst said.
“I have sort of stuck with that family throughout and from a $3000 mare she gave me a Grand Annual winner in Awakening Dream (Aristotle) and Prince of Scribes (Runyon) who won a Moonee Valley 3000m stayers cup and then on it goes on through her and her offspring.”
Hirst said he went close to getting a VRC Derby winner with Southern Moon (Puissance De Lune) which finished second in the 2019 edition of the Group 1 race.
The gelding’s dam South Street (Street Cry x On Southbank) was also bred by Hirst and won a Terang maiden. On Southbank (Festival Hall) was the second foal out of River Royal.
Unfortunately, Southern Moon never raced after the Victoria Derby which was his sixth start and retired with $436,750 in the bank.
A chip in the knee was fixed and didn’t cause any problems but then he injured a tendon, followed by another tendon and despite 12 months of rehabilitation, he broke down again last week after two months back in work and was immediately retired.
Jimmy The Bear continues to fly the flag for the family.
The gelding is out of Belvedere Road (Street Boss x On Southbank).
Hirst has also bred a full sister to Jimmy The Bear, but the broodmare missed to Nostradamus in 2019 and Puissance De Lune in 2020 but is now in foal to Omaha Beach.
“The full sister is a two-year-old and is just sort of kicking things off with Ben O’Farrell who is just a new trainer who manages my farm,” Hirst said.
“Her first foal by Nostradamus, a colt, had something wrong with his hock, and he is just in the back paddock keeping the weanlings company.”
Trained by Mitch Freedman, Belvedere Road won four races, including a dead heat for first at Sandown.
Hirst said he’d bred more than 50 horses and rates his best as Southern Moon and Tubular Bells (Palace Music x Ann’s Belle) who won his first five starts and then ran a narrow second in the Adelaide Cup and then won his next start at Caulfield. He won six races from his nine starts.
His farm is at Mannerim, between Drysdale and Ocean Grove.
“Ben O’Farrell is the farm manager down there and he has got a breaking and training business which he runs from there,” he said.
Hirst is deputy chairman of the Racing Victoria Board and says racing is a great passion and for him, it’s enjoyable to be able to contribute.
Hirst grew up playing football for Frankston YCW in the Mornington Peninsula League. In 1978 and 1979 the team’s fullback line comprised Jimmy Bruin, who later played a lot of games for Frankston in the VFA, and was the changing ruckman in the back pocket. Hirst was at fullback, while Micky “The Bear” Wright was in the other back pocket.
“So the horse was named after those two – Jimmy and The Bear,” Hirst said.
“I gave each of them five per cent and they are thrilled. I didn’t get along to Flemington on Saturday unfortunately as I had to be interstate but Jimmy and The Bear went along and they had a ball.”
Hirst was managing director of the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank for nine years.
He sits on a few boards in Victoria, including AMP and admits it keeps him busy.
“I put a couple through the sales,” he said.
“My intention has always been to breed to sell but being so busy with work and all that it’s hard to get everything done.
“I am probably more set up to sell to Hong Kong. I sold Jimmy The Bear to Hong Kong before he ran in that Listed race (the Amanda Elliott) at Flemington for $400,000 but he didn’t pass the vet test.
“Southern Moon, I got offered $2 million from Hong Kong for him after the Derby but he chipped his knee.
“It costs a lot of money to do this sort of stuff and believe me, I am down the drain so if you can sell one or two a year for that sort of money then it pays its way.
“Although Jimmy didn’t pass the vet test, he has now won $200,000 so he has only got to do that a couple more times.”
Hirst said the great part of racing was doing it with mates.
“I have raced a lot of horses with Andrew Payne over the years and when he was not that old, he was in his early 20s, he was training a hose for me called Prince Of Scribes,” he said.
“He was a handy horse, Ciaron Maher used to ride him in trackwork as he was working for Andrew and ended up taking a share in him.
“I owned the horse outright and before he had a start Andrew rang me and said this horse goes all right and said are you sure you want to race it by yourself.
“I told him I’d had that many that went terrible so why would I want to put them into something that goes good he said it’s bloody hard to have fun on your own.
“And he was right. I put a few of my mates in him and we had a ball.”
Hirst has eight broodmares and is still hopeful that he’ll have another VRC Derby runner.
Southern Moon’s dam South Street has been back to Puissance De Lune three times, and also has a colt by Jimmy Creed, and is in foal to Ghaiyyath.