One of Victoria’s up-and-coming breeding farms, Hillside Thoroughbreds, is built on the smart business acumen of an enthusiastic owner and the astute knowledge of one of Australia’s leading bloodstock agents. Danny Power reports for Inside Racing.
Late in 2014, noted bloodstock agent Peter Ford took over the business and bloodstock management of Hillside Thoroughbreds, a picturesque property in Victoria’s Nagambie district, a short barrel roll from the historic Chateau Tabilk winery.
One of the yearling fillies on the farm caught his eye from day one, a brown daughter of Victoria Derby winner Monaco Consul from a mare Ford had bought for Hillside’s owners Peter and Areti Arvanitis.
The filly’s dam, Sicile, was bred in France by the legendary trainer Alec Head. Ford bought her at a Patinack Farm dispersal sale on the Gold Coast for $41,000 in 2012—with a colt foal at foot by Lope de Vega.
Named Starsky, it has won in Singapore.
The mare had been covered by Monaco Consul only a few days before the sale, so it was unsure if she was in foal or not.
“Deep down, I had hoped she wasn’t in foal,” Ford admits. “I only wanted the mare and I didn’t need a Monaco Consul.”
Ford had the mission to sell the Monaco Consul filly through Hillside’s first home-bred draft of yearlings at the 2015 Inglis Melbourne Premier Sale, but he knew it wasn’t going to be easy because she wasn’t due through the ring until the final hour of the four-day sale, and she was by a staying sire that wouldn’t have been high on the list of most commercial buyers.
Ford tried to steer as many prospective buyers into the attractive and athletic filly. One, Caulfield trainer John Salanitri, liked her and indicated he’d be bidding. Salanitri thought he had the filly at $45,000 before he was gazumped by a late $50,000 bid from agent John Foote, acting for trainer Darren Weir.
That filly, named Tiamo Grace, gave Ford and the stud owners an enormous thrill last spring when, at only her fifth start, she won the Group 2 Wakeful Stakes (2000m) at Flemington. It was a tremendous boost for the fledgling farm.
The only person not smiling was Salanitri—plus the stable cat if he strayed too close to the trainer’s boot.
Hillside Thoroughbreds was established in 2012. Peter Arvanitis, who has a background in transport and property development, had built his wealth as the founder of aged care operator, Estia Health, in 1996.
Arvanitis has had a long- standing love affair with horse racing, in particular a desire to be involved in the breeding side of the industry. Hillside Thoroughbred fulfilled his dream and became his passion.
His mantra to build his thoroughbred business is based on three criteria—location, facilities and team.
It was logical that Arvanitis would source his farm at the centre of Victoria’s prominent thoroughbred breeding region near Nagambie in the state’s north-east. Location—tick.
The 95ha farm—formerly Mike Becker’s Independent Stallions—is on prime Goulburn River land. It features 14 large paddocks, nine spelling paddocks, foaling yards, yearling barn, mare and foal barn, veterinary area, horse walker and staff accommodation. Facilities— tick.
The final need was finding the professional staff, and that’s where Ford’s involvement increased from buying agent to Hillside’s manager. Team—tick.
Ford came with a long history in racing and breeding—his father Frank Ford was a legendary and ground-breaking bloodstock agent—and an impressive CV that includes buying many high- class racehorses and, of course, Helsinge*, the dam of Black Caviar.
“There are no gold taps, but it’s a good, functional property with all the right facilities,” Ford said.
“When Peter set up the business, he wanted to go into it in a big way, but I preferred to keep the numbers at 15 choice mares. We settled on 25.”
Last year was ground-breaking for Hillside Thoroughbreds. Apart from Tiamo Grace, the farm foaled down and raised top West Australian filly Whispering Brook, Robbie Griffiths’ smart juvenile filly Areti (raced by the Arvanitis) and the promising Classic Diva, also with Griffiths.
“I want to promote the fact we can produce quality fillies off this farm, which has become important because our best yearlings in our 2017 draft to sell in Melbourne are fillies,” Ford said.
Hillside Thoroughbreds has a draft of seven yearlings in Session 1 of February’s Inglis Melbourne Premier Sale at Oaklands Junction and two—a colt and a filly by Sepoy— in Session 2. All the yearlings are Super VOBIS nominated.
It’s an eclectic mix of stallions featuring fillies by star sires Snitzel and Medaglia d’Oro and three youngsters by exciting first-season stallions Dundeel (filly), Camelot (filly) and Epaulette (colt).
However, it’s a filly by So You Think that will command most attention. Lot 244, she is a three- quarter sister to Tiamo Grace, whose sire Monaco Consul is by So You Think’s sire High Chaparral.
It’s a family that had a big impact in the spring. Not only did Tiamo Grace impressively win the Wakeful Stakes on Derby day at Flemington, but also the feature mares’ race on the program, the Group 1 Myer Classic (1600m), was won by I Am A Star (by I Am Invincible), a close relation to Tiamo Grace.
Tiamo Grace’s grand-dam Spenderella (by Common Grounds) also is the dam of Star Band, the dam of I Am A Star. This is a famous family founded by the US Hall of Fame mare Franfreluche (by Northern Dancer) that also includes champion Australian stallions Flying Spur and Encosta De Lago.
Ford describes the So You Think filly as a “late foal who is not like the rest of the family, and she won’t be at her best at sale time, but she keeps improving. It’s such a wonderful family, I think the female side of her pedigree will get her over the line.”
He describes the Medaglia d’Oro-Classic Music filly (lot 421) as an “outstanding yearling” and the Dundeel- Cinque Cento filly (lot 137) as “from a Group-winning mare and just like mum”.
Another yearling he rates highly is lot 352, by Dream Ahead from Amy’s Glen (by Shamardal), a half-sister to the Hillside-bred King’s Authority (by Snitzel), who was a brilliant winner at Flemington in December. “She’s a beautiful filly who has the attitude and the flowing movement you want in a yearling.”
Ford said he spends two or three days a week at Hillside. He enjoys the experience of being able to put his breeding theories into practice, particularly in stallion selection.
Although he admits to being a breeder and agent who concentrates more on “type” than pedigree, he has developed some of his own pedigree matching theories that seem to be working.
Following the employment of Hamish Chugg (ex Arrowfield Stud) as farm manager at Hillside, Ford has formed a partnership with Peter Buttress of Mayfield Thoroughbreds, at Hilldene near Nagambie, which allows him to conduct his own business in buying and selling horses.
“Apart from the Hillside yearlings at Melbourne, I will have four of my own yearlings selling through Mayfield’s draft,” he said.
The Inglis Premier Yearling Sale is held at Inglis’ sales complex at Oaklands Junction from Sunday, February 26 to Wednesday, March 1.
Reproduced from Inside Racing magazine February 2017 edition (published by Slattery Media).