Widden Stud has had a spring like few others, a season divided between two farms for the first time in the operation’s 154 years. In February, it announced it had taken over the 450-acre Sun Stud operation at Kerrie, Victoria, and, replete with eight existing stallions, the southern farm would also house Nicconi and Star Witness from New South Wales.

It was a monumental chapter in the long history of Widden Stud, which has stood strong in the Hunter Valley since 1867. But it also made perfect sense, and the operation has clattered through a successful breeding season in two states.

“The whole process has gone fairly smoothly, all things considered,” said Widden Principal, Antony Thompson. “We’ve had state border closures and those sorts of unexpected hurdles, so it’s been a real testament to the ability of our people that we’ve managed to get through those fairly well.”

COVID-19 has, for the most part of the year, made interstate travel difficult, especially for an industry so upwardly mobile with horses and people. Nevertheless, the Widden brand has slotted into Victorian breeding without a hiccup.

Antony and Katie Thompson | Image courtesy of Bronwen Healy

“We’ve had great industry support, and we’ve been warmly welcomed by the Victorian breeders,” Thompson said. “That’s been fantastic, and the only downside has really been that I’m based here in the Hunter and would like to have been able to spend more time down there. We’ve had to rely on our guys in that sense, and they’ve done a really good job.”

Thompson admits it was a big step to branch out interstate, and it wasn’t made lightly.

“It was a big step, trying to replicate what we do interstate,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s too hard to do, and a lot of our existing clients were Victorian-based as well, so it’s certainly easier for them with a lot of those stallions based on their doorstep.”

“It was a big step, trying to replicate what we (Widden) do interstate. But I don’t think it’s too hard to do…” – Antony Thompson

Regarding Nicconi and Star Witness heading south, Thompson said both horses had strong resumés in Victoria, so it was logical to relocate them for the season.

“While they’re genuine Hunter Valley stallions, they helped us launch our brand in Victoria and let the breeders know we’re very serious,” he said.

Two-state spring

The logistics of having two farms is something that Widden has had to get used to very quickly and, while it’s come with its challenges like border closures, it is a good problem to have.

The relocation of Nicconi and Star Witness added to the existing eight stallions already resident at the former Sun Stud, and Widden added two new stallions to the southern roster, namely Russian Camelot (Ire) and Doubtland. It completed an 11-horse lineup for the Victorian outfit.

Gallery: Some of Widden’s stallion roster for 2021

In response, the Widden broodmare band divided and conquered, some staying put in the Hunter Valley, and others travelling south.

“That happened a bit,” Thompson said. “We’ve obviously supported our own stallions, and particularly the new horses. So we’ve sent quite a number of our personal mares to Victoria, and they’ll foal down there, get back in foal and come back up.

“In a way, it will be a bit like running a two-state training operation where you’ll have movement in between the two, but we’ve got a weekly truck run so it’s been fairly easy to do, moving between the two operations.”

“In a way, it will be a bit like running a two-state training operation where you’ll have movement in between the two, but we’ve got a weekly truck run so it’s been fairly easy to do, moving between the two operations.” – Antony Thompson

All up, the Widden-owned broodmare band numbers about 150, and while the extra stallion options this spring have been a new situation for the team, Thompson said the same processes have applied when it comes to breeding plans.

“It’s still the same process of looking at your mares and your matings, and we work through it as a team,” the studmaster said. “We want to support our stallions evenly across the board, and we’ve certainly tried to do that this season.”

Nicconi leading

With half of the breeding season already behind it, Widden has enjoyed the recent spike in street cred that has come the way of Nicconi.

The 16-year-old stallion is currently heading the General Sires’ Table on earnings in Australia, thanks largely to the efforts of Nature Strip (Nicconi) in The Everest this month. Nicconi is well clear of Shamus Award on earnings, with SnitzelI Am Invincible and Savabeel wheeling in the top five.

Nicconi | Standing at Widden Stud Vic

Nicconi retired to Widden in 2010, and he’s been a loyal servant for 12 seasons. His stakes winners number 22 all up, headed by Nature Strip, triple Group winner Faatinah and G2 VRC Sires’ Produce S. winner Sircconi.

The stallion is standing in Victoria for a slightly reduced fee of $27,500 (Inc GST) this season, largely due to his testing the interstate waters for the first time.

“Nicconi has been a fantastically consistent sire for us,” Thompson said. “Having a headliner like Nature Strip certainly put a spotlight on him, and that’s the case at the moment after the magnificent Everest win. With him currently being Australia’s leading sire, we’ll enjoy it while he sits on top.”

“Having a headliner like Nature Strip certainly put a spotlight on him (Nicconi), and that’s the case at the moment after the magnificent Everest win.” – Antony Thompson

It’s the first time Nicconi has parked himself in the top spot of Australia’s sires, and while he’s always been a popular stallion each spring for Widden, Thompson said they had no trouble filling his book south of the border.

“I think everyone that’s bred to him has had some success in the sale ring or the racetrack, so he does have a very loyal supporter’s base,” Thompson said. “That’s appeared to be the case in Victoria too.”

First yearlings

With relatively few mares left to foal at this point in the spring, Widden, like many farms, is starting to swing its attention to the yearlings, in particular those pointed at Magic Millions in January.

Trapeze Artist | Standing at Widden Stud NSW

Among the first-crop yearlings emerging from the farm right now, there are those by both Trapeze Artist and Written By, and the farm is having a hard time working out which to be more excited about.

“Trapeze was an incredible racehorse, and the world’s highest-rated sprinter at one time,” Thompson said. “For mine, he is Snitzel’s best son and most likely heir apparent. He’s a very exciting horse.”

Trapeze Artist retired to Widden in 2019 after a stout career that included four Group 1 wins and six Group wins overall. He commanded $88,000 (inc GST) in his opening season at stud, and his book numbered 180. From that season he returned 129 live foals.

“For mine, he (Trapeze Artist) is Snitzel’s best son and most likely heir apparent. He’s a very exciting horse.” – Antony Thompson

“I think this horse is as good a stallion prospect as we’ve seen in a long time,” Thompson said. “He’ll be very well-received with his yearlings.”

Magic Millions has around 30 yearlings by Trapeze Artist in its Book One catalogue for the Gold Coast Sale. Of these, nine will be in the Widden draft.

“They’re imposing, powerful horses,” Thompson said. “Trapeze has a big action on him and he’s quite a dominant horse, and you can see that in his yearlings. They’re great movers with a really good presence, and they’re really well put together. We’ll get to all the sales, including Easter, with some really nice Trapeze Artists.”

Written By, meanwhile, is looking similarly impressive to Antony Thompson. The young stallion has his first yearlings coming through alongside those of Trapeze Artist, and he covered near-equal numbers in his debut season, getting 106 live foals.

“Given the success of Written Tycoon and Capitalist, and even to some degree Extreme Choice, Written By profiles very well as a really likely Australian speed sire,” Thompson said. “He does have a really sharp lot of yearlings to present at the sales, and I think they’ll go down well.”

“Given the success of Written Tycoon and Capitalist, and even to some degree Extreme Choice, Written By profiles very well as a really likely Australian speed sire.” – Antony Thompson

Written By was a G1 Blue Diamond winner in 2018, the first colt home in the G1 Golden Slipper that year and a winner of four Group races overall. He was a proper racehorse.

Thompson said the stallion’s first yearlings look like they will suit the Magic Millions Sale-type races, and he is expecting the horse to provide plenty of early 2-year-old runners.

Widden will send eight Written By yearlings to the Gold Coast in its draft for January, with a total of around 20 in the Sale all up.

Written By | Standing at Widden Stud NSW

A season of firsts

Without doubt, it’s been a season of firsts for the Widden operation. The first spring with two farms, the first yearlings by Trapeze Artist and Written By, and the first time the farm has had three new stallions to spruik in a season (Russian Camelot, Doubtland and Anders).

There’s also the first foals by Zousain, who has been immensely popular according to Thompson.

Zousain covered 188 mares in his debut season last year, and his foals are typically like him, correct and excellent as he was as a new arrival. Thompson recalls seeing Zousain as a foal for the first time at Edinglassie, the very first by his sire Zoustar when born on July 24, 2015.

Gallery: Some of Zousain’s foals in 2021

“I think he’s a huge chance as a stallion,” the studmaster said. “He was incredibly popular last year when his fertility was unbelievable, and he’s been even more so this year, just a horse with a bit of wow about him. He’ll serve over 200 mares, and a lot of breeders have been turned away.”

Zousain was part of the historic Zoustar trifecta in the G1 Coolmore Stud S. of 2018, when winner Sunlight, he and Lean Mean Machine raced to a magnificent result for the first crop of Zoustars.

Zousain was also twice narrowly second to The Autumn Sun at Group 1 level, and he did everything to suggest he had brilliance.

“I think he’s (Zousain) a huge chance as a stallion… He’ll serve over 200 mares, and a lot of breeders have been turned away.” – Antony Thompson

“I think he’s got the right profile, and we’re excited by what he brings,” Thompson said. “The Zoustar story is one that we’re incredibly proud to be around, and it’s a big part of our lives.”

Thompson said the Zousain foals are very true to type, and he expects they will be commercial. He described them as typical of the Encosta De LagoNorthern Meteor-Zoustar line, “correct, well-marked foals with great muscle on them, and with a very good outlook”.

Mare
Booked To
2021 Foal
2020 Foal
2019 Foal
Atmospherical Anders Trapeze Artist Written By
Bonny O’Reilly Snitzel I Am Invincible Zoustar Snitzel
Dinkum Diamond Russian Camelot Star Witness Star Witness Zoustar
Fratianne Zoustar Trapeze Artist
Humma Humma Zoustar
Lady Jivago Zoustar Zoustar Zoustar
Missy Longstocking Doubtland Maurice More Than Ready
Prompt Response Zoustar I Am Invincible I Am Invincible
Sassy Salitage Doubtland
Sebring Dream Anders Zoustar Merchant Navy
Shakespearean Lass Russian Camelot Pierata Dubious
Solar Charged Zoustar Zoustar Zoustar
Soul Star Zousain Zoustar
Sword Of Light Zoustar
Thrill Zousain Zousain Exosphere Zoustar
Tigress Lily Written By Pierata Zoustar
Vezalay I Am Invincible Zoustar I Am Invincible
White Coolies Trapeze Artist Zousain Trapeze Artist
Zestful Written By Zoustar

Table: Selection of mares breeding to Widden Stallions in 2021

Article courtesy of TDN