Following on from their vendor success at three previous sales this year, Esker Lodge Australia will present buyers with two yearling options at next week’s Magic Millions National Yearling Sale on the Gold Coast.

Better known on the track as the faces of Australian Thoroughbred Bloodstock, the decision for Darren and Liz Dance’s 2018 business expansion into yearling preparation looks to become a fruitful one.

It was a chance visit to the Melbourne Inglis sales in the early 90s that first got Darren involved in horse ownership and eventually, breeding. Without telling his new bride Liz, he bought a share in a brown yearling with a cut on its leg. That yearling turned into Oakleigh Plate and Newmarket Handicap winner turned stallion, Mookta. Darren and Liz went onto buy their stud and agistment property Manningtree Park, at Beremboke in central Victoria, and set about filling it with horses.

“I don’t know how it’s (the expansion) happened,” jokes Darren. “But I’ve been lucky at home, having mares and foals, watching them grow and caring for them.”

The yearling preparation arm of the business operates from the farm and is managed by Tom and Shelly Murtagh.

“Tom and Shelly came over last year to manage our farm, as part of a dedicated team,” said Darren.

“Both are both exceptionally experienced and have a wealth of knowledge and professionalism behind them.”

Irish-born Murtagh met his New Zealander wife, Shelly, in Ireland. They settled in New Zealand and set up Esker Lodge, near Cambridge, rapidly growing into one of the top vendors at most New Zealand sales.

The first of the Esker Lodge yearlings to go under the auctioneer’s hammer is Lot 2212, a bay colt by Darley shuttle sire Night of Thunder (IRE). An undefeated Stakes winner as a 2 year old, Night of Thunder (IRE) was a dual Group 1 winner, including the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket beating Kingman and Australia.

The colt’s dam, Nightingales, was a winner over 1400m and is closely related to Listed winners Celebrity Girl and Generalife. This is her second foal, with one to race.

“He is a strong, mature early type out of Dubawi mare,” said Tom. “He should be well received at the sale.”

The second yearling is a Zoustar colt, out of a Testa Rossa mare, Testy (Lot 2321). A two-time winner in South Australia as a 2 year old, Testy is related to Cadillac Women, a Listed winner and Group-placed mare in USA. This is her fifth living foal, three to race, with two winners including international runner, Harbour Beau.

“The Zoustar colt was presented in January on the Gold Coast but was still a baby,” said Tom. “He has grown into a beautiful horse. I expect he should do very well.”

The Magic Millions National Yearling Sale runs from Wednesday 5th to Friday 7th June.

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