As Laurie and John McCarthy gradually wind down operations at their Greta West Stud, they both took pleasure in witnessing a horse they bred give Darley stallion Holler his first win.
Obfuscation was bred by the brothers from a mare they bred – Hai Lil (Churchill Downs x Smooth as Silk) – which they bought back after retiring.
It didn’t surprise Laurie that the three-year-old provided Holler with his first winner at Bendigo last week.
“He was always a nice horse,” McCarthy said.
“The form around him in that first start was pretty strong, I think.
“Even the way he did it after being wide and everything. He has gone to the line pretty well. It was nice.”
In what turned out to be a little bit in reverse, Greta West Stud sold Obfuscation through Bucklee Farm’s draft at the 2020 Melbourne Premier Yearling Sale to Blake Ryan Racing for $90,000.
Later that year, Ryan Racing sold the two-year-old colt at the Inglis Ready to Race Sale for $50,000 to Caulfield trainer Mick Price who trains the now three-year-old gelding in partnership with Mick Kent Jnr.
After finishing third on debut at Bendigo last month, the gelding returned to the same track 26 days later, scoring a relatively easy but impressive victory over 1300m as the $2.10 favourite.
McCarthy said the victory was also significant as it gave his Group 1 winning sire Holler (Commands x Shouts) his first winner as a stallion.
Greta West Stud bred Obfuscation from their mare Hai Lil (Churchill Downs x Smooth As Silk), which they sold for $60,000 at the 2011 Melbourne Premier Yearling Sale to Bendigo trainer Allen Browell who retired in 2019.
The McCarthy brothers bought the mare back after she was retired from the racetrack with six wins – four of those at city level.
“Obfuscation was a cheap horse,” Laurie said.
“Blake Ryan loved him, and he wanted to ready to run him. He went through at Sydney and didn’t run down too badly either, but he only made $50,000, and Mick Price bought him.
“If you were paying fifty for him and he is educated and ready to run, he is a cheap horse for Mick Price but a dear horse for Blake at ninety.”
After they bought Hai Lil back, her first foal to Fighting Sun was born dead, and the mare was sent back to the stallion which produced Hai Sun. The now four-year-old mare, trained by Mitch Freedman, has had five starts for a win at Caulfield and a second and a third.
Hai Lil’s foal after Obfuscation was a colt by Toronado, which Lindsay Park Racing paid $200,000 for at this year’s Melbourne Premier Yearling Sale.
“He is named (Le Ferrari), and the Hayes’ really like him,” McCarthy said.
“She didn’t have one as she was late, but she is back in foal to Toronado. I bred two to Toronado in the first year and have bred to him every year so far.
“We got good money for a Toronado the year before and got $200,000 for a colt out of No Vanity.”
Hai Lil is booked to Darley’s Earthlight (Shamardal x Winters Moon) this breeding season.
“Earthlight was a terrific two-year-old and won five out of five,” McCarthy said.
“We tend to just stay in Victoria. I haven’t sent mares to the Hunter. I really wanted a proven horse, but proven horses are just too dear for me now.
“I was looking to spend around $20,000, but I ended settling on Earthlight, who I think is a high-quality horse. You would think he would have appeal.
“We are sending our other mare, No Vanity, to Hanseatic. He is 17 grand, and it’s not all about price, but there are not many horses under 20 grand to go to in Victoria, and then you jump up to 30-plus.”
McCarthy revealed that they are winding back their operations and last year was the first time in more than 40 years they did not stand a stallion at Greta West Stud, which is recognised as one of the oldest family-owned studs in Victoria.
Laurie and John’s father, Les and his wife Maureen established the stud in the 1960s.
McCarthy said that when he was at school, his father was standing Prince of Baden, which had Scamanda a winner of his first eight starts as a two-year-old and his first defeat was in the Golden Slipper and Staincross (GB).
“We had a stack of stallions, and Toy Pindarri was a terrific old horse that we had for years,” he said.
“But that era of the smaller breeders, that’s all gone.
“If it’s not going to make to a yearling sale somewhere, then no one wants to breed it. And those people who breed from themselves were our clients”.
“A lot of them are people who are in their seventies or eighties, and hence they don’t have the farm, and they don’t have the income and the horses to do it.
Times change and a lot of them take a five or 10 per cent in a syndicated horse, and that’s their exposure.”
Among Greta West Stud’s big roll call of stallions are two of their most recent sires – Master of Design and King of Prussia.
“Dad started standing stallions in the 1960s,” McCarthy said.
“I’ve been doing it for 40-odd years, and it’s time for a break, I reckon.
“We’ll keep one farm, and we’ll probably sell one farm.
“We are getting into our sixties, and there is no one to take it on, there are all different reasons, and it’s a good time to make a change, really. But we have had a really good couple of years.”
Greta West Stud comprises two farms, about a kilometre apart, and one is 280 acres and the other 300 acres.
He said the work doesn’t get any easier, and they have been foaling nothing under 50 mares “forever.”
“You are out there day and night, and it’s a year-round job, and once an upon a time you’d stand the stallions and nothing would go to a yearling sale, and the mares would come along, and you’d get the agistment and the service fee and out the gate,” McCarthy said.
“You would have horses all year round, but you wouldn’t do yearling sales, and they are now a thing of their own, and they never stop. You would get some downtime to a degree, and staff is harder to get, and everything is that much more commercial.”
McCarthy, 60, said his brother John, 61, wanted to stay on the older 280-acre farm where they grew up and sell the slightly bigger one which they have had for more than 35 years.
He said his father’s parents originally had the property around 1880 and 1890 when the Kelly Gang bushrangers roamed the area.
McCarthy said he bought a block of land in the older part of Geelong more than two years ago, and they built a new home, and it was only last Friday that he took possession of the keys to the house.
“Eventually, I’ll end up there,” he said.
“We’ll keep some of the mares.
“I have got three girls, and they are leaving and going off to uni and things like that, so it’s just a good time to make a change.”
McCarthy said that while he was sad about moving, he believes there will be plenty of positives with the move to Geelong with his wife Toni and their three daughters, Ella, Sophia and Ava.
“We have had a lot of winners later, and that Free Of Debt which we bred won in Adelaide again the other day,” he said.
“We don’t have a large broodmare band and have only had half a dozen for quite a while, and we have cut it all back.
“We have had a couple of good years from our yearlings. It’s hard to get a horse by the right stallions, get them to x-ray and scope well and all those sorts of things.”
McCarthy said that if they stayed serious, money would have to be spent on the farm if they were to remain on a commercial basis, and they’d need to buy broodmares and already stopped with the stallions.
“As I said, there are a lot of things that say it’s a good time to have a change,” he said
McCarthy said his brother wouldn’t do much with the farm as it would be difficult without him receiving back-up.
“He doesn’t really have to do much, and you sort of think why put yourself through it, and some of them go forever until they finish, and then they drop off,” he said.
“We have worked pretty hard for a long time.
“He’ll run a few cattle and will probably have a few horses. Because we still have the farm, there is no reason why we can’t breed a few more foals and see what happens and how it works.
“We’ll just see how it goes as we go along.”