Breeding horses is a journey. From choosing a sire, finding a mare, watching a foal grow and hopefully seeing it race is a long one.
And nobody knows that better than Western District farmer Michael Niall.
Producing beef and sheep on their Coleraine property, Parkwood, with his late brother Donard, their family have always been involved in thoroughbreds.
Michael recalls visiting the famous home of Phar Lap, Breaside Farm as a child, then run by the trainer Ernest Willmott. He remembers the magnificent stables and the private training track as they fed the horses of a Sunday.
The Niall brother’s bred their first winner, Miasma, in the 1950s after sending a mare up the road to Meadow Mist, which stood at former Victoria Racing Club Chairman, Sir Chester Manifold’s property at Camperdown.
But not only have they been great long-term supporters of the Australian breeding industry, the Niall’s have also enjoyed breeding and racing horses abroad.
Their interest in American racing was sparked by the visit of Johnny Longden, an American Hall of Fame jockey to Australia. Invited by the Melbourne Racing Club, he rode over 6000 winners and was the only jockey to ever ride and train a Kentucky Derby winner.
The brothers purchased several broodmares during a trip to Kentucky in the mid 1990’s. Travelling back in 2009 they inquired into stallion services to southern hemisphere time, and sent two broodmares to the then unheralded Kentucky based stallion Tapit.
The Nialls were able to secure the service at a cost of US$20,000. Today Tapit’s current fee at Gainesway Farm has risen to US$300,000 off the back of twenty-one group one winners, six champions and five Breeders’ Cups.
The brothers sent two mares, one, Dontwaltzme, was a daughter of Afleet Alex that they had bred in the USA. Michael recalls that the name came from the old saying, “don’t take the mickey” out of me, while the other was a Jade Hunter mare named Jade Dreamer that they had purchased.
Once safely in foal, they were sent to Australia where Dontwaltzme produced a grey colt and Jade Dreamer, a grey filly. The following year Jade Dreamer, who was in foal to High Chaparral unfortunately died in a paddock accident.
As a result, the Nialls decided to retain the filly, named La Ballerine, to eventually breed with and they offered the colt for sale at the Magic Millions on the Gold Coast. Probably because Tapit as a sire was a mystery to most buyers, he was passed in for $220,000 against a reserve of $250,000, with the brothers naming him Derrymore.
The Hayes trained Derrymore was the first Australian winner for Tapit, and had three wins and La Ballerine, after two race wins has retired and was covered by Trust In A Gust this season.
Another great thrill in America was when their colt, Temeraine, a son of the stallion Arch, won twice at Churchill Downs.
”It was a big thing for us to breed a horse that won races at Churchill Downs.”
The first of those was extra exciting Niall said, ”because the jockey on the favourite fell off shortly after the start and Temeraine which was last at the top of the straight ran home strongly to finish second over the line, before winning after a successful protest by the third horse against the winner.”
The Nialls also remember vividly breeding the top lot at the 2014 Fasig-Tipton Florida select sale of 2-year-olds in training. Kentucky bred, the Malibu Moon colt out of the unraced Pine Bluff mare Lizzy’s Bluff had been sold as a yearling for US$200,000 and in a very successful pinhook, he was the highest-priced juvenile of the sale at US$1.2 million, secured by Coolmore’s Demi O’Byrne.
The bay colt was a sibling to three winners from as many foals to race out of the dam, including G3 placed stakes winner Please Explain and multiple stakes-placed Nicklaus Way.
Please Explain, a lovely top quality mare has just been sold in the last couple of weeks to WinStar Farm for US$400k as a broodmare with Niall commenting that “they know what they are looking for.”
The Nialls French venture started when Australian bloodstock agent, Damon Gabbedy of Belmont Bloodstock secured a well-bred young mare named Main Spring for the Niall’s for €175,000 at the 2011 Arqana Breeding Stock Sale.
Main Spring was a gorgeous mare by champion sire Pivotal out of the stakes winner Fairy Godmother. She is a half-sister to the son of Kingmambo, My Kingdom Of Fife, the Chris Waller trained import who won the prestigious G1 Queen Elizabeth, the G2 Hollindale Stakes, the G3 Craven Plate and the G3 Doncaster Prelude. Main Spring is from one of the best families in the European studbook, a direct descendant of the great Highclere and from the family of Nashwan and Japanese super sire Deep Impact.
When purchased Main Spring was in foal to young sire Tamayuz. She foaled a smart colt that sold as a yearling for €55,000, before being sent to the Chantilly yard of Nicholas Clement. Named Royal Spring he showed early dash as a 2 year old, and saluted in the Listed Prix Saraca at Maisons-Laffitte, making Main Spring the dam of a stakes winner with her first foal.
These days the Nialls are cutting back their numbers, but certainly not the quality – and although they have had many highs and lows racing horses, they are still in with a good chance that their champion will come along.
Michael Niall has four yearlings presented for sale by Swettenham Stud at this year’s Inglis Premier Sale. With the following comments from General Manager, Brian Gorman they will be well received by astute buyers.
Lot 392 – Bel Esprit x Brideshead (Pictured) – A lovely correct colt, very strong through the shoulder and hindquarter. Dam is a half sister to Please Explain, who is a listed winner and G3 placed. Please Explain was recently sold as a broodmare to WinStar Farm for $400k.
Lot 662 – Artie Schiller x Sulmita – An early well-grown, strong filly. She is well balanced, correct and athletic. Second foal, Grand dam is Spy’s Lass, a ½ to Another Victor.
Lot 710 – Fiorente x Cahuenga – A great first foal that shows a lot of quality.
Lot 719 – Bel Esprit x Confederate Rose – Strong, correct, and well-balanced filly with a lovely walk.