Let’s face it, this industry can be a harsh mistress and only Black Caviar escapes with no breaks in the picket fence. That said, Victorian racehorse owner and breeding tragic, Ken Dean, was one lucky fella.

The first horse he ever owned was Love Bandit who won a Brisbane Cup and finished third behind Beldale Ball in the 1980 Melbourne Cup.

No doubt wondering ‘how long this had been going on for’, his second horse was Lady Ice, who won two stakes races, including the Kilmore Cup.

Somewhat emboldened, Ken thought he’d have a crack at the breeding caper and decided to buy two mares, Silent Squaw and Toolern Gold – both of them in foal. The resultant progeny became Golden Twig, a 2YO stakes winner on Oaks Day and the Group 3 Tranquil Star at three, while the other was aptly named, Touch of Genius, winner of a Blue Diamond Prelude as a juvenile before capturing the (now Group 1) Manikato Stakes later that year.

Unfortunately, it’s not a strike rate that can be maintained forever and Ken had his share of misfires in the four decades hence, but it’s definitely a start many an owner would offer up anatomy to replicate.

Sadly, Ken Dean couldn’t outrun the ultimate handicapper and died earlier this month at the age of 82, leaving behind long-time partner, Cathy Webb, three children and four grandchildren from his first marriage, and a host of good friends.

Ken was born in Richmond and, not surprisingly, became a lifelong Tigers fan. In fact, he showed some toe early on but a serious heart condition – diagnosed as a teenager – curtailed his blossoming footy career. His brother, Roger, however would go on to captain Richmond when they captured the flag in 1969.

Becoming a successful property developer, Ken would soon turn his eye to the neddies and as earlier stated, enjoyed a fair amount of success.

Ken purchased Tara Vale Stud at Monegeetta where he stood, initially, the imported stallion, Rustic Amber who produced just the seven stakes winners but three of them – Brawny Spirit, Rustic Dream and Marstic – all won Group 1s while Sequalo was a bloody good sprinter and subsequently the sire of dual Group 1 winner and leading sire, Spirit of Boom.

A downturn in the industry in the 1990s saw the closure and sale of Tara Vale, but Ken retained an interest in his stallions and, if anything, stepped up the pace.

By the mid 90s, he and Cathy – and Cathy’s mum, Merle, formed the Victorian Stallion Partnership – which managed the stud careers of stallions like Lacryma Cristi (whose first runner, Desert Angel, won the Listed Debutante Stakes), West Point, Special Bond, Estambul, Masterpiece, North Reef, Portland Pirate, Legion and Seul Amour.

However, believing that the market no longer really catered for their type of stallion, Ken and Cathy pulled up stumps on the Victoria Stallion Partnership in 2010.

Sure, they were never the top end of town, but define top end? After all, there were a lot of breeders who bred a lot of winners by those stallions, and usually, the only difference in life-changing celebrations is the price of the cork.

Although there would be no ‘super’ sales, Ken was quite proud of topping the Victorian weanling sales on a couple of occasions and, indeed, his last major hurrah was a foal he and Cathy sold for $70,000 at the 2015 Great Southern. That weaner – Sopressa – went on to win the Group 1 Schweppes Oaks in Adelaide and over $700,000 in stakes.

A lot of people new to the industry are probably unaware of Ken, but he really was quite the character and for this scribe at least, always a welcome sight at the sales or track. He had a genuine passion for the industry – for life generally – and could bend your ear at times, but such enthusiasm can be infectious.

His ‘advice’ might not have provided me with a Brisbane Cup winner, but I never lost from a chat with Ken. Always good for a laugh.

Ken forged many close friendships during his time in the breeding industry: the Johnsons at Ealing Park, the Butlers and Burleys at Rangal, Don and Elizabeth Byrne at Eldon, Nev Murdoch at Larneuk, Barb Ivill from Little Plains …

Cathy will be holding a memorial ‘celebration’ for Ken early in the new year – after COVID restrictions have lifted – and if you’re interested in attending, you can get hold of Cathy on 03 9736 9425 or cheveley@bigpond.com.

Written by Greg Tobin.