Daira Vella’s Symphony
is making plenty of noise and bound for the big screen!
Wingrove Park flashed into the tabloids last Spring when their unfashionable colt Royal Symphony burst onto the racing scene. We caught up with Kerrie- based breeder Daira Vella to find out her story of 21 years in the Thoroughbred Industry and a certain letter that is taking their horse haven to the world!
Daira Vella may reside on 72 hectares of equine paradise today, but it’s a far cry from the western suburbs of Sunshine in Victoria, where the self-pro-claimed horse girl began life’s journey. Daira described herself as the odd one out with no history with horses, but she would insist on saving up her 20 cents for rides on Shetland ponies as a child… the only problem was trying to get her off! “I had some DNA testing done and found I have Indian ancestors, so maybe that explains it… nothing else adds up as to why,” Daira explained. Her father rode a horse to school, simply because he had to back in his schooldays, so when her family packed up to manage a hotel in rural Victoria, that meant one thing; space to ride horses not found in the cityscape. Trips to the riding school and the odd brumby ride was infectious enough for Daira – that was until she discovered the Thoroughbred racing industry. As they say in the classics, a disease only cured by death. “I went to Flemington in 1985 and saw What A Nuisance win the Melbourne Cup, I was just fascinated by the beauty of the Thoroughbred, the Fashions and the occasion and I was hooked,” said Daira. It was that trip that led Daira into buying her first horse which she named Cynda, who was a stock horse who helped her to meet future husband, Joe Vella at a chance meeting at the Bendigo Showgrounds. (Joe is a story in himself; a Maltese born IT magnate who became a horse breeder). It was a fitting meeting place for the pair who now race their horses with Shane and Briga Fliedner, who train in that very town in Victoria’s goldfields. A love for stock horses turned to Thoroughbreds when the pair married and developed their property into one of the Victoria’s premier equine facilities. This warranted them receiving a letter in the mail from the production company of Ride Like A Girl, for their property to be used as a filming location in Michelle Payne’s eagerly anticipated movie. “It was very fitting, as Michelle has been riding horses for us for the best part of 15 years to great success and she is my favourite jockey; we’re very proud of the property and we looked forward to our involvement working on the movie,” Daira revealed. That letter led to multiple cups of coffee with Hollywood mega star Rachel Griffiths, who attended the Wakeful Club of Victoria’s Lady in Racing Awards in March this year. Daira has been a proud member of the Club for five years. “Briga Fliedner introduced me and I have found it’s a great way for ladies to be encouraged to become more involved in the Thoroughbred industry, meet new like-minded ladies to hear their stories; all while having a good time”
“I love how they give out the Strapper’s award at race meetings and have Scholarships to encourage young females to get involved,” Daira enthused. Wingrove Park’s line to the newspapers and the big screen didn’t come easy, the Vellas have built a reputation for breeding some of the Australia’s best Thoroughbreds and success came early… very early! “Dual Spark was the first horse we raced, the Mare won her very first start in 2002 at Cranbourne, before becoming our first Metropolitan winner two weeks later,” Daira explained. The Maroon and Gold silks with the Maltese Cross were off and running! Dual Spark was a result of purchasing Sparky Miss, one of the Vellas first Broodmares who has been responsible for the famous Sparks family, who proudly display the JAV brand, resulting to date in producing 16 winners and over $500,000 in stake earnings. The Vellas first superstar, Fair Trade, caught everyone off guard, even her owners and breeders. “Well known trainer Mick Kent didn’t tell us much, but when he was entered in a three-year-old handicap at his first start at Flemington, we reasoned they must’ve thought he went pretty well,” recalled Daira. That he did! The son of Danewin, who was passed in at the sales, defied the statistics and the odds, winning on debut at headquarters as a three-year-old. Only one horse has achieved that feat in the nine years since. Not only did he win, he went back a fortnight later and kept his unbeaten record in tact with a three-length thrashing in the Group 3 C.S. Hayes Stakes.
“We were beside ourselves, because it was our first stakes win and Joe’s 60th birthday. That night… we even had Daryl Cotton and Wendy Stapleton to come and sing,” Daira said. The celebrations would last a while longer after connections struck a lucrative deal to sell the emerging star to Hong Kong. In a career plagued by injuries when in the care of Caspar Fownes, Fair Trade would win three races overseas including the Chinese New Year Cup, but would never fulfill his potential. However, he’s still a champion in the eyes of his breeders and has a home for life. “We made sure he would come home after his racing career and sure enough we received a phone call from the airport one night to go and pick him up; he has a lovely temperament and will make a lovely show horse,” explained Daira. The Vellas also bred and raced another above average foal from Fair Trade’s dam, Villa Igea. She was named Hearts and Arrows, who Mick Kent also put the polish on to achieve two wins from three starts before injury curtailed her career. Sold post-racing, Hearts and Arrows has produced boom two-year-old and Wyong Magic Millions winner, Jonker. Villa Igea also produced In Fairness, who was named Bendigo Middle Distance Horse of the Year in 2017. You couldn’t blame the Vellas for thinking that it may have been their last chance to find themselves a Group 1 champion… they don’t come along every day. Such is their uncanny knack to match bloodlines however, along came Royal Symphony; a Domesday colt who took the industry by storm with four straight victories mid 2017.
“They didn’t want him for the Inglis catalogue, so we sold him privately to some friends of ours, the Dunn family ( Dwayne and Amanda) and he couldn’t have gone to better people. They have made us a part of their family and celebrated his wins with us, so it’s been a very special time,” Daira said thankfully. Daira said,” There was something about the colt from his early days. His rock star looks and his phenomenal mother. His dam, Naturalist, just gives everything to her foals and does it a bit tough herself as a result, but she is the perfect nurturing mother” “Royal Symphony was always a smarty pants and had a bit of a boisterous look at me attitude, as if he knew how good he was,” Daira said. Despite his dam being a half-sister to the legendary Naturalism, who produced seven winning foals herself, he was unwanted as a yearling, but that certainly wasn’t the case with punters when Royal Symphony was desperately unlucky in the stallion making Caulfield Guineas and a gallant fourth in the Cox Plate. Extraordinarily, he has put the myth of old broodmares not producing good foals to rest, his mum is 25 years-old and has produced 15 foals. “When he went out onto the track beside Winx for the Cox Plate, it’s indescribable and you get a lump in your throat. He has our brand on and we brought him into the world, now he was in one of the best races in the world,” Daira explained. Royal Symphony is just one of nine black-type earners and a further nine metropolitan winners, all from Wingrove Park‘s boutique broodmare band. With 54 paddocks, it has its own equine hospital, indoor arena and magnificent homestead. Is it any wonder it’s been a nursery for breeding winners. Daira’s success on the racetrack has been matched in the show ring with her most notable honour coming at the Melbourne Royal Show, winning Reserve Champion hack with Wingrove Image, who also won the Grand Nationals in Sydney as a five-year-old. Whether it be in the show ring or on the racetrack, there’s no luck involved when it comes to quality horses following Daira Vella. If Royal Symphony is to fulfil his promise and provide the Vellas with their maiden Group 1 success, you can thank What A Nuisance for giving Daira Vella the racing bug!
Fair Trade winning the 2009 C.S. Hayes Stakes
above: Daira & Lauren Vella opposite: Joe Vella, Michelle Payne, Daira Vella & Briga Fliedner
Royal Symphony as a yearling at Wingrove Park