Daira Vella’s Sym­phony

is mak­ing plenty of noise and bound for the big screen!

Ladies in Racing - - Contents - Story by Ben Sporle • Im­ages by Bruno Can­natelli & Ben Sporle

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

Win­grove Park

Royal Sym­phony as a year­ling at Win­grove Park

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