Girls Are Ready for Magic weekend at the races
Rare daily double for female-only race owner bonus
A filly owned by 16 women from five different states and ridden by a female jockey will cap a family fairytale if it wins the 1200m Magic Millions 2YO Classic today.
Queanbeyan trainer Joe Cleary hopes Girls Are Ready can win the race his father Frank won with Clan O’Sullivan in 1992.
In a true family affair, the horse, bought for $30,000 at last year’s Magic Millions Gold Coast sale, is part-owned by Cleary’s wife Sharlene and mother Sue.
“It’s a long time between drinks,” said Cleary, who was trackside as a 16-year-old when Clan O’Sullivan won. His father has travelled from NSW for the race and will watch his son’s chance to emulate his win.
The trainer said Girls Are Ready had travelled well to Queensland and was primed to give her best at the Gold Coast Turf Club today.
“She’s a tough little filly … she’s as game as Ned Kelly and gives her all,” Cleary said. “All the characteristics in the stable tell us she is ready, so fingers crossed we get a big, fat cheque on Saturday.”
Cleary, a “small country trainer with only 15 horses”, said it was a big achievement to have a horse in the $2 million race.
Girls Are Ready will be ridden by NSW jockey Jess Taylor, who has been in the saddle for the horse’s three starts, which yielded two wins and a third placing.
Cleary said: “I’ve had a dozen jockeys chasing the ride but it was a no-brainer to stay with Jess. She is a great jockey.”
Taylor, who became a jockey in 2011 after intending only to do trackwork and has had almost 300 career wins, said she was excited ahead of the big race.
“Wouldn’t it be a dream come true if we could win it?” she said. “It’s a good one for the girls, with a female jockey, female owners.”
Taylor and her life partner Katie Power are ready to celebrate a momentous weekend. To- morrow marks seven months since Power gave birth to their daughter Evelyn and today Taylor and Power, who has spent the past five years as an agent booking rides, unite professionally in racing’s big league.
Last spring, Taylor got her first glimpse of Girls Are Ready riding against her in a barrier trial before the filly’s first start.
“She was taking on older horses and trialled well. I was on another one of Joe’s but when it came time to go to the races he put me on Girls Are Ready,” Taylor said.
Cleary’s wife Sharlene told The Weekend Australian the name Girls Are Ready, for a filly sired by Better Than Ready, was a natural fit for the all-women syndicate, a candidate for the $500,000 Magic Millions women’s bonus.
“When we purchased her, we came up with that name straight away,” she said. “There just wasn’t any other name.”
Girls Are Ready is an $18 chance despite having won at her last two outings in Sydney.
All but one of Girls Are Ready’s 16 owners will be trackside.
Magic Millions co-owner Katie Page said the story behind Girls Are Ready had put the horse at the top of her list for the race.
“People have asked me what my favourite is for the race and I tell them from my heart it is Girls Are Ready,” she said.
“I’m excited for Jess. There’s a lot of pressure on her — the 16 owners are so excited and there’s Joe’s father’s legacy — but she’s cool and taking it in her stride.”
Downturn, what downturn? The property and share markets might be past their peak, but no one told the horse set, which turned out on the Gold Coast this week to splash tens of millions of dollars on untried yearling race prospects.
The top of the Magic Millions yearling auction was not as buoyant as last year with the $1.6 million sale topper well below last year’s $2m headliner. But the broader numbers keep creeping up: more horses, higher auction sales totals, and average prices up another 10 per cent this year, continuing a long-term run higher since the global financial crisis.
Within two hours of the sale opening cashed-up local and international buyers drove spirited bidding for the highest-rated horses with a four-way contest including global heavyweight Coolmore, Dubai-backed Shadwell Farm and James Harron Bloodstock for the $1.6m sales topper.
Hong Kong property developer Tony Fung’s Aquis Park was the victor for the Redoute’s Choice colt as he continues to build an empire on the ruins of Magic Millions record holder Nathan Tinkler’s former Patinack Farm.
Mike Fleming, from the Hunter Valley vendor Bhima Thoroughbreds, says the price was double what he expected.
“But with the amount of money here you never know what is going to happen at that end of the market,” he says.
Magic Millions ambassador Mike Tindall got a pleasant surprise when the best of the six horses he is selling at the week-long auction, a colt by Zouster out of Shakira, sold for $900,000, 50 per cent more than his estimate.
“It’s quite a surreal world,” says Westpac chair Lindsay Maxsted, who attends the auction as chair of global superpower Coolmore’s Australian operations and a breeder in his own right.
But it’s not so strange. A surge in prize money in Victoria and NSW is fuelling growing interest in horse ownership, Maxsted says, amounting to a pay rise for the army of people employed to train and race horses.
John Gosden, one of Europe’s top trainers, made the trek to the Gold Coast for the first time to oversee buying for the deep pockets of Sheik Mohammed’s Godolphin operation and declared it the future of a global industry that is struggling in Europe, Britain and the US.
“In this country it remains very young and vibrant and I think that is a massive advantage that Australia now has,” Gosden says.
“So if I was 25 again I wouldn’t go to California. I would try and immigrate here to this business that you have here.”
Total prize money has almost doubled in the past 10 years. It rose 7.4 per cent in 2017-18 to $652m and will be up again this financial year after Victoria and NSW added another $64m to compete for prominence during each other’s traditional carnivals in spring and autumn respectively.
The Victorian government an- Janelle Whalley and her family will be lining up for a rare feat at this afternoon’s feature event for two year olds on the Gold Coast — two bites at the $500,000 bonus for female owners in the one race.
A scratching yesterday by Yes Yes Yes has brought Ms Whalley’s second horse, Gala Miss, into contention for the $2 million race, alongside her best prospect The Odyssey.
Shares in Gala Miss are held by Ms Whalley’s two daughters Heidi and Taylor — who is flying in from Hong Kong for the race — and the three daughters of her partner Darren Wilson, Jade, Alli-Rose and Madeline.
And if that’s not enough, Heidi works for the trainer Kelly Schweida and is dating the jockey that will steer The nounced another $40m in prize money last month, topping a $24m increase by Racing NSW announced in September. Both increases are targeted at the lower and middle races, with improved prize money for horses that run fourth to 10th as a way to help sustain trainers and owners. But it also follows new races such as The Everest, which in its second year is the richest turf race in the world.
Contrast that to Britain, where prize purses were cut last year and the bookmakers don’t have the same formal agreements with the racing industry that Tabcorp has with the state racing bodies which are used to recycle betting turnover back into the industry.
Marquee races like the Grand National have 40 horses competing for 1m ($1.75m) and the Epsom Derby for 1.5m. The most famous race in the US, the Kentucky Derby, has a $US2m ($2.75m) purse, compared to the Melbourne Cup which is worth $7.3m, up from $6.25m last year.
Tom Magnier, the son of Irish racing legend John and head of Coolmore’s local operations, says Australia is now as important as any of its global operations, and will be attracting more resources.
“We are going to be investing a lot more down here. We have bought a lot of the top stallions and hopefully we can keep doing that in the coming years,” Magnier says. “It gives you confidence when prize money is the way it is Odyssey, Jimmy Ormond.
“We are all hugely excited,” Ms Whalley said.
“It’s a nice thing to have the whole family involved.”
The bay filly was sold by Magic Millions co-owner Gerry Harvey, whose wife and business partner Katie Page introduced the female owners bonus in 2012. Women-only owners have since carried off the prize three times, including last year’s winner Sunlight, which collected a total of $1.52 million.
The retail duo were closing in on their own record, with the three-day sale total tipping $150m, within striking distance of the record $166m 2018 result with more sales to come.
There were nine $1m-plus sales in the first two days — equal to last year — but none yesterday, with the top price $900,000 for a Written Tycoon colt bought by James Harron bloodstock. The average has eased back to $237,000. and the sales companies are getting the best buyers to Australia.”
US billionaires like Jon Kelly and Barbara Banke, Arab sheikhs such as Dubai’s Mohammed and Hamdan Al Rashid al Maktoum and ambitious newcomers Fung and Yuesheng Zhang are among the international buyers returning to the sales this year.
They like the idea that whatever they buy this year will have the chance to make its money back next year with a run for the $2m prize purse in Saturday’s two yearold feature race.
Magic Millions owners Gerry Harvey and Katie Page keep up a relentless pace in the lead-up to and running of the sale.
Having bought the business out of bankruptcy 20 years ago with advertising guru John Singleton and businessman Rob Ferguson, Harvey and Page have since built up the turnover from $23m to more than $160m.
It has become a week-long carnival that kicks off with a celebrity polo match and a champagnesoaked party on the sands of Broadbeach before the bidding even gets under way.
A roster of international ambassadors includes the Queen’s granddaughter Zara Tindall and Argentinian polo heart-throb Nacho Figueras. The latest addition is Billy Slater, who tried out as a jockey and equestrian before becoming a rugby league superstar for Queensland and the Mel- bourne Storm. “If you can get people into the frame of mind — and that is what we are trying to do here with the polo, the beach, the big party tonight, all of this activity — we are trying to create an atmosphere where people are getting excited and they want to get involved,” Harvey says.
Harvey is not only the coowner — he’s also one of the biggest vendors, with his Barramul Stud putting more than 70 of the 1157 horses up for sale.
“It’s a wonderful business, but it’s chalk and cheese with Harvey Norman.”
Buying is not confined to the top end. There was a horse sold for just $15,000 and dozens more below $100,000. But the median price of around $180,000 is right in the sweet spot for local horse racing syndicates, where the rules changed in 2017 to double the “investment” limit to $500,000 and allow up to 20 shareholders per horse.
The syndication market puts the dream of being on the winners podium at race day within reach of mum and dad owners and it is flourishing.
Chris Ward, who bought the dual Everest winner Redzel for $120,000 at the 2014 Magic Millions auctions, reckons the number of serious syndication players has quadrupled to 40 in the past decade.
With Redzel now the secondhighest prize winner in Australia, Ward says Triple Crown syndications have been selling out in the middle of the year and he has to resist the pressure to buy horses just for the sake of it.
“(Redzel) has proven it is open to all comers, it doesn’t matter who the horse is or who owns it, syndication is available at all different levels and as far as we are concerned it has generated a lot of interest in the horses and the number of people who want to come an join Triple Crown this year,” Ward says.
“There are a lot more international players coming from China and the US and Europe — (and) we are getting some of those owners from different parts of the world coming into our syndicates, too.”
Peter Woollett, a grazier from Nardoo Station, 300km northwest of Mt Isa, has been around horses since he was a teenager but his remote location means he has to get his fix via syndication.
Woollett has shares in 10 horses at $6000 to $14,000 each through Dynamic Syndications, following their progress with satellite television, weekly emails from the managers and the occasional flight to Sydney to see his horses run at Randwick Racecourse.
“When it is in your blood, you’re gone,” Woollett says.
“If you’ve been around horses long enough you know that there are more losing days than there are winning days.
“To me it is something where you might have a little spare cash and the pay-off is that you get to see your horse going around.”
Dean Watts, Dynamics owner and a former banker who once tried to establish an exchange to trade shares of racehorses, says that squares with the experience of many of the 2000 shareholders on his books, although some get very lucky.
“What syndication does is allow mum and dad to be involved in racing, with full owner’s privileges. They are naming the race book, they get their name in the paper and they are treated like VIPs,” he says.
“It is an investment in a lifestyle, for not a lot of outlay.”
And if you get it right, as Watts did with 2004 Cox Plate winner Savabeel, it can be a life-changing investment. Savabeel won $2.7m for shareholders who were “literally the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker”, before being sold to stud in New Zealand for a then record price.
“It is one of the only leisure businesses that you could actually retire off your passion, if you get lucky.”
The money gets much bigger if you can parlay a successful racing career into breeding. Now pushing 22 years old, Redoute’s Choice has become the auction leader, with the two top-priced sales at the Magic Millions for $1.6m and $1.4m. The late career resurgence appears to be built on the form of his progeny, The Autumn Sun, the most successful three-year-old of the past season.
John Mesara, the former stockbroker and Arrowfield Stud owner who part-owns Redoute’s Choice, says the stallion is like the BHP of the racing game. “He is the one you return to when you want security and safety.”
Mesara also owns his offspring Snitzel, whose standing fee has jumped from $33,000 to $220,000 in the past year, spurred by offspring Redzel’s feats in winning the first two runnings of the Everest. Mesara estimates the leading sire will generate revenue of $28m-$30m this year.
Even at those high prices, there’s money to be made for the buyer.
Redoute’s Choice has sired 78 yearlings that sold for $1m or more, including a half brother to Black Caviar that sold in 2014 for $5m.
James Harron, who since leaving Coolmore has set up a successful business buying colts with potential to become big money stallions, rates Redoute’s Choice one of the best three stallions in the world and worth “hundreds of millions”.
He’s had a noted success in paying $165,000 in 2015 for Capitalist — a Magic Millions and Golden Slipper winner who was the highest-earning two-year-old before being sold as a stallion for $25m.
“We basically want to buy the best son of the next big thing,” Harron says from the bidding ring, where he splashed $1.4m for a Redoute’s Choice colt on day two.
Harron thinks the market is due for a pause and is likely to slow as the years continue.
Watt agrees, arguing that the falling share and property markets, a lending squeeze, slow wages growth and the prospect of a change in government at the May federal election mean the change is due.
“Somewhere along the line it has to stop, but it’s not going to stop here today,’’ he says.
‘You might have a little spare cash and the pay-off is that you get to see your horse going around’ PETER WOOLLETT GRAZIER
Rider Jess Taylor with Magic Millions co-owner Katie Page; below: Taylor with partner Katie Power and daughter Evelyn, 7 months
Clockwise from top: The Gold Coast Magic Millions yearling sales this week; Magic Millions owner Katie Page; a horse struts its stuff; Chris Ward bought Arrowfield lot 64 for $240,000; John Gosden, left, and James Cummings