ANZ Bloodstock – 21st September 2015
With the 2015 Southern Hemisphere breeding season getting underway this month, ANZ Bloodstock News today begins a new series of features looking at the thought process behind some of Australia’s most prominent breeders.

Our series begins with Ron Gilbert of Highgrove Stud, who told Mark Scully that proven nicks is the number one thing he looks for in deciding his mating strategy.

Ron Gilbert’s Highgrove Stud has bred multiple Group One winners and he will be hoping his band of some 25 broodmares can continue that tradition of success as they embark on the 2015 breeding season.

Gilbert’s association with the industry began more than 15 years ago, with the purchase of the Bletchingly (Biscay) mare Verocative, a winner of the Thoroughbred Club Stakes (Gr 3, 1400m), who was the first of what was to become a quickly growing broodmare band.

“I have been in the industry for about 16 or 17 years now and it has flown by,” he said.  “I got into it by buying a few yearlings and enjoying it, then buying a few more.  As always, there was some beginners luck and I happened to purchase Verocative.  “Before I knew it, I had a nice group of race fillies who subsequently went on to be broodmares and it stemmed from there.  Some people love racing; we just love breeding.  We absolutely love it and we sell every horse we breed.”

Highgrove Stud’s policy of selling every horse they breed was an easy one for Gilbert to decide on, as he explained he gets as much pleasure out of watching a horse he had bred win without having an ownership interest as he does from owning a winner.

“Not everyone does it that way, some people like to keep a few to race themselves and I’m certainly not criticising the people who do that but I get as much of a thrill from watching a horse win having bred it, as having owned it,” Gilbert said.

“The reason we decided to sell every horse is that if someone visits the farm and sees a horse they like, they know for sure it will be going through a sales ring at some stage.  The buyers can be confident that we haven’t just kept the good ones at home.”

Gilbert explained he takes around three months to decide which stallions his mares will visit and has three key factors he goes through in making those decisions.

“I don’t take a lot of notice of the physique of either the mares or the stallions,” he explained.  “I’m guided by history to a point, for example if a stallion is particularly notorious for throwing certain types to a bigger mare but in general I’m not too worried about it.  I’m more interested in building a pedigree. 

“For example, sending a big mare like Fragmentation to Fastnet Rock is not what a lot of people would do but I liked the mating on pedigree, so I did it and of course got Wanted.”

Trained by Peter Moody, Wanted ultimately won more than $1,000,000 in prize money, thanks in part to his victory in the 2010 Newmarket Handicap (Gr 1, 1200m), having been purchased for $800,000 at the 2008 Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale.

Gilbert may not pay too much attention to physiques but he is a huge believer in exploiting proven nicks, which he believes is the key to commercial success.

“The biggest thing though would be proven nicks, they are particularly important to me,” Gilbert said.  “If a particular stallion line crosses well with the broodmare’s line, generally that’s good enough for me.  This takes priority for a couple of reasons.

“As a commercial breeder, you have to be trying to increase your chances of breeding horses that can be commercially successful and the proven nicks are a way of doing that because they are good for the purchasers too.

“Technology these days has given the purchasers so much information, that is so easily available, they and their bloodstock agents are fully aware of these proven nicks and are looking for them when they’re spending so much money.

“Most of the time, if you breed a mare to a proven nick and get a good type, it’s going to sell well.”

Gilbert also keeps a keen eye on every day’s racing results as he tries to increase his chances of breeding fast horses.

“A great friend of mine, who is now deceased, taught me a lot and one of the things he used to do was look at the pedigree of every winner, every day,” Gilbert recalled.  “You have to try to increase your chances of not breeding a slow horse.

“Everyone wants to breed the fastest horses, of course but anything you can do to increase your chances of at least not breeding a slow one is worth doing.  I think the market appreciates that.”

Gilbert is also a big fan of proven stallions and believes, with the fees commanded by some of the leading first season sires in recent years, the value lies with the tried and tested stallions.

He explained: “If I buy a mare off the track, she will very rarely go to an unproven horse, unless I really like the building of the pedigree.  Going to a proven stallion gives me an idea of what type of foal the mare is producing, because you are able to compare it against his previous progeny.  You can get a good idea of what sort of mare you have by doing that.

“Most stallions are proven to some extent, especially the ones commercial breeders are using and in general, the mares are inferior to the stallions in terms of ability.  Knowing a proven stallion and how he impacts broodmares is a good way of getting a line on your younger mares.

“I might send two or three mares a year to first season sires, maximum but I have to love the mating.  I do believe the value these days is in the proven stallions because when you get to the sales ring, people know what to expect.

“Last year, we saw an outstanding set of yearlings by first season sires like Sepoy, Foxwedge and Smart Missile and in time, they may prove to have been tremendous value but I like to see stallions prove themselves on the track with their progeny.

“I’m even reluctant to use second or third year stallions because even if their first crop look like superstars, it might not work out.  I have never got over having sent a very nice mare to unproven stallions four times in a row and ruining her.”

Reflecting on his breeding achievements to date, Gilbert paid tribute to two mares in particular and said he has enjoyed every win by horses he’s bred, from the highest level to the lowest.

“I think any mare than can produce two stakes winners is a high class broodmare, so I am obviously very keen on Fragmentation,” he said.

“Another very good mare I had was Antelliere, who was the dam of Porto Roca and Bluebird The Word.  Porto Roca of course went on to produce the Dubai World Cup winner Monterosso, so that was an outstanding line.

“I’ve enjoyed watching horses I’ve bred winning Newmarkets and Coolmore Classics but really, just winning is a thrill for me.  Of course, stakes wins are important, especially from a commercial point of view but we had a winner at Mudgee (on Tuesday 8th September) and I got just as much of a thrill from that as I do from stakes wins.”

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