Australian Ron Gilbert, owner of Highgrove Stud, a leading commercial Thoroughbred nursery in Queensland, is making his initial venture into the American sales market Monday night with Hip 127, a filly from the first crop of Curlin, consigned for him by Brookdale Sales.

Gilbert bought the filly’s dam, stakes winner Tears I Cry, in foal to Curlin, for $735,000 at Keeneland’s 2009 November Breeding Stock Sale. Tears I Cry is out of Mount Helena (GB), a half-sister to Grade 1 stakes winner and leading sire Street Cry (IRE) and stakes-placed Helsinki (GB), dam of European champion colt and sire Shamardal.

“We were looking for international pedigrees; (Tears I Cry) was certainly something we could relate to being out of the family of Street Cry and Shamardal, who have been very successful in Australia,” Gilbert explained. “That she was in foal to Curlin was very good for me; a first season sire and champion racehorse. Luckily we’ve been blessed with a very attractive filly.”

Gilbert, owner of a successful building development company in Australia, said he and his wife, Debbie, were looking for “something else to interest them” when they began buying yearlings about a dozen years ago. “I’d always loved Thoroughbreds, so we went to the Magic Millions sale and bought a couple of fillies,” he said. “We raced those fillies and before we knew it we had a small broodmare band.”

Initially the mares were boarded at a farm in Hunter Valley, a seven-hour drive from Gilbert’s home. After a while, Gilbert and his family, which includes son, Brett, with whom he is attending the sale, wanted to be closer to their horses. So they made the decision to build a farm in nearby Darling Downs, a prominent farming region in southern Queensland, just 20 minutes from their Toowoomba residence.

“We decided to build a farm from scratch,” Gilbert said. “I’m in construction, so I came to Kentucky for a month and had a look around. I was very intimidated. It took me six months after that to go ahead (with construction of the farm), because what you see here is first class, obviously. When you want to replicate this it’s not easy to do.”

Today, the Gilberts operate not one, but two neighboring farms – Highgrove Stud, a 165-acres commercial breeding operation where the yearlings are raised and nearby Balmoral, where mares are kept once the foals are weaned. The Gilberts maintain a broodmare band of 24 mares, and consign approximately 15 yearlings annually to Australia’s premier sales. “We sell everything,” Gilbert noted. “From the early days, we decided not to confuse the market. Anyone who comes to our farm and sees the foals, they know they’ll be able to buy them at some point. The farm is going very well.”

Currently 41 percent of Highgrove’s yearlings sold are stakes performers, including such stakes winners as Wanted, Shrapnel, Jet Spur, Porto Roca, Stella Artois, Stockade, Get To Work and Legally Bay.

Gilbert credits Australian bloodstock advisor Vin Cox and Jim FitzGerald of Knockgriffin Farm with giving him sound guidance. “We’re taking advice from people we believe in and so far it’s been a perfect decision,” he said. “If we are successful in selling this (Curlin) filly we might invest the money back in November.”

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