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Arrowfield’s John Messara doesn’t often reminisce about the past – he’s much too excited about the future.
In the wake of the Stud’s record-setting aggregate at last year’s Inglis Easter Sale, and ahead of presenting Arrowfield’s biggest and arguably best-ever Easter draft in 2023, he agreed to sit down and look back on 36 years of breeding and selling Group 1 winners.
Asked to list three top of mind Arrowfield graduates John replied, “Well, I just cannot keep it to three. The ones I most vividly recall are Zabeel, Nothin’ Leica Dane, Flying Spur and Miss Finland and there
is a story behind each one of them.
“For example, I took a bottle of champagne to Tommy Smith after he bought Nothin’ Leica Dane and he said, ‘Son, I should be buying you champagne, this is the only Classic winner in this catalogue.’ How right he was: Nothin’ Leica Dane won the Spring Champion, then the Victoria Derby and very nearly won the Melbourne Cup too.
“Miss Finland stands out because she was bred jointly in a venture with Gainsborough Stud and all produce
of the mares were sold annually at auction. She was an amazing mover and we were determined to buy her out in a syndicate of three long-term mates, if possible.
We met so much success with her and we all enjoyed the ride so much with David Hayes as her trainer.”
“Then there were two fillies, Mahaya and Alverta, that we passed in and found impossible to sell afterwards. They also brought us great joy and both finished up as Champions.”
Among the 147 Group 1 victories that Arrowfield graduates have compiled since 1985, one in particular crystallised everything the Stud aims to achieve.
“The Autumn Sun’s imperious Caulfield Guineas victory is unforgettable, a coming together of all our ambitions to breed and sell great horses and develop prospective stallions. It’s very special to breed and sell colts like Flying Spur, Danzero, Beneteau and Not A Single Doubt, and now The Autumn Sun and Castelvecchio and then to stand them at stud.”
The skills John brought to the thoroughbred business were unusual in the mid-1980s because he was a Sydney stock broker, not a hands-on horseman who inherited a farm. As it turned out, he was perfectly equipped for a new era of investment and asset management.
“I was trained to analyse and assess value, opportunity and risk – perfect for horse-breeding, especially in times of uncertainty and rapid change. It’s been a source of endless fascination and challenge to me ever since and now, I’m no longer working, I’m just doing what I love!”
If there’s a secret to Arrowfield’s success, it is John’s gift for identifying the right ingredients – land, horses, people, money, marketing – and welding them into a dynamic enterprise.
He is adamant though, about the most important element. “We have always been very selective about our team and I owe much to them, past and present.
It’s easier to find great horses than to find top people. Then there is team spirit, ambition and mentoring the young ones – all critical to our success.”
Looking at Arrowfield’s Inglis Easter draft it’s striking that more than half of the 68 yearlings are by stallions outside the line of Danehill, famously identified and secured by John for Australia in 1989.
“We’re happy to fish for stallions where we’ve been successful in the past: Snitzel continues to be exceptional, and The Autumn Sun’s first two year-olds are showing great promise.
But the dominance of Danehill naturally encourages us to look for outcross sires like Dundeel, Maurice and Shalaa and they are all proving their worth, with Castelvecchio shaping up to join them.”
Then there are 13 Written Tycoon yearlings, including a colt out of Champion Filly Shoals and Count De Rupee’s half-brother, the result of Arrowfield’s inspired decision to stand the Victorian-owned sire in 2020.
“That’s a classic example of turning disaster into something positive, as we couldn’t shuttle Maurice or any
Japanese stallions that year because of the pandemic. We knew the quality of Written Tycoon’s progeny in the pipeline and thought he’d be well-received in the Hunter Valley.
“We’re grateful to his owners at the time who worked closely with us on the exercise, breeders gave him tremendous support and so far it’s working out brilliantly.”
Written Tycoon became Australia’s Champion Sire in 2020/21 and his yearlings have averaged more than $300,000 this season.
There’s also been a marked refreshment of Arrowfield’s broodmare band. Only 7 mares represented in the 2018 Inglis Easter draft are also dams of the farm’s current Easter yearlings.
John explains, “It’s a continual process, driven by the life-cycle of mares, the racing merit of their progeny and the constant, clear-eyed assessment of each mare’s quality, as well as very selective buying.”
The result is a spectacular collection of yearlings whose dams include 8 Group 1 winners, 12 other Group winners, 5 Listed winners, and 8 Group 1 producers. Sixty per cent of the mares were aged 9 or younger in 2021, and more than half of the consignment are the first, second or third foals of their dams. And multiple Champion Broodmare Sire Redoute’s Choice figures as the damsire of 4 fillies and 5 colts in the draft.
A single colt, conceived in Japan and foaled in Australia, by the 2021/22 Champion Second Season Sire Maurice, and 6 other yearlings from the families of Japanese champions such as Aerolithe and Indy Champ represent Arrowfield’s quarter-century relationship with the globally admired breeding powerhouses Shadai Stallion Station and Northern Farm.
Graduates of Arrowfield’s relationship with Northern Farm include Group 1 winners Estijaab, Hot Snitzel, Reaan, Sweet Idea, Tagaloa, Yearning and Horse of the Year Weekend Hussler.
John explains what attracted him to Japan’s bloodstock. “The Japanese have a slightly different selection process for their stallions. It’s based purely on elite race performances in Japan or in the major international jurisdictions, and they are open-minded on sire lines.
“Japan also has approximately half the ratio of stakes races to races run that Australia has.
So a well performed stakeswinner in Japan will be a good horse anywhere and that’s proven by the success of Japanese horses wherever they travel. Japanese breeders produce tough, fast horses.
“We’ve always respected their model and we’re happy to stand any of their elite horses that we think fit our gene pool and will be supported by other Australian breeders. We have an interesting stallion in Maurice who shows an ability to throw exceptional athletes such as Hitotsu and Mazu, so we have a bit to look forward