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[published Bluebloods March 2020]
IN THE early days of shuttle stallions many young horsemen and women were also lured from Ireland to do their own “shuttle season” working on studs in Australia and NZ and many then decided to make their home here. They have became a vital part of our industry and one notable example is Vinery’s stud manager David White, well known for his work ethic and for his commitment to training and nurturing the skills of young people under his care at the Hunter Valley farm.
STUD manager David White will be forever grateful that he and his wife Gayle decided to settle at Vinery in the Segenhoe Valley with their young son Hamish more than 12 years ago. Since then the Whites, who live on a hill and have a panoramic view over the stud’s 1000ha of lush pastures, have enjoyed every minute of their lives. “We are right in the heartland of the thoroughbred industry and it is a great place to live,” David said. “Gayle works from home as a broker with HQ Equine Insurance, Hamish, who is 14 now, attends Scone Grammar and I couldn’t be happier about what I am doing.”
It is also important that David has the utmost respect for Vinery general manager Peter Orton, whom he has known for many years.
“Peter is a great bloke,” David said. “He is one of the most well respected general managers in the industry and he does a lot of work behind the scenes for the breeding industry that isn’t generally recognised. He is one of the most genuine guys I have met and I can’t speak highly enough of him.”
It is a view reciprocated by Peter, who entered David last year for the Leadership division of the Godolphin Stud & Stable Staff Award. Being chosen as the recipient of the award demonstrated the valuable contribution David has made, in return for the pleasure the job has given him, over his years in his role as Vinery’s stud manager.
The prestigious award acknowledged, in particular, his people management, his mentoring and support of staff, attention to work place health and safety and his commitment to continuous improvement. It emphasised his selflessness, his kindness and patience when nurturing and enhancing the skills of young people, who he comes across in the industry. Also noted by his peers was his loyalty to Vinery Stud, its owners, other management and staff.
“It was great that what I have been doing was recognised in that way,” David said. “It was fantastic to receive an award like that”.
The accolade, additionally, served as a tribute to the vast wealth of experience David has developed through being “in and around” horses since being born in Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland. After a few years of schooling with the Christian Brothers in Dublin, David had a new home when his father who worked for the electricity board, was transferred to Dungarvan, which is a coastal and harbour town in County Waterford on the south coast.
“My father’s parents had both grown up on farms in County Waterford, so I spent most of my weekends as a kid going up and down to the farm. It was an old-school farm and I have very fond memories of been taught to hand milk cows and feeding calves with milk from buckets. In addition to the cows there were the horses, and I was always drawn to them.
“My Dad eventually inherited the farm as he was the eldest living nephew. We built a house on the farm and put most of the farm under tillage for a few years. My sister Therese established Finisk Valley Riding School on the property that taught a lot of kids to ride. It was quite successful and over the years she became involved in Riding for the Disabled and a lot of kids would come out from special schools and institutions. Watching them ride gave Therese tremendous satisfaction.”
While this was happening David began working for Coolmore in County Tipperary, which was only about a half-an-hour’s drive away. “I was intending to go to college, but I spent one day there and that was it, so I went to Coolmore,” he said.
“It was the time when Sadler’s Wells was just getting started and Bob Lanigan was the general manager. Coolmore wasn’t as big then as it is now but Lomond, Caerleon and Be My Guest were also there. I was living there and was foaling down mares.
“During the off season I went to Newmarket and did yearling preparations for Barry Hills and a few other studs and after that I headed back to Coolmore. It was about then that the shuttling of stallions was starting to take off and I remember that Godswalk going to Lindsay Park Stud was one of the first.
“A mate of mine, Barry Griffin, and I jumped on a plane and went to New Zealand. Gordon Cunningham, who was ex-Coolmore, was at Waikato Stud and was looking for some guys to go down there for the stud season. We absolutely loved it in New Zealand.
“By coincidence it was the year (1989) that champion New Zealand mare Horlicks, who was trained by Dave O’Sullivan and ridden by his son Lance, won the Japan Cup. While we were in Matamata we became friends with the O’Sullivans, I think at a pub.
“At the time John Sunderland, who has been at Godolphin for quite a few years now, was down there and so was Colm Santry, who was at Cambridge Stud. I went to Ra Ora after that with College Chapel and Bigstone and Last Tycoon, who was part of that package, went to Haunui Farm. I did two seasons at Ra Ora, which Peter Keating was running in those days.”
“Then in 1991-92 I went to Arrowfield stud with Danehill, Fairy King and Last Tycoon. Peter O’Brien and myself worked the stallions that year. Although he was a highly credentialed Gr.1 winner by Danzig I don’t think we imagined that Danehill was going to be the extraordinary success as a sire that he proved to be.
“It’s a while ago now, but I think Bluebird and Scenic, who went to Collingrove in Sandy Hollow, were also in there somewhere, perhaps they were a bit earlier. That went on for a few years.”
In 1996 Coolmore outbid Arrowfield to secure outright ownership of Danehill at a figure, which put an Australian high value on the stallion, of $24m. The following year David and his now-wife Gayle began working at the Coolmore property at Jerry’s Plains.
“Gayle is from New Zealand but she had worked previously in the office at Coolmore in Ireland, so she’d had contact with the people at the stud in Australia,” he said.
With Danehill leading the way, it was the beginning of a vintage era for Coolmore in Australia. Danehill was to become an Australian Champion Sire on nine occasions and one of his stars was the VATC Caulfield Guineas-Gr.1 winner Redoute’s Choice, who won three Australian Sires’ Championships from his base at Arrowfield Stud. There were also STC Golden Slipper Stakes-Gr.1 winners Danzero, Flying Spur, both also at Arrowfield (Flying Spur also won an Australian Champion Sire title), Merlene, Catbird and Ha Ha, as well as Hong Kong Horse of the Year Fairy King Prawn and a host of others, such as champion sires Exceed and Excel, at Darley, and Fastnet Rock at Coolmore.
Showing his immense importance to the thoroughbred industry Danehill was to have 114 sons and 56 grandsons to stand at stud in Australia. By the time of his death as the result of a paddock accident in Ireland in May 2003 David and Gayle had moved on from Coolmore.
“Danehill was certainly on fire when we were at Coolmore and we had four or five very good years at Jerrys Plains,” David said. “In 2001 we moved to New Zealand, which was home for Gayle, and I got a job setting up Westbury Stud in Karaka for Eric Watson. It was quite good because we were in Karaka and Gayle’s parents lived in Auckland, which isn’t far away.”
During the five-year period David was stud manager at Westbury, which is situated in Linwood Road, it grew into one of New Zealand’s most formidable operations. By 2006 the stud was standing Captain Rio (GB), a Gr.2 winner in France by Pivotal, Cullen, a multiple Group winner by Danehill, Desert Fox (IRE), by Sadler’s Wells, Kilimanjaro (GB), by Shirley Heights, Zerpour (IRE), a Gr.2 winner by Darshaan, and the Mr Prospector horses Faltaat (USA) and Pyrus (USA).
The couple’s son Hamish, who so far prefers cricket and rugby to horses, was born in 2005 and about 12 months afterwards they decided to re-locate to Victoria. They were still in Victoria on August 25, 2007, when the outbreak of the equine influenza, which was to prove devastating for much of the nation’s racing and thoroughbred breeding industry, occurred. The establishment of a green zone for non-infected areas averted what could have been an absolute disaster.
“The green zone made it easier for the breeding season in those areas to go ahead,” said David looking back on those traumatic times. “If the stallions hadn’t been able to cover mares that year, the following year you would have had limited foals on the ground and then in another 12 months you would have had a limited number of yearlings for sale. It would have had ended up impacting a lot of people in the industry and would have been even far more serious than it was because I know a lot of people suffered as a result of EI.”
As the devastation caused by the EI episode was beginning to ease the position of stud manager at Vinery became vacant and David applied. “I’d known Peter Orton from the years when I was coming down with the shuttle stallions. I rang Peter he said ‘right the job’s yours’, which was great.”
Everything was back on track for Vinery by March 29, 2008 when More Than Ready’s daughter Augusta Proud, ridden by Claire Lindop, won the delayed Magic Millions Two Year-Old Classic-RL. Only a matter of weeks later the sire’s stocks soared even higher when Sebring, ridden by Glen Boss, raced to victory in the Golden Slipper Stakes. Two weeks after that when ridden by Blake Shinn, who had missed the Golden Slipper because of suspension, Sebring defeated Samantha Miss in the AJC Sires’ Produce Stakes-Gr.1.
When the first post-EI season came around More Than Ready’s service fee had been increased to $110,000. He was standing alongside Bel Danoro, his 2005 VRC Victoria Derby-Gr.1 winner Benicio, Dubleo (USA), Mossman and the ever-reliable sire Testa Rossa, who was a six-time Gr.1 winner during his racing career.
“More Than Ready has been great as a sire,” said David of the horse, who has the likes of Champion Middle Distance Horse More Joyous, Champion Female Sprinter Samaready, dual Gr.1 winner Prized Icon, another Golden Slipper and Magic Millions winner in Phelan Ready, Dreamaway, Perfectly Ready and Carry On Cutie among his better offspring. The success of Samaready is pinpointed by David as a “big highlight”.
“She didn’t get to the Magic Millions yearling sales and a group of guys got together and bought her for $150,000 at Easter,” he said. “The filly was given to Mick Price and she won the Blue Diamond, which was great. Then she won the Reisling Slipper and finished third to Pierro and Snitzerland in the Golden Slipper and she earned nearly $1.7m.
“There have been a lot of other highlights along the way. All Too Hard’s win in the All-Aged Stakes was another because he fought on so gallantly after looking gone on the bend. Press Statement’s wins in the J.J. Atkins and Caulfield Guineas were brilliant and he probably should have won a couple of other Gr.1 races. Then seeing Exceedance, who we bought for $180,000 at Easter, winning the Coolmore (Ascot Vale) on Victoria Derby Day last year was another one.”
With Casino Prince, his son All Too Hard and Press Statement joining More Than Ready, the Vinery stallion roster has taken on something of a new look in David’s times. Casino Prince, a winner of the AJC Chipping Norton Stakes-Gr.1 and a son of Flying Spur, is “the best bread and butter stallion around” according to David. Coincidentally Casino Prince, who went to Vinery from Patinack, and All Too Hard joined the stud’s stallion ranks in 2013.
“All Too Hard is doing a great job siring horses such as Alligator Blood,” David said of the 10 year-old, who was Champion Three-Year-Old Colt in Australia in 2012-13 and won four Gr.1 races.
All Too Hard just missed on achieving honours at the elite level on two occasions with his offspring last year when Behemoth was beaten by Despatch in the SAJC Goodwood Handicap-Gr.1 and courageous Alligator Blood was pipped on the post by Super Seth in the Caulfield Guineas. Nine weeks after that near miss Alligator Blood began erasing any doubt about him being an exceptional three year-old.
Expertly prepared by David Vandyke, his wins in Listed and Gr.3 company at Eagle Farm had him installed as an odds-on favourite for the $2m Gold Coast Magic Millions Guineas. Despite needing a police escort to rush him to the course after a crash disrupted highway traffic, Alligator Blood demonstrated his brilliance and composure by trouncing his rivals. That lifted his record to eight wins and his nose defeat from nine starts for earnings of $2.1m and provided a timely boost to his sire’s reputation.
After a short break Alligator Blood was back in training. Resuming in the VRC C.S. Hayes Stakes-Gr.3 (1400m), he further enhanced his standing by scoring a courage charged victory over the classy New Zealander Catalyst.
Although having had a gut-buster in the C.S. Hayes, Alligator Blood was able two weeks later to prove himself a super star by scoring an authoritative all-the-way win the $1m VRC Australian Guineas (1600m) at Flemington on March 1 to register his sire’s first success at Gr.1 level. He was All Too Hard’s third stakes winner for the day, the others being Hard Rock Girl at Morphettville and Dawn Dawn at Randwick.
The Gr.1 success boosted Alligator Blood’s record to an exceptional 10 wins and a second from 11 starts for prize winnings topping $2.8m.
With All Too Hard well on his way there are also particularly high expectations being held for current first season sire Press Statement, who is by Hinchinbrook from the Kaaptive Edition mare Kaaptive Express.
“I love Press Statement,” David said. “I am his biggest fan. Besides being a top class racehorse he has the pedigree to boot, being Danzig over Sir Ivor, which is one of the most famous stallion pedigrees in the world.
“There were great reports about his yearlings when they went through, there are encouraging reports about his two year-olds, although they’ll need a bit of time. I am confident we will soon see Press Statement’s progeny making a big impression and he already has two winners (mid-February) to be high on the first season sires’ list.”