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CHEF Wylie Dalziel’s partnership with legendary jockey Roy Higgins proved a recipe for success and the syndication business they nurtured is now one of the strongest in the country. Horses like Bring Me the Maid, Moshe, Ra Sun and more recently, Harlow Gold and Phoenix Rising, have provided plenty of thrills for their many owners and allowed Wylie to live his dream of a career in racing.
ROY Higgins is one of Australian racing’s most highly prized legends. Despite a constant battle with his weight he rode 2312 winners and won a record-equalling 11 Melbourne jockeys’ premierships. His victories featured two Melbourne Cups, two Cox Plates, a Caulfield Cup, two Golden Slipper Stakes, two Sydney Cups and just about every other major race on the calendar.
Roy also enjoyed the thrill of being associated with a number of outstanding horses such as Gunsynd, Light Fingers, Leilani, Storm Queen, Sir Dane and Big Philou. His achievements earned him an MBE for his services to “horse racing as a jockey” in 1974 and an induction into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1987.
A commentator on television and radio after his retirement from the saddle in October 1983, Roy was renowned for being readily available to help anyone in the industry. Among those who were closest to “The Professor”, as he was known, in his later years is racing enthusiast and syndicator Wylie Dalziel.
After the pair met at Moonee Valley in September 2001 Roy subsequently agreed to help Wylie and the Chefs on the Run Syndicate, which Wylie was managing. “I owe my heartfelt thanks to Roy,” Wylie said. “He became my mentor and as well as helping with the selection of yearlings he gave me the benefit of his expert knowledge in a lot of ways.
Besides always pointing me in the right direction, the respect with which Roy was held in the industry enabled him to open doors for me that otherwise may not have been opened. “In 2009 we came to an agreement to be partners in Roy Higgins-Wylie Dalziel Racing and to bring everything along slowly.
Sadly in 2012 Roy’s health began to deteriorate and because of that he wasn’t able to attend the Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale at the beginning of the following year, but he had the confidence in me to do some buying.” Working in conjunction with leading trainer Peter Moody, Roy Higgins-Wylie Dalziel Racing secured the filly by Sebring from the Belong to Me (USA) mare Maid for Me for $105,000.
Racing as Bring Me the Maid from the Moody camp she provided Roy, whose health was failing rapidly, with some joy when she won the VRC Sports 1000-LR at her debut at Flemington on March 1, 2014. A week later, at the Cabrini Hospital in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton, he passed away.
On March 13 a farewell to Roy, in which Wylie played a major role in organising, attracted more than 1500 family, friends and members of the racing community to Flemington racecourse. Roy’s daughter Nicole Lund, former jockey Gary Willets, Channel Seven’s Bruce McAvaney and journalist Les Carlyon related eulogies in his honour. “All the way along I was very respectful of Roy and the advice he gave me over the years we ran the business together has been invaluable,” Wylie said.
During their time in partnership Wylie was also responsible for initiating and constructing numerous events including the Roy Higgins luncheon held at Flemington on March 10, 2006. Compered by Bruce McAvaney the function attracted more than 700 racing enthusiasts. Now, with Roy’s memory uppermost in his mind, Wylie is trying as hard as he possibly can to keep going in the way the legendary figure would have wished.
There is an inventory of experience to draw on because his interest in racing began developing in the years after his parents, Michael and Alison, moved from Melbourne to Ballarat about 100km west of the state capital, when he was just seven. “My father didn’t mind a punt and I remember one day he told Mum he’d had a nice collect on the races.
That seemed pretty good to me and I put a few dollars into his phone account, started reading form guides and having a bet. “I had developed a passion for the industry by the time I was 12 and I began doing quite a few of my high school projects around horse racing. After a while I began putting out my own punting booklet with a hand written form guide, which was called Dalziel Racing and Punting magazine.
They were the days when Roy and Harry White were at their peak.” At 16 Wylie gathered insight into the practical side of the business by doing work experience in the Ballarat stables of Robert Smerdon, who is renowned as being one of the most astute trainers in Australia. While doing his work experience Wylie expressed ambitions about becoming a jockey. He was advised “that’s not going to happen, because of your size”.
With that idea squashed he began working as a clerk for bookmaker Noel Graham. “I did the bag for him at country race meetings and one occasion we did Flemington. They were the old days when bookies would write out tickets for punters.” He also ran his own book at Ballarat High School on the 1991 Melbourne Cup when Let’s Elope won in brilliant fashion. “I should have been more careful because I was caught by one of the masters and this landed me in trouble,” he said.
Although he had thoughts of becoming an actor, as his secondary education was nearing an end, his first job on finishing school was as a chef. “I’d studied drama at school but was advised that I needed a job to support an acting career so I became a chef. After a year I was made redundant, so I applied for a position at Royal Melbourne Golf Club and was chosen for the job. “I continued on at the club after doing my apprenticeship and it was great because the Australian Open and President’s Cup were played at Royal Melbourne while I was there.
A lot of racehorse owners would come in but during my time at the club my horse interests were limited to watching the races and putting on a quaddie for the chef.” However, Wylie did venture into taking up shares in a couple of greyhounds and this evolved into having a leased share in the Niccolo Polo (USA) gelding Felix the Cat, who was trained by Robbie Griffiths. On leaving Royal Melbourne he moved to the Edmund Barton Conference Centre in Moorabbin before joining Chefs on the Run 18 months later.
He was appointed as operations manager, which entailed putting chefs into restaurants, pubs and clubs. It was around that time, in 2000, that Wylie and his wife Leah were married. They now have three daughters Georgia, 14, Isabella, 12, and Ava, 10, and a son Finley, who is eight. “About four or five months after I began at Chefs on the Run I met a guy named Steve Walsh, who was running Melbourne Jockey Management.
“I told him of my interest in racing and he gave me the opportunity to buy his business, managing jockeys such as Steven King, Shane Tronerud, Patrick Payne and Rodney Griffiths. “The owners of Chefs on the Run talked me out of that, but they liked the idea I had of taking advantage of an opening in the market to look after owners in a way they weren’t accustomed to. I felt there was a niche in the market for making racing more enjoyable for owners by providing better communications, social activities and some fun, which I felt was lacking.”
With that the Chefs on the Run Syndicate was formed with Robbie Griffiths as trainer and the group began holding functions at his Cranbourne stables. “We were also hoping that this would lead to more referrals to the catering business,” Wylie said. That led through to Chefs on the Run sponsoring a competition named “The Punting Chef” on Racing Radio, in Melbourne, of a Saturday morning.
“The idea was that I’d be wearing my chef’s outfit when I met the winner of the competition at the races. In those days Roy was doing commentary from the mounting yard and after the third or fourth Saturday he asked what I was doing. “I told him about Chefs on the Run, its promotion and my passion for racing. Roy said if ever he could help he would, so we followed him up on that and went around to his house in Brighton.
We told him what the idea was and although he didn’t want to become involved in syndication he agreed to provide his expertise at the sales and that sort of thing.” With Wylie, Roy and Robbie Griffiths heading the team the Chefs on the Run Syndicate purchased six yearlings at the 2002 Inglis Melbourne Premier Yearling Sale. Foremost amongst the youngsters were Ra Sun, a $135,000 purchase by General Nediym from the Sovereign Red mare Red Sundae, and Arena Star, who was by Spartacus from Centrullah by Century, who cost $40,000.
At his debut Ra Sun had a luckless run when finishing second in the MVRC St Albans Stakes-LR on Cox Plate Day on his way, two weeks later, to a comprehensive win in the $150,000 VRC Maribyrnong Plate-Gr.2 on the final day of the Melbourne Cup Carnival. Arena Star also played her part by winning races at Moonee Valley and Bendigo at two as well as being twice stakes placed. “Ra Sun and Arena Star really got us going,” Wylie said.
“The numbers of participating owners kept growing and we kept having functions and stable events. The venture was successful but after four or five years Chefs on the Run had a change of direction and it was decided not to continue with the syndicate.” At that stage Wylie decided to leave Chefs on the Run to concentrate on his racing interests and he joined Mark Read’s betting company.
“Mark was looking for a marketing executive to take the ratings into pubs and clubs. Although we’d wound up the Chefs on the Run Syndicate we had a few horses we were still managing and Mark wasn’t worried about me doing that as a side issue.” When Mark sold out to Matt Tripp’s Sportsbet in 2012 Wylie was made redundant with the ratings going online and the pubs and clubs being phased out.
“We had only a few horses at that stage and, with Leah and I having four children, it was pretty tight for a while.” It had been at the beginning of 2009 that Roy Higgins-Wylie Dalziel Racing was established and Melbourne businessman Perry Sambor became a sponsor. This opened the way to buy a colt by Bel Esprit from the Desert Sun (GB) mare Helsinge for $75,000 at the Melbourne Premier Yearling Sale and a filly by Exceed And Excel from the Palace Music (USA) mare Ladidi for $65,000 at the Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale.
Suddenly everything began on an upswing with the filly, racing as Exceed and Excite in the care of Leon Corstens, winning five times while the colt soon began capturing the headlines. At the time he was purchased, in conjunction with John Hawkes, little was known of his year older sister but before long encouraging reports started flooding in.
“I advised our owners that the full sister was named Black Caviar, that she was being trained by Peter Moody and had won a trial at Cranbourne impressively so they should keep an eye on her,” Wylie said. “Then Black Caviar won by about six lengths at Flemington at her first start and when she won a few more races it was obvious she was something special.”
The syndicate’s colt was named Moshe, after Perry Sambor’s father, but as the day of his debut approached Roy became worried about the expectations the shareholders would have of the youngster. “I remember him saying he hoped the owners didn’t think they had a second Black Caviar on their hands because it was rare that brothers and sisters were superstars. When Moshe was ready to run I sent out an update advising our owners to follow our motto of going to the races, having fun and enjoying having a runner win, lose or draw.”
With the racing fraternity watching Black Caviar’s brother closely Moshe was backed into $1.80. He justified the support by winning by six lengths, eased down, in close to track record time for the Bendigo 1100m. Moshe won twice more at Moonee Valley from a total of just five racecourse appearances before being transferred to Peter Moody, who was handling Black Caviar in exemplary fashion.
After about two weeks in his stable Moody reported Moshe had problems and, with Black Caviar having captured the imagination of everyone around the country, the decision was taken to retire him. He was eagerly sought-after as a stallion proposition before Eliza Park, now Sun Stud, clinched his services. Standing at a fee of $11,000 his progeny are displaying encouraging signs from limited numbers to have raced.
“It was a shock when he had to be retired but the syndicate members were given nominations to Moshe so they are still involved in the horse,” Wylie said. From that stage onwards the Roy Higgins-Wylie Dalziel Racing continued to grow with Peter Moody and Leon Corstens as the syndicate’s trainers. “We have done a lot of race day functions, breakfasts, stable visits and that sort of thing as well as keeping our lines of communication open.
But we were always aware that we needed to have success on the racetrack. When we went through our statistics we found that 80% of the yearlings we bought were winning and, at one point, our strike rate for city winners was about 60%.” Wylie was warned, however, by Peter Moody that maintaining those impressive types of strike rates would be more difficult as the numbers increased. After Roy’s death the syndicate became Wylie Dalziel-Roy Higgins Racing and Peter Moody became an increasingly valued associate.
Sadly, after watching her debut win on television, “The Professor” missed Moody’s further achievements with Bring Me The Maid, who went on to capture the ATC Magic Night Stakes-Gr.2 on March 29 leading up to a third behind Mossfun and Earthquake in the Golden Slipper Stakes-Gr.1 seven days later. A win in the ATC Silver Shadow Stakes-Gr.2 at three further enhanced her worth and she retired with earnings of $785,200.
The coffers increased further in June of this year when she brought $900,000 at the Magic Millions Broodmare Sale, which left Perry Sambor and fellow partners well satisfied. Capitalising on the positive outcome from the purchase of Bring Me The Maid Wylie has since extended the syndicate’s boundaries and eased the purse strings.
Importantly for Wylie he now has Peter Moody onside and with his experience and knowledge he has become a highly valued adviser. In addition he has the David and Ben Hayes-Tom Dabernig partnership and Ciaron Maher coming on board as the group’s trainers in Victoria as have Phillip Stokes in Adelaide and Bryan Guy on the Gold Coast.
This led through to Wylie writing chits for 26 yearlings in 2015, which was a significant increase from nine the previous year. A filly by Fastnet Rock from the city winning More Than Ready (USA) mare More Valour, bought in partnership with Moody Racing, was the most expensive at $250,000.
Named Phoenix Rising she is expected to become a notable player after a second in Melbourne at her debut was followed by a fourth in a Gr.3 event at Morphettville and a win on the Geelong synthetic in August. In the meantime VRC Crown Oaks-Gr.1 runner-up Harlow Gold, a $NZ200,000 purchase, Catch A Fire, Throssell and Miss Wonderlands are among those also helping keep the blue and white colours to the fore.
Last year 20 yearlings were signed for by Wylie, with a filly by High Chaparral from the Danehill Dancer (IRE) mare Mongolia going to Wylie Dalziel Racing/Lindsay Park Racing for $120,000. “I knew I had to increase my numbers if we were going to try and reach the next level,” he said. “It’s all going well so I am sure Roy would be pleased with what’s been happening.” n