Asian Influence Will Be Hard To Catch

Aquis Farm connections celebrate Dubious’ win in the Group 3 Breeders’ Plate (Lisa Grimm)

There is nothing quite like the anticipation that surrounds the first 2YO races of the season.

After all, hope springs eternal in the thoroughbred industry and few things in life give us more hope than an unraced juvenile.

On Saturday, Royal Randwick played host to the Breeders’ Plate and Gimcrack Stakes and again the results of both races generated much discussion as to the winners’ projected paths.

Invariably (inevitably?) next March’s $3.5 million Golden Slipper rated a mention which, in the case of the Breeders’ Plate, is a fair call given that the race has produced four Slipper winners since 2008.

With both races elevated to Group 3 status in 2018 after a quarter century plus as Listed events, the Breeders’ Plate and Gimcrack have been around since 1906 and it’s fairly safe to assume that winning owners had high hopes even before the Slipper came along in 1957.

However, while some traditions will remain a constant, this year’s juvenile pipe openers definitely added some ‘colour’ to Australia’s racing landscape.

Let the record show that the Gimcrack (ladies first!) was captured in headline grabbing fashion by I Am Invincible filly, Catch Me, while 40 minutes on, Dubious ran the 1000m in a blistering 56.45 seconds to win the Breeders’ Plate in a thriller.

What has set the pair apart this time though is that Catch Me is raced by Zhang Yuesheng’s Yulong Investments, while Dubious is one of two colts in the Breeders’ Plate sporting the Aquis Farm silks of the Fung family.

Indeed, six of the 14 runners in the Breeders’ Plate are owned by Asian interests … all with substantial holdings in the Australian thoroughbred industry: Dubious (1st) and Fiery Red (5th) for Aquis; the nose second, Covert Ops and King’s Champ (12th) in the increasingly familiar yellow and red silks of Sun Stud; plus Autocratic (7th) and Lionsgate (13th) for the China Horse Club.

“It just goes to show how much the Australian thoroughbred industry has evolved in the last 10 to 12 years,” Aquis Farm’s CEO, Shane McGrath points out. “It’s the most competitive market in the world for precocious sprinters and first season sires and I can only imagine how much international involvement will develop over the next few seasons.

“Aquis purchased over 60 yearlings in 2018 and we were active in buying up both potential stallion prospects and trade horses, all of which go through to the Aquis racing nursery under Kacy Fogden and her team. They do an outstanding job and quickly identified Dubious as an early comer.”

A son of Not A Single Doubt, Dubious was purchased by trainer Ciaron Maher and Aquis for $350,000 at the 2018 Gold Coast Magic Millions Yearling Sale.

Establishing itself in Australia in 2015 by purchasing a property in Queensland, Aquis took over the management of NSW’s Emirates Park in 2017 and currently stands 14 stallions at the two properties, including the addition this year of Group One winning 2YO, Invader.

Similarly, Victoria’s Sun Stud – purchased by Macau businessman Tin Kong Cheng in 2012 – continues to make substantial inroads and is expected to field 34 juveniles in 2018/19, with 19 of those bred on farm.

“It’s been a busy six years and this really is a bumper crop of 2YOs coming through,” Sun Stud’s Phil Marshall points out. “That was a fantastic run by Covert Ops in the Breeders’ Plate and he clearly has a very promising future.

“Importantly though, the farm has invested heavily in building its stallion strength: (unbeaten 2YO) Fighting Sun was one of the first to race in our colours and he got off to a flyer with his first crop of 2YOs last season, while multiple Group One winner, Palentino, has his first foals on the ground and Snitzel stallion, Thronum, is new to stud this spring.”

Meanwhile, there was no happier man in the Royal Randwick crowd on Saturday than Yulong Investments’ Chief Operating Officer, Sam Fairgray, following the Gimcrack demolition job by Catch Me.

Bred by Segenhoe Stud (breeder of runnerup Diddles too), Catch Me was snapped up by Yulong for $625,000 at the 2018 Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale and placed with the Peter and Paul Snowden racing stable (who also trained last year’s Gimcrack winner, Satin Slipper).

“It’s fantastic for Mr Zhang. He’s put a lot in so far and hopefully now we can start seeing some rewards from it,” Fairgray enthused. “Catch Me will head off for a spell, but Yulong has 55 juveniles on the books and quite a few more are poised to race before Christmas. Half a dozen or so of the 55 are homebreds which include Yulong Rockstar, a Sepoy colt (from multiple Group winner Neena Rock) that’s with Ciaron Maher and David Eustace.”

A major player in mainland China’s flourishing thoroughbred industry, Yulong purchased a 170 acre complex at Koo Wee Rup, south east of Melbourne, four years ago, but subsequently acquired Limerick Lane (450 acres) and Hillside Thoroughbreds (250 acres) at Nagambie earlier this year.

“Yulong has shares in a number of stallions and support leading sires throughout the country, but we’re currently in the process of building a 10 box stallion barn at Nagambie with the intention of standing a couple of ‘high end’ stallions by next spring.”