Bel Rings For Gathercole Family

Belwazi wins the Listed Kensington Stakes at Flemington

Belwazi wins the Listed Kensington Stakes at Flemington (Racing Photos)


Graeme Gathercole well remembers the first horse he ever raced.

“My family operates a meatworks business and it was around 30 years ago when (Cranbourne trainer) Nevin Eades, who was working for me at the time, said he was keen to train racehorses, but didn’t have any backing,” Gathercole recalls. “So, I went to the sales with him and bought a horse. I didn’t know the first thing about the industry, but I ended up purchasing a filly and called her Beef House.”

Unfortunately, it turns out Beef House wasn’t much chop and was retired after five starts without troubling the scorers, while her one and only foal as a broodmare would be unraced.

However, Gathercole and his wife Barbara persisted and, on Saturday, their home-bred, Belwazi, proved too strong in the Listed Kensington Stakes over 1000m at Flemington, edging out Glenall and Champagne Cuddles in a thriller.

It was Belwazi’s first tilt at black type level, but the Bel Esprit mare had previously won six – with a further two placings – from 17 starts and, according to trainer, Jerome Hunter, “she’s something of a late developer”.

Operating from a 10 acre complex opposite Mornington racecourse, with the backup of a 400 acre state-of-the-art spelling and breeding complex on the nearby Mornington Peninsula which is named, Graebar Park, Hunter trains privately for the Gathercoles who currently have about 14 in work.

“Belwazi has taken a while to mature and we haven’t rushed her, but she clearly has plenty of ability,” Hunter enthused. “She was only a late nomination for that race on Saturday and we really haven’t decided as to where she goes next … it will depend a lot on the ratings, but there’s a nice 1000m Listed race (WJ Adams Stakes) at Caulfield in two weeks that could suit.

“The great thing about Graeme and Barbara though is that they are just breeding to race, which ends up giving you so many options. Black type is not the be-all and end-all for them and, with Australian prizemoney so great across the board, you’re not boxed in chasing stakes success.”

Originally taking out his licence around 20 years ago, Hunter was a public trainer for 10 years, then stepped away from the game for five years, before being approached by the Gathercoles to become their private trainer in 2013.

“Graeme and Barbara had only been racing around half a dozen or so by the time I came on board, but we’re heading towards 20 in work, with some 25 broodmares and a wide range of weanlings, yearlings and breakers coming through,” Hunter adds. “Graebar Park is a terrific set up, while the training facility at Mornington has everything you need and also allows us to tip the racehorses out into paddocks or bring them back to the main farm. They don’t rush their horses and there is not so much pressure when you effectively have only the ‘one’ client.”

Ironically, while the Gathercoles have a number of breeding stock with which they’ve had a long association, Hunter’s involvement with Belwazi’s pedigree dates back further than that of her breeder/owner.

“I trained both Belwazi’s dam, Nkwazi, and her half sister, Ocean Bridge, for Harvey Parker, who bred both mares,” Hunter reveals. “Nkwazi won over 1000m and ended up with Graeme and Barbara as a broodmare, while Ocean Bridge was a very speedy customer. She ended up running fourth in about three stakes races and, in fact, 200 metres from home in the (Group One) Oakleigh Plate, I thought she had it won (eventually finishing half a length behind River Dove).

“Ocean Bridge was sold to Patinack Farm and would go on to produce a Group Two winner in Longport and the 2YO stakes winner Run For Wilson.”

Belwazi, meanwhile, is Nkwazi’s seventh and penultimate foal, producing the unraced 3YO, Our Wazi, before dying in 2017.

Fortunately for the Gathercoles they have a full sister to Belwazi in Nkwazi’s Daughter and, of course, Belwazi to carry on the line.

“We’re very happy with our racing and breeding set up and wins like that of Belwazi’s on Saturday really put the icing on the cake,” Gathercole adds. “We’re proudly Australian – all our refrigerated trucks have ‘Australian Owned Company’ written on the back of them – and we’re doing our best to support breeding in this state too with each of our mares covered by Victorian stallions last season.”

Belwazi also becomes the 26th stakes winner for Sun Stud stallion, Bel Esprit, one of the industry’s true rags to riches stories.

Originally purchased for just $9,000 at the 2001 Inglis Sydney Classic Yearling Sale, Bel Esprit won his first five races including the Group One Blue Diamond Stakes.

Despite his humble sale price, Bel Esprit counted among his owners the former federal attorney general, Michael Duffy, and AFL legend, Kevin Sheedy, while Sun Stud (then Eliza Park) wisely purchased into the colt prior to winning the Group One Doomben 10,000.

All up, Bel Esprit would win eight of 19 races with a further five placings (all at Group One level) for a tick over $2 million in stakes.

However, it was at stud where Bel Esprit would find lasting fame. Equalling the record for the most individual winners in a season (155 in 2012/13), Bel Esprit is the sire of racing immortal Black Caviar.

“He (Bel Esprit) has been a tremendous stallion over the years,” Sun Stud’s Sales & Nominations Manager, Phil Marshall, points out. “He covered a record 266 mares in 2007 and last spring he still had a book of 95, with his fertility around the 92% mark based on 2017 covers.

“At last count he had something like 660 winners of $66 million and in the space of three days he produced two stakes winners with Tactical Advantage also winning Gosford’s Takeover Target Handicap on Thursday.

“Absolute bloody marvel.”

The Power of Passion