Funstar and James McDonald return to scale after winning the Group Two Chandon Phar Lap Stakes (Lisa Grimm Photography)
Instead of heading to Rosehill Gardens on Saturday to cheer on Funstar in the Group Two Chandon Phar Lap Stakes, Olly Koolman chose the familiarly wise path of attending his brother’s wedding in NSW’s southern tablelands.
It didn’t make much difference to Funstar though as she ploughed through the heavy surface to add another Group victory to the resume: sitting nicely alongside a Group One Flight Stakes and a Group Two Tea Rose.
With five wins and two seconds from seven starts and $745,450 in stakes, Funstar is one of the nation’s most exciting fillies and her match ups with Kiwi raider, Probabeel, are really catching the imagination of race fans.
Probabeel won out two weeks earlier with a lip victory in the Group One Surround Stakes at Randwick, but Funstar wasn’t to be denied on Saturday and the score currently sits at 3-1.
Any number of options are open to Funstar in the coming weeks, but it’s mooted the flashy bay will next tackle the $500,000 Group One Vinery Stud Stakes over 2000m at Rosehill Gardens on 28 March.
“Only one shareholder in Funstar made it to Rosehill because the rest of us were at the wedding,” Koolman reveals. “We had it all nicely worked out so that the race fell between the service and the reception, but then there was a power black out so I couldn’t see it on the TV.
“(Trainer) Chris Waller phoned me after the race and said ‘what did you think?’ and I told him I’d have to watch the replay. ‘Live’ or later … either way it was a very good win.”
As for Koolman, the astute agent is proving himself to be something of a ‘star’ when it comes to yearling selection.
In 2016, Koolman picked out a High Chaparral filly from the winning Danehill mare, Starspangled, at the Inglis Melbourne Premier Yearling Sale, ultimately paying $200,000 for the privilege of taking her home.
Getting a number of clients involved, including Arthur and Charlotte Inglis and breeders Jack and Karen Sheather, that filly would go on to race as Youngstar.
Winning the Group One Queensland Oaks, Group Two The Roses and a length second to Winx in the Group One Turnbull, Youngstar has won a tick over $1 million in stakes and was most recently sighted finishing a strong second in the Listed Randwick City Stakes on 7 March.
Youngstar had just the three starts though – fifth at Newcastle, fourth at Canterbury and third at Rosehill – when Koolman went ‘looking’ at the 2018 Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale.
Obviously aware of Youngstar’s potential, Koolman inspected the Adelaide filly from Starspangled in the Bowness Stud draft – a three quarter sister to Youngstar – and would win out again when she was knocked down for just $80,000. They called her Funstar.
“On the back of Youngstar, a lot of the same owners, including Arthur and Charlotte, went into the Adelaide filly, while Jack and Karen decided to stay in too,” Koolman explains. “My wife and I reckoned we’d take a share this time as well, given she only cost $80,000, so we were all a pretty happy bunch on Saturday.”
But why did Funstar only make $80,000 in a sale which ultimately averaged close to $350,000?
“She (Funstar) was probably identified more as a mile to a mile and a half horse which doesn’t bother me in the slightest because (a) we don’t push our horses, and (b) that’s where all the big money is at. Look at Winx,” Koolman muses. “Admittedly, Funstar wasn’t perfect in front and, if she was a colt, would have been racing in someone else’s colours, but knowing what we had back home with Youngstar gave me added confidence.
“The residual alone was right there from the start.
“We’re just enjoying the ride and long may it last!”
Jack Sheather has been enjoying himself too with the continued success of both Funstar and Youngstar and he and his wife welcomed, late last year, their first grandchild – somewhat fittingly, a filly.
“I’m a brickie by trade but only really got into breeding and racing after the kids had gone through school and uni,” Sheather reveals. “Racetrack success aside, it’s turned into a really family affair for my son and two daughters.”
Born and bred at Young in NSW, Sheather purchased Starspangled on the advice of good mate, John North, who owns the nearby Bowness Stud, paying $30,000 for the mare – in foal to High Chaparral – at the 2014 Inglis Broodmare Sale. The resultant foal? Youngstar.
“I really like that Sadler’s Wells influence … he’s the sire of High Chaparral and the grandsire of Funstar’s sire Adelaide,” Sheather points out. “I had quite a few people ask me why I chose Adelaide, but my answer to that is ‘why not?’.
“It’s certainly worked with Funstar and Starspangled is back in foal to him.
“I’m quite looking forward to next year’s sales too as Starspangled produced a Pierro colt last August and he’s coming along very nicely. Both the colt AND the sire for that matter … Pierro is certainly going gangbusters with Regal Power winning the All-Star Mile and Shadow Hero in last week’s (Group One) Randwick Guineas.
“Pierro just needs to keep it going for another 12 months,” Sheather adds with a laugh.
(Although Pierro doesn’t have Sadler’s Wells in the top line of his pedigree, Sheather is keen to point out that the legendary sire appears in the bottom half).
HOOFNOTE: Koolman manages Hermitage Thoroughbreds, a 250 acre nursery in Sydney’s outer west, which was purchased in 2010 by Mr Eugene Chuang.
The increasingly familiar Hermitage silks of dark green and red chevrons have been carried to success in recent seasons by 5-time Group One winning colt, The Autumn Sun, and the dual Group One Oaks winner Egg Tart, while multiple stakes winner Wu Gok was third to Shared Ambition and Youngstar in the Listed Randwick City earlier this month.
Meanwhile, Pierro 3YO, Dragon Leap, has won three from five, including both the Group Two Avondale Guineas and Group Two Auckland Guineas, before finishing fourth to fellow Australian-bred Sherwood Forest in last month’s Group One New Zealand Derby.
All were sourced from Australian sales by Koolman.
“Hermitage is in something of a honeymoon period at the moment,” Koolman points out. “We only usually buy a handful each year but we ramped it up in 2019 and have around 20 unraced 2YOs waiting in the wings.
“I’ve got a core group too of about 15 family and friends for which I look after their bloodstock interests, but the bottom line is that we never rush our horses.
“Hermitage doesn’t run many broodmares – only two as a matter of fact – but the owner sends back all of his retired horses from Hong Kong, along with those of his friends. A great place to see out your days in comfort.”