Tasmania’s Hero

When asked about his Tasmanian property, breeder Owen Atkins says: “Snow and steep”. Some claim it is the perfect recipe for breeding tough racehorses the Apple Isle has become known for. In the midst of a steady downturn – so much so that active broodmares on the island have dipped below 300, from as much as 750 a decade ago – there is a beacon of hope for the state’s breeding industry. His name is The Cleaner, the Mick Burles-trained cult hero en route to a second successive Cox Plate appearance after back-to-back Dato Tan Chin Nam wins on the weekend. “We’ve seen quite a few people with mares in the family pulling them out and farmers trying to get back in the industry,” said Armidale Stud’s David Whishaw, who stood The Cleaner’s sire Savoire Vivre (below) on the state’s leading commercial farm. “It’s just wonderful because those are the people that keep the industry alive. “We’ve seen people come out of the woodwork and I think it puts Tassie back on the map. We’ve had a lot of good horses come out of Tassie, but we haven’t been good at hanging our hats on them. “We don’t really have the marketing budget and some of the big studs on the mainland would spend more money on that than what we would on our whole operation.” Certainly more than the operation of Atkins and his wife Sandra, whose pursuit of a possible eventing horse led to the fairytale story of The Cleaner. Pursuing a close relation of an eventer that had enjoyed equestrian success in the 1980s for the Atkins’, also longtime employees of the Tasmanian Turf Club after Sandra enjoyed success as an amateur rider, they bought Tartan Tina. Her progeny included the broodmare Dash Of Scotch, who has produced seven winners including The Cleaner. Atkins likes to joke he “gave away” The Cleaner. He thought he got $12,000 for the horse, but has since been told it was only $10,000. “We sold him as a yearling and gave him away big time,” Atkins laughed. “But [the family] are all so sensible. From the granddam down you will see they are all the same. But they’ve been difficult to race as they don’t like going between horses, but The Cleaner just does his own thing in front and is definitely one out of the box.” The Cleaner’s own free-wheeling ways has taken the Atkins’ on a ride of a lifetime and injected some much needed life into the Tasmanian breeding scene, which was also responsible for producing Australian Derby hero and Melbourne Cup aspirant Mongolian Khan (Grenville Stud). “I think the country is undersold as a place to breed and rear horses,” Whishaw said. “It’s far more like New Zealand and Ireland than mainland Australia, but we’re actually producing good horses. “A lot of Melbourne Cup and Caulfield Cup winners used to come out of here, but we haven’t had the money poured into broodmares and stallions since. But as far breeding stock I don’t think there’s any other place in Australia on the mainland that’s better.” Whishaw’s Armidale Stud was started by his grandfather 45 years ago and his father brokered the deal which brought Savoire Vivre to the farm. Out of Triple Crown-winning English mare Oh So Sharp by Sadler’s Wells, Savoire Vivre finished third on the first season sires list behind Show A Heart and prematurely died from laminitis in 2012. His progeny has continued to excel on the track and through the deeds of The Cleaner, Tasmania’s Magic Millions sale next year is already expected to build on February’s results, which included The Cleaner’s three-quarter brother fetching $100,000. While that figure topped the sale, there were positive results for breeders at all levels with the average of $17,337 being up 32 per cent on 2014 and the clearance rate soaring over 82 per cent. “It’s certainly good to have a great horse out of the sale,” Magic Millions’ Tim Brown said. “It’s given Tasmania a bit of credence in the mainland knowing they can go over and win in the spring carnival and be a force to be reckoned with. “It gives you a headline – that’s important for every sale – and whether it be the Gold Coast or Sydney … we always look for a good horse to bring that recognition forward. “On the back of last year being a good sale the entries are up considerably this year and there’s more interest from the mainland to take horses down there. It’s having a snowball effect at the moment and hopefully it continues.”
The Power of Passion