Man on a mission: a visit to Twin Hills

Two years ago Olly Tait returned back to Australia to purchase a farm very familiar to him, in the Cootamundra region where he grew up. TDN AusNZ’s Jo McKinnon headed to southern NSW to spend a morning at Twin Hills Stud.

Hurriedly zipping up his jacket to block the Autumn chill, hair windswept and a well-worn pair of mud splattered Blundstone boots on his feet, Olly Tait strides towards the office building to meet us.

Light blue eyes sparkling he bursts through the door and greets the room with contagious energy before whisking us away for a look around the place he lives and breathes and now proudly calls home, Twin Hills Stud.

Just outside Cootamundra in the NSW Riverina region, Twin Hills is one of Australia’s iconic horse properties. It has passed through some famous hands over the years including the late Mike Willesee.

The legendary media man, in many ways, had the biggest influence on its development into the showpiece it is today. Then known as Trans Media Park Stud it was home to several of the biggest name stallions of the 1980s and 90s, the likes of Rubiton and Snippets.

The Ingham family also had it in their keeping for a while and in more recent years Godolphin were custodians of the revered 2500-acre property.

Two years ago, when Sheikh Mohammed offered it for sale, Olly, who grew up nearby on his family’s working farm, seized the unique opportunity to become its next owner and purchased it from his former employer of 15 years.

Two years on since making the investment of a lifetime, things are much different to the heady days as Darley’s Chief Operating Officer.

“My role was very different to a lot of what I’m doing now. This is a start-up business whereas before I was working for one of the biggest operations in the world.”

“I would be lying if I said every day is easy and lying if there weren’t days where I think it might be easier to work for a large organisation in the industry,” revealed Olly.

“But Amber (wife) and I were determined to do it on our own and hopefully enjoy the satisfaction and benefits of having our own business. We certainly feel that now but every day you are getting out of bed and you have to make the right decisions and all the challenges are your own and they ultimately stop with you.”

“Whilst it’s challenging, it’s incredibly satisfying. Personally, we feel very good about it and pleased we have made this decision,” he said.

Soon after acquiring the property, Olly was successful in securing Smart Missile (Fastnet Rock) for his stallion roster. As it turns out, it was a masterstroke move and the horse has been an absolute blessing for the business and establishment of the Twin Hills brand.

Now aged 10, Smart Missile has produced a total (at time of writing) of 238 winners since retiring to stud in 2012, and is currently sitting 15th on the 2019 Australian general sire’s list. Over the past two racing seasons, in particular, the winners have come thick and fast and he got his first Group 1 winner, Maid of Heaven, in the 2018 Spring Champion Stakes (2000m).

“He’s been a big part of making us feel like we have made the right decision to do what we have done.”

“He’s a terrific stallion, he gets winner after winner and lots of high-class winners and they are tough and genuine. They are what trainers want to train and ultimately what breeders want to breed.”

Olly is experienced enough in the business of racing to know just how fortunate they are to have had Smart Missile fire like he has and help launch Twin Hills.

“We were very fortunate to get him and in the right place at the right time. We felt we offered him something that would help him. He’s made a big difference to us.”

“We thought very positively of him and liked him a lot and were very keen to stand him but I didn’t know he’d be quite as good as he’s ended up being.”

More recently the Taits purchased 50 % of Denman (Lonhro) and he will stand alongside Smart Missile and Odyssey Moon (Snitzel) on the Twin Hills roster this season.

Denman has sired more than 280 winners in 12 countries at an impressive strike rate of 65.7 per cent of winners to starters. His leading representative has so far been the Hong Kong-sprinting star Hot King Prawn, the winner of nine races from 11 starts including three Group races there.

“He’s a variation on the same theme as Smart Missile. He was a stallion that covered a large number of mares at a healthy fee in the Hunter Valley and one that as time has gone on we feel he might get a better opportunity with us than in the Hunter and happily Godolphin feel the same way.”

“Denman and Smart Missile are respected stallions and the market feels positive about them. We are in a situation here that opens up a slightly new market for them. Obviously, for us, hopefully they go on.”

Denman’s service fee has been set at a very reasonable $8,800 (inc GST).

“He will stand at a fee where he will hopefully offer an alternative option for the mare owners that used Smart Missile last year and don’t want to follow him up the service fee pole. He will offer the same qualities that Smart Missile offered at a similar fee.”

Odyssey Moon ($8,800 inc GST) makes up the Twin Hills trio of stallions and is still establishing his position in the Australian ranks.

“We would have liked to get more mares to him in his first two years at stud. He’s an inexpensive stallion by one of Australia’s great stallions in Snitzel. He’s got all the credentials to make a good stallion.”

“We will continue to support him with our own mares and we have a good shareholder group around him that support him.”

Twin Hills is more than a stallion farm and also specialises in selling yearlings, both their own and on consignment. In the short time since they have been operating, they have managed to make an impact in major Australian sales rings with one of the highlights being a More than Ready x Lipari colt that sold to Strawberry Hill Stud for $550,000 at the 2019 Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale.

“We want to continue to grow the associated business which is agistment and consignment of horses as much as we can. We have a beautiful property and great capacity to look after more horses.”

“Overall it’s gone very well but it’s a side of the business we want to grow. Watching the horses that we have raised here for ourselves and clients will be hugely exciting when they hit the track.”

Importantly, Twin Hills will be selling two highly valuable prospects at this week’s Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale. Lipari (Redoute’s Choice) and Sweetest Melody (Encosta de Lago) have commanded plenty of interest and naturally Olly is hopeful of lucrative outcomes for both mares.

“Both of them are entitled to sell very well. They are up there with the nicest mares in the catalogue. We are in a buoyant market and the economy is very good. Time will tell. All the buyers are there and will make an assessment. They are two nice mares to be taking to the sales.”

A 10-year-old daughter of champion sire Redoute’s Choice (Danehill) from Group I winner Tully Thunder (Thunder Gulch), Lipari has started her stud career strongly and has potential to be a blue hen with her first three foals to race all winners and two of them Group winners headed by $1.6 million earner Levendi (Pierro).

The stunning mare is in foal to champion sire I Am Invincible (Invincible Spirit) on an early September cover.

“From the moment we bought her she was our best mare and not long after we bought her Levendi went on to win his first race. It’s been fantastically exciting to have her but our business is selling horses and she is one where we feel now is the right time to sell her. There is plenty left in her career to be of great value to someone else.”

Twin Hills will also be offering Sweetest Melody, a daughter of Encosta de Lago and dam of top-class performer Smart Melody which won her first five starts in succession culminating in the Group II MRC Guineas Prelude (1400m). Smart Melody died tragically of colic during a subsequent spell.

Sweetest Melody is in foal to her sire Smart Missile so will produce a full sibling to Smart Melody this spring.

“She was the mother of one of the most exciting horses of this racing season who unfortunately had her life cut short which was a terrible shame. Smart Melody was out of the box with her talent winning her first five races and incredibly fast and incredibly good.”

“Sweetest Melody is a lovely mare and has a beautiful Choisir (Danehill Dancer) colt at the farm and carrying a full sibling to Smart Melody makes her a very attractive package.”

It’s never easy for any owner or breeder to part with mares of this calibre but it’s all part of being in commercial business and the sale of them both will contribute significantly to the ongoing and future development of Twin Hills.

“Our aim at the beginning when we bought the farm was to grow the business with some scale, and whilst certainly not where we want to end up, we are well on the way.

“Businesses do not develop overnight, they don’t climb the mountain overnight. Successful people apply themselves, they’re focused on what they are doing. It’s those people I have watched develop in various stages when I was working for Godolphin and they are the people that inspired me to do what I’m doing now.”