Tait Reflects On Year At Twin Hills

After nine years spent abroad, for the most part as a manager of Sheikh Mohammed’s global operations, Olly Tait returned to Australia on a permanent basis exactly a year ago last weekend. It was just over 12 months ago that Tait and his wife, Amber, jumped at the chance to purchase Twin Hills Stud in Cootamundra, a farm that Tait had a hand in running during his time with Darley and that was also nearby to where he grew up in rural New South Wales.

With now a year under his belt, Tait has a chance to reflect on the opportunities and challenges of starting a new business in the booming Australian bloodstock industry, and indeed on Saturday he had something to celebrate when Levendi (Aus) (Pierro {Aus}) won the G1 Australian Derby. Twin Hills Stud purchased the dam, Lipari (Aus) (Redoute’s Choice {Aus}), in foal to More Than Ready for A$170,000 at last year’s Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale.

“It’s a year to the day [on Saturday] that we took ownership of the farm and it’s gone really well,” Tait summarized. “Overall we are where we thought we’d be, but probably the way we got through the first year, there are elements that have gone better than anticipated and there are elements that have not lived up to my expectations. But, overall we’re in a good spot.”

“The strength of the business is the quality of the farm,” Tait said. “It’s on fantastic land and has wonderful facilities. We’re looking after a large number of nice horses for the clients, so that’s been really pleasing. I knew it was a good farm, but you have to get that message across and you have to get people to come with you on that. I think that’s happened.

“Building a business from scratch is a challenging thing to do,” he added. “We’re facing the challenges that come with that, but it’s very clear to see the rewards that come with facing those challenges and building a business.”

One of those challenges, Tait admitted, was standing stallions. Tait syndicated the locally raced Odyssey Moon (Aus) (Snitzel {Aus}), winner of the Inglis Nursery and second in the G1 Sires’ Produce S. at two before winning a Group 3 at three, and shuttled the GI Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Bobby’s Kitten (Kitten’s Joy) from Lanwades Stud in Newmarket.

“We stood two stallions that year and I think that was probably more challenging than we anticipated,” Tait said. “It’s a very competitive stallion market but I firmly believe stallions will always have a place in our business.”

Tait said Bobby’s Kitten won’t return to Australia this year.

“The number of mares he attracted was disappointing but I’m a great believer in the horse and I’m pleased to have some mares in foal to him myself,” he said. “Ultimately, stallions need to cover enough mares to be competitive.”

He noted that shuttle stallions have experienced a decline in popularity in Australia in recent years, but warned against ruling out their use.

“There’s no doubt colonial stallions are more popular than shuttle stallions; for instance in Bobby’s Kitten’s case, that’s reflected in his fee,” he said. “He was a Group 1-winning turf sprinter as a 3-year-old beating older horses winning America’s best turf sprint race. If that was his [racing] profile in Australia, he wouldn’t be standing at the fee he was standing at; he’d be a lot higher.”

“There’s no doubt shuttle stallions are not as popular as they once were. When I started working for Darley in Australia shuttle stallions stood at a premium and local stallions stood at a relative discount. It’s been completely reversed now. But shuttle stallions have their place. People can be dismissive in saying, ‘you take Danehill out of it, what have shuttle stallions done?’ Well, you can’t take Danehill out of it. You can’t take Street Cry out of it. You can’t take More Than Ready out of it. They’re really good stallions who had a really positive influence on the breed here. There will be shuttle stallions that come here and continue to make it. At the moment the market dictates that it’s more challenging to stand them but people will continue to try and some will make it.”

“Good stallions can come from anywhere. Odyssey Moon is a Group 3 winner, Group 1-placed by a very good stallion. I Am Invincible is a Group 3 winner, Group 1-placed, by a very good stallion. There are possibilities.”

Tait applies that same cyclical theory to the current focus on breeding sprinters in Australia. While the breed Down Under has become almost completely speed-focused, and successful and recognized for it on an international level, he says there is no reason to think that won’t someday change.

“It will evolve,” Tait said. “Sir Tristram and Zabeel dominated Australian staying races. That’s been taken over by European horses, but who is to say some locally bred horses won’t be in vogue in 20 years’ time? You look at Pierro, who is from the Zabeel sireline, and he’s had the Derby winner and the Oaks winner in his first crop. Who knows. He might be the influence on stamina. I don’t think we need to beat ourselves up about it [breeding fewer horses with stamina]. People will always find a way to try to have the best horses, and if people are willing to invest large sums of money on horses in Europe to win those races, the best of luck to them.”

Tait’s international experience and reputation should stand him in good stead with Twin Hills, but he is respectful of the challenge of gaining market share in a competitive industry.

“The one thing I probably underestimated was starting a business on Apr. 7 of last year and getting ourselves into the market,” he said. “You have to build a brand, and a brand takes a long time to build. The time it will take to build that brand is not a short period of time.”

The Australian racing and bloodstock industries are largely considered the envy of other global racing jurisdictions, and Tait pointed to a strong purse structure, a good culture for ownership and public enthusiasm for racing as reasons for the current optimistic outlook.

“The general state of the economy is always the most influential driver of the Thoroughbred industry, and the Australian economy is going well, as is the world economy,” he said. “At a more micro level, the development of racing, particularly in New South Wales, and the increased returns to participants that have come into place the last five to 10 years have been hugely positive. If you have a horse that wins in Sydney on a Saturday you’re winning a meaningful amount of money relative to the costs. When you’re winning A$100,000 minimum for a Saturday race, that’s a multiple of what it costs to have a horse in training for a year. In the comparable jurisdictions, that equation is not as good.”

“I think there is a broader interest in racing [in Australia] than there are in other places and that then manifests itself in wagering, ownership, and then the breadth of ownership because of the culture of syndication. That makes for a very healthy industry. What we don’t have is the mega-wealth that you get in Europe and America. Luckily, some of that wealth finds its way to Australia by way of overseas investors that are interested in the business here, but we don’t have that depth of wealth that exists in America and Europe, and that’s an advantage they have there.”

Tait said that while there are opportunities to take elements of the industries in other jurisdictions and try to implement them elsewhere, it is important to recognize that for the most part these involve deeply ingrained cultures, and change isn’t likely to be easy or immediate.

“You can always take the best ideas, but it takes time to implement things,” he said. “You have to have the right people leading it and you have to have people with a willingness to change, which doesn’t come easy; people don’t like change. There are things we could do better in Australia, there are things that could be done better in America or Europe or wherever, but the people who are influential are doing the best job they can. I use the term ‘a culture of syndication’; a culture by definition takes a long time to develop. So to say we want to emulate in Europe and America what happens in Australia with regards to syndicates, that’s not an easy thing to achieve in a short period of time.”

“I felt living in America at times that people within the industry would talk the industry down, which I found frustrating,” he said. “You look at the Kentucky Derby, and there is no other race in the world where you have a combination of the race for the industry and the race for the public. The Golden Slipper is the most important race for the industry here, but the Melbourne Cup is the most important race for the public. The Kentucky Derby is an incredible event, and if you have a sporting event that you can get 170,000 people to, which they do at the Kentucky Derby, things are going quite well.”

Twin Hills Stud will debut as a consignor at Thursday’s Chairman’s Sale, selling the well-related Shantha’s Girl (Aus) (Redoute’s Choice {Aus}) in foal to American Pharoah, and Tait said selling at public auction will be part of the business plan going forward.

“We’re only selling a small number of horses at the sales this year, and we’ll have yearlings next year,” he said. “We have some nice yearlings on the farm that we’re looking forward to offering. Like anyone in the business we’re trying to build up a good clientele who enjoy working with us to try and achieve what their goals are, so if people are wanting to sell commercially we’re delighted to do that for them.”

“Australia is in many ways the envy of the world in terms of the way the business operates and there are so many different factors that go into that,” Tait said. “But I think it’s important we’re not too self congratulatory and don’t rest on our laurels and continue to promote what we do and continue to make sure we are a really effective industry.”


Article courtesy of the TDN’s Kelsey Riley