AMY BENNETT (EBN) speaks to Olly Tait, owner of Twin Hills Stud in Australia, about his latest stallion acquisition and how the operation is moving forward.
As everyone knows in this industry, luck and good timing can play a significant role in success. On 25th March, Olly Tait’s Twin Hills Stud in New South Wales announced that it would stand Hallowed Crown for the 2020 breeding season. Not two weeks later, the stallion’s three-year-old daughter Colette landed the Gr.3 Adrian Knox Stakes. Seven days later, she triumphed in the Gr.1 Australian Oaks and Tait now finds himself with a young Classic sire on the property.
Now in its fourth year of operation, the 2,500-acre Twin Hills Stud is home to 150 mares and four stallions and has already forged a solid reputation in the industry under Olly and Amber Tait. The property comes with a storied past, having previously been owned by the media personality Mike Willesee in the 1980s, who stood top-class stallions Snippets and Rubiton there. The property was acquired by Jack and Bob Ingham in the early 1990s and became home to such as Strategic and the Gr.1 Derby winner Quest For Fame, before becoming part of the Darley empire in 2008 when Sheikh Mohammed acquired the Inghams’ Woodlands Stud bloodstock operation. The Taits purchased the property in 2017, launching Twin Hills Stud in April of that year.
Hallowed Crown (Street Sense) is familiar to European breeders from the two years he spent on shuttle duties at Kildangan Stud for Darley and previously stood under the Darley banner at the operation’s Kelvinside property in the Hunter Valley.
A Gr.3 winner at two, he improved with age to triumph in the Gr.1 Randwick Guineas and Gr.1 Golden Rose Stakes, and his progeny are showing all the signs of improving with time as well. In fact, since he joined the Twin Hills roster, he has also been represented by Crown Mint, twice placed at Gr.3 level.
“It was fantastic!” Tait says of the timing of his new acquisition. “When we finalised the arrangement to have him coming, we were aware that Colette was there – she had won a maiden at Newcastle by six lengths – but at the same time, COVID-19 had just hit and so I thought to myself ‘well, she looks like she could win the Oaks but they’re probably not going to even run the Oaks!’ so my enthusiasm had been tempered slightly. But of course, they did run and she won it, so it was absolutely fantastic.
“Our timing was good, but it really came about because we stand Smart Missile for Eduardo Cojuangco. Darley had previously owned Hallowed Crown in conjunction with Mr Cojuangco and then Mr Cojuangco bought Darley’s share and asked if we would stand him as well. We’re very fortunate that they asked us to stand Hallowed Crown as well.”
It is not the first time that Tait has taken on a stallion who has become a hit just after being acquired. Also on the Twin Hills roster is Smart Missile (Fastnet Rock), a Gr.2 and Gr.3 winner who began his stud career at Arrowfield Stud and was crowned champion first season sire for 2015-16. He joined the Twin Hills roster for the 2018 breeding season, and two months into the covering season, his daughter Maid Of Heaven triumphed in the Gr.1 Spring Champion Stakes. Also on the roster at Twin Hills is another former Darley resident in the Gr.1 winner Denman (Lonhro) and the Gr.1-placed juvenile Odyssey Moon (Snitzel).
Standing stallions who have begun their careers elsewhere can be both a blessing and a challenge, as Tait attests. “The pro is that the horse has obtained a profile and an opportunity, which takes a great deal of investment, and then we come in at a different point in their career. You are putting them in a slightly different market and so they go through a realignment of people’s expectations,” he explains. “If he was at one of the big Hunter Valley
farms and moves to us, it opens up another market geographically. The con is that we are not standing the unproven stallion who could
become the next I Am Invincible.
“But at the end of the day, we think a lot about what stallions we want to stand. With Smart Missile, he covered large numbers of good mares and we were very lucky – and it’s purely luck in terms of the timing of it – he started getting lots of winners and had a Gr.1 winner so his profile has risen since he got to us, which is not our doing. Hallowed Crown covered a couple of good books in his first years at stud, he had the benefit of covering both Darley and Mr Cojuangco’s mares and one of those matings produced Colette. The advantage is that you can have instant action. We have only been going for three years but we have stallions with runners who are immediately identified with us and that is a huge benefit to our business.
“We don’t look to compliment the others [already on roster]; it’s nice if it does but if we can stand stallions that we believe in and that our clientele believes in, then we will stand them. Sometimes it does work that way and it makes them easier to market, but if someone came along with another well-credentialled Fastnet Rock to stand we’re not going to look the other way!”
In the first year of operation under the Taits, Twin Hills Stud was home to Odyssey Moon, who was syndicated by Olly, and Bobby’s Kitten (Kitten’s Joy), who shuttled from Lanwades Stud. “Both are really well-credentialed stallions, but we probably didn’t get as many mares to them as we would have liked,” Tait admits. “That was partly due to the starting up of a new business with no clientele and we had to go and then fill some stallions – there was a
fair challenge in that.”
Bobby’s Kitten only made the shuttle trip once, but Tait still has high hopes that his progeny will prove the market wrong in Australia. “I’m still disappointed we didn’t get as many mares to Bobby’s Kitten as we would have liked because he is a horse with so much. He is a beautiful horse, he has a great pedigree and he was so good as a racehorse, he has all the right credentials, and it will be very interesting to see how his first runners go this year. Hopefully he will be a great success in the northern hemisphere and then I hope he will be a great success in the southern hemisphere market too,” he says.
“He was the first son of Kitten’s Joy to come down here, but the El Prado sire line has done well here. Medaglia D’Oro has been an absolute roaring success here and Artie Schiller has had some success as well. We sent some of our own mares to Bobby’s Kitten and so did some of our really good clients, so I really hope that from the small sample here he gets some good horses.”
Tait is not averse to standing another shuttle stallion but is well aware of how the market has shifted from European and American imports back to native Australian stallions. “The reality is that it is a more difficult task than standing the equivalent Australian stallion because that’s just how the market has
gone. It is a more difficult task than is was 20 years ago, but there is still a place for the shuttle stallion. You look at this year, some of the stallions who are shuttling like Blue Point, Too Darn Hot, American Pharoah and Justify, they are four huge names. The quality of stallions who are still shuttling will mean that one or more of these shuttle stallions will hit it big and then the market will swing back that way again.
“The pendulum [of the shuttle concept] swung so sharply one way that when the excitement wore off and the pendulum went the other way, it swung very sharply the other way. We’re probably still at the other end of the swing of the pendulum,” he says.
Of course the return of the Australian market to native-bred stallions has coincided with the rise in popularity of the imported European horse on the racecourse, an interesting dichotomy for the Australian industry which often now seems to celebrate the successful breeding of speed by spending sales ring returns and racecourse earnings in the northern hemisphere sale rings to purchase Cups horses.
“I don’t think we should beat ourselves up about it, we are good at breeding sprinters! Two-year-old racing is super competitive and super exciting, and it’s just the way things have evolved here,” Tait says.
“Breeding in Australia is more driven by the commercial market than in Europe or America because we don’t have the massive ownerbreeders and the tremendous investment from them that occurs in Europe and to a similar extent in America. The commercial market is breeding to try and get a Golden Slipper or Blue Diamond winner, whereas the commercial market in Europe is still focussed on winning the Classics as three-year-olds and the commercial market in America is still focussed on winning the Kentucky Derby.
“The answer is that you get paid in the sale ring here for horses who look like they can win at two and you get paid in the sale ring in Europe and America for horses that can go over a bigger distance. The greater proportion of our quality bloodstock is not being bred to try and win races at those distances. People have got to be patient; if you want to breed a Cup horse, it’s going to take you at least five or six years from planning the mating to winning. People can go and buy a ready-made stayer from Europe and then it can happen in a relatively short timescale.”
A relatively short timescale is also a good description for Tait’s Twin Hills Stud business. In year one, Tait purchased the Redoute’s Choice mare Lipari for A$170,000 at the 2017 Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale. In April of the following year, her son Levendi (Pierro) won the Gr.1 Australian Derby and last year, Tait resold her for A$1.6m at the same sale. In addition, the stud has enjoyed great success with its stallions.
“When we did a business plan at the beginning, what we’re doing now is what we thought we’d be doing. Obviously you take a meandering path along the way, it doesn’t all necessarily go exactly to plan, but standing stallions, building a significant boarding business and having our own bloodstock to buy and sell were the three strands of what we thought we’d be doing,” Tait explains.
“The highlight for us is building a business and a brand that is relevant within the industry. That has been a great satisfaction. Associated with that, the satisfaction of standing a stallion of the quality of Smart Missile has been a huge thrill and we sold a mare for A$1.6m which was terrific. We’ve had some success with our stallions, we’ve had some success in the sale ring and we’re building a business so those are the highlights for us.”
Twin Hills Stud might be a relative newcomer on the scene, but Tait has a long proven track record after 15 years spent around the world for Darley, rising to the position of Chief Operating Officer.
His own family has enjoyed huge success in the industry, breeding such top performers as Baguette, Tie The Knot and Spinning Hill and was admitted to the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2014. With such lineage, the racing industry might have seemed an obvious avenue for the young Tait but instead he qualified as an accountant.
“I probably knew even then that I didn’t want to be an accountant, but I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do. I wrote a letter to Darley asking if they would employ me and telling them why they should. Luckily the letter was read and so my first job in the industry was selling nominations at Dalham Hall in 1999,” he remembers.
“I had two years in England and then I went back to Australia to start the Darley operation there. I was at Collingrove for two years, then we were at Kelvinside and then Woodlands was bought in 2008. At the end of 2008 I moved to America and we had two years there and then moved to England. We’ve had three children and one was born in Australia, one in America and one in England.
“We loved living overseas but obviously our families are here so there was always a draw for coming back to Australia, but the reason we came back when we did was because of the opportunity to buy Twin Hills. The fact that it is reasonably close to where my parents live was a bonus, but we thought from what my experience was and what we wanted as a family and what we could envisage our business to be, that this was an opportunity that came up where the timing was right.”
Twin Hills Stud has already established itself in the Australian market and Tait’s future ambitions are simple: “Keep doing what we’re doing. We’re ambitious and we want to continue to grow, to continue to stand good stallions and continue to work with good clients.”