Somehow I feel like life as we knew it is a distant memory. Only a little over a month ago we thought we were close to getting back to some form of normal but suddenly things are deadly serious again. 2020 really is turning in to a bastard of a year, and even though we have only just broken through the halfway mark of the Year of the Virus it is safe to say that I'm well and truly over it.
Here in Victoria the last month has been thoroughly depressing. I'm a relatively newly domesticated Victorian, having spent my entire life up until 2014 in the ACT which basically made me a NSW person. I like our new life here on the Mornington Peninsula though. We sit a little outside of Melbourne, and Victoria is a really nice place to live, however right now it feels like I'm definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm desperately worried about the closure of the NSW-Victoria border in Australia and it is pretty bloody awful to be arbitrarily cut off from the rest of the country no matter what your covid status is or how carefully you are living your life and to be subject to those generalised claims being made across the country about 'those bloody awful Victorians'. The Queensland border doesn't bother me nearly as much. I am usually only there in January and tend to miss their other sales due to being in either Sydney or Europe, but the NSW border is deeply concerning and has me more than a little worried about my economic survival in an industry I've devoted the best part of my life to.. It also cuts me off from seeing my mum in Sydney and my brother and nephews in Canberra. I worry about my mum, because she lives on her own and is getting on in age. Usually I spend a number of weeks with her when I'm working in Sydney and in the Hunter and it means I can be there keeping her company and helping out with things regularly during the year. I miss my brother a lot as well, not to mention one of my best friends lives in Sydney however we're talking on the phone a lot and are trying to help each other through at the moment and everyone is just hoping that the border closure is only going to be short term and that the numbers will come back under control here.
But..... back to horses....... Specifically stallions.
The first point is champion SNITZEL is about to be the first stallion since his grandsire Danehill to win Champion Stallion four years in a row. It is a wonderful achievement from a remarkable horse. Snitzel was only a young stallion when I first photographed him at Arrowfield so I've been with him all the way and no-one will be prouder than me come August 1st. Snitzel gave me the feeling he would be a champion from the first day I photographed him in his paddock at Arrowfield Stud in April 2008. Shortly after this, when I was on one of my trips to Melbourne, I spoke of this prediction to two people. I said if I had both money and a broodmare (naturally I had neither!) there was only one stallion I would be sending said horse to, and I was convinced he would be a champion stallion.
My confidence in the young stallion was based purely on the feel Snitzel had given me in the paddock that day. The thing with Snitzel is his motor and his mind. Aside from the fact that he was a tough, fast and sound racehorse he's also one of the kindest stallions I've ever worked with. He fills with presence the minute you take the head collar off him in the paddock, he's always the consummate professional and like his barn mate Singles (Not a Single Doubt), he just wants to please. Ironically the person I'd talked to so enthusiastically about Snitzel was the man who would later become my specialist. Neil was the partner of one of my good friends, and in 2014 he saved my life when I had cancer. Neil allowed me to stick around for my family's sake and on a professional note he made it possible to photograph Winx, Frankel, Invincible Spirit, Sea the Stars, Galileo, American Pharoah, and stick around long enough to document Snitzel at Arrowfield throughout these four Champion Stallion titles. Snitzel, like the aforementioned, demonstrate the wisdom of the late, great, Les Carlyon who convinced me long ago that pedigree and conformation were not enough on their own, and that I had to look inside every horse I photographed:
"The youngster is led out of the box, you inspect the chassis, and, if you are feeling brave, pronounce it sound.
But you cannot see the motor. You cannot see things like courage or the killer instinct, the things that make champions".
The great SNITZEL, including a few very old frames from that first day in 2008 at Arrowfield.
He's always been fun and likes to give me practice at turning and panning with him.
Please forgive my inexperience in the early shots!
One key change is champion Victorian stallion WRITTEN TYCOON relocating from his home at Woodside Park Stud in Tylden for the 2020 Season to stand at Arrowfield Stud in the Hunter Valley in a joint venture between Arrowfield and Woodside Park studs. While it was unexpected I've decided that nothing should surprise me anymore in 2020!!! Less surprising was the news that Japanese shuttle stallions were unable to travel to Australia so while I'm on the subject of Woodside Park it is good to know that their young stallion Tosen Stardom (Deep Impact) is permanently based in Australia, plus Coolmore has committed to returning Saxon Warrior so at least these two horses ensure Australia still has access to sons of Deep Impact.
(Iglesia x Party Miss)
(Deep Impact x Admire Kirameki)
On to Darley: the Blue Army have committed to standing some trooooly lovely stallions this year. Among the new boys are TOO DARN HOT (Kelvinside) and BLUE POINT (Northwood Park) who will shuttle to Australia. I think they are both smashing horses, both were brilliant racehorses and are by absolute champions in DUBAWI and SHAMARDAL. Another new addition is the young Exceed and Excel stallion MICROPHONE who hails from a very successful Australian family and was a Group 1 winner at 2 years. He's a gorgeous looking horse and on the first shoot with him he was completely professional and just a delight to work with. In addition to their new boys, perennial favourites Exceed and Excel and Lonhro will lead another impressive roster where a number of their younger stallions ASTERN, FROSTED, HOLLER and TERRITORIES are expecting their first runners to hit the track during 2020-2021 and HARRY ANGEL will have his first foals due, and horses like IMPENDING and RIBCHESTER (standing in NZ this season) will have their first yearlings sell and stallions like Exosphere, Kermadec, Brazen Beau and Shooting to Win should consolidate the nice starts they have made to their stallion careers.
TOO DARN HOT
You'd be forgiven if at first glance you thought this was a photo of BLUE POINT.
It's actually his sire SHAMARDAL, but Blue Point looks just like him.
(Exceed and Excel - Sung)
EXCEED AND EXCEL
(DANEHILL x PATRONA)
(Lonhro x Mnemosyne)
(Dark Angel x Beatrix Potter)
The mighty LONHRO
(Tapit x Fast Cookie)
Just quietly, I'm loving having a silver stallion to photograph. It's a bit like having your own King of the Cascades, Thowra.
Turning to Coolmore, they are bringing two freshman stallions in CALYX and MAGNA GRECIA to Australia. Calyx is a son of the KINGMAN (by INVINCIBLE SPIRIT) who we know so well from Juddmonte Farms while Magna Grecia is a son of our lovely INVINCIBLE SPIRIT who continues to turn out Group 1 winners from his home at the Irish National Stud. Coolmore also have resident stallions Rubick and Pierro who both had very good 2019-2020 seasons and Rubick will be joined by his Everest winning son YES YES YES and the farm is also bringing back their two high profile Triple Crown champions AMERICAN PHAROAH and JUSTIFY.
(Lonhro x Miss Right Note)
(Encosta de Lago x Sliding Cube)
Arrowfield retired CASTELVECCHIO to stud and the dual Group 1 winning three year old son of Dundeel will stand alongside his sire in Scone. THE AUTUMN SUN, SHOWTIME and REAL STEEL will have their first foals arrive this season, and it will be exciting to watch the new SHALAA, MAURICE and MIKKI ISLE babies step out during 2020/2021.
(Dundeel x St Therese)
THE AUTUMN SUN
(Redoute's Choice x Amiyna)
This was just a snapshot because I was told there wasn't time enough to stand him up properly, but you'd be forgiven if you called him "The Body"
(High Chaparral x Stareel)
Following on from mentioning Castelvecchio, another son of Dundeel will stand over the water in New Zealand after Waikato Stud purchased the Group 1 Caulfield Guineas winner SUPER SETH. Yulong Farm's gorgeous son of Redoute's Choice, ALABAMA EXPRESS, has retired to stand alongside GRUNT at the farm which is located near Nagambie. The handsome bay will be a welcome addition to the Victorian breeding industry and I'm personally pretty excited about the development of this lovely farm. Their new stallion barn is almost finished and they have some beautifully bred horses coming through. From a racetrack perspective, in particular the Cox Plate, I'm a teeny bit disappointed these successful middle distance horses will not race on at four, but as everyone keeps saying, 2020 isn't a normal year and while it is disappointing to lose these three colts, in the climate of uncertainty created by COVID-19 it's not surprising. Remarkably, all three horses were bred and sold by Arrowfield Stud in 2018. Another 3yo colt to retire is G1 Coolmore Stud Stakes champion EXCEEDANCE. He will call Vinery Stud home and I can't wait to meet him properly.
(Dundeel x Salutations)
(Redoute's Choice x Lago Ovation)
Twin Hills have taken over ownership of HALLOWED CROWN (Street Sense) and this young stallion who is a half brother to successful stallion Needs Further recently had his first Group 1 winner Colette win the G1 Australian Oaks in April. The filly is from his first crop to race so this was great news for the wonderful partnership of Olly and Amber Tait.
(Street Sense x Crowned Glory)
Spendthrift Australia are shuttling OMAHA BEACH and VINO RUSSO, they were both cracking racehorses and smashing types, and I'm a little excited to see them both. Yours truly breathed a massive sigh of relief at the news that they had touched down successfully in Australia this week along with many other Darley and Coolmore shuttle stallions. We were reasonably confident the shuttle stallions would be ok, but you can never tell until they board the plane and it's here on Australia soil. Spendthrift are a fun, positive and progressive farm and I hope the weather in the region will be kind to us! In a nice turn of events their stallion manager is the truly excellent Steve Toole who was working at Arrowfield when I first started doing their stallions and then moved to Darley before becoming stallion manager at Spendthrift. He's always been super positive and enthusiastic during photoshoots and is always open to new ideas and that's a lot of fun. Also in Victoria are Aquis and they are welcoming NEEDS FURTHER and ROYAL MEETING to join LEAN MEAN MACHINE at their new Victorian base and I hope I'll be working with all three stallions this spring as well as doing some of the latter's first foals.
On a bit of a sad note for me 2020 marks the first year that Australia's stallion ranks will be without two perennial champion stallions following the retirement of NOT A SINGLE DOUBT and the return to America permanently of 'my Black Horse', MORE THAN READY. My fondness for both stallions is well known but it's nice to think there will be several more good horses to add to their records before we call time on their careers.
NOT A SINGLE DOUBT
(Redoute's Choice x Singles Bar)
From one of the very first photos I ever took of "Singles" to one of the very last.
I have loved my time working with this gorgeous boy, and loved
cataloguing the ever growing list of his Group 1 winners on the track.
MORE THAN READY
(Southern Halo x Woodman's Girl)
As with 'Singles', a little 'look back' at The Black Horse through the lens
We lost our northern hemisphere season in England and Ireland to COVID-HORRIBLE-19, which I'm still cranky about, but these are a few fun images we took over the last couple of years.
GALILEO the Great
FRANKEL ... best friends forever..... We miss you
My beautiful boy INVINCIBLE SPIRIT who we also really miss
We will be speaking with RVL about being allowed to photographed on track and I'm encouraged by the fact that worldwide specialist thoroughbred photographers are being allowed back on track (even in the United States where the pandemic continues to rampage completely out of control) so logic suggest that with the support of the industry specialist photographers like myself can get back to work. The border with NSW will be a bridge I will cross (sigh.... I actually have to cross a bridge!) in another month or so. I hope the industry supports each other and fear it will not be much of a carnival in either NSW or Victoria if Racing NSW in particular maintain their ban on horse movements and staff members. I feel very sorry for people in the border towns because their lives have been thrown in to total disarray. I hope that horses and people can soon once again move around Australia, just as they are in Europe where cases numbers are much higher, and that the Australian industry can create a supportive and collaborative framework with the right amount of safety precautions so people aren't forced out of the industry.
In the meantime it is important for Victorians to stick together and for the breeding and racing industry here in Victoria to support each other and just be sensible. From a personal point of view, we continue to sit tight at home here on the pristine Mornington Peninsula and aside from when there is a shoot on we are only going out for absolute essentials. From midnight on Wednesday it became mandatory to wear a facemask when outside your house. They take some getting used to and in my case it gives me some swelling around that troublesome jawline but they are something I agree with wholeheartedly and having it enforced within schools is a relief seeing as my Year 12 son is back in the classroom. I went to the beach yesterday morning for a bit of light relief and everyone had a mask on so compliance is very high however I remain infuriated at those who are behaving like jerks about it all, in particular the deniers who put these fool hardy beliefs into defiant action like the repulsive woman who filmed herself while refusing to cooperate at the police checkpoint leaving Melbourne. It's people like that who will keep people out of jobs and ensure more Australians die if they continue this sort of behaviour, and they would do well to listen to the scientific and medical experts when it comes to stuff like this.
In the meantime, stay safe, stay home where you can, wear a bloody mask and I will see you on the farms and racetrack (once we are granted permission to return) as soon as possible.
(note - track work riders can exercise discretion while on board under RVL policies issued this week around the wearing of masks)