Victorian breeder celebrates first Group 1 Star

While Mark Ruff was busy winning a campdrafting event at Trafalgar, two hours east of Melbourne, the thoroughbred horse he bred five years ago was storming to victory in New Zealand’s $250,000 WRC Telegraph H. G1.

Sacred Star became the 12th Group 1 winner for Arrowfield’s now-retired champion sire Flying Spur when he won last Saturday’s 1200-metre Trentham feature by four lengths in the blistering time of 1:07.01. Already a Group 2 winner in Brisbane last winter, and twice Group 1-placed at 1400 & 1600 metres, Sacred Star has won seven of his 22 starts and more than $470,000 for owner Raffles Thoroughbred Racing & trainer Tony Pike.

Mark, also part-owner of Flemington Oaks Day winner Sadaqa, says, “It’s been the best year ever on all fronts, and now topped off by Sacred Star, my first Group 1 winner. I watched the replay on Sunday morning, but it didn’t really sink in until I started receiving a heap of calls and texts. This is something I’ve been trying to do for a long time!”

Mark’s business is Qanstruct, a Melbourne-based design and construction company which he joined after completing a degree in Building Engineering. He also has extensive rural property interests, including two stations in central Queensland and his home base, Bulla Thoroughbreds on 900 acres at Diggers Rest.

However, horses, of the stock and thoroughbred kinds, are his enduring personal passion. Sacred Star’s story began in the 1980s when Mark worked between school and university for trainer Colin Little. Years later,  Little prepared Flying Spur’s Group 2-winning son Blur and Mark closely followed his racing career.

“I loved Blur, he was a real speed horse, and a big, strong type who was able to beat Choisir at Flemington. Later I saw Flying Spur at a stallion parade and he was a beautiful horse, and also very commercial, so that’s why I sent Irish Nova to him.”

Bred by Waikato Stud’s Garry Chittick, Irish Nova (O’Reilly-Night Star by Centaine) had been a $40,000 New Zealand Premier Sale purchase in 2004 by owner, breeder and racing journalist Rob Burnet. Trained by Lance Noble, she raced for prominent New Zealand owners and breeders Alan and Colleen Jackson.

The filly showed plenty of ability in her three juvenile starts, including a Group 2 placing at Trentham, but injury forced her early retirement, and subsequent sale to Rhys Smith, acting for Mark, at a cost of around $NZ150,000.

Mark says of Irish Nova, “She’s a very strong, attractive mare with a beautiful head and a lovely nature, and every horse she’s produced has been a really nice type. However, Sacred Star is probably the best individual I’ve bred.”

$200,000 was the price paid by Guy Mulcaster for Sacred Star at the 2011 Inglis Easter Yearling Sale, where he was offered by Attunga Stud on Mark’s behalf.

Irish Nova’s first foal was a Zabeel filly named Zanova, unraced because of an injury as a foal, but fortunately retained by Mark because the mare has subsequently had five colts. Zanova is currently in foal to Equiano.

Mark sold Irish Nova, in foal to Stratum, for $120,000 to Rosemont Stud at last year’s Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale, but he has kept her yearling colt by Foxwedge to race, “because he’s the closest she’s had to Sacred Star”. He’ll be trained at Flemington by Mick Cerchi who, along with Rhys and Chloe Smith, and campdrafting champion Peter O’Neill, is a key source of  friendship, advice and inspiration for all of Mark’s equine activities.

Mark says modestly, “We just have a bit of fun campdrafting and racing.” With four or five thoroughbred broodmares, around ten racehorses in Mick’s stable and a busy schedule of draft events, this new Group 1 breeder clearly works hard at his fun!

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