Fairway, Fireworks & Lunch with Harry

It’s only 16 years since John Camilleri raced his first horse, but his record as an owner and breeder, with a current stable of 14 racehorses and a band of around 25 mares, is already outstanding.

The Canonbury & Widden Stakes double by Vancouver (Medaglia d’Oro-Skates by Danehill) and Fireworks (Snitzel-Calvinia by Varick) at Rosehill last Saturday extended an impressive list of achievements by John & his wife Deborah’s Fairway Thoroughbreds.

The name of their bloodstock operation is a big clue to the dream start John’s first racing experience gave him, as he explains.

“My first racehorse, in a partnership of five, was Fairway, purchased in 1998 from the late Harry Lawton. The transaction happened over lunch organised by Anthony Gow-Gates at Kingsley’s Steakhouse in Sydney.

“Harry turned up with photos of two yearlings he had purchased from the Karaka sale, a Danzero and a Sir Tristram and we chose the Danzero. Total novices, but what an incredible entree into thoroughbred racing.”

Indeed it was. The Sir Tristram colt was named Noble House and never won a race. Fairway, bought from Curraghmore Stud for $40,000, won ten of his 23 starts, three of them at Group 1 level, and $2.6 million.

“Fairway, unquestionably, was a major cause of my current addiction to the thoroughbred industry along with some terrific people I have met over the last 15 years, some of whom have become very close friends.”

Most significant among those people is Peter O’Brien, General Manager of Segenhoe Stud where the Fairway Thoroughbreds horses are based.

John says, “I don’t think I would have such an interest or investment in breeding and racing if Peter wasn’t around. His care for all of the mares, foals and yearlings and the interest he shows in the racehorses is just fantastic.

“We speak constantly about the mares and foals, I know that their welfare is paramount in Peter’s mind and I receive nothing but honest feedback. We discuss everything from matings to yearling sales, trainers – you name it.

“Peter and I often do the matings separately and then compare notes. Typically, we would agree on around 70% of them and argue about the rest.”

John’s thoughtful, pragmatic and flexible approach to breeding and selling horses is hardly surprising given his success in the business world. He is the former Managing Director and now Chairman of the Baiada Group (the principal brands being Steggles & Lilydale), which was founded by his grandparents and has defied the trend of many family businesses to flourish into a third generation.  John has also recently completed a term as an independent Director of the Australian Turf Club.

He says, “As a breeder, you certainly need your fair share of luck and there really isn’t one single factor that governs how we choose which stallions the mares go to, or which horses are retained and which are sold.

“Peter and I place a lot of emphasis on the best physical matings for the mares and rarely deviate far from that. I don’t own any stallions, or shares in stallions, so I’m not compelled to send my mares to a specific stallion that may not be a good physical match-up.

“As for the decision to retain or sell, this is always difficult and the one that we discuss over and over before the catalogue cut-off dates. Importantly, the funds have to come in to pay service fees and all other expenses so most of the progeny needs to be sold.

“As a general rule, most of the fillies from the families with great depth of pedigree are retained, with exceptions where I already have two or three fillies from the mare.

“A good example, currently, is a Foxwedge filly out of Procrastinate which will be offered at this year’s Easter Sale because I’m retaining the mare’s So You Think filly foal and also A Time For Julia (Redoute’s Choice-Procrastinate), who will go to the breeding barn this year. I could also wake up between now and Easter and decide to retain the Foxwedge filly, as it is such a special family.

“As for the colts, most of these are sold, though occasionally we’ll weaken and retain one or two.”

When it comes to mating decisions, John’s clear preference is for stallions with runs on the board.

“For the mares with the better pedigrees, more often than not the mare will go to a proven stallion – there is just a little more safety with this approach.

“I also have compatibility ratings done on each mare by Brain and use this as a guide, but will never allow a rating to get in the way of a good physical and commercial mating.”

However, that doesn’t stop John from occasionally using unproven stallions, especially locally bred horses.

“I very much like using colonial stallions, especially where they were standout racetrack performers that had brilliant speed. Hopefully, some of the new boys on the block like Sepoy, Pierro, Foxwedge and Smart Missile can produce the goods and become commercial propositions for the breeding industry.”

Equal attention is paid to the other side of the coin, broodmare selection and culling.

“We look for it all, but rarely do we compromise on buying a really good physical. I love fillies and mares with nice, deep pedigrees, even if their race performance has been sub-standard or not at stakes-winning level.

“Nowadays, yearling buyers are very focussed on buying well-conformed animals that are good athletic types so, as breeders, we need to be thinking harder about the types of mares we breed from and their matings in order to try and produce that for the market. As all breeders know, you always have your fingers crossed for a good foal and then there are the X-Rays which can bring any good plan undone.

“Selling mares is always tough, particularly those you become attached to. No real formula or theory here, except to say that once age starts to creep up on them there is a point where mares drop sharply in value through a combination of age, or being a non-producer, or not producing well- conformed progeny, so it is a matter of picking the time and then letting them go.

“I currently have around 25 broodmares and I endeavour to hover around this mark, depending on how many mares are being sold or retired from stud duties and how many race fillies are retiring to stud at any point in time. This is just a good number which allows me to maintain quality that I aim for.”

Fireworks, now spelling while trainer Gerald Ryan maps out a plan for her, is the fourth stakeswinner from Calvinia, purchased in 2007 for good reasons that allowed John to overlook her age.

“It is a very good, deep pedigree which allowed me to mate her with virtually any Danehill-line stallion, and also at the age of 12 she qualified as a tax mare.

“Peter and I thought Snitzel was a good physical mating for her – the Snitzels just run, we know that he can get a good racehorse and he is by a champion sire. He’s also been fairly priced so that a breeder could go to him with a good chance of making a return.”

As so often happens in horse breeding, the immediate result wasn’t quite what John expected, but has now provided one of the highlights of his career as a breeder.

“Fireworks was a very small foal and yearling, so we felt there was no point even sending her to a sale. As anyone can see, she still isn’t big, but more than makes up for it in heart and an amazing turn of foot.”

Fairway Thoroughbreds’ 2015 Inglis Easter Sale offering includes Calvinia’s colt by Sepoy, and a More Than Ready filly from her Redoute’s Choice daughter, Stellar Vinia.

John ranks breeding the Widden and Canonbury winners on the same program as a very close second on his list of highlights, just behind winning Group races in Sydney
and Melbourne with the grand sprinting mare A Time For Julia, named after his daughter.

Like Fireworks, A Time For Julia has also given John, Deborah and their children Julia, Alana & Andrew, special pleasure as owners. Unearthly’s 2003 Flight Stakes victory and two performances by Fairway, his 2000 Australian Derby win and his defeat of Sunline in the same year’s Turnbull Stakes, also stand out in John’s memory.

He nominates the 2013 Karaka sale-topper, the $1.975 million Fastnet Rock-Celebria colt, as Fairway Thoroughbreds’ major sale-ring achievement. That colt, named Eastern Cape, showed promise in his maiden win last Spring, but sadly died recently.

Fairway Thoroughbreds has notched up remarkable success with Redoute’s Choice, breeding not only dual Group 3 winner A Time For Julia by him, but also Queensland Derby G1 winner Dariana (ex Beldarian by Last Tycoon), Group 2 winner Girl Gone Rockin’ (ex Sorrento by Just A Dancer), Group 3 winner Florentina (from the Peintre Celebre mare Celebria, also dam of Group 1 winner Gathering) & Listed stakeswinner Grand Jardin (ex Liberty Rose by Royal Academy).

John says, “There isn’t much I can say about Redoute’s Choice that hasn’t already been published over the years. I have had a good run with the mares that I’ve bred to him, and he’s imparted different traits with all of them, producing fillies with great speed (A Time For Julia & Florentina), as well as Dariana, who was well-performed over middle distances.”

A Time For Julia will have a chance to extend her record this Autumn in John & Deborah’s familiar white, green and yellow checked colours, along with stakeswinner Quayside (Street Cry-Quays) and promising 3YOs Armada (Fastnet Rock-Procrastinate), Abbey Road (Street Cry-Private Steer) and Pattini (High Chaparral-Skates).

The Autumn prospects of Fairway-breds Winx (Street Cry-Vegas Showgirl), Betsy (Redoute’s Choice-Quays) and, in South Africa, Akii Bua (Encosta de Lago-Procrastinate) look equally bright.

With an emotional satisfaction from his horses that surpasses his major financial commitment, John can look back on that fateful Sydney lunch in 1998 without a skerrick of regret. “I am just very grateful that I’m part of such an exciting and ever-changing industry.”

Fireworks lights up for Camilleri, Ryan & Snitzel

Owner-breeders John & Deborah Camilleri celebrated a rare double at Rosehill on Saturday when their home-bred Fireworks outgunned a smart group of 2YO fillies in the $150,000 ATC Widden S. 1100m G3.

The Camilleris’ Fairway Thoroughbreds had featured earlier in the day as the breeder of Vancouver, winner of the ATC Canonbury S. G3 for juvenile colts and the new favourite for the $3.5 million ATC Golden Slipper S. G1 on 21 March.

Fireworks, placed at Gosford on debut and again at Randwick on 17 January, settled well back and, cleverly directed by Brenton Avdulla, sustained a big run to overhaul Lake Geneva and Igraine inside the final 100 metres.

Fireworks’ victory also brought up milestones for her sire, dam and trainer. She is the 27th stakeswinner and the 15th 2YO stakeswinner for Snitzel, and the fourth stakeswinner for her splendid dam Calvinia (by Varick), after G1 Calveen, G2 Kosi Bay and Listed stakeswinner Striker. Calvinia is a winning half-sister to Group 1 winner English Wonder, dam of champion 3YO Dr. Grace and Asia (South Australian Oaks G1).

For trainer Gerald Ryan, Fireworks is the 30th individual winner, and sixth Group winner (following Snitzerland, Flying Snitzel, Hot Snitzel, Time For War & Dances On Stars) by his former stable star Snitzel.

Ryan is in no rush with Fireworks, who is not nominated for the Blue Diamond or the Golden Slipper.

He says, “She’s had three runs now so I’d like to back off her and let the water settle.

“I think she’s still got a lot of growing and strengthening up to do. But she’s done a huge job, a furlong out I thought she was only going to run third. We’ll just sit back and wait and see what happens.”

Fireworks’ dam and sisters have a total of five yearlings catalogued for the 2015 Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale, among them Haunui Farm’s Redoute’s Choice colt from Striker and a More Than Ready colt from Stellar Vinia (Redoute’s Choice-Calvinia) in the Segenhoe Stud draft.

Snitzel, now second on the Australian 2YO Sires’ list, has 10 lots catalogued for the upcoming Inglis Classic Sale including a colt and a filly in the Arrowfield draft.

Girl puts smiles on many faces at Rosemont Stud

Girl Gone Rockin’ gave her champion sire Redoute’s Choice his third Cup Week stakeswinner when she landed Saturday’s VRC Matriarch S. G2 from a gallant Queenstown.

She also gave her owners Anthony Mithen, his brother-in-law Nigel Austin and their team at Rosemont Stud in Victoria an unforgettable and very satisfying Spring Carnival success.

Girl Gone Rockin’ was bred by John & Deborah Camilleri’s Fairway Thoroughbreds and offered for sale from Gordon Cunningham’s Curraghmore Stud draft at the 2010 New Zealand Premier Sale, where she was knocked down to Rosemont Stud for $NZ380,000. 

Anthony Mithen recalls the first time he saw her. “When I inspected her with my brother-in-law Nigel and John and Wayne Hawkes we could not wipe the smiles off our faces.

“We all thought we had seen a filly that could be a foundation mare for our farm and she had a pedigree to match. She was so powerful and strong, but seemed to know how to carry herself.”

Girl Gone Rockin’ is a half-sister to Group 3 winner Syreon (by Flying Spur), from Group 2 winner Sorrento, a daughter of Star Way’s son Just A Dancer, winner of the Sydney and Brisbane Cups, and sire of six stakeswinners from 127 runners.

The combination of Redoute’s Choice with mares by Star Way and his sons is noteworthy, producing 12 winners including Group 1 Classic winners God’s Own & Empire’s Choice, Group 3 winner Leveller and now Girl Gone Rockin’, from 16 named foals.

Sorrento was bred in New Zealand by the Wigley family’s Inglewood Stud, also responsible for the 1956 AJC & VRC Derby winner Monte Carlo and the 1985 Stradbroke Handicap winner Canterbury Belle.

Sorrento’s female family has been a consistent producer of quality Australasian performers for several decades, with her dam Amatrice a major contributor by way of four stakeswinners, most notably Stargazer (by Star Way), a six-time Group 2 winner and multiple Group 1 placegetter in the late 1980s era of Rough Habit, Super Impose, Dr Grace, Stylish Century and Zabeel.

Girl Gone Rockin’s unflinching determination in Saturday’s tight finish was no surprise to Anthony.

“She’s just so tough. We had a few injury worries with her early on in her career and through the recovery she showed us she was tough as nails.

“She seems to have that determination to compete and try. You never know whether they have that when you buy them, but she has it in spades. The way she threw her ears back and savaged the line on Saturday showed the racing world what we already knew.”

The Matriarch Stakes victory was the perfect climax of Girl Gone Rockin’s brief spring campaign and the 5YO mare is now enjoying a well-deserved break at Rosemont Stud.

Anthony explains, “I know she only had three runs in this time, but she’s done her job for the spring. We will map out a program in the autumn which will involve the good Group races both in Melbourne and Sydney. I think she will run out a strong 2400 metres, so we will “blue sky” aim at the BMW, but let her tell us as we progress.”

Such was Anthony’s faith in Girl Gone Rockin’ that he returned to the sale-ring earlier this year to purchase both her dam, now 18-years-old, and her half-sister Sorren Tessa (by Red Ransom), the latter in partnership with Ashley Hardwick. Both mares are now in foal to Rosemont’s flagship stallion Toorak Toff.

Long experience of racing’s twists and turns of fortune means that Anthony, his family and their staff truly understand the value of Girl Gone Rockin’s win, on the final day of one of the world’s great racing carnivals.

“It’s a huge result for everyone at Rosemont. We had a table of staff in the committee room at the Geelong Race Club on Saturday enjoying an afternoon out from very hectic duties and they tell me that we could have nearly heard them at Flemington, given the noise they made!

“It’s very exciting for everyone. From Jess who looks after Girl Gone Rockin’ when she spells, to the stud staff that know they will be caring for her in her retirement, to the office staff who know the ups and downs of racing horses, everyone has been walking around with smiles on their faces since the win.

“It’s particularly satisfying for Nigel and myself as we picked her out of a sale with the help of Team Hawkes, took a leap of faith, and paid as much as we have ever paid for a yearling and then waited to see the best of her. I can tell you, it was worth the wait!”