WHEN nature vented her fury ages ago, the ground of the Darling Downs region roared with turbulence and raw power. As the land shifted violently, it gave rise to an area rich in nature's goodness.
That same district still reverberates with power. But nowadays it is a power generated from the thundering hooves of countless great racehorses born and raised on the plains of the Darling Downs, a place where Oaklands Stud belongs.
Oaklands Stud comprises four individual properties - Highview, Stonybrook, Markham and the namesake Oakland. Each property has a distinct, yet inter-related role. Oaklands is the breeding station, housing stallions and accommodating mares as the latter are being prepared to foal. Highview is the home to mares which have been served and confirmed in foal and it is where they live during the gestation period. Mares and their newborn foals are accommodated at Stonybrook but as the foals are weaned they are moved to Markham until their yearlings stage while the mares return to Oaklands for mating as the cycle restarts.
Oaklands Stud has been responsible for some of the finest gallopers to grace Australasian tracks, horses born with a competitive edge and capacity to be placed in the majors - the weight-for-age-championship of the Cox Plate, the stallion-making Ascot Vale Stakes, Doomben 10,000, Stradbroke Handicap, juvenile plums such as the Magic Millions Classic, TJ Smith, Sweet Embrace Stakes and Todman Slipper.
These have been achievements by horses bred with a solitary focus in mind- a focus to be the best of the best, to be superior.
Their creation and development has been forged on vision, skill and the pursuit of excellence by professional personnel whose collective efforts have guaranteed Oaklands Stud a prominent place in the pantheon of Australian breeding.
Each season Oaklands Stud reviews its activities as a means of keeping abreast of changes within the industry and to maintain a lead over the opposition.
The breeding herd changes as part of an internationa plan to raise the quality of the stock and stallions standing at Oaklands Stud have, in the past, been fixtures near the top of the national siring premierships and we fully expect our latest sires to maintain their dominance.
Confidence in the stallion roster at Oaklands Stud for 2011-12 is high. Wicked style, conqueror of the Group 1 Keeneland Breeders Futurity will join the English and Hong Kong victor Chateau Istana and Ascot Vale Stakes and Magic Millions winner Ferocity epitomise the Oaklands Stud philosophy to select and stand only the very best sires.
Progeny of each of the stallions at Oaklands Stud will be eligible for millions of dollars in prizemoney and bonuses available in specific events for two and three-year-olds staged in Queensland under the Queensland Thoroughbred Incentive Scheme (QTIS).
Paramount in the ongoing success of Oaklands Stud is in its dedicated feeding programs where meals are prepared on the main farm and then transported to the neighboring properties, as well as its year-round veterinary services.
Oakland Stud leaves no stone unturned to deliver optimum horse health care with a full-time veterinary surgeon, whose services are boosted each breeding season by the recruitment of additional veterinary and nursing staff. Together, this expert team provides horses at Oaklands Stud, Highview, Stonybrook and Markham with first class care and attention.
Together these processes ensure the proper physical development and maintenance of all horses, even in the most testing environmental conditions.
During 2011-12 Oaklands Stud will continue to raise the standard of horsemanship, animal husbandry, stallion and breeding selection, administration and communication to meet future challenges and take advantage of every opportunity.
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Written by Graeme Kelly, reprinted courtesy of Bluebloods 18th February 2011
THE death of his father prompted a career change from the navy to selling insurance for Neville Stewart, and also led him further into the world of the thoroughbred and an involvement that would see him become the owner of Oaklands Stud and to breed a number of Gr.1 winners including 2010 AJC Derby hero Shoot Out.
SINCE becoming seriously involved in the world of the thoroughbred more than 30 years ago, Neville Stewart has been a notable achiever. As well as establishing the award winning Oaklands Stud on Queensland’s Darling Downs, where the prematurely deceased sire Lion Hunter stood, Neville, at 33, became chairman of the Toowoomba Turf Club. That made him the youngest person to be appointed to the chair of a major regional racing club.
It was a position he was to hold for a record 21 years, during which time Toowoomba became the first club in Australia to introduce racing under lights. Added to that Neville spent 14 years as Downs and South West Racing Association chairman and six years as a representative on the Queensland Principal Club. His achievements have also included planning the mating of Solvit, who won the 1994 MVRC Cox Plate-Gr.1 at Moonee Valley and 14 other races. Along the way he has been the breeder of numerous other Gr.1 winners, right through to last year’s AJC Australian Derby-Gr.1 winner and current Queensland Horse of the Year, Shoot Out. The contribution Neville has been making to the industry was fittingly acknowledged in 2007 when he received an Order of Australia Medal.
However during mid-2009 everything was in danger of falling apart after his eldest son Alex was killed and another son Alistair was injured in an accident on Oaklands. Neville, his wife Kaylene, Alistair and his young brother Hamish, while still feeling the pain of Alex’s death, have since been steering their way carefully through the trauma of that tragedy.
“Alex loved the horses and the property and it is impossible to replace someone like him,” Neville said.
“He was only two weeks away from his 17th birthday and his intentions were to run cattle on a section of Oaklands known as Highview, when he finished his schooling at Toowoomba Grammar at the end of the year. We know his loss is something from which we will never fully recover, but we have kept trying to move ahead. At the same time Kaylene and I realise we have been lucky to have three boys who loved the farm and the country way of life.
Both Alistair who is 15, and Hamish, 12, are students at Toowoomba Grammar where they are showing themselves to be very accomplished cricketers and football players, but despite their prowess on the sporting field their involvement in Oaklands is holding pride of place in their lives at this stage: “Alistair is saying he would rather go on the farm than go to university and Hamish is horse crazy and has photos of horses all over the walls of his bedroom. That is very reassuring for Kaylene and myself, and we feel that the enthusiasm Alistair and Hamish have for Oaklands has been helping us to put things together again.”
The Stewarts have also been comforted by the support of the host of friends they have on the Darling Downs, which has been home for most of Neville’s life: “I was born in Toowoomba and I was educated at St Mary’s Christian Brothers College, as was my father Noel.” Although his father who was a butcher, “liked a bet”, it was Neville’s grandmother Elsie Hassall who triggered his interest in racing. “My grandmother loved the horses and she started taking me to the races at Toowoomba when I was about seven. That was my introduction to racing.
"I will always remember my grandmother being a very lucky punter, especially on the big occasions. Come Christmas or Easter or during the school holidays, she always seemed to have a happy knack of having a good win which would see us having some luxuries like fruit cakes, donuts and sweets. My grandmother’s interest rubbed off on me and I have always liked the horses. I suppose I was 12 when I had my first horse, and I rode a lot in my younger days. Also, when I was going to St Mary’s, I started helping out in the stables of Ron Bremser, who is still training horses in Toowoomba.
”After finishing his schooling at St Mary’s in 1970, when just fifteen and a half years-old, Neville joined the Royal Australian Navy as a junior recruit.
“I was in the navy for seven years. I went through the lower deck to the rank of leading seaman and after being passed out for petty officer I was then selected for officer training. During the period I was doing officer training my father died and being an only child I had to return home to Toowoomba to finalise his affairs. The navy gave me six months compassionate leave because there was only Dad and I.
“While on leave I had to feed myself and I began working for the T and G Insurance company in Toowoomba. I was just doing insurances, superannuation and that sort of thing, but in the first fortnight I earned more than I earned in three months in the navy so I resigned - although money wasn’t the real issue, because I had loved what I’d been doing in the navy. I must say I was pretty lucky because there was a lot of overseas travel. I went to Perth as a junior recruit and then after I graduated I went to HMAS Melbourne, which took me to Hawaii and the surrounding islands. After that I did trips around Fiji and other parts of the Pacific on HMAS Queensborough and then I joined HMAS Derwent and did a trip to India, Pakistan, Ceylon as it was then, and Indonesia, which was all interesting and exciting.”
Neville also travelled on his own account during those years to broaden his knowledge of the thoroughbred industry. At just 19 he used his holidays from the navy to attend the Tattersalls sales at Newmarket in England, and two years later he went to the sales at Keeneland in Kentucky. “I paid my own way and as well as going to the sales I visited a number of studs, so I was showing an interest in the breeding side of things from a very young age.
He went even further in 1979, when at age 24 he bought the first piece of land, the 80ha home block which was later to become Oaklands Stud. “Originally the place was a dairy farm and we’ve built on to it from there by buying three other properties - Highview, Stonybrook and Markham - to give us the acreage required for a commercial stud. The land was bought specifically for horses because at the time I bought Oaklands I already owned mares which were being agisted at different studs."
Among them was Kamari who was by Straight Arrow (USA) from the Raimondo (FR) mare Impress. Purchased by Neville as a yearling she registered successes in Brisbane at two and in Sydney as a three and four year-old, which served to intensify his interest in the business. By then Neville had left T and G and had ventured into buying land around Toowoomba, through leading identity Clive Berghofer, and on which he then had houses and duplexes built.
“That was the beginning of a very good association with Clive Berghofer. He is one of the most generous and successful men Toowoomba has ever seen, and I still go back and thank Clive for the opportunities he gave me. He has helped a lot of people get a start in life, and he is one of the people who has been good to me. When we lost our son he was one of the very first friends to call asking if he could do anything to help, he is a good soul.”
Following their meeting at the Hilton Hotel in Brisbane one night after the races, Neville and Kaylene who plays an integral part in the running of the stud, had been married in 1988. That proved to be quite a momentous year for the Stewarts with Neville being appointed chairman of the Toowoomba Turf Club, which represented a distinct honour for one so young.
While all this was happening he also became associated with the Kruger family, owners of Lyndhurst Stud at Warwick, about 80km south of Toowoomba. This resulted in Neville taking shares, from the late 1980s, in the stud’s stallions Al Ameen (USA), a half-brother to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Allez France; Celestial Dancer (IRE), a horse by Godswalk, who became a prolific sire of winners; the Gr.1-placed stakes winner Pride of Century and the brilliant Zephyr Bay horse Zephyr Zing.
“I walked my mares into Lyndhurst to have them served. I had a good, strong working relationship with Merrell Kruger and have enjoyed a long friendship with him. Merrell and I travelled to Ireland when he bought Al Ameen and I remember he took his son Jeffrey, who was only 16, with him. Jeffrey and his brother Griffith now run Lyndhurst for the family and are doing an excellent job.
Not long afterwards, as the property was expanding, Neville decided to begin standing stallions at Oaklands. The stud’s foundation sire was the What’s Ahead stallion Sharivari (USA), a winner at Santa Anita in the US before winning the AURC Railway Handicap-Gr.1 in NZ. The horse had previously proved himself at stud in New Zealand. Sharivari was followed by L’Irresponsable (by Ile de Bourbon), who won the Evry Prix Daphnis-Gr.2, and Seattle Siesta (by the all-conquering Seattle Slew), winner in England and the United States.
“We probably didn’t make any great impact with those horses but we were learning all the time. For instance, when I bought Seattle Siesta I met some very interesting people in America. I went to Three Chimneys in Kentucky where I met Robert Clay and had the chance to inspect Seattle Slew, and when I bought L’Irresponsable I went to France and met the great trainer Francois Boutin at Chantilly.
“Francois trained L’Irresponsable and I must say he was one of the most interesting men I have met in my travels. I was only still young at the time - I would have been in my early 30s - and he looked after me really well, so in buying two horses that didn’t set the world on fire there was a positive side."
At the time Neville was building up the broodmare band at Oaklands, and among the mares he bought was Yallah Sun who was a maiden winner at three by Yallah Native (USA). Mated with the Morston horse Morcon (GB) in 1987, Yallah Sun produced Solvit (NZ), winner of the Cox Plate and also triumphant at the elite level in the AURC New Zealand Stakes and Action TV Sales Stakes.
“I bought Yallah Sun through David Chester at a Magic Millions mixed sale and sent her over to New Zealand to Morcon who was a very good English staying horse,” he said.
“I then sold Yallah Sun in-foal to Morcon because the mare was only a tiny little thing, and the end result was Solvit, which just shows how wrong you can be."
Although the earlier stallions had not made a significant impression, everything really began turning around at Oaklands in 1998 when Lion Hunter was added to the stud’s roster. A Gr.1-placed winner of three races by Danehill (USA), he was from the Godswalk (USA) mare Pure of Heart (IRE), who when raced by Robert Sangster, was rated as Co-Champion Australasian Three Year Old Sprinter of 1981-82. In just six seasons at stud Lion Hunter sired the likes of Gold Edition, Lovely Jubly, Chinchilla Rose, Barbaricus, Street Smart, Ferocity, Rampant Lion, Leone Chiara and Strawberry Malt to establish an exceptional winners-to-runners ratio of 71.5%.
Then in 2001 Iglesia, who was by Last Tycoon (IRE) from the multiple Gr.1-placed winner Yodells by Marscay, began standing at Oaklands. While his half-brother Yippyio who was by Interstellar, showed stamina in capturing the QTC Queensland Derby-Gr.1 and QTC Brisbane Cup-Gr.1 as well as finishing second to Brew in the VRC Melbourne Cup-Gr.1 in 2000, Iglesia was a brilliant speedster. His wins featured the STC Silver Slipper Stakes-Gr.2 (1100m) and VRC Standish Handicap-Gr. (1200m) in which he ran a Flemington course record of 1:07.16. Like Lion Hunter, also the victim of an early demise, he has been represented by classy stakes winners such as Nova Star, Written Tycoon, Helideck, Sanderson, Diamondsoninside and Foolish, who was bred by Neville.
“I raced Foolish in partnership with Charles Stewart, who is no relation but has been a long-term dear and close friend as well as a client of the stud. Importantly for Oaklands, history shows that Lion Hunter was a resounding success as a sire and that Iglesia also proved a success at stud. Obviously standing those two horses strengthened the confidence in the stud and the confidence Kaylene and I have in running the business."
Greenlander (GB), a Gr.2-winning speedster by Green Desert, stood alongside Lion Hunter and Iglesia for a few seasons, while Aucash, a Danehill (USA) half-brother to Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup winner Saintly, as well as the Nureyev horse Pure Theatre, also had their turns at Oaklands. Tsiumai who was a Gr.1-placed, Gr.2 winner by Thunder Gulch (USA) from the outstanding race filly Triscay, also had a stint at Oaklands. However, over recent seasons Neville and Kaylene have completely revised the roster.
Break the Vault who is a Redoute’s Choice half-brother to Cambridge Stud’s outstanding sire Zabeel, and Ascot Vale Stakes winner Ferocity (Lion Hunter), who is a brother to Chinchilla Rose and Leone Chiara, joined the stud’s list in 2006. All Bar One, a Gr.2 winner by Hennessy (USA), and Chateau Istana (GB), a winner of the Doncaster Flying Childers Stakes-Gr.2 by Grand Lodge, were added in 2007.
Then in 2010 Oaklands secured juvenile Gr.1 winner Wicked Style (USA), whose five wins from 6.5f to nine furlongs featured the Breeders’ Futurity-Gr.1 (8.5f) at Keeneland.
“Wicked Style showed himself to be a high class performer and his progeny should be ideally suited to Australian conditions. Importantly too, he is by Macho Uno who won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile-Gr.1 and was rated Champion Two Year Old in the United States in 2000. So from our point of view it is going to be a matter of catch me if you can when Wicked Style’s progeny start racing."
Along the way Neville, whose says his “job is more about sales and marketing side while Kaylene handles the stud management”, has demonstrated that he has an acute eye for a broodmare. After buying the Capote mare Trick Taker (USA) in-foal to Exceed And Excel from Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al Maktoum, she produced Mission Critical whose victories featured the Waikato RC International Stakes-Gr.1. Other racehorses off Oaklands to have distinguished themselves of late include AJC The Galaxy-Gr.1and MVRC Manikato Stakes-Gr.1 winner Typhoon Zed and Nova Star, whose five stakes wins were highlighted by his triumphant performance in the Tattersalls RC (Qld) Winter Stakes-Gr.1.
“We won Queensland Broodmare of the Year awards with Typhoon Zed’s dam Royal Diploma, and with Filnova who is the dam of Nova Star. We have been fortunate to have received a number of other awards. Lion Hunter won Champion Queensland First Season Sire, plus Champion Two Year Old Sire and then he won Champion Queensland Sire for about five years in a row. Pure Theatre, Iglesia and Tsuimai won Champion Queensland First Season Sire awards for Oaklands, so we’ve done well as far as recognition is concerned."
And now Neville’s name appears as the breeder of Shoot Out, who is by the English and Irish Derby winner High Chaparral (IRE) from the Pentire (GB) mare Pentamerous (NZ).
“Pentamerous was purchased in-foal to High Chaparral and along came Shoot Out. He was a nice big, leggy colt but he didn’t bring a lot of money when I sold him at the Magic Millions. I remember Shoot Out looked as though he was going to need time, but he won the QTC Sires’ Produce Stakes as a two year-old so, once again, it shows that you can be fooled.
Shoot Out has, of course, continued on to win the Australian Derby and AJC Australian Guineas-Gr.1 at three and this season’s MRC Liston Stakes-Gr.2.
“All along my approach to breeding and racing horses has been to strive for excellence. We leave no stone unturned to deliver optimum horse health care with a full time veterinary surgeon whose services are boosted during the breeding season by additional veterinary and nursing staff. Together this expert team provides the horses with first class care and attention, which ensures the proper development and maintenance of all the horses on the property.”
Neville and Kaylene have also shown an acute ability to read the industry. Evaluating the future during the downturn in the yearling market about five years they decided they should begin racing more horses themselves with the idea of on-selling them to Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Malaysia. “It has worked for us,” Neville said.
“The plan led to local trainer Mark Webb winning the Toowoomba Turf Club Premiership last season with a record number of wins and also saw me win the owners’ championship or whatever you call it. As well as Mark we’ve had good long term relationships with other trainers like Rex Lipp and Michael Flanagan in Toowoomba; Kelso Wood and Pat Duff in Brisbane; and with Peter Moody and Anthony Cummings interstate.
“We’ve also forged a close family relationship with Hoss and Gillian Heinrich who originally owned All Bar One and have retained a major shareholding in the horse. Through Lion Hunter, Iglesia, Chateau Istana, Break The Vault, All Bar One, pretty well most of the stallions we’ve had at Oaklands, Colin and Scott McAlpine, of Eureka Stud, have been shareholders. We’ve had a long and fruitful relationship with them, which supports a theory I have. It is that every deal you do with horses is not necessarily a good deal but if you analyse the deals mostly some good comes out of them, sometimes it can be an important contact, or in All Bar One’s case as an example, it can introduce you to a family such as the Heinrichs who become close friends.
“So when you look at the horse industry you shouldn’t look with blinkers on. You’ll find that some good will come out of every deal you do - whether it be on a monetary basis or a friendship basis, and that’s what is so good about being in the business.”