Messara: 'There is More to Horse Ownership Than Just Money'

John Messara | Bronwen Healy

Arrowfield Stud founder and chairman John Messara has long taken a global view when it comes to breeding and has formed strong strategic links with fellow major breeders in Europe and Japan. He recently spoke with our colleagues at The Thoroughbred Report on the perceived stagnation of the Australian Pattern race programme and now shares with Emma Berry his wider views on racing and breeding in various jurisdictions and the decision to send a special mare to be based in Europe.

EB: You have had associations with European entities before, notably with the Aga Khan Studs. What has prompted you to decide to send mares to Europe to be bred to northern hemisphere time?

JM: Well, we have sent only one mare at this point, specifically to access Frankel (GB). That mare is quite a special one for us, The Broken Shore (Aus) (Hussonet), a half-sister to Redoute's Choice (Aus) and also the dam of Champion three-year-old filly Shoals (Aus). Our partner, Jonathan Munz, persuaded us to relocate her in Europe on a permanent basis for easier access to Frankel (GB) and of course our aim is to try to breed a good colt by this great stallion. It means we'll have to race her progeny in Europe, but that should be fun.

EB: I note that you have recently mentioned potentially standing the offspring as stallions if they are colts and perform well enough. Do you feel that there are certain European stallions whose offspring could work well in Australasia and, crucially, be well received by breeders? 

JM: Certainly, the stallion ranks in Europe and America offer a wider range of elite stallions for a mare like The Broken Shore than here at home, and Frankel in particular is quite special and very suitable for her. Australasian-bred stallions currently dominate our sire premierships but young stallions like Harry Angel (Ire), Too Darn Hot (GB), Blue Point (Ire), St Mark's Basilica (Fr) and Pinatubo (Ire) are being given every chance to succeed here.

EB: The Autumn Sun (Aus) (Redoute's Choice {Aus}) was recently represented by his first Group 1 winner, Autumn Angel (Aus). Would you ever consider shuttling him, particularly given his family, and with his younger siblings being based back in Europe?

JM: Yes, we would consider shuttling him, if a sound opportunity was to arise. The Autumn Sun has got off to a solid start in Australia and hopefully there's more to come. He's a stallion with a relaxed attitude, who would handle the travelling and transitions between hemispheres.

EB: How do you view the increasing importation of middle-distance and staying horses from Europe to Australia? Do you feel there is enough encouragement in the Australian breeding industry for breeders to try to produce this type of horse at home?

JM: We certainly have the racing programme and the prize-money for middle-distance horses, albeit that there is an historical demand for precocious speed animals. And yes, the flow of imports of European middle-distance horses and their success on the track here has been something of a wake-up call, causing Australian breeders to consider a more diverse approach to their breeding options. We at Arrowfield have been on that path for some time, with stallions like Dundeel (NZ), Maurice (Jpn) and The Autumn Sun. I am hoping that the exaggerated focus on two-year-old racing is behind us and that we start producing horses with a more versatile aptitude.

EB: Do you feel that there is there too much emphasis internationally on two-year-old success?

JM: The statistics are interesting: in Australia 12% of all stakes races are for two-year-olds, while in Great Britain and Ireland it's more than 20%, yet Australia has been much more focussed on two-year-old racing. The Golden Slipper, established in 1957 and still the world's most valuable two-year-old race, is undoubtedly one reason; another is our broad ownership base including syndicates of people keen to see their horses run early.
While it is naturally exciting to see each season's juveniles stepping out, and they are a vibrant part of Australian racing's mix, I sense that this focus on two-year-old racing isn't quite as intense as it once was. I suggest that at least a couple of factors are responsible for this: mature European horses winning our middle-distance races; and the success in Australia of stallions like High Chaparral (Ire), Street Cry, So You Think (NZ), Dundeel and Maurice.

EB: From your perspective, do Royal Ascot and other major meetings in this part of the world have enough allure for Australian owners and trainers? Or is it simply the case that financial rewards are greater at home and in jurisdictions such as Hong Kong and Japan?

JM: Yes, I do think Royal Ascot retains its appeal for Australians – at least, I'm yet to meet anyone who has been underwhelmed by it. A stakes win at any of the top European meetings is a great asset in a pedigree and a wonderful, bucket-list experience for most of us. I would say, without much hesitation, that most Australian owners would enjoy the challenge of taking on the world, if they had the horse to do it. There is more to horse ownership than just money!

EB: Japan is another country with which Arrowfield has strong links. What is it that drew you to become involved in standing stallions such as Maurice and Admire Mars? Do you keep mares in Japan?

JM: We have had a 25-year, strong and productive relationship with the leading Japanese stallion farm, Shadai Stallion Station, and with Katsumi Yoshida's Northern Farm; these are hugely successful breeding operations. We have stood horses here in Australia on the shuttle and have partnered with them in other cases. Japanese stallions have offered us diversity by providing outcrosses for our relatively small gene pool. We sometimes ship mares to Japan to access particular stallions in Southern Hemisphere time, such as Sunday Silence and Deep Impact (Jpn). We also operate a broodmare partnership with Northern Farm which has produced 7 Group 1 winners including Horse of the Year Weekend Hussler (Aus), Blue Diamond winners Reaan (Aus) and Tagaloa (Aus) and last weekend's Australian Oaks winner Autumn Angel (Aus).

EB: What do you feel that other breeding nations can learn from the Japanese model?

JM: My observation is that the Japanese breeding industry relies more on the excellence of racetrack performance than the fashionable pedigree or commercial saleability. They have bred many, many internationally competitive athletes that way. The efficiency and scope of their training facilities is amazing and they are constantly looking for ways to do things better.


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