Changing of the guard at Karaka

ON TOP: Curraghmore Stud boss Gordon Cunningham with his sons Patrick, left, and Liam at Karaka.
ON TOP: Curraghmore Stud boss Gordon Cunningham with his sons Patrick, left, and Liam at Karaka.

 One of bloodstock's most remarkable winning streaks ended last night when Hamilton's Curraghmore Stud pipped Sir Patrick Hogan's Cambridge Stud as this year's Karaka premier sale leading vendor.

For 31 years, Cambridge Stud had dominated the vendor aggregate lists as few rival studfarms could match the quality and quantity of blueblood yearlings offered at the main session of the national yearling sales.

A late rally on the second day gave Cambridge Stud some hope of eclipsing a deficit of more than $3 million in sales from the first day of the sale but in the end Sir Patrick graciously congratulated Curraghmore Stud's Gordon Cunningham, saying it was healthy for the breeding industry to have a new champion.

The provisional margin was $430,000 with Curraghmore Stud selling 21 horses for $7.485 million, including the sale-topping $1.975 million Fastnet Rock-Celebria colt, compared to Cambridge Stud's 47 horses selling for a total of $7.055 million.

"I never thought I could get that close actually. I thought we would end up $1 million or $1.5 million behind," said Sir Patrick, 74.

"After that $2 million horse went through, I thought I'd be no chance of catching him. I'm happy I made a close contest of it anyway and I'm thrilled to bits for Gordon Cunningham. He does a fantastic job and he's an asset to our industry. He always presents himself and his property well and his horses sell exceptionally well in the sale ring. This is an enormous result for him.

"The trip that I've had with Sir Tristram and Zabeel - you've got to have those kind of stallions to go 31 years in a row as leading vendor. I haven't done anything great to achieve that result up till now. I've just had the stallions to make it happen for me."

While Sir Patrick played down his achievements, Cunningham, 49, had nothing but praise and adulation for a man he described as an industry icon.

"I've had the utmost respect for Sir Patrick Hogan and have had since the time I came down from Ireland for the first time in 1984 and saw his professionalism with horses at Trentham," he said.

"He's led our industry for years and years and as an industry each and every one of us owe him so much for his innovation and his marketing and I'm sure this year is just a blip."

Cunningham spent several years splitting his time between Ireland and New Zealand, where he worked for Fieldhouse Stud, before taking up a fulltime role as stud manager at Waikato Stud before the Chitticks bought that farm in 1994 and led to him establishing Curraghmore Stud on the outskirts of Hamilton.

Almost 20 years later Curraghmore is well established as one of New Zealand's leading studfarms and topping the vendor aggregate list for the premier sale will only enhance its standing.

"Our sale was about each individual horse and achieving the best possible result for their owners and I'm just grateful for them giving me the opportunity to assemble such a good draft and that's the most important thing," Cunningham said.

"The important thing is what goes into the bank account. But to finish as leading vendor, that gives me great pride. I'm very proud of what we've achieved and I've just expressed my thanks to my staff and told them how much they've been part of a huge effort to grow our horses and turn them out so well. We've been acknowledged as a team and that's great."

Sir Patrick said he felt a degree of relief that his 31-year sequence had ended but indicated nothing would change at the stud because of it.

"At my age now, I should be doing what my wife keeps telling me and not doing so many horses. She says I should get rid of half of them and I'd enjoy it better and she's right but I'm not at the stage to take that advice and listen," he said.

"I didn't have a star over and above the rest and I knew that from the start. I just had a lot of nice horses and one thing I'm really thrilled about was that the Tavistocks sold so well for a stallion that stood at $12,500."

The sale ended with 322 horses sold for $51,051,500, down from $54,137,000 for 350 horses sold last year.

The sale average was $158,054, up from $154,677 last year, while the median of $120,000 was the same as last year. The clearance rate was up from 74 per cent last year to 77 per cent.