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Peter Orton and the World's Best Teacher

Young Exceed And Excel colt Exceedance, who lines up in the Coolmore Stud S. this Saturday, is just one of the reasons Peter Orton is smiling about the future of top Hunter Valley nursery Vinery Stud.

Peter Orton is general manager for one of the pillars of Australian breeding in Vinery Stud, a Director of Thoroughbred Breeders NSW and one of the most respected names in this country’s thoroughbred scene.

And there’s a good reason for that.

He had one of the best “teachers” in the world, an imposing figure by the name of Danehill (USA).

Like many in the Hunter Valley stud neighbourhood, Orton – raised among sheep and cattle in Victoria - worked at a couple of studs before switching to another just down the road, eventually landing at John Messara's Arrowfield Stud. It was a good place to be, especially by the early 1990s.

Shuttle stallions, though now viewed more judiciously, had become something of a craze. Orton estimates 50 to 60 of them were flying in and out each season.

Danehill (USA)

The world's best teacher

And then one day in 1990, the best of the lot touched down. Orton was among those to meet him.

“I’ll never forget the day he arrived at Arrowfield,” Orton says. “From the minute he stepped off the float, he had an aura which was just about palpable. You just knew we were in for something special.”

The pedigree was in place of course, so too the racetrack performances. But the son of Danzig (USA) also brought the less-tangibles: the demeanour; the way he carried himself; an attitude that showed he was the boss, and which made it no surprise to find evidenced through libido and fertility.

Such traits of character in a stallion are precious, for the promise they’ll be passed on to his offspring. And pass them on he did. Danehill was champion sire in Australia no fewer than nine times – a record highly unlikely to be broken.

The son of Danzig (USA) also brought the less-tangibles: the demeanour; the way he carried himself; an attitude that showed he was the boss

The lessons from Danehill and Messara have helped shape Orton's work through 19 years at Vinery, which after more than a century as a commercial stud farm remains at the forefront of Australian breeding through a roster including More Than Ready (USA), All Too Hard, and exciting newcomers Press Statement and Headwater.

“You do get a feeling looking at stallions, as to how well they’ll go as a sire,” the 62-year-old Orton says.

“There are no guarantees, of course, but when you look at a stallion – and it was the same in looking at cattle and sheep in breeding – you do like to see a particular style. Pedigree is obviously important, but they’ve also got to be a dominant personality.

“You might see some lovely looking horses. But do they have that demeanour? That spark? That toughness they might pass on?”

“You might see some lovely looking horses. But do they have that demeanour? That spark? That toughness they might pass on?” - Peter Orton

 

Orton had learned about horses on the family farm near Myrtleford in Victoria.

“It was sheep and cattle, but we worked with horses too, breaking them in and so forth,” he recalls. “It was all types of horses, but we got a few thoroughbreds, and I became fascinated by them.

“It was a thrill to work with these elite athletes. They really had something special. They’re bred to perform and to race, and they have this personality. Other breeds avoid you as best they can, but thoroughbreds are always engaging with you.”

Gerry Harvey and Peter Orton

Orton left the family farm to immerse himself in thoroughbreds at the Hunter’s Turangga Farm. Next came some more learning at Kentucky’s Walmac Farm, amidst some other special “teachers” like Alleged (USA) and Nureyev (USA).

Vinery: The beginning

After 17 years at Arrowfield, Orton helped kick off the new-look Vinery in the year 2000. Settled in the 1820s, it had founded the original Segenhoe village, becoming a commercial stud in 1913. When it was sold in the late 1990s, the Segenhoe name went with it, with the stud becoming the sister farm for the US-based Vinery.

Orton was quickly back to the US to view another stallion. Echoing Danehill, More Than Ready, a son of Southern Halo (USA), and grandson of Halo (USA), seemed cut from the right cloth.

More Than Ready (USA) | Standing at Vinery Stud

“He was a very talented 2-year-old, and he looked exceptional,” Orton says. “And I thought the Halo line was a good, tough, stallion line that would make a perfect outcross for all the Danehill blood in Australia.”

More Than Ready had been collared late when fourth in the 2000 Kentucky Derby behind Fusaichi Pegasus (USA). After Vinery bought into him, he won his only Group 1, reverting to a 1400 metre distance Orton thought was perfect.

“Australia produces the best sprinter-milers in the world,” Orton says. “We’re not so good at breeding stayers, not compared to Europe or New Zealand. In New Zealand their horses tend to grow and develop skeletally a bit slower, for reasons such as the ground being softer.

“In Australia, there’s more sun, the grass is higher in protein, the conditions are more conducive to a fast-growing animal. You can hope for results earlier. And I believe we’ve got to breed to our strengths.”

More Joyous (NZ)

More Than Ready has of course been a phenomenon, siring anything from Golden Slipper winners to Derby victors, and of course the eight-time Group 1 winner More Joyous (NZ) (out of Sunday Joy, by Sunday Silence {USA}).

Now 22, More Than Ready has sired around 1800 winners globally, the most of any sire, with the great Danehill the only eclipsing 1600. Vinery’s star is also in the top five in history for stakes winners worldwide with 198, among Sadler’s Wells (USA) (No.1 with 323), Galileo (Ire), Danzig and Danehill.

Morty, as he’s known around the farm, will cover at least 80 mares this season – more may be added because he finished his work so well. And he’s one of the real characters of Vinery, now owned, after previous ownership guises, by a six-man group including such breeding heavyweights as Gerry Harvey and Neil Werrett.

Adam White

“Morty’s a real character,” says bloodstock manager Adam White, who’s been at Vinery almost as long as Orton. “He loves poking his tongue out and wants people to play with it. He’s always very popular on social media.”

“Morty’s a real character... He loves poking his tongue out and wants people to play with it." - Adam White

 

White, son of jockey Ray and trainer Kris from Mount Gambier, and who learned pedigrees in Adelaide’s ABCOS office across the table from a young Wayne Hawkes, is another who marvels at More Than Ready’s longevity.

“He’s always thrived on travelling,” he says. “It keeps him refreshed, switching hemispheres, going where the weather’s warm, not just standing around for six months of the year in the winter.”

More Than Ready is the most shuttled stallion in the world. After plans to stop last year were overruled – by the spirit of the horse himself – this will definitely be his 19th and last shuttle season.

Despite his loss, Vinery is poised to continue to prosper.

Continuing to prosper

The 10-year-old All Too Hard, Black Caviar’s half-brother by Casino Prince out of Helsinge, finished in the top 20 on Australia’s general sires’ list last season. Alligator Blood, out of Lake Superior (Encosta de Lago), recently came within a wart of matching his sire’s Caulfield Guineas success, grabbed super-late by Super Seth (Dundeel {NZ}).

All Too Hard | Standing at Vinery Stud

“He’s a pretty laid-back customer, with a great demeanour and personality,” White says of All Too Hard, who’ll cover 120 mares this season at $27,500 per service, (second at Vinery to More Than Ready on $55,000).

“He’s a pretty laid-back customer, with a great demeanour and personality." - Adam White

 

His sire Casino Prince is still standing, as the best-value sire in the Hunter Valley according to Orton, at $6600. An American More Than Ready son, Pluck, has proved a boon to country NSW trainers in particular. And former sprinter Star Turn (Star Witness) will have his first, impressive, yearlings at next year’s sales.

Perhaps generating the most excitement are the two sires whose first crops have just started racing: Press Statement, another former Caulfield Guineas winner, and stakes-winning sprinter Headwater.

Press Statement’s first starter Press Start flew home for third on debut at Eagle Farm last Saturday, while a Headwater 2-year-old, out of Prison Rules (Onemorenomore), fetched $200,000 at the Magic Millions 2-year-old sale this month.

“Press Statement’s just a super athlete, with an incredible physique. You can pick his offspring out in a paddock a mile away,” Orton says. “Headwater’s progeny might come on a bit earlier. He was a brilliant 2-year-old with the depth of pedigree to do anything.”

Exceedance (Exceed And Excel) races in the Vinery colours and is likely to be next on its stallion roster. His third behind class 3-year-old Bivouac (Exceed And Excel), and subsequent Everest winner Yes Yes Yes (Rubick), in last month’s Golden Rose portended of important wins to come, which are likely to keep Vinery Stud powering, and its prime movers like Orton bouncing out of bed.

“I find the whole business of racing and breeding just fascinating,” Orton says.

“I find the whole business of racing and breeding just fascinating." - Peter Orton

 

“You never know what’s coming up. You try your best to select stallions that will upgrade the breed. You look for the right qualities, and you hope.

“You’ve got to play the long game and, largely, wait your turn. The mistake some make it to try to force it, but you can’t buy luck. You can woo it, flirt with it, and try to maximise your chances, but you can’t force it.”

 

Article | TDN - Trevor Marshallsea