Basil Nolan

published: 12 Aug 2014 in Personality profiles

Newly elected TBA president Basil Nolan brings a lifetime of experience to his new role, and the stud owner and former bookmaker has some causes close to his heart. These include extracting money from the corporate bookmakers to help fund the industry and encouraging more people into experiencing the joys of thoroughbred ownership.

SINCE being chosen for a second term on the Thoroughbred Breeders Australia board in 2005, he also had a stint in the 1980s, Queensland’s Basil Nolan has been mightily impressed by the chairmanship of John Messara and Trevor Lobb. Initially John Messara led the way in dealing with the devastating impact of the equine influenza outbreak of August of 2007.

After taking over the role in September 2008 Trevor Lobb spearheaded the board’s management of the continuing fall-out from the virus, the global financial crisis and the battle against Bruce McHugh’s challenge under the Trade Practices Act to the traditional method of Australian stallions covering mares. With Trevor Lobb stepping down in June, Basil is in his opening months as chairman of TBA. “I appreciate that I have enormous shoes to fill,” he said. “John and Trevor are industry icons who have been great leaders of TBA and the thoroughbred industry in general.”

Basil also understands that while the negative effects of equine influenza and the financial crisis have passed, numerous threats remain. “I am going to do the best I can to keep the ball rolling within the industry. There have been several big issues for Australian breeders since I’ve been on the board.

In his view the situation regarding the corporate bookmakers is a matter vital to the welfare of the Australian thoroughbred industry and one needing urgent attention. “We have to harness money from the corporate bookmakers. We have let them dictate to the industry as far as gambling is concerned and we need to rein them in. The corporate bookmakers must be made to pay appropriately for the product they use so they put something back into the industry.”

Another matter to which he will be directing his attention is research into the thoroughbred industry and its wellbeing. “There has hardly been any research into the industry for years, and among matters that need looking into are the attrition rate in young horses. With foal numbers declining we also need to see whether the figures of mares going into foal each year can be improved. The decline in foal numbers is another worry that needs to be resolved.”

To that end he is hopeful the Federal Government will agree to match the breeders dollar-for-dollar to provide funding for what he believes is much needed research. Another important subject on the agenda is the likely amalgamation of TBA and Aushorse Marketing. “It seems an obvious move, because TBA and Aushorse have the same chief executive officer and share the same offices,” Basil said. “Aushorse Marketing has an outstanding young chairman in Antony Thompson and we are both keen to make this happen. If it does come about it will be great for industry share holders.”

Anther topic Basil feels strongly about is the need to stabilise the costs involved in racing and breeding as a contribution to the process of increasing participation levels. “We’ve lost a couple of generations,” he said. “While people still want to have a bet, not too many want to own or breed a horse, which is a problem. There is nothing better than the thrill of winning a race. If people go to the races and enjoy the experience they might continue on to become owners and breeders. That’s something we need to work on in conjunction with the race clubs.”

With practically a lifetime spent among thoroughbreds, Basil fervently believes the future is well worth fighting for. It was as he was growing up that his parents, Basil senior and Rita, began turning from dairy farming to racing and breeding through the influence of their eldest son Paul.

During their earlier years his parents, who had eight children, Kay, Paul, Eugene, who were older than Basil, Carmel, Nick, Gerard and Marguerite, who died from diphtheria as a baby, ran the property in the fertile, picturesque Gladfield Valley, 130km west of Brisbane, as a dairy farm. With Paul being “mad about horses” the Nolans ventured into the thoroughbred industry in 1957 when they bought the Jolly Roger (GB) mare Blue Halo at the McDougall family’s dispersal of their bloodstock at the historic Lyndhurst Stud.

“They paid 1000 guineas for Blue Halo,” Basil said. “When on the night of the sale they were offered £100 profit on the deal, which was quite a bit of money in those days, they sold her. Then they went back and bought the stallion Boxwood.”

A horse by Bois Roussel (GB) from the Donatello II mare Picture Play, he had the distinction of siring Earlwood, who won the BTC Doomben Cup-Gr.1 (2200m) in 1959 and 1960. “It was a very big thrill for all the family when Earlwood won those two Doomben Cups.”

At Paul’s instigation this led to the start of a breeding operation in 1960 and the naming of the property as Raheen, after the 19th century Italianate mansion in the Melbourne suburb of Kew occupied by Archbishop Daniel Mannix. Another of the Nolan’s early purchases was a filly by Stockade (GB) from Hyasha by High Caste (NZ) at the William Inglis and Son yearling sales. 

Racing as Golden Stockade in the ownership of Mr and Mrs B. Nolan and Mr and Mrs J. Portley, her victories featured the QTC Oaks (2400m)-Gr.2 in 1959. While this was happening Basil was undergoing the initial stages of his education at the nearby Gladfield school. “I was five when I began riding a pony to school and back each day,” he said. Basil remained at Gladfield until Grade 8 when he was sent to St Joseph’s Nudgee College in Brisbane as a boarder. The four years he spent at the college had an important bearing on his future when he became the “school bookie”.

“I’d followed the races and was passionate about the horses. In that era just about everyone enjoyed the races and a lot of the kids liked a bet, so I provided the service.” On finishing his schooling in 1963 Basil returned to Raheen, which was still conducting the dairy farm as well as having the horses.

After Paul married and moved away from the property he began looking after the operation in conjunction with his father, who was to die in 1972. Over the years following the decision to stand Boxwood the Nolans had stood horses such as Caynham who was a Solonoway (GB) half-brother to the prolific sire of winners Smokey Eyes (GB). Another was the Fortino horse Gracious Knight (FR).

“Gracious Knight, who was a magnificent looking animal, had only three seasons at stud but he was a really good sire so losing him was a blow,” he said. Even though his duties on the stud were demanding, the mid to late 1960s were particularly memorable years in Basil’s life. During that time he met his wife Diane, who was working as a Queensland civil servant in the nearby city of Warwick, at a local dance.

They were married in 1968 and had six children, Jane, Sally, Basil junior, Theresa, Timothy and Majella, and now have 20 grandchildren. With Basil junior and his wife Natalie taking over the day to day running of Raheen, Basil and Diane moved last September to a house on the boundary of the stud, which spreads over 1618ha (4000 acres).

In 1969 Basil was appointed to the board of the Thoroughbred Breeders Queensland, a role he still fulfils; and following an urge that had been with him since his days at Nudgee College, he took out a bookmaker’s licence. Although he says he had only two winning years in his 22 years swinging the satchel he was able to educate the family’s six children on the proceeds. However, he still shakes his head when he remembers the 1976 Brisbane Cup-Gr.1 (3200m) won by the exceptional Trictrac horse Balmerino (NZ), who was trained by Brian Smith. Although appreciating Balmerino’s quality Basil thought he could not win over 3200m after not having a lead-up outing.

“I think Balmerino was going into the Brisbane Cup without having a start for five or six weeks,” he said. “I knew what a champion he was, but I doubted whether he would run the 3200m right out in the circumstances. I have since come to appreciate Brian Smith’s training ability and should not have doubted his ability to have Balmerino right.

“He was about a 5/2 chance and I laid him and laid him only to see him defeat Participator and Our Cavalier, who would have been a skinner because I didn’t lay a bet against him. I had a very good relationship with Our Cavalier’s trainer Henry Davis, a great trainer, and I thought Our Cavalier should nearly have won because he crabbed around the corner. That wasn’t to be and it was by far the worst result I had in the time I was bookmaking. However, I still have horses with Brian,” he laughed.

Basil also has a vivid recollection of the day in August 1984 when the better-performed Bold Personality raced as Fine Cotton in a race at Eagle Farm. Backed from 20/1 to 7/2 “Fine Cotton” scraped home in a desperate finish only to have the course soon buzzing with stories about there being something wrong.

“A bloke told me before the first race that Fine Cotton would win but it had form around the Gulgong picnics so I thought it couldn’t possibly win. Then within minutes of the race being run I was told the winner was actually Bold Personality and before long an inquiry was announced, Fine Cotton was disqualified and the race was awarded to Harbour Gold.”

However, by the late 1980s Basil decided the time was right to hand in his licence. “I decided to give it away when Sky Channel came in. I thought that would be the beginning of the end for bookies because people would be staying home or watching the races in clubs or pubs rather than going to the track. “From the time I retired from bookmaking in 1989 we have concentrated solely on the horses, although we do have Limousin and Charolais beef cattle. 

These days we run about 150 broodmares, including about 80 of our own.” Among those purchased in the expansion period was the lightly raced winner Dove Vai, who was by Marauding (NZ) from the smart Red Anchor (NZ) mare Benbara Queen. She produced five winners, three, including Yes She Can Cancan, were by the Woodlands Stud stallion Canny Lad. Yes She Can Cancan produced four winners, headlined by Mossman’s daughter Ofcourseican, who won the ATC Coolmore Classic-Gr.1 (1500m) and Liverpool City Cup (1300m) in 2011. Another recent notable bred at Raheen was Kiss a Rose, a daughter of Sebring from the stud’s Redoute’s Choice mare Hurl.

After scoring at her debut Kiss a Rose won the MRC Quezette Stakes-Gr.3 (1100m) at Caulfield and finished second in the VRC Danehill Stakes-Gr.2 (1200m) at Flemington. However, she collapsed and died after running at Caulfield on February of this year. “That was a tragedy because Kiss a Rose obviously had a lot of ability,” Basil said.

“These days we’d sell around 100 horses a year, mostly at the Magic Millions, and the company has been marvellous for us and the Queensland breeding industry. We have marketed horses at every one of the January sales at the Magic Millions since its inception. I was at the first meeting when Carl Waugh asked us to have a look at the sale site but we were never involved in an ownership capacity.

“To be honest I doubted whether the sale was going to be a success because I thought it was being held at the wrong time. My feeling was that the yearlings wouldn’t be ready, but over the years the sale has proved everybody wrong. Much of the credit for this must go to David Chester. He has been a tireless worker not only for Magic Millions but also for the entire Queensland thoroughbred industry”

Along the way the Nolan family developed a close association with Jack and Bob Ingham and this resulted in the highly credentialled Crown Jester standing at Raheen in his later years. “Crown Jester had sired Golden Slipper winner Rory’s Jester before he came to Raheen. While he was with us he sired Guineas who won the Slipper in 1997 for the Inghams and their Woodlands Stud Syndicate. That was a great thrill. Crown Jester was a wonderful old horse for us. He died here and he is buried here.”

In more recent times the Nolans have taken on Dodge and Sanction, who raced in the Ingham colours, as stallions, as well as the likes of Mearas, Shovhog and Stromberg Carlson. Then in 2011 Captain Sonador commenced stud duties at Raheen and last season Golden Archer joined him. By Shamardal (USA) from Kenny’s Best Pal mare Pushing Daisies, Captain Sonador showed his class by winning the AJC Epsom Handicap-Gr.1 (1600m) at Randwick from Trusting and Sacred Choice. Unfortunately the young stallion died in February, but was well supported, covering books of 119, 121 and 91 mares in his three seasons at stud.

Golden Archer, a truly magnificent individual is by Rock of Gibraltar (IRE) from the Gr.2-winning Pins mare Viennetta (NZ), also showed his ability on the racetrack. Trained by Peter Moody his eight wins featured the MRC McNeil Stakes-Gr.3 (1200m) and three Listed races. Golden Archer’s efforts also included a third behind Black Caviar and Moment of Change in the VRC Lightning Stakes-Gr.1 (1200m) at Flemington. Golden Archer covered 87 mares in his first season.

“I suppose we haven’t had any really outstanding stallions over the years but we have high hopes for the progeny of Captain Sonador and Golden Archer,” Basil said. “Captain Sonador’s first yearlings were sold this year and will be racing in the 2014-15 season, so we don’t have long to wait to see what his progeny can do. “Over the years we’ve also built up a close connection with Widden Stud and we are shareholders in Sebring, Nicconi and the new horse Zoustar.

We also have shares in Real Saga, Red Element, Show a Heart and Jet Spur at Glenlogan, new sire Spirit of Boom at Eureka Stud and All Too Hard, at Vinery, as well as some others, so we have our interests spread around, and hopefully much to look forward to.”