Julie Nairn

published: 12 Aug 2014 in Personality profiles

The decision by her parents to buy a property at Red Hill when she was “just a wee dot” changed Julie Nairn’s life forever and set her on a path into the equestrian world and then into thoroughbred racing and breeding. These days Julie manages stallions through her LP Stallions company and enjoys sharing her love of horses with the many people she meets through her business.

THE opportunities for women in the thoroughbred industry were severely restricted in years gone by. However, racing has moved along with the rest of society to ensure women have a reasonable chance to compete with their male counterparts. Trainer Gai Waterhouse has, of course, led the way in Australia but among those lesser known and appreciated women in the industry is Jill Ross, who ran Lynden Park Stud on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula for many years.

A trained nurse Jill battled against the odds before ill health resulted in her calling on her daughter Julie and son David to help with the running of the stud. Lynden Park is no longer, but Julie has made a name for herself in a variety of capacities. As well as managing Desert King (IRE) and Golden Snake (USA), who previously stood under the Lynden Park banner, she has also recently brokered the deal in Ridgeview Park Stud's purchase of Bianconi (USA) from Swettenham Stud. She also manages Best Choice for his owners under her LP-Stallions banner. Added to that she breeds and syndicates her own horses to race on a private basis or through the Mi Syndications platform. These currently include the Caulfield-winning Golden Snake mare Gold Heist and the recent Sandown winner in Amortise, by Desert King, who was bred by her sister Verena. 

Although describing herself as a small operator, there is an unmistakable note of pleasure in Julie’s voice as she talks about her participation in the horse industry.

“I really enjoy managing the stallions and the breeding and racing side of what I do, or anything that is to do with horses,” she said. “Probably the main thrill I have enjoyed through the years I’ve been involved is breeding a foal, rearing it, and then seeing it in the winner’s enclosure no matter at what level. That’s just a wonderful feeling an owner/breeder and one you don’t get if you go and buy a weanling, a yearling or buy into a tried racehorse, because you haven’t had that hands on experience.

“I also enjoy meeting new people and putting nice groups of owners together. I love that and I love talking to people, such as my good friend and advisor Kristen Manning whose knowledge of pedigrees is amazing, about a subject we are passionate about, which is horses. I love all forms of equestrian pursuits and one matter I have come to feel very strongly about is what happens to horses after they finish their racing careers.

“To that end I like to ensure they have a future as show or eventing horses or just as a hack, if they are not being used in the breeding barn. Thankfully with the great job Racing Victoria is doing in this regard more people are now thinking about what happens to racehorses when they are retired.”

This care and compassion comes from being brought up in a rural environment after Jill and her husband Max brought the property at Red Hill, which evolved into Lynden Park Stud. “Dad was a school teacher and Mum was a nurse so it was quite a change when they bought the farm when we were wee dots,” says Julie who has an older sister Kate, a younger sister Verena and a younger brother David.

“The original idea my parents had was to raise cattle, but after a while we had all sorts of animals . . . the cows, ponies, pigs, chickens and rabbits. We went to the local primary school and grew up on the property. It was lovely.”

Along the way Jill, who was to become vitally interested in the horses, was approached about standing a warmblood stallion. “At that stage Mum didn’t have any idea about how to go about handling a stallion or the serving of mares. She didn’t know a lot about horses and the closest she ever came to one was sitting on the champion Rising Fast, when she was a little girl. She remembers that quite vividly but her career was nursing, not horses.

“Fortunately, she was able to employ a chap named Ken Cameron, who was a well-respected horseman, and he taught her how to run a stud farm. Then another friend, Rae Cashmore, who loved putting together classic thoroughbred pedigrees, suggested they buy a stallion from Wright, Stephensons which was the leading bloodstock agency in Victoria at the time.”

The stallion Jill purchased was Paper Money (IRE), who was by Pieces of Eight. “She stood him as a show horse slash racehorse stallion, who local breeders used to cover their mares,” Julie said. Even though he was mostly used to produce show horses, Paper Money did manage to sire a capable performer in Oh Johnny. Foaled in 1981 Oh Johnny, who was from the Regal Light (IRE) mare Princess Ahina, finished third in the VRC Gibson-Carmichael Stakes-LR at two and went on to win the VRC Batman Handicap-LR and a Moe Cup.

As she became more involved in the industry, Jill was introduced to Ted Cockram who had the Arundel Farm stud. Ted asked Jill whether she would like to stand Cool Ted, a horse by Bold Flip (USA) who had won the VATC Debutant Stakes-Gr.2 as a two year-old. She agreed and in 1984 Cool Ted began standing on the property, which by that stage was operating as Lynden Park Stud. “Cool Ted started siring some stakes winners and, as it does, one thing led to another,” Julie said. 

“Mum was introduced to Nick Columb who owned Islero, and she began standing him, as well as Sir Pele who stood at Lynden Park in conjunction with Ted Cockram.”

With her confidence rising, Jill, in partnership with Ted Hughlin, imported Gold Carat (USA) from America in 1988. “Gold Carat was one of the earliest Mr. Prospector horses to come here. It was before Mr. Prospector became a household name in Australia. They also stood the Gr.1 winner Ark Regal who came over from New Zealand. “Gold Carat sired our first Gr.1 winner You Remember who was out of Snow Wonder by Adraan. He won Manikato Stakes at Moonee Valley, as well as the Linlithgow Stakes at Flemington and the Bletchingly Stakes at Caulfield. You Remember was also placed in the VicHealth Cup-Gr.1 at Caulfield, so he proved himself to be a classy racehorse.”

After a few seasons with Gold Carat and Ark Regal, the Northern Dancer horse Jugah (USA) joined the Lynden Park roster. Subsequently Jill was presented with the opportunity to stand her first shuttle stallion when the Irish 2000 Guineas-Gr.1 winner Prince of Birds (USA), by Storm Bird, became available. 

He had quite a few successful seasons at the stud with his best performer being the multiple Group winner Infinite Grace, raced by Martin O’Connor and partners. By then Julie, her sisters and her brother were growing up and were often being called upon to help.

“Obviously when you grow up on a farm you don’t get away with sitting on your bottom doing nothing,” Julie said. “From time to time we would be dragged out to feed up, clean stables, and we could be called out of bed in the middle of the night to help Mum with a foaling . . . we were expected to help out where and when we could.

“I also got into showing horses and dressage with an ex-race horse I had, but phased that out later when I was married and had children. I am just starting to get back into it now. I have loved every minute of my involvement with the horses and I always will.”

The new way of life she was introduced to as a youngster meant that she and the family were meeting “some lovely people” through the connections they were making in the industry. Among them was Bob Norris, who for a long time now has been manager of Robert and Ro Scarborough’s Wood Nook Farm at Nagambie in central Victoria. “Bob came and worked on the stud for quite some time,” Julie said. “He really changed the way the farm operated and he taught us a lot. He was one of a myriad of people we were lucky enough to meet and learn from over the years.” Peter Heagney, the highly respected Victorian director of Inglis, was another who helped by contributing to the learning curve. “He taught us what makes a sales yearling and what doesn’t,” she said.

Apart from the appeal of working with horses Julie was not sure of the direction she wanted to follow on finishing her secondary education. “You didn’t want to stay working on your parent’s farm, so I finished up working for the National Bank. I became a personal loans officer and worked in a number of bank branches on the peninsula and in the suburbs a bit closer to Melbourne; but I was always drawn back to the horses and the people you meet through that involvement.”

She was able to further indulge her passion during a break she took from the bank to travel overseas with Verena. “While we were back-packing around I got to meet some very interesting people and got to see some wonderful places. We went to Chantilly where I met some trainers, saw the stables and was shown how everything worked. We also visited the Irish National Stud and Coolmore and met Michael Kirwan, which was great.” 

It was while she was with the National Bank that Julie met her husband of 20 years Tom Nairn, who is in the Victoria police force. They now have “two gorgeous daughters” Emily who is 12, and six year-old Gracie.

As Julie was approaching her 10th year with the bank Jill was finding the task of running Lynden Park, dealing with the stallions, the mares, and the foalings, was becoming over-demanding. With that she resigned from the bank and returned to help her mother and brother with the stud.

“Mum was always the principal of Lynden Park but David and I started to do more when she wasn’t able to, we were a team.” During that time Jugah, Ark Regal, Prince of Birds, Ali Royal ( Ire ), Aristotle (IRE), Golden Snake, a son of Danzig, Lion Cavern (USA), Okawango (USA), Masterclass (USA) and Desert King were among those standing at the stud.

“I’m particularly fond of Golden Snake whose four Gr.1 wins included the Longchamp Prix Ganay and the Prix Jean Prat etc. He has proven his ability to sire tough, durable performers and is a truly beautiful stallion. If I remember rightly Robert Roulston, who is now chairman of Racing Victoria, and the late David Medbury brought out Golden Snake from England to stand at Lynden Park. “They were ahead of their time because everybody then was wanting to breed sprinter-milers and it seems breeders are now turning back towards wanting to breed classic and staying types. Golden Snake, who won his Gr.1 events from 1850m to 2400m, is your classic sire through and through and at 18 he remains as fit, athletic and healthy as they come, and should appeal to a wide range of breeders.

“It was good having the stud in those days because the horses we had were appealing. It was also before the influence of the big farms came in and killed you off a little bit.” Robert Roulston and David Medbury were the bloodstock agents involved in the arrangement which enabled Desert King beginning to stand at Lynden Park in 2005.

“We ended up syndicating 50% of Desert King and we shared him with East Stud in Japan, who were then his northern hemisphere owners. Timing as they say is everything and that worked out really well because we had Makybe Diva racing herself to immortality by winning her third Melbourne Cup in the first season we had Desert King. At the same time he had Desert War becoming Champion Middle Distance Horse in Australasia and Lachlan River winning a Queensland Derby. With all that we had a waiting list of mares in 2005 and 2006 for Desert King, who was limited to 130 mares under the southern hemisphere breeding rights agreement.”

At that time two other stars with a connection to Lynden Park, Apache Cat and Fields of Omagh, were rising to the heights. An exceptionally marked horse by Lion Cavern, Apache Cat scored the first of his seven Gr.1 victories in the VRC Australian Guineas (1600m) at Flemington in 2006. Fields of Omagh, by Rubiton from the Cerreto (IRE) mare Finneto, who had won the first of his two MVRC Cox Plates-Gr.1 (2040) in 2002, was to win the weight-for-age championship again in 2006.

“Paul Radford and Robyn Lawrie sent their Whiskey Road mare Tennessee Blaze to Lion Cavern and the resultant foal was Apache Cat,” Julie said. “Paul kept most of his mares with us at that time and it was great to see how brilliantly this mating worked out. Martin O’Connor also kept his mares with us. Fields of Omagh was reared at Lynden Park, so he was another outstanding horse the property has had an association with.”

That meant everything was humming along for the Ross family and Lynden Park until the equine influenza outbreak in August of 2007 decimated the breeding industry. “Desert King went back to Ireland, where he was standing by then, from the Sydney quarantine station, and Golden Snake was kept at Wayne and Doreen Slinkard’s property in the purple zone in New South Wales. By then my mother wasn’t well and with all the work involved in running Lynden Park the impact of the EI crisis led to us deciding to close the business.

“My sisters and brother had married and had moved away and Tom and I had our own place at Tyabb, so there was nobody who wanted to keep the stud going.” In the lead up to the 2008 breeding season Julie approached Christoph Bruechert, who has the Bombora Downs Stud at nearby Bittern, to stand Desert King and Golden Snake.

“Christoph was the master of ceremonies at our wedding and has been a good friend of Tom and mine for a long time,” she said. “That arrangement worked well. Then last year we decided to give the stallions the chance to serve a new batch of mares. This led us to move Desert King to Chris and Kathie Bakker’s Lauriston Park on Creighton Creek, near Euroa. Golden Snake and the Redoute’s Choice horse Best Choice, a half-brother to champion sprinter Silent Witness, who I manage for overseas clients, was moved to Ridgeview Park Stud at Muskerry East, near Bendigo. It is the stud previously run by Lyn A’vard as Sanctuary Lodge.”

Earlier this year Julie learned Swettenham Stud was seeking a home for Danzig horse Bianconi (USA), whose progeny features the multiple Gr.1-winning horse and Widden Stud stallion Nicconi. “I rang Adam Sangster and told him I knew of a farm that would love to have Bianconi and in conjunction with Ridgeview Park Stud and Swettenham Stud I brokered the deal for him to stand at Ridgeview Park. He is a lovely addition for Phil and Fiona Sloane, who set up Ridgeview only about 18 months ago.

“I have tried to come to an agreement to arrange for another couple of stallion prospects to stand at stud, but have just missed out on them. To be honest a lot of farms, particularly the smaller ones, are doing it tough. It is more difficult now to stand a shuttle horse than it was when we were bringing in the likes of Prince of Birds, Ali Royal, Lion Cavern, Golden Snake and Desert King because the costs are very high and the competition from the major studs makes it even tougher.

“You have to find that special horse who suits your client base and appeals to a wide variety of breeders, or you need to find a farm whose clients are prepared to invest in a young sire prospect. Another option is to find a nice, proven horse like Bianconi, whose shareholders might want to move him to another stud. Yet another alternative is to buy a really well bred weanling or yearling who could make into a stallion prospect. Again, that’s not something that is easy to do, but the challenge and the dream is enticing.”