Anthony Mithen

published: 09 Sep 2012 in Personality profiles

A winning quinella on the 1982 Melbourne Cup started Anthony Mithen’s involvement in racing, his love of sport led to a successful career in the media and his marriage introduced him to a family with a passion for breeding thoroughbreds and to eventually running a stud that is home to Gr.1 winners Danzero and Toorak Toff. There has been plenty of hard work along the way too, it’s all part of a plan to make Rosemont an industry leader in Victoria.

AS the thoroughbred world recovers from the impact of the global financial crisis former journalist Anthony Mithen believes a unique opportunity has presented itself for positive action. With this in mind, he is working at developing Rosemont Stud at Ceres, about 80km south west of Melbourne, into a leading stud.

Originally developed into a horse property in the 1990s by his late father-in-law Grant Austin, Anthony’s big picture initiative is being conducted in association with his mother-in-law Heather and brother-in-law Nigel. After identifying their objectives, the partners have been powering ahead over the past 18 months or so. Driven by a shared passion for the racing and breeding industries Rosemont has, in that time, introduced a number of initiatives that will have long lasting benefits.

This transformation began last year when the aging Golden Slipper Stakes winner Danzero, the sire of winners of some $59m in prizemoney, was secured to stand at Rosemont. Since then the stud has bought a controlling interest in the imposing dual Gr.1 winner Toorak Toff, who is this year standing his debut season. It has also put together a valuable band of broodmares, many of them with distinguished racing backgrounds; bought the 566ha (1400 acre) Makybe, complete with its world class facilities, from Tony Santic; and signed on the highly regarded Dean Harvey as bloodstock manager. Added to that everyone at Rosemont has their fingers crossed about four-time Gr.1 winner Winchester (USA), who is being prepared by John Sadler for a tilt at the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups.

 “It is all part of our aim to establish a brand that people will know and come to respect,” Anthony said. “There were 60 or 70 horses on the place when Grant passed away and it was a major assignment to organise all that. Once that was completed we had a meeting and decided to step further down the path. We felt we wanted to position ourselves more strongly in the industry, and given the economic climate we felt the time was right to make that move.”

  While Anthony’s earlier life was in the media, his initial interest in racing was fired some 30 years ago by initial success as a punter. That came about, when after studying the form, he came to the conclusion that Gurner’s Lane and Kingston Town were the two best chances in the 1982 Melbourne Cup.

  “I told my father Bill I couldn’t decide between them and he asked, ‘why don’t you have a quinella?’ so I did and they ran first and second in the Cup. That made me think it was the easiest work of all time and I became a victim of the punt. “I was going to St Joseph’s College at Geelong and by Year 10 the lady operating the TAB would keep telling me to go home and change from my school uniform to civvies so she wouldn’t get into trouble for letting me bet. She eventually gave up and she’d let me on whether I was in a school uniform or jeans and shirt. Unfortunately, apart from that Melbourne Cup, I’ve never been much good as a punter but I still don’t mind having the odd try.”

  Anthony was born in Melbourne but his family relocated to Geelong, a city renowned for its football team and some 70km south west of the state capital, when he was in primary school. “My father was in the Catholic Education Department and my mother Sue was a teacher,” said Anthony who has an elder sister Jane, an elder brother Bill and a younger brother Ted.

  “Although we didn’t have any real horse background my father always had TAB tickets jutting out of the top pocket of his shirt of a Saturday. He was a dedicated punter. Dad died when I was 12, but in the early days I can remember going with him to watch track work at Carawatha where Meggs Elkington was training. That also spiked my interest.”

  While punting was a high priority, that did not distract from Anthony’s schoolwork or his ability to prove himself on the sporting fields. A talented cricketer, in 1989 he had the honour of captaining the St Joseph’s team to win the Victorian Schools’ Cricket Championship. “We were a motley crew, but we knocked over Xavier in the final. I suppose you could say that was probably my crowning moment as far as sport was concerned.”

  Anthony was also a member of the school’s football team and later played for St Joseph’s Old Boys in the Geelong Football league, but by then he was becoming increasingly involved in the media. In his last two years at St Joeys he wrote a football column for The Geelong Advertiser, only to find there were no cadetships available when he finished his schooling. As a result he enrolled in an arts degree, majoring in journalism, at Deacon University. Within six weeks Anthony realised that wasn’t for him, so he turned to working in a mate’s sandwich shop until an opening became available at the Advertiser in September 1990.

  “That kick-started my career in journalism. I was there for two and a half-years before I accepted a graded position at The Truth in Melbourne. I wanted to get into sport full-time and at The Truth I was able to write about football and cricket. I was also included in the racing tips panel, much to my family’s merriment because they knew I couldn’t back a winner to save myself. It was a great experience to work at a lively, robust organisation like The Truth and one of my most treasured memories was sitting alongside the legendary Jack Dyer at the 1993 AFL grand final won by Essendon.

  “In fact Jack was the reason my father had become a Richmond supporter. After Dad had seen him in a match he told his father, who was a Carlton supporter, that he wanted to watch Jack Dyer play. From that time while his father went to Carlton’s matches Dad went to Richmond’s games . . . that spawned a family of Richmond supporters. It’s a dynasty that traces back to the late, great Dyer so it was an honour to sit alongside him at that grand final.”

  The year proved momentous on a more personal note, with Anthony and his wife Selina marrying after “going together” from school days. “Selina went to Sacred Heart which was the sister school to St Joeys, we began chatting through secondary school, and everything developed from there. We’ve had three children Patrick who is 20, Sara, 17 and Lily, 14, and we all barrack for Richmond.”

  Following their marriage the Mithens moved on to Rosemont, which at first had been run primarily as a sheep and cattle property by Selina’s parents. “Grant and I got on like wildfire, he loved his footy and was racing horses. Once he had his toe in the water Grant began thinking about going down the breeding track and everything has grown from there.

  “It also strengthened my racing involvement because rather than being, as I had been, a random punter losing his money every Saturday, I started helping Grant research pedigrees and I was going to bed at night time studying a sales catalogue.

  “I suppose the best horse he had was Russian Trader, who was by Semipalatinsk. He had won races at Flemington and Doomben and Grant was thinking about a possible Cups campaign for Russian Trader, but he was fatally injured when he crashed through the running rail in the Queensland St Leger at Eagle Farm.”

  Although commuting to Melbourne from just outside Geelong, Anthony fitted comfortably into his role as a sports reporter and in 1994 he graduated from The Truth to The Age, which was quite an accomplishment. “I remember Martin Blake, who is still at The Age, saying to me that I had created history by walking the path from The Truth straight to The Age, rather than climbing a few steps in between,” he said.

  Three years on he was secured by Melbourne’s Channel 10 as a football reporter and in 1999 was offered the chief football reporter’s position at Channel 9. “It was an exciting era with the AFL going forward in leaps and bounds. I worked on The Footy Show, which is a Melbourne institution, and I was the boundary rider for Eddie McGuire when Channel 9 had the rights to the football, so they were all highlights. Wide World Sports also used me to provide its racing coverage and later on they kept me on as a freelancer, because they knew I had a passion for the industry.”

  Another significant experience was organising a trip to Dubai in 2001 when Australasian superstar Sunline finished third behind Jim And Tonic and the Catherine Remond-bred Fairy King Prawn in the Duty Free on the World Cup program. “My focus at that stage was always Aussie Rules footy, but I was able to manufacture that trip to Dubai. It was a well worthwhile venture.”

  Then everything changed dramatically when Grant passed away in 2004. Anthony resigned from Channel 9 to direct his attention towards running Rosemont but was subsequently enticed into doing the Morning Show at Melbourne’s Sport 927.

  “I wanted to give the farm a real crack,” he said. “Grant had built stables, had racehorses and had put together a broodmare band, so it was ticking along nicely as a boutique operation. After he passed away it was either a matter of keeping it going or pulling the fences down and going back to the cattle.

  “I sat down with Heather and we worked out a plan which gave me the opportunity to run the business. In the end the offers from Sport 927 were too much of a temptation to refuse but I was running myself ragged being up at four o’clock in the morning and driving to Melbourne and back. “Added to that I was seconded on to the Richmond board and was trying to run the farm as well. Although it was a hectic period in my life it was most enjoyable, but after three years I felt that enough was enough.”

  Anthony had entered into racing horses in his own right beginning with Not A Bad Yarn, a son of Voodoo Rhythm (USA), who won on the flat before scoring over fences at Hamilton and Warrnambool. “Later on Heather and I raced horses in partnership and my brother-in-law Nigel became quite enthusiastic about following in his father’s footsteps. Now Nigel is extremely involved in the whole Rosemont venture.”

  It was in 2005 that the partners struck a jackpot when Geelong-based Mark Young, who had trained the horses Grant raced, identified a yearling by Secret Savings (USA) from the Snaadee (USA) mare Lanadee had potential. “He’d had issues when he had gone through the Magic Millions sale on the Gold Coast. Then he was presented at the autumn sale at Oaklands and we got him for $29,000.”

  Racing as Secret Flyer he has notched up 11 wins, two of those being in Listed Races, and amassed nearly $540,000 in prizemoney. “Nigel is the major share holder in him and we’ve all had a lot of fun with him. It was a great thrill when he was one of the favourites in the Newmarket Handicap a couple of years ago.

  “We hired a bus and had a brilliant day at Flemington even though Secret Flyer only finished midfield. Other horses we’ve raced from the days since I taken over the running of Rosemont have been mainly for strategic purposes . . . fillies that we want to breed from down the track or the odd colt. We also bought into Shinzig as a stallion prospect before he won the Orr Stakes-Gr.1 at Caulfield in 2008.”

  The operation expanded into previously unchartered territory last year when Anthony secured Danzero from Arrowfield. “Although he is getting on in years Danzero has sired the winners of nearly $60m, including a lot of top horses such as Dance Hero, Fairway, Niconero, Danglissa and Danni Martine. We thought he was worth a chance back in Victoria where he started his stud career, and we were able to come to an agreement with John Messara. It is proving to be a worthwhile move and it is a privilege to have a horse like Danzero as our foundation stallion.”

  With his appetite for the “stallion game” whetted, Anthony then took a 10% interest in Toorak Toff, whose wins featured the STC Golden Rose-Gr.1 (1400m) in record time. “That was before he won the Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes at Caulfield and after that we felt we needed to have a controlling interest in him,” Anthony said. “When we were finalising the stud deal Nigel weighed in quite significantly and now we have a great little syndicate that will ensure Toorak Toff has every opportunity to succeed at stud. It’s all very exciting and I am hoping we can do it justice.”

  Along the way Rosemont has been busy buying broodmares in Australia, New Zealand and the northern hemisphere. Among them are the Gr.1-winning Pentire mare Penny Gem (NZ); Attire, the dam of multiple Gr.1 winner Fashions Afield; Meet My Sis, the dam of Sandown Guineas-Gr.2 winner Schilling; as well as highly performed stakes winners such as Skewiff, Gold Lottey and Eramor. Overseas excursions have resulted in the purchases of Amazing (USA), a mare by Greatness who was a winner of $A567,477 in America, Wild Mia (USA), a Gr.2-placed multiple Listed winner, and Joint Aspiration (GB), a daughter of Pivotal who was a winner in England and US

  “We now have a strengthening broodmare band that we are confident is going to have commercial upside,” Anthony said. It was during a visit to Kentucky in February this year, when he bought Amazing and Wild Mia, that Winchester, an entire by Theatrical, was added to the holdings. A 2005 foal, his victories have featured the Arlington Secretariat Stakes (10f), Belmont Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (12f), Manhattan Handicap (10f) and Saratoga Sword Dancer Invitational (12f) at the elite level.

  “Winchester has beaten Drosselmeyer who won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, as well as Gio Ponti who is a three times Eclipse Award winner, so he has shown his class as a racehorse. He’s arrived in fine fettle and we’re hoping he’ll give us a cheer and a shout at the business end of the spring.”

  With Rosemont’s own mare numbers steadily increasing and visiting mares coming in as the breeding season was approaching, the stud was able to supplement its 400h at Ceres with the purchase of the nearby Makybe from Tony Santic. The property spreads over 566ha and is beautifully appointed with a bluestone homestead, stallion barns, yearling barns and “everything you could possibly want”.

  “It has river flats and it is a brilliant place,” he said. “We have moved the breeding operation over there which will allow us to make Ceres basically a racehorse spelling facility.”

  With the operation growing so rapidly, the family, as Anthony says, has been “very fortunate” to recently be able to co-opt Dean Harvey to help oversee the running of the business. “My brother Ted introduced me to Dean, when he was working with Inglis in Sydney. We became mates and Dean became interested in what was happening at Rosemont during the six years he was with Darley in Victoria. He has a very good rapport with people in the industry and he is just the person we need at this stage of our development to ensure we capitalise to the fullest on what we are doing.” n