Jaime Mackay

published: 12 Aug 2012 in Personality profiles

Champion polo player Jaime Mackay’s life has always been tied up with horses and the land, so it really came as no surprise when Jaime turned over his historic family property to the breeding of thoroughbreds and Cangon Stud Farm was born. It’s a move that Jaime, wife Jennifer and children Jock and Catriona haven’t regretted.

THE Mackay family’s Cangon Stud Farm, near Dungog, has an illustrious history stretching over more than 170 years. The Mackays settled on the property, a little more than 200km north of Sydney, way back in 1838, after emigrating from Scotland via Canada.
  Within two years a homestead was built and the family was actively farming on the property which is situated on the Williams River. As the area also has a good and reliable annual rainfall this has meant the land is virtually drought free. That certainty, plus astute management, has ensured Cangon has thrived through to the fifth generation of the Mackays, Jaime and Jennifer.

  However, four years ago Jamie, Jennifer and other family members decided, at a round table conference, they should begin a new era at Cangon. “In recent years we’ve had a reorganisation within our family,” Jaime said. “Cattle had been the family business, but given the dire situation of agriculture in Australia we decided to reduce our exposure to cattle and to become more involved in what we really enjoying doing . . . that is breeding and racing horses.

  “We were really already involved anyway, but we decided to take that involvement to another level rather than continue with the cattle. We had a very good herd of about 800 Angus cattle at Cangon and in the timbered country of the Barrington Tops in the Gloucester area, but given what goes on with the regulation within the cattle industry and agriculture in general we decided to reduce our holdings. As well as being more enjoyable, we felt we could achieve better results by going into the horses, and it’s been very rewarding.”

  The change in direction led to the Mackays selling some of the holdings at Gloucester and to transforming the 900ha at Cangon into a farm catering for the breeding, rearing and agistment of racehorses. “It was an expensive exercise to re-fence the whole place,” Jamie says of the restructure. “Fortunately we had access to a lot of timber from Gloucester, which was a big saving for us.”

  The Mackays then added another dimension to the operation by at first standing the Royal Academy (USA) horse Recapitalize, who had won a Gr.3 event, two Listed stakes and five other races from 1200m to 1400m. Then Sea Battle and Nothin’ Leica Dane joined Recapitalize. A Gr.1 placegetter Sea Battle who is by Quest For Fame (GB), had proved his ability by winning the MVRC Crystal Mile-Gr.2, VRC Winter Championship-LR and six other races while in the care of Mark Kavanagh. After proving a topflight galloper with six wins including the VRC Derby-Gr.1 and AJC Spring Champion Stakes-Gr.1 and running second in the Melbourne Cup-Gr.1 as a three year-old, Nothin’ Leica Dane sired the exceptional performer Hot Danish as well as Cinque Cento, Utzon, Ain’t Seen Nothin’, Superior Star and Leica Falcon, so the Mackays thought he was definitely worth taking on.

  “He is a magnificent old horse,” Jamie said of Nothin’ Leica Dane who is rising 20. “He has somewhat been forgotten in the later years but he is still one of Danehill’s best-ever sons. Nothin’ Leica Dane has produced a lot of good horses and his progeny are suited to BOBS Extra because they race on. With breeders appreciating that, he has been solidly supported since he has been with us, which has been very pleasing.”

  The roster was further expanded last year when the Southern Halo horse Snapy Halo (ARG), who was a Gr.1 winner at San Isidro before joining John O’Shea’s Randwick stable, was added. “He is an outstanding individual but he had issues and wasn’t suited to the wet tracks he struck in Sydney. He still managed to be stakes placed and he produced a very good performance when sixth on the Doncaster on a heavy track.

  “With Snapy Halo coming last season we were quite busy and had our biggest year as far as mare numbers were concerned, so it’s all been going to plan so far. Importantly, we are enjoying what we are doing.”

  It’s going to be even busier at Cangon in 2012 with the announcement in July that dual juvenile Gr.1 winner Spartacus (IRE) (Danehill-Teslemi by Ogygian) will join the roster on a $5500 fee. He retired to stud in Ireland and New Zealand in 2004 and was Leading First Season Sire and Leading Second Season Sire in NZ in 2007-08 and 2008-09. He has 14 black type performers among his more than 140 winners including the Marton Metric Mile-Gr.3 winner Spare a Fortune (Kaapstad) and Hawthorne Derby-Gr.3 winner Strait of Mewsina (Grand Lodge), and was one of the best European two year-olds of 2002 when he won the National Stakes-Gr.1 at the Curragh and the Gran Criterium-Gr.1 in Milan.

  In a way the changes at Cangon are not as dramatic as they might seem, for while breeding and trading black cattle had provided the main source of the family’s income over the years, horses have always been an integral part of their lives.

  “Traditionally the Mackays have had a long association with primary industry, but for more than a century the family has been successfully breeding thoroughbreds for racing. We have also had an involvement in the equestrian side of things going back many years. I was born into an equestrian family, right from the very beginning, because both my father and mother were horse people.

  “My father Ken camp drafted and played a lot of polo in Australia, and a little overseas. He also bred and raced horses. One I remember was Rapid Hour who was trained by Arthur Ward and won several races in Sydney. When he was retired from racing Rapid Hour was used as a sire of polo ponies. My mother Phyllis was very well known in the horse world. She showed at the Royal Easter Show in Sydney in hack events and so forth, she did that forever.”

  As a result Jaime soon went through pony club and on to eventing and show jumping at the Sydney Royal before following his father on to the polo field. “I played my first game of polo with my father while I was still at school,” says Jaime who began as a boarder at The Kings School at Parramatta as a nine year-old. “I left school in 1968, so I think that was probably in 1967.”

  After learning to play the game at a very early age Jaime continued on to establish himself as a truly outstanding player, achieving a seven-goal rating, on the international arena. “I was able to make a career in playing polo for something like 25 years, which was an exciting period in my life.” 

  His journey to the heights began when, after finishing his secondary education, Jaime departed for Argentina where he worked with Eduardo Moore who developed horses and then sold them on. “While I was with Eduardo I had opportunities to improve my polo skills and to learn to play at an international level. That opened up an opportunity for me to play in England on a regular basis. I was invited to play there in the 1970s, and everything continued on from there.

  “In 1980 I was invited to play in a world side against Great Britain, which was a great thrill. Our team beat Great Britain on Coronation Cup Day, at Royal Windsor, which is the biggest polo day in Europe. I was awarded most valuable player on the day, which was a big kick for my career.”

  His achievements were even more personally rewarding because he was riding horses bred, reared and prepared at Cangon. “We’ve successfully bred polo ponies at Cangon for many, many years, using thoroughbred stallions. It is a program that is now being carried on by our son Jock who is a member of the Australian team and plays in England for about six months of the year.”

  As the 1980s began to unfold and his standing in the game soared, Jamie was appointed captain of the Australian polo team, a role he filled with distinction for the next 10 years. With his international commitments increasing, playing each year in events such as the United States and British Open tournaments, Jaime discovered his most practical option was to keep his ponies in California.

  “There was a lot of travelling, I’d come back to Australia for a few months but then I’d go back to California and go from there with the horses we had bred at home. Having horses in California you had to play them because you couldn’t afford to not having them doing anything so I’d go back and play a winter season at El Dorado, which is east of Los Angeles.

  “I’d sell a few horses overseas each year, which helped financially, and then I’d take over a few more we’d bred on the farm. By then Jennifer and I were married and she would make the trips with me. Later we would take our daughter Catriona, and Jock, until schooling meant they had to stay at home. It was about that time, around 1992 or 1993, I finally decided to pull the pin on the travelling and I sold up.

  “I was also aware I was getting a bit old to play the way I wanted and I had problems with my wrists and I was feeling other injuries I’d suffered. Also I was aware that young Argentinians were always coming through the ranks, and that didn’t help either. I had plenty of horses at Cangon and I kept playing at home, and occasionally I made short trips to Malaysia, Thailand and other places.
  “I’d take horses there to sell, but eventually injuries caught up with me and I had to retire completely. That’s been a bit sad because I would like to have been able to play a bit more with Jock who is now one of Australia’s leading players. That would have been fun, and I also enjoyed making these young horses into high grade polo ponies for him as he’s away so much of the year.”
  Another element had been added to the family’s distinguished tradition in the horse industry when Jaime and Jennifer were married in 1977. Jennifer’s mother, Judith Downey, was a daughter of the distinguished owner and breeder H.G. Raymond. 
A Victoria Racing Club committeeman, he conducted the St Albans Stud near Geelong, where Phar Lap was spirited away from danger in the days before his magnificent triumph in the 1930 Melbourne Cup. H.G. also had the thrill of breeding and racing Rimfire, who scored an upset win over Dark Marne at odds of 80/1 
in a controversial photo-finish to the Cup in 1948.
  He also bred numerous other luminaries including Tranquil Star who was triumphant in the MVRC Cox Plate at Moonee Valley in 1942 and 1944 and the VRC Mackinnon Stakes at Flemington in 1942, 1944 and 1945. Judith’s sister and Jennifer’s aunt, Ann Raymond, has had Sledmere Stud at Scone since selling up at St Albans in 1977.
  “Interestingly their father was co-founder of Sledmere, just after the first World War before he moved to Victoria and established St Albans,” Jamie said. “Ann is now 87, and a few years ago Catriona who is married to Segenhoe’s manager Royston Murphy, took up the reins as manager at Sledmere.”

  It is not surprising that it was horses, or more specifically polo, which brought Jaime and Jennifer together. At the time he met her, Jennifer had decided to take a year away from nursing in Victoria to try “something different” and had begun working with some friends of Jaime’s in Moree, nearly 700km north-west of Sydney.

  “One day I spied her at the polo and everything just went from there,” Jaime said. “Jennifer had inherited her interest in racing and breeding from her mother who was very much an avid breeder and racing person.” It was not long after their marriage that Jennifer began her breeding activities with a Lunchtime (GB) mare named Tiffin Bell who had belonged to her mother. Among Jennifer’s purchases in those early days was the Kaoru Star mare Etoile de Vien, a Sydney placegetter.

  Following a mating with Lunchtime (GB) in 1988 Etoile de Vien foaled Miss Kariba, who in the care of Guy Walter went on to win nine races featuring the STC Canterbury Stakes-Gr.2 and Birthday Card Quality-LR. Her other efforts included a second in AJC The Galaxy-Gr.1 at Randwick.

  As the stud career of Tiffin Bell, the dam of six winners, was winding down, Jennifer secured the Luskin Star mare Kibitka who went on to produce eight winners. Foremost among them was Katima, again trained for the Mackays by Guy Walter. She won the AJC Gimcrack Stakes-LR (1000m) and Keith Mackay Stakes-LR at two and the Silver Shadow Stakes-Gr. 2 at three. There was further black type success when one of Tiffin Bell’s daughters, Celebration Bell, produced to a mating with Redoute’s Choice the AJC The Nivison-LR winner and twice Gr.2-placed filly, Whoever.

  Among the other notable winners bred and reared at Cangon by the Mackays are the ill-fated He’s No Pie Eater and Stryker. A son of Canny Lad, He’s No Pie Eater demonstrated his ability by winning the AJC Chipping Norton Stakes-Gr.1 at odds of 80/1, and STC Rosehill Guineas-Gr.1 before suffering a fatal accident. A Gr.1-placed, Gr.3 winner Stryker, who is by Fastnet Rock and was sold for $600,000 at the Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale, last year embarked on a stud career at Three Bridges Thoroughbreds at Eddington in Victoria.

  While utilising their own horses, the Mackays also employ the services of leading Hunter Valley stallions such as Redoute’s Choice, Exceed and Excel and Fastnet Rock each breeding season. “Jennifer’s mares stay with Catriona at Sledmere for most of the time, although sometimes they come back here. The weanlings also stay at Sledmere and Catriona does our prep work for the yearling sales, so it’s all working very well. 
  “We are very proud of Catriona. She is a graduate of Marcus Oldham College, she gained a scholarship to the prestigious Hagyard-Davison-McGee Equine Medical Institute in Kentucky and she has worked at Widden and Darley, so she has a lot of experience behind her. We feel it’s great that both the children are actively involved in the industry.

  “Jock is away a lot but he comes back to Cangon when the polo is finished in England, and he is very active in helping me during the breeding season. We also have a number of very good clients including Anthony Cummings, Guy Walter, Chris Lees and Darren Smith, in Newcastle, and people have been very supportive.”
  With everything going according to plan the Mackays jumped at the chance to stand Spartacus in 2012. “We had room for another stallion, and I believe Spartacus will be very popular here at such a value fee,” Jaime said. “I don’t feel there will be much more challenge in standing five stallions, and winners of his calibre don’t come along very often. This new phase of Cangon is proving very interesting and we’re pleased with the way everything is going, but we still have quite a bit we want to do.”