Simms Davison

published: 01 Dec 2016 in Personality profiles

Mapperley Stud has a great reputation for raising thoroughbreds, So You Think and Dundeel are prime examples, and now Simms Davison, the third generation of his family at the helm of this operation, is heading in a new direction by standing four high-class young sires at the Matamata property. It’s a challenge the former star rugby player is relishing and he can’t wait to see the results.

STANDING 1.85m and weighing in at 115kg Mapperley Stud principal Simms Davison is a very powerful unit. This physique combined with his athleticism enabled Simms to excel at playing rugby, as a prop, at the highest level.

  By the time his body gave out 12 months into a two year contract with French club Clermont Auvergne the game had virtually assured his financial security. Simms was also fortunate to have a fall back position running the family’s breeding operation, which had been established nearly half-a-century earlier by his grandparents. The management of Mapperley had been handed down to their son Mark, who controlled the property until Simms took over from his father six years ago.

  Since the turn of the century luminaries such as High Chaparral ’s sons So You Think, a 10-time Gr.1 winner and now Coolmore stallion and the six-time Gr.1 winner and Arrowfield sire Dundeel are among those reared on its undulating green pastures. So are the likes of AJC Australian Derby-Gr.1 winner Nom du Jeu, now a sire himself,  triple Gr.1 winner Sangster, the gutsy warrior Sir Slick, who won six Gr.1s, AuRC Easter Handicap-Gr.1 winner Prince Kaapstad and Singapore Derby-SINGr.1 hero Clint. While this list, and there are many others, is testimony to Mapperley’s proclivity for growing out young horses, Simms has taken the stud back to the days of having a stallion roster.

  “When I first took over, the farm was all client based and used mainly for rearing young horses, preparing them for the sales and agisting dry mares,” he said. “While we are still very much an agistment farm I’ve been building up my broodmare numbers and I’ve got a nice lot of young mares who are mostly stakes placed or stakes performed. A lot of them only have two or three foals on the ground, so we are still waiting to find out whether they are any good.”

  Most notable amongst his holdings so far is the Thunder Gulch (USA) mare Thunderchine, whose foals include Thunder Lady. Trained by John Sergeant Thunder Lady won the VRC Wakeful Stakes-Gr.2 and was second in the VRC Crown Oaks-Gr.1 and third in the ATC Storm Queen Stakes-Gr.1.

  “I felt the next step for me after building up my broodmare band was to begin standing stallions,” Simms said. This new phase in Mapperley’s history began in 2013 when he secured He’s Remarkable. In 2015 that Group-winning son of Pentire was joined by Gr.1 winner Atlante (AUS) (Fastnet Rock), while this year two further Gr.1 winners, Contributer (IRE) (High Chaparral (IRE)) and Complacent (AUS) (Authorized (IRE)), who raced in the Godolphin blue, were added. Atlante was sadly lost in a paddock accident in early December.

  “We are not only standing stallions at Mapperley, we are also buying shares in other stallions. In that way we are supporting other studs and I think that is very important as well.”  Simms is also well aware of the responsibilities he has to the Davison family’s legacy. “It’s been great to come back to such a beautiful, beautiful property like Mapperley, which has produced so many great horses,” he said. “I was very fortunate to be given the unique opportunity to come home, take over the farm and be able to put my own signature on the place.

  “My father was quick to remind me that I am the third generation of stud masters at Mapperley. The farm has been handed down from my grandparents to my father and to me and hopefully in the years to come I can do the same.”  John and Doreen Davison founded Mapperley Stud in 1964 on the lush pastures of Matamata in the Waikato region of the north island. With Doreen having been born in England, the Davisons were regular visitors to the old country and generally returned to New Zealand with a mare or two when running a property on the South Island.

  This practice intensified once they moved north and their astute judgment brought success. Among the notable mares they imported were Some Swallow (GB) by My Swallow (GB), Petwood (GB) by Petingo (GB) and Super Show (GB) by Great Nephew (GB).When mated with Sound Reason (GB), Some Swallow produced Gr.3 winner Some Reason, who in turn was responsible for AuRC New Zealand Derby-Gr.1 winner So Casual, who was by Casual Lies (USA).

  To a joining with Long Row (GB) Petwood foaled WATC Railway Stakes-Gr.1 and BATC Rothmans 100,000-Gr.1 winner Getting Closer, while the mating of Star Way (GB) and Super Show resulted in (Our) Waverley Star. A winner of the AJC Chipping Norton Stakes-Gr.1, Waverley Star was involved in one of the most memorable renewals ever in the MVRC Cox Plate-Gr.1 in 1986 when he went down narrowly to Bonecrusher after they singled out from their rivals 700m from home.

  As the Davisons were aging their sons Mark and Kit began running the farm, which then spread over some 526ha (1300 acres). With Mark and Kit being young and enthusiastic, they began standing stallions at Mapperley, beginning with Long Row, who was a Gr. 2 winner at Newbury by Linacre. As the 1970s were moving into the 80s the multiple Gr.1-winning Godavari (IRE) horse Little Brown Jug and the New Zealand Derby and STC Canterbury Guineas-Gr.1 winner Ring The Bell, by Rangong (GB), were added to the roster. Then in 1990 the property was split, with Mark “taking the front portion and Kit taking the back part”.

  “A number of other stallions, including Piperhill, Chem and Piazzetta also stood at Mapperley, which led through to Straussbrook, Stylish Century and then Volksraad came here in the 1990s,” Simms said. A winner at Ascot by Green Desert, Volksraad (GB), who began standing in 1994 and died in 2011, sired 640 winners, with 14 of the highly successful sire’s 57 stakes winners scoring at the elite level.

  Foremost among them was Sir Slick, from the Paris Opera mare Miss Opera. He was bred by Monovale Farm and was sold for $NZ$48,000 from the Mapperley Stud draft at Karaka in 2003. He went on to win $NZ2 million in prize money and was New Zealand Champion Middle Distance Horse of the Year in 2007.

  During the years Sir Slick was racing Simms was deeply immersed in playing rugby full time. As he was growing up Simms, who was born in June 1979, had always been busy helping around the farm, “working like a slave,” as he puts it. That began to change, however, when he was “shipped away” to boarding school at King’s College in Auckland as a 13 year-old. “During the years I was at boarding school I’d still help on the farm during summer holidays and that sort of thing,” he said. 

  On leaving King’s College Simms went to Otago University where he undertook a Bachelor of Commerce degree, majoring in marketing and management. “I had played rugby all the way through school and that had become a main driver for me while I was at university. After playing all my age group rugby I started playing as a professional for the Waikato Chiefs in 2002.

  “It was full-time because I played Super Rugby for the Chiefs for half the year and then provincial rugby for the Bay of Plenty in the other six months. I really enjoyed my last few years with the Chiefs, when I was playing weekly and was playing good rugby.

  “It was absolutely fantastic because I was being paid well for something I’d have done for absolutely free. It enabled me to get some money behind me before I came into the horse business. Even though I came into the game rather late, after having time off to play rugby, it gave me some security as far as going out and buying horses was concerned, which was great.”

  Among his highlights playing in the black, red and yellow jersey of the Chiefs was the 18 points to five win over the Crusaders before a packed house at the Waikato Stadium in 2008. A report from the clash, which was played in a “Test match” atmosphere, was headed “Simms Davison and the Chiefs shut down the Crusaders.”

  He also played in a Ranfurly Shield premiership-winning side with the Bay of Plenty. After completing the 2008 season with the Chiefs Simms signed a contract with Clermont-Ferrand, which is in the top bracket of French rugby teams and is sponsored by Michelin.

  “Time was starting to tick away, my family had been waiting for me to finish my rugby and come home to start running the farm. I was meant to stay with Clermont-Ferrand for two years but I injured my back, which required surgery, so that was a good time to come home.”  Although he was not able to be hands-on with the horses while concentrating on his rugby Simms says he was “very much into the racing side”. “I’d go and buy yearlings and would then race them with mates from Otago University or from rugby. That’s when I started putting together my own broodmare band.”

  Among his purchases was a filly by Danasinga from the Siege Perilous mare My Amazing Grace. Bought for $NZ50,000 at the Karaka sales, she went on to capture the Waikato RC Sir Tristram Fillies Classic-Gr.2 in 2008 racing as Due Diligence. The following year Simms returned to New Zealand.  During the time Simms was playing rugby Mark had decided that Mapperley should join forces with Nelson Schick and his Windsor Park Stud. “My father and Nelson had been friends for a very long time, were business partners and owned a number of farms together,” he said. “The two places were being run as one operation with the stallions at Windsor Park and Mapperley being basically used for agistment.

  “It made sense because Mapperley is a lovely big property of about 600 acres (243ha) where young horses thrive. So the horses were grown out on the farm and, apart from a couple of years, went to the yearling sales with the Mapperley brand on them.”

  As a result of this connection Simms spent the 2009 breeding season at Windsor Park before taking over Mapperley from his father, who had returned to the South Island high country to farm. Simms subsequently decided to strike out on his own and the partnership with Windsor Park was ended.

  “The partnership with Windsor was very successful but it was important to me on coming home to identify Mapperley independently and to be able to row my own boat,” he said.

  During 2013 Simms and his charming wife Margaux had their first son Jack and they now have another son Max, who is one. “I met Margaux after a match in Auckland and we dated while I was playing rugby. She was in London at the same time I was France and I managed to drag her back to Matamata after that.” The year Jack was born Simms secured He’s Remarkable, who is by Pentire from the Zabeel mare Axiom, for stud duties in partnership with Waikato Stud. A Gr.3 winner and three-time Gr.1 placegetter, He’s Remarkable had been victorious in the 2011 WATC Railway Stakes-Gr.1 only to lose the race to Luckygray on protest. It was a decision which left racing fans completely bewildered.

  “I felt He’s Remarkable was a good sire to kick off with,” Simms said. “The horse was obviously very unlucky to be relegated in Australia but he was still highly performed, beautifully bred and very good looking. And his little brother Xtravagant has helped things along by winning two Gr.1 events.”

  The first yearlings by He’s Remarkable sold up to $NZ110,000 and are now racing as two year-olds this season. With everything working smoothly with He’s Remarkable, Simms decided to step up the pace in the past two years by adding Atlante, Complacent and Contributer to Mapperley’s roster.

  Sadley, the Fastnet Rock Gr.1 winner Atlante passed away just prior to this issue going to press, but his first foals have already impressed good judges.

  Both the other two Mapperley  young guns are multiple Gr.1 winners with world class pedigrees. A friendship with Darley and its Australian supremo Henry Plumptre, in particular, opened the way for Complacent and Contributer to stand at Mapperley. By the 2007 English Derby winner Authorized (IRE), Complacent is out of Insouciance, a daughter of the 1990 Derby winner Quest For Fame (GB).

  Complacent, whose triumphs featured the ATC Spring Champion Stakes-Gr.1 and Tattersalls Club (NSW) Chelmsford Stakes-Gr.2, also finished second to Polanski in the VRC Victoria Derby-Gr.1Contributer, who like Complacent was foaled in 2010, is by High Chaparral from the Gr.3-winning Exit to Nowhere mare Serisia, who has had five winners from six foals to race.

  A winner four times in England, two of them in Listed races, Contributer adapted quickly to the conditions “down under” with his successes in the ATC Chipping Norton Stakes-Gr.1, Rawson Stakes-Gr.1 and other races earning him the title of Champion Middle Distance Horse of Australia in 2014-15.
  “Henry has always been a big advocate of New Zealand and I’d chat away to him at the sales,” Simms said. “I’d tried to buy another stallion from Darley, which didn’t get over the line, but they knew I was trying to move in the direction of having stallions.

  “It grew from there and when I knew Complacent had been retired I got on a plane and went over to Darley to look at him. I liked what I saw and the deal was done. Then, after Contributer was injured, Alastair Pulford and Andy Makiv, from Darley, were over in New Zealand and I was invited to dinner with them down the road from Mapperley. We virtually did that deal for him standing around in a kitchen over a few glasses of wine.

  “Complacent is standing in a partnership between Mapperley and Darley, while Contributer is standing in a partnership between Mapperley, Darley and a group of New Zealand breeders. Contributer is a perfect fit for us after the huge success we have had with the progeny of High Chaparral, with both So You Think and Dundeel being raised and grazed on Mapperley.

  “Besides that Contributer was a racehorse of the highest calibre, a great mover, lovely looking and has a real presence about him. It’s very exciting to have three young boys in the roster with everything in front of them. I can hardly wait to see what unfolds over the next few years.” 

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