Over the past two decades, Ron Gilbert’s Highgrove at Westbrook has added its own exciting chapter to the glorious history of the Darling Downs. Highgrove’s outstanding draft of five is set to continue the story at the 2020 Magic Millions in January.
Located at altitude, with its mineral rich volcanic soils, endless sunshine and wide open spaces, the Darling Downs has produced some of the great champions of the Australian turf, from Bernborough, Tails and Eye Liner to more recent stars such as Highgrove’s own Gr.1 winning 2YO Summer Passage, Gr.1 placed Thronum (now an exciting stallion prospect) through to the current season’s nominal champion 2YO Global Quest, brilliant winner of the stallion making Breeders’ Plate at his only start and early equal favourite for the Golden Slipper in TAB markets. Global Quest was a $340K purchase by Aquis at the 2019 Magic Millions, with Ron and Debbie Gilbert later being offered a share in their graduate, which they decided to accept with happy results.
I recently visited Highgrove, which is situated on the edge of the Darling Downs as you leave Toowoomba. The 2020 draft was in the early stages of sales preparations under the watchful eye of farm manager Gordon Eadie and his team. The draft could best be described as a fabulous five, all well grown, with the great bone that is a byword in horses raised at Highgrove.
I spoke with Ron Gilbert about the individual lots to get his thoughts, but before we started the parade I asked him about his general approach to the sales season.
He explained “I love raising and selling a quality yearling, that’s the clear business plan at Highgrove. We put a lot of thought into our matings, using successful sires and the best young new prospects. Then we give them a carefully supervised preparation, with lots of handling and hand walking so that they will be at their peak on sale day and ready to go on to win races for their new owners. We have been very fortunate to get good prices for our yearlings but I’ve always been mindful that we are trying to breed winners, not just winners, but elite winners, Group winning horses.”
“We’ve had a great few years with winners such as Thronum, Summer Passage and Global Quest flying the flag. Just recently we had an excellent weekend where Miss Spiteful won at Canterbuty at her second start, and Dusty Tycoon won at the Sunshine Coast at her first start as a 2YO for a big syndicate of owners for Steve Brown’s miRunners. I’m particularly excited because Highgrove will be offering siblings to both Global Quest and Miss Spiteful at the 2020 Magic Millions.”
First into the ring for Highgrove will be Lot 62 a bay filly by one of Australia’s best sires Not A Single Doubt out of the winner producing mare A Brilliant Idea (by Afleet Alex).
Ron’s comment: “Not A Single Doubt is a proven sire of Gr.1 fillies, and this filly is well grown, has a big girth and she’s a lovely mover with a huge overstep.
We sold her full sister last year and named Minjee she recently scored an easy win in a Doomben barrier trial, so we might have good news to come here, and this mare has already left a winner of two races in the USA.”
Second yearling to be offered is Lot 339 a chestnut filly from the first crop of Golden Slipper and Magic Millions winner Capitalist from the outstanding young Fastnet Rock mare Global Dream.
Ron’s comment: “This filly is a half-sister to Breeder’s Plate winner Global Quest and to another smart winner Invincible Dash. Mum was a Gr.2 placegetter and her first two foals indicate she could be one of Highgrove’s best mares. This filly is very much like her sire Capitalist, who was a very forward 2YO himself, also a Breeder’s Plate winner. She’s a well muscled filly with powerful forearms and gaskins, a real 2YO prospect.”
Third to be offered will be Lot 383 also by Capitalist, but this time a colt out of the winning All American mare Hollywood Mistress from the prolific stakes producing Highgrove family of Summer Passage, Excitable Boy etc.
Ron’s comment: “I love this colt, he’s a good size with a big girth, great pelvic length and a lot of substance. He is a lovely mover with a very smooth action as he walks. A really nice colt from a great family, by a MM and Golden Slipper winner, I think he’ll have plenty of admirers.”
The fourth Highgrove baby into the Magic Millions ring will be Lot 387 a cracking bay colt by the very exciting first season sire Astern from the multiple winner producing Dubai Destination mare How Discreet.
Ron’s comment: “Astern has to be one of the best stallion prospects around, winning the stallion making Golden Rose Gr1 after competing at the highest level and being out of arguably Godolphin’s best mare. What a CV! This colt is out of the prolific stakes winning “Discreet” family and he’s just a superb individual, scopey, athletic, with a great action and a very purposeful walk. Our stud manager Gordon says he has a wonderful temperament, this colt enjoys every piece of work we give him and is very obliging. I can strongly recommend him to prospective buyers, come and take a look at a great colt.”
Fifth of the famous five from Highgrove is the glamour puss of the quintet, Lot 774 a stunning grey filly (although she looks a delicious chocolate colour at present)
by Exceed And Excel out of the multiple winner producing Speightstown mare Simply Spiteful.
Ron’s comment: “This is a beautiful filly, very stylish with powerful hindquarters and gaskins, wither set well back and she has the look a lot of buyers like, short on top with length underneath. She’s by Exceed And Excel who is clearly the strongest influence for early 2YO speed at stud, his fillies include Slipper winner Overeach, Guelph and Earthquake. This mare has thrown some very smart multiple winners including the recent Canterbury night winner Miss Spiteful who after a game second at her first start went on with the job winning at her second and looks to have a bright future. Another of her earlier foals Legerity overcame a horrific injury to win three races and nearly 150K, he is very courageous. I’m delighted with this filly, she is almost too nice to sell, but we breed to sell, so she should do us proud.”
After discussing the yearlings Ron answered a few questions for Bluebloods.
What appeals to you most about the Magic Millions Sales and race series?
There’s a lot to like, because it’s the first sale of the year there is always a lot of excitement about the initial offering of yearlings, which includes many by first season sires as well as the old favourites. And now with the extra Magic Millions races for 3YOs you can take a horse to the sale which is not necessarily an early 2YO specialist with the expectation that it will still be commercially appealing. Magic Millions have done a great job in this regard.
How would you summarise your draft this year?
These five yearlings are a forward, well developed group. They are definitely 2YO prospects and across the board they are quite consistent, attractive, well muscled individuals. Well worth inspection.
What product would you stockpile if you found out they weren’t going to make any more?
Wine. Because it gets better with age, like horses and people. And where would we be without it.
Would you rather be an eagle or a labrador?
Definitely an eagle. It would be great to be able to look down and see the big picture from above.
If you could add a single option to your car, what would you add?
A self-driving feature, or a chauffeur! Some progress is being made with autonomous vehicles. Imagine, after a night out, drinking some of the stockpiled wine, I could just hop in the back and relax, no breathalyser to worry about.