Steve Tregea

published: 10 Jun 2012 in Personality profiles

Hard work and a hands-on approach have given Steve Tregea success in business and in the world 
of the thoroughbred. As a breeder and trainer, the Windemere Stud principal had some great rewards, as well as “being on the wrong end of the pineapple”, but for someone who was “always mad about horses”, he wouldn’t change a thing.

LIFE is pretty good these days for Steve Tregea and it is a reward for effort that has come from a passion for horses and a successful business career. After gathering experience in the industry over the previous decade, Steve and his wife Anne established Queensland Agricultural Seeds Pty Ltd, with its base in Toowoomba, a quarter of a century ago. It was a struggle to begin with, but hard work and long hours gradually paid dividends as markets were opened up in Australia and abroad.

  The result was that by the mid-1990s Steve felt the time was right to steadily ease his way out of the day to day running of the business. So with Anne handling the office administration, a role she still fulfils, and Rick Ramis as company manager, Steve was able to indulge his passion for breeding, owning and training horses as well as riding track work. Although it is a lifestyle he would not change, he has come to realise there are a lot of pitfalls associated with the do-it-yourself approach.

  “When you are doing the breeding and racing yourself you are copping it all,” he said as he looks over a panoramic view of the Darling Downs from his Windemere Stud homestead. “You have to cope with the mares slipping, foals needing corrective shoeing, the accidents, the illnesses and the ones breaking down.

  “They’re the sorts of things you have to be prepared to cop if you are breeding and racing, but after a while you get used to it. When it’s all boiled down people do it because it is in the blood, plus there is no arguing that it is a brilliant lifestyle for Anne, myself and our three girls Casey, Hannah and Samantha . . . although now our daughters have grown up and are living in Brisbane. I was brought up on a farm and I always wanted our kids to be brought up on a farm. I think that’s been to their benefit.”

  Like so many “farm boys” in the thoroughbred industry Steve’s initial experiences among horses was as an enthusiastic young competitor at pony club and in show ring events. His parents, Bill and Pat, had a dairy farm at Peachester, a small town in the Sunshine Coast hinterland about 75km north of Brisbane, and the interest grew from there.

  “As well as the dairy cattle we had horses and as I was mad on horses I wasn’t very old before I began competing in pony club and at shows.” After completing his secondary education at the high school at Caboolture Steve enrolled at the agricultural college at Gatton in the Lockyer Valley about 90km west of Brisbane. On securing an agricultural certificate Steve joined the Department of Primary Industry as a cadet. At that stage he was based at the Brigalow Research Station at Theodore, a rich agricultural area nearly 600km north of the Queensland capital, and it was while at Theodore where he was working in the beef animal husbandry branch, that the then 20 year-old first became active in racing.

  “Shows and pony clubs were always very competitive and what appealed to me about racing was, that if you were first past the post you generally were the winner. What I didn’t factor in was how difficult it really was, so to begin with it was like lambs to the slaughter. Anyway I had gone to a sale in Brisbane, I can’t remember which one it was, and had bought a yearling by Space Signal from Passlette, who was by Persian Glance. Then I went to the bank and borrowed the money to pay for him . . . and once I was in, I was in.”

  A 1973 foal, his purchase was named Just Gomer, after the awkward television series character of the time Gomer Pyle and, capitalising on his skills in the saddle, Steve began training him on the research station’s grass airstrip. Although Just Gomer was a gangly type he began paying down the bank loan by winning a two year-old maiden over 850m at Gympie. He went on to record another seven wins over the next two seasons before being sold.

  While that was happening Steve also rode “for a couple of seasons” as an amateur jockey at meetings in Rockhampton, the “Beef Capital of Australia” some 630km north of Brisbane and other central Queensland tracks. He also rode work with one of the leading trainers in the region, Mick Hanlon who had stables at Theodore, and Steve would also accompany his horses to the races most weekends.

  “That’s how I became really interested in racing,” he said. However by the time Just Gomer changed hands, he had decided he was not suited to working in the public service. That led to him moving back to his parents’ property at Peachester and joining up 
with Laurie Russell who had developed an impressive training centre nearby that now belongs to the Huddys of Shoot Out fame.

  “I stayed there for a couple of years before I found my way into the seed department of Australian Estates Co Ltd in Brisbane. I found I liked that and also that I had a bit of a flair for trading seed for sowing. In the 10 years I was there we had numerous takeovers, I think there were eight in all. At one of the takeover points Elders took over the business and the company transferred the Brisbane part of the operation to an existing base in Toowoomba. It operated as Elders Seed Co. and I managed the pasture seed side of that business until Yates Agricultural Seeds took over. With that I became the Queensland Manager for Yates Agricultural Seeds, with branches in Toowoomba and Rockhampton.”

  It was during that time he and Anne met, romanced, were married and had Casey, who is now 26, Hannah, 24, and Samantha, 20. Then in 1987, with his wife’s total support, Steve and Anne became co-founders of Queensland Agricultural Seeds with a head office in Toowoomba. Still remaining a privately owned company Q.A.S. has found a niche in the market as a supplier of tropical and temperate pasture, crop and turf seeds for sowing. These seeds are supplied to an extensive reseller network within domestic and international markets, particularly in South-East Asian and Pacific Island countries.

  During his years with Australian Estates and through the initial takeovers, Steve had continued to race horses in Brisbane and they accompanied the couple when they moved to Toowoomba. “I kept a couple of horses while I was in Brisbane to maintain my interest, and which I trained myself. We won quite a few races around the bush, but we didn’t really have anything of note. Although a filly I do remember was Emprazure, who was by Blue’s Finito, I think she could have been our first winner after we moved to Toowoomba.”

  The Tregea family bought a property about 20km west of Toowoomba where they built a house and stables. “However once we started Queensland Agricultural Seeds we had to concentrate on building the business, and that meant I was travelling a lot. I was going to the Middle East, Malaysia, New Caledonia and to other places like that to establish agencies. There wasn’t really time for the horses, and for a number of years we just had a mare or two.”

  Then with the Q.A.S. flourishing, they purchased an adjacent 70ha property. They subsequently bought 40ha more directly across the road, built another house, added stables, constructed yards and fenced paddocks. At that stage Steve began easing out of the company and turning to the horses while Anne took over all the office administration.

  “I started acquiring a few nice mares and set up the horses as a breeding business with the idea of selling the yearlings. I also began training a few we kept.” The first of these acquisitions was the Gairloch mare Bourrache (FR), who was secured from Collingrove Stud at Nagambie in foal to that distinguished race horse and sire Rory’s Jester. From that mating Bourrache, who was stakes placed winner at Deauville, produced the multiple stakes placed Melbourne winner Bourree. Another early buy was the Mighty Avalanche mare Gem of the West, whose seven wins had featured the AJC Light Fingers Stakes-Gr.2, QTC C.E. McDougall Stakes-LR and two other Listed races.

  “We bought Gem of the West straight out of Roy Dawson’s stables when she had finished racing,” Steve said. “That was in 1995 so that’s about when we started accumulating mares. She produced four of five winners, which we had sold as yearlings.”

  His activities further intensified in 1998 when he bought Knowledge who had been raced by leading Melbourne owner Lloyd Williams. A powerful individual by Last Tycoon (IRE) from the Kings Island (IRE) mare New Acquaintance (NZ), Knowledge had defeated Rose of Danehill and Sports in the VATC Blue Diamond Stakes-Gr.1 after taking the Blue Diamond Preview-Gr.3. Rather than having Knowledge at Windemere, Steve came to an agreement with Murray Wise to begin standing the horse at nearby Bahram Stud. He was later transferred to Fred Brown’s Glen Avon Lodge following the sale of Bahram.

  “Although we syndicated Knowledge we retained a majority interest in him and that meant accumulating even more mares. We were working on upgrading mares, not all of them to go to Knowledge, and at that point we built up to 25 or 30 mares.” Among them was Miss Prospect, a daughter of Rory’s Jester, whose six victories were highlighted by wins in the AJC Keith Mackay Quality-LR, MVRC Silver Jubilee Stakes-LR and Champagne Stakes-LR. She has produced a total of seven winners with the foremost being Consular, a multiple stakes winner of more than $1m, and Reward For Effort from a second mating with Exceed and Excel. After being at Windemere for nine years she was sold to Contract Racing just three weeks before producing Reward For Effort

  Subsequently bought by Dynamic Syndications for $190,000 at the 2008 Inglis Melbourne Premier, Reward For Effort went on to capture the Blue Diamond Stakes, Blue Diamond Preview, STC Concorde Stakes-Gr.3 and MRC Sir John Monash Stakes-LR, for earnings in excess of $930,000. He is now standing at the Willis family’s Chatswood Stud at Seymour in Victoria where he served 150 mares in his first season. Fortunately, Miss Excellence, a sister to Reward For Effort, is a member of Windemere’s broodmare band and has produced a colt by Librettist and fillies by Sebring and Manhattan Rain.

  Also among the purchases was the unraced Alleged mare Open Question (USA), who was bought for $350,000 at the Bellerive Dispersal Sale. At that stage Open Question had produced, to a mating with Imperial Prince (IRE), the 1993 VRC Oaks-Gr.1 and VATC 1000 Guineas-Gr.1 heroine Arborea and the Personal Hope (USA) horse Paris Dream whose successes included the STC Pago Pago Stakes-Gr.2 and the AJC Up And Coming Stakes-Gr.2. She proved to be a worthwhile investment for Steve by producing for Windemere the 2004 VATC Sandown Guineas-Gr.2 winner Binding, a son of Belong To Me (USA). The stud has retained a sister to Binding, Answer Me, whose colt by More Than Ready (USA) sold for $250,000 at last year’s Gold Coast Magic Millions Yearling Sale.

  “Another mare we bought was Early Song who became the dam of Canterbury Guineas winner Fine Society. We have two half-sisters to her. Another Gr.1 winner we have bred is Star Shiraz who is by Sequalo from Starshine Express. We sold Star Shiraz for $15,000 and she won the Sires’ Produce Stakes in Brisbane, another five races, and nearly $800,000 in prizemoney. She was later sold-on to Darley for $1.15 million I think, so we got the pineapple end of that deal.

  “Unfortunately while Knowledge wasn’t really a failure he wasn’t a commercial success, but we were able to work the foals we had by him through the system. I suppose the best horse we had by Knowledge was Upwords who was out of Bouree. He won two or three races in town before we received a good offer from Hong Kong, so we sold him. He raced up there as Island Victory and did quite well. Even though Knowledge wasn’t the success we’d hoped for, we had bought some nice broodmares so it wasn’t all bad.”

  A more recent purchase Steve has high hopes for is the Iglesia mare Miss Argyle, a sister to the multiple stakes winner Diamondsoninside whose efforts on the racetrack included a second in the AJC Gimcrack Stakes-LR. Her first foal Cheyenne Warrior who is trained by Anthony Freedman, won at Sandown at his debut and followed by taking the TTC Gold Sovereign Stakes-LR (1200m) at Launceston at his second appearance. Miss Argyle has a rising two year-old colt by Nadeem, who was passed in at this year’s Magic Millions, and a weanling colt by Redoute’s Choice.

  “She’s a lovely type to have around, and having three colts in a row has been a good start for her and she is now in foal to Drumbeats, so it is all looking promising.” Along the way, as the numbers he was keeping and training were climbing, Steve bought 0.4ha on the racecourse at Toowoomba and built a 24-horse barn. He also, until the last couple of years, ensured he had hands-on experience by riding track work.

  “We’ve got some good prices for yearlings we’ve sold, but for one reason or another you are left with horses you can’t sell. They mightn’t be right for the yearling sales or they aren’t by stallions that are commercial propositions when they come around to be sold. 

So you are forced to keep them, train them and do the best you can with them.”

  There is an upside however, because it has meant Steve’s red and white halves are regularly going past the post first in races in Brisbane, Toowoomba, and various country tracks. His most notable win so far, as a trainer, was the 2010 GCTC Goldmarket Handicap-LR with Baqaba, by Easy Rocking from Bouree.

  “The year Baqaba won the Goldmarket he also won the Rockhampton Newmarket,  and two days after that he finished second in the Rockhampton Cup but we’ve had problems with him ever since. We’d been offered $400,000 for him from Hong Kong after he’d won a trial at Gatton. We probably should have taken the money but because we had the mother, a half-sister to the mother, a sister and a half-sister we decided we try and get some black type for the family. We did that when Baqaba won the Goldmarket.”

  Baqaba is now on the sidelines, but Steve has 14 horses he has retained in work under his care at Clifford Park. “Training is a full-time business and it gets the adrenalin going when you go to the races and especially when you have a winner or two. We have cattle as well on Windemere, which I find calming, but I enjoy anything to do with horses. It’s in your blood.

  “I love seeing the foals born and moving through the young horses and the mares we have on the place; but I think that since the Global Financial Crisis, it’s been a time to be cautious. The thoroughbred industry is an industry where disposable cash is used, and if people don’t have the money to spend then obviously everything tightens up. At the same time who is to know? It all depends on the world economy which is the main driver, and really anything could happen.” n