Greg Willis

published: 02 Aug 2013 in Q&A

For a long-time now the Willis family’s Chatswood Stud has been playing a significant part in the development of the Victorian thoroughbred breeding industry.

Situated on undulating ground, with frontage to the Goulburn River, the stud has stood a number of high profile stallions over the years.

Leading the way at present is the Group 1-winning Exceed And Excel horse Reward For Effort, who is supported by Hawkspur’s sire Purrealist and the sire-making Caulfield Guineas winner Anacheeva as well as the old-timer Racer’s Edge.

Stallions questioned stud principal Greg Willis about the benefit to Purrealist of Hawkspur’s victories in Brisbane, the impact of Exceed And Excel’s achievements, on Reward For Effort, the outlook for Anacheeva and other matters.


Q.: Has the success of Purrealist surprised you

A.: No not really. He was a top racehorse himself and served some really good mares in his initial years at Makybe. I suppose what has been surprising  is that Hawkspur is getting over ground after Purrealist’s first three city winners were early, precocious types While he is still getting plenty of these it’s good to see him siring winners over middle distances because everyone’s looking for stayers these days.


Q.: Have the victories of Hawkspur translated into increased bookings

A.: There has been a lot more interest in Purrealist this year and I think a lot of that can be put down to what Hawkspur has achieved. His wins in Brisbane in the Rough Habit Plate, Grand Prix and Queensland Derby were a great advertisement for Purrealist. Also we dropped Purrealist’s service fee from $8,800 to $5,500, which has obviously helped.


Q.: Why did you decide to drop Purrealist’s service fee

A.: We think everything is very tough in the breeding industry so we wanted to be fair to people sending mares to him this year.


Q.: Reward For Effort’s stocks have been boosted by Exceed And Excel’s outstanding season

A.: They definitely have. Exceed And Excel has had a brilliant 12 months and there are only three Group 1 winning colts by him at stud . . . Coolmore has one, Darley has one and we have the other one. On his way to becoming Australian Champion Sire he had the quinella in the Golden Slipper. Then Overeach went on to win the Sires Produce Stakes and he completed the Triple Crown by siring the Champagne Stakes winner Guelph. Its reasonable to say that his stocks have been further boosted with Black Caviar going to him.


Q.: How is his first crop shaping up

A.: Really good. The Inglis people were here a couple of weeks ago and they are big fans. Even this far away everything is shaping up well for the Melbourne sales.


Q.: What numbers has Reward For Effort been serving

A.: He had 150 in his first year and 173 last year. A lot of the original owners who raced the horse have, collectively, been sending about 25 mares to him. They won’t sell the progeny and they’ll go to Peter Moody so he’ll have a stack of them.


Q.: Everyone at Chatswood must be looking forward to Anacheeva’s first foals

A.: Yes they will be arriving any day now. It’s always very exciting when the first foals of a stallion arrive.


Q.: His sire Anabaa is continuing to go from strength-to-strength

A.: He is doing a brilliant job in France. He is getting a lot of stakes winners and, outside of Danehill, he would be the best shuttle horse we have ever had in Australia.


Q.: What is the situation with “old favourite” Racer’s Edge

A.: We had his 21st birthday celebration on November 1 last year, so now he is coming up to 22. He is fit enough but we are not going to risk knocking him about. He is still as keen as mustard but we are gradually slowing him down. He covered 18 mares last season and he will receive a few more mares this season.


Q.: Chatswood has recently made some important additions to its staff

A.: We have because we’ve been very lucky to get Luke and Margaret Anderson, who both have a lot of experience. Luke worked at Cambridge and at Graeme Rogerson’s place in New Zealand while Mags was Sir Patrick Hogan’s yearling manager for 10 years. Luke is our new stud manager and Mags will be looking after the yearlings. It will be great having her prepare the Reward For Efforts.


Q.: You have been furthering Chatswood’s race sponsorships

A.: We’ve been sponsoring Seymour Race Club for the last 12 years. We have the stud name on the winning post, the starting stalls and what have you. In the last couple of months we’ve taken up a sponsorship deal with the Penang Turf Club. It’s something different.


Q.: How did that come about

A.: We felt that there are a few bigger owners and trainers over there now and they don’t really have any breeding industry, although there is the national stud. That means they need to buy their horses from somewhere and we are hoping our sponsorship will translate into some business for us in the future.


Q.: What is you outlook for the immediate future of the industry

A.: I think it is very tough, really tough at the moment. I think the next 12 months will be even tougher than the last 12 months. I feel it is sad that a lot of old-time, small breeders are getting out of the game because the expenses are crippling.

If you don’t have your own place and are paying service fees its very expensive and in most cases you need lady luck on your side to survive. On the other hand while the numbers of horses being bred is declining we need plenty of horses to keep up the race fields so that’s a plus. Also China will possibly open up sometime in the future which would increase the demand for racehorses quite substantially.