A COUNTRY GIRL AT HEART: Burnewang North’s owner Cathy Hains is dedicated to the Victorian Thoroughbred Breeding industry and her love of horses has its origins many years ago when her family bred and raced the famous Kingston Town, winner of three Cox Plates.
By JOHN DOOLEY
TAKE a short drive south of Rochester, birthplace of champion cyclist Sir Hubert Opperman, and you’ll be heading toward one of Northern Victoria’s most beautiful thoroughbred breeding studs, Burnewang North.
As the gates to the property swing open, an almost kilometre-long, 100-year-old peppercorn, tree-lined driveway paves the way to the homestead and gardens.
My visit to Burnewang North is, in part, a reunion with a former work colleague from my days at Channel Nine, who is the owner of the property and thoroughbred horse breeder, Cathy Hains.
Cathy’s family has a rich and esteemed association with horse breeding and racing, having owned many famous champions including Kingston Town (winner of three Cox Plates), Rose of Kingston (Australian Horse of the Year and Australasian Champion three-year-old Filly) and the Bart Cummings-trained and Darren Beadman-ridden 1990 Melbourne Cup winner, Kingston Rule.
Kingston Town was a favourite of Cathy’s.
“The three Cox Plates were of course extraordinary, and we are very proud that it has taken a superstar of the calibre of mighty mare Winx to equal his record,” Cathy said.
Having a horse like Kingston Town is a cherished memory and an unforgettable, unrepeatable era for her family.
When Kingston Rule won the Melbourne Cup, one achievement that escaped the immortal Kingston Town who was narrowly beaten by Gurners Lane in 1982, Cathy had become more closely involved in the family’s racing and breeding business.
“I was much more involved in our racing interests at that time, and Kingston Rule’s win was an enormous thrill and still holds the record for the fastest time,” Cathy said.
“He was a gorgeous horse with an exceptional international pedigree. He’d come from overseas and was trained by Bart Cummings, which gave him another advantage!
“Like a lot of Melbourne Cup winners, he didn’t go on to achieve further glory, but a Melbourne Cup is about as good as it gets, so we’re not complaining.”
Cathy’s family, under the advice of her father David Hains, acquired Burnewang North in 2001 as a satellite to their Mornington Peninsula nursery – Kingston Park.
“We used Burnewang North for a short period as a stallion station and fodder production, which was Dad’s original purpose for this property, and I ran the family’s bloodstock interests at the time,” Cathy said.
“The stallion exercise was not very successful, and given the family’s heart lies on the Mornington Peninsula, he decided to exit operations in Northern Victoria to concentrate his breeding interests back on Kingston Park.
“During the five years building the northern Victorian operation, I’d fallen in love with the region, the property and the people, and so I made the decision to purchase the farm from family interests in 2006.
“We separated the family’s racing interests from my decision to build a commercial breeding and farming operation and I effectively started again.”
Cathy is very involved in the thoroughbred breeding industry, and has been a committee member of Thoroughbred Breeders Victoria (TVB) since 2012.
“I’m on the board of the TBV, a role I have been involved with for more than five years, and I really enjoy it. It’s a proactive board, made up of some of the industry’s most experienced and involved owners, breeders and managers,” she said.
“James O’Brien is the enthusiastic and hard-working president, and executive officer, Patrick Clancy, comes from an impressive political background and now puts considerable energy into advocating for the industry and looking after the interests of its stakeholders.”
Cathy said that TBV has taken a very modern approach in recent times and uses all forms of media to keep Victorian breeding and racing achievements top of mind.
“VOBIS – Victorian Owners and Breeders Incentive Scheme -– is an important aspect of their advocacy,” she said. “It’s a scheme providing millions of dollars in ‘bonuses’ to Victorian-bred horses throughout regional and city meetings, thus encouraging investment in the Victorian breeding – all those interested in the industry should familiarise themselves with the benefits attached when it comes to taking an interest in racing a horse.”
CATHY said there was no doubt that overseas interest in the racing industry in Australia had seen major investment stepping up in the past.
“The past few years have seen some strong yearling sales in Queensland (Magic Millions) and Sydney (Inglis Easter), and exemplify the broad mix and competitive nature of overseas and Australasian interests,” she said.
“The very top end of these sales is indeed ‘rarified air’ – huge sums of money that change hands with competition from Asian, European and American interests is the very pinnacle of thoroughbred sales and receives a lot of press.
“As with many businesses however, this is very much the exception, not the rule, and most breeders are working at a vastly different level to try and deliver a candidate who presents attractively and athletically, and one which achieves some return on the significant efforts, costs and challenges of raising a thoroughbred.”
I asked Cathy what the secret to breeding a great horse is.
“Obviously the sire and the mare’s breeding has a major role to play, then nutrition, husbandry conformation and education take a lot of work on farm, and then you hope and pray that Lady Luck chooses to accompany you every single step of the way,” she said.
Cathy is still racing a few horses, but not completely out of choice.
“We do have a few that we race, either because they weren’t able to be sold, or they were sidelined for one reason or another,” she said. “We have a local syndicate of mates who are farmers, croppers and dairy farmers. We call it the ‘Good Grass’ syndicate,” she said.
“We’ve had modest success, and have had two or three recent horses in the syndicate who show ability, and two of them have been winners of more than one race, so it gives everyone a bit of a buzz. It’s a good excuse to go to the pub.”
The history of Burnewang North is an illustrious one to say the least, and dates back to the 1840s when the then ‘Burnewang Run’ was owned by the Hunter Brothers, Irish settlers who made their fortune on the gold fields. That enabled them to acquire the 100,000-acre spread which was flanked on two sides by the Campaspe River.
Apart from being livestock operators, the Hunter Brothers were also famous for their trotters and draught horses, and the ‘AJ Hunter Cup,’ which is still the pinnacle of Australian harness racing competition, was named after one of the brothers’ sons.
BURNEWANG North was also a staging post for Cobb and Co. whose coaches were an integral part of transporting people, goods and mail from Melbourne to the goldfields, and onto Echuca.
“This property was a Cobb and Co. change station for passengers coming from Melbourne travelling through to the gold fields, and the old cottage and stables are still here,” Cathy said.
“The coaches coming from Melbourne used to come flying through here, and they’d have four or five horses and up to 18 passengers, and when they got to the top of the drive, they’d whistle down and the groom at this end would know to prepare the fresh horses for the changeover.”
The Burnewang Run was eventually divided up into smaller land patches, and today Burnewang North occupies almost 2500 acres of productive land, which grows prime lucerne, mixed pasture and irrigated crops.
“They say you can grow anything here as long as you have water, and I’d love to see this property go into the future producing something intensively – given the temperate conditions, good soil and plentiful, quality water. It would be a waste otherwise,” Cathy said.
“We do a lot of cropping. We grow dryland hay, oats, canola and lucerne under irrigation, and these are a very important part of our commercial operation.”
Burnewang North continues to uses its high-grade fodder for its own thoroughbred stock and livestock – hence the slogan ‘If you want a fast horse, you’d better buy some good grass.’
The bulk of their fodder is sold to leading dairy and horse studs in Victoria and interstate.
“All of our fodder is regularly feed-tested and the results are available to interested buyers. We are very proud of the quality of all of our produce,” Cathy said.
THE farm employs up to 12 people depending on the time of the year, some of whom may be job sharing, or come during busy times, and a number of staff also live on the property.
“I’m fortunate to have a fantastic team of great people whose hard work contributes enormously to the success of our operation,” Cathy said.
Cathy’s love of the industry she is closely associated with is obvious.
“I’ve been involved with this industry for a long time, and I think it’s the people I meet and work with who I love, and of course the animals themselves,” she said. “Being involved with all animals – particularly performance horses – has ups and downs, and it’s not for the faint-hearted, but we roll with the punches.
“The reality is it’s an expensive business, and short of being the lucky owner of a Winx, Black Caviar or Kingston Town, not many people find themselves in the winner’s circle regularly.
“Many of us still enjoy the challenges of living the dream! Either way having an interest in a horse on most levels is fun, interesting and a great social adventure.”
Burnewang North’s website summarises that success – well over 100 individual winners in six countries! Since taking their first small yearling-draft to the Melbourne Premier sale in 2009, the stud has achieved a 97 percent clearance rate.
Breeding and selling winners, that’s the end game at Burnewang North!