Hilldene Farm sharpens focus

6 min read
Less than 18 months since establishing Hilldene Farm, his high-end boutique breeding operation, Nick Wakim is already celebrating a significant milestone.

Grey Khan's (Dalakhani {Ire}) victory in a Geelong maiden on Sunday was the first in the lilac and navy colours of Hilldene, something Nick Wakim hopes to become common place over the coming years for the farm based on 180 acres outside of Seymour in Victoria.

Eagle eyes would have spotted the same colours during the recent Flemington carnival, when highly touted 2-year-old Chicago Bull (Exceed and Excel) ran third in the G3 Maribyrnong Plate on Oaks Day.

Wakim, along with bloodstock manager Peter Ford, made a splash at the 2017 Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale, spending $1.85m on six broodmares, including the sister to Sweet Idea and Showtime, Sweet Sister (Snitzel), and the three-quarter sister to Invader, She's Got Power (Redoute's Choice).

"We've always had designs on having a high-end broodmare farm." - Nick Wakim

"We've always had designs on having a high-end broodmare farm," Wakim told TDN AusNZ. "The focus is on being an owner-breeder, with 10-15 mares but at the upper end."

Wakim and Ford also made an impression at this year's broodmare sales, parting with $750,000 for an imported Frankel mare named Dream In Colour (GB).

Dream In Colour

"We bought the mare at the Magic Millions Mare sale and we believe she is the first Frankel mare to foal down in Australia. She’s since had an outstanding Exceed and Excel colt and she’s back in foal to the same sire based on that result," he said.

"We're operating at the top end of the market and as you know, the global market is quite strong right now. Prices are expensive and it’s difficult to purchase at value.”

“You need large amounts of capital to play at the top end of the market. Right now, it’s capital intensive for us."

The Dream In Colour x Exceed And Excel colt, with Nick Wakim

Sharpening focus

That period of strong capital outlay has sharpened Wakim's focus on a clear strategy for his breeding and racing interests.

"We're planning to breed high-end progeny. We will retain and race fillies and mares and then look at maintaining strategic positions with colts that can make future sires," he said.

"We're planning to breed high-end progeny." - Nick Wakim

"All the race fillies will be 100 per cent owned by us. We will buy or retain 25-100 per cent ownership stakes in colts we think will make potential stallions. That's where we want to be."

One of the mares enjoying the pastures at Hilldene

Chicago Bull, bought in conjunction with Aquis Farm and his breeders Kia Ora Farm, is a good example of that.

Wakim has high hopes for the 2-year-old, who is trained by Peter Gelagotis.

"We have high expectations for him. He's a class colt. We expected him to win the Maribyrnong Plate, but he pulled up with shin soreness so his run had a lot more merit than it showed on paper," he said.

"We'll see how he comes back from his break as we want to target the major autumn 2-year-old races with him."

Similarly, Wakim also holds a major interest in a 2-year-old colt with David Payne by Pierro out of Group 1 winning mare Ofcourseican (Mossman).

Chicago Bull as a yearling

The learning process

The strategy seems clear now, but Wakim admits the past 18 months have been somewhat of an education.

The week before buying those six broodmares on the Gold Coast, he and Ford scooped up seven lots at the 2017 National Weanling Sale for a total of over $1 million, with an intention to pinhook them the following year.

Sunrise over Hilldene

"We thought the first year, we’d pinhook some to create some revenue, but that's not really our focus. We've learned over the past 18 months. We’ve tried a few things early doors. Pinhooking, looking at buying a few and trading a few, we even had a commercial draft at Melbourne (Premier Sale) last year," Wakim said.

"The operation is private and our intention is to be an owner-breeder." - Nick Wakim

"As we go through this journey, we won’t be doing those things anymore. We won’t have our own drafts. If we’re going to sell any of the progeny we breed, they'll be placed in specific drafts at specific sales."

"The operation is private and our intention is to be an owner-breeder, but we’ll probably sell a few along the way. That's where our focus is."

A lifelong dream realised

Wakim, a successful business entrepreneur, has had a life-long passion for thoroughbreds and a strong desire to establish his own farm for some time.

"My dad used to take me to the races when I was about nine years old. He owned some horses, but he was a large punter so the horses were a means to an end," Wakim said.

"I used to tag along to the races and my love of thoroughbreds grew from there." - Nick Wakim

Wakim with the Astern x Thud filly

"I used to tag along to the races and my love of thoroughbreds grew from there."

“I was also an avid rider through my teens and focused on show jumping, puissance and cross country riding whilst we lived in the UK.”

"We were also shareholders in (multiple European G1 winner) Dancing Brave, when he was syndicated.”

“I've had a quite a long history with horses, but it’s only recently that I've been able to set-up and carry out my passion."

While he has had horses race with Gai Waterhouse and Chris Waller, it was the Gelagotis trained Grey Khan that gave him the thrill of becoming the first horse to win in the lilac and navy colours, which Wakim selected to compliment the Hilldene livery and logo.

As a promising stayer who is likely to be gelded, Grey Khan doesn't quite fit into the current Hilldene strategy but Wakim is nevertheless excited for his prospects going forward.

Sweet Sister with a colt by More Than Ready

"The horse is by Dalakhani out of an Unfuwain (USA) mare (Witwatersrand {Ire}). His half-brother has won up to 3200m and we see him as a young progressive stayer," Wakim said.

"It’s one of our dreams, like so many around the world, to win a major Cups race in Australia,” Wakim said.

"We know this is an uphill battle but we will give it a red-hot-go." - Nick Wakim

Grey Khan is one of around 12 horses in work that Wakim has a shareholding in. Those numbers have been reduced in recent months as he focusses on quality over quantity in both his racing and breeding interests.

"We're content with where we sit at present but this is a work-in-progress. I don’t think as an individual, or as a private group, there are too many people trying to establish a classic or archetypal owner-breeder operation at the upper end in Australia. We know this is an uphill battle but we will give it a red-hot-go," he said.