Aussies Abroad: Craig Brogden

6 min read
Bill Finley recently spoke to Perth native, 42-year-old Craig Brogden. While his involvement in Australian racing was brief, he has established himself as one of the top figures in the U.S. breeding industry as the general manager of Machmer Hall, a breeding farm with a consistent record of success. Among others, Machmer Hall bred Tepin (Bernstein), a two-time American champion and the winner of the Gr. I Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot.

TDN: You spent very little of your professional career working in Australia, but that is where you got interested racing. How did that happen?

Craig Brogden: My first involvement in racing was actually through my grandfather. He used to gamble on the horses every weekend. He was just a small bettor. In the early eighties, he took us racing one day when I was probably 9 years old to Newcastle and that was my first real exposure going to the races.

Horse racing is much bigger in terms of general public awareness in Australia than it is in the U.S. The newspapers always had a couple of pages dedicated to racing every day. When I was a young kid, I’d get the newspaper every day and read about the races. The Australian newspaper had a big breeders feature every Monday on the big races and I’d follow all the breeding and pedigrees.

Craig Brogden

That was my passion, I absorbed all that I could. I always thought I’d become a bloodstock agent or a pedigree guy . I used to understand all the line breeding and in-breeding, and I knew every stallion in the stallion register.

TDN: What was the extent of your experience working with horses before you left Australia?

CB: I had a very good job at Emirates Park. They wanted me to spend the summer helping to prep the yearlings. I was a young kid who hadn’t worked much with horses. I never really thought I’d be working on a horse farm when I was growing up.

We had a Fairy King colt we were prepping for the sales. That was before they were regularly shuttling him to Australia, so there were only four Fairy King yearlings in the entire country that year. That really perked my interest. The colt turned out to be Encosta De Lago. He was a very good race horse and the leading sire in Australia in 2008 and 2009. Horses like that are what really drive you, being around top level, Grade I horses.

"Horses like that are what really drive you, being around top level, Grade I horses." - Craig Brogden

Craig was part of the yearling team who prepared Encosta De Lago for sale

TDN: You looked like you were on your way to a promising career in the industry in Australia. Why did you leave?

CB: I wanted to see the world and learn the horse industry in a number of countries. I went to England first. When I was done there, it was a shorter flight to America than Australia, so I decided to go to Kentucky next.

I started at Three Chimneys. At the time, Three Chimneys was a much bigger operation and I wanted to experience something different than the big corporate farms. At a place like that, you’d be stuck in one division with one group of horses, and I wasn’t learning what I really wanted to learn.

Craig Brogden with his children

So I went to work for Dr. Phil McCarthy at Watercress Farm. I spent a year and a half there and probably learned more there in that year and a half than I learned in the previous 6 -7 years when I worked elsewhere. I credit all my success today to Dr. McCarthy and what he taught me. He was ahead of everybody when it came to breeding commercial horses in Kentucky and knowing what the market wanted.

"I credit all my success today to Dr. McCarthy and what he taught me." - Craig Brogden

TDN: Next you met your wife Carrie, who was in the process of starting Machmer Hall, went to work with her, and have been there ever since. Machmer Hall’s track record is outstanding. What are you guys doing right?

CB: The main thing is raising horses to be athletes, I learned that from working with Dr. McCarthy.

You leave these horses outside as much as possible, letting them grow and build those bones, muscles and tendons, so they can withstand racing. A lot of people don’t think about the fact that the factory is the brooodmare and you have to make that factory valuable. If you don’t raise the progeny the right way because you are only worried about the sale, then your factory is going to be damaged forever.

Machmer Hall mares and foals being raised outside

"The most important thing for us is that the horse is raised to be a race horse. That’s our breeding philosophy, as well." - Craig Brogden

It’s more important to us that the horse runs to the best of its abilities and is strong and durable for the owner that buys the horse than we get paid the most money on the day the horse sells. We will get paid a lot more money if that horse wins a graded stakes race or a Grade I because we still have the factory, the mother.

The most important thing for us is that the horse is raised to be a race horse. That’s our breeding philosophy, as well. Nicks and all the stuff I thought were important when starting out looking at pedigrees and reading about breeding is really not that important in Machmer Hall’s breeding philosophy. We are trying to breed big, strong, powerful horses, ones that are capable of winning big races.

People ask me what kind of horse are you trying to breed and I always say, ‘look at the 100 meter sprinters at the Olympics.’ Even if you don’t known anything about the athletes themselves you can look at the eight runners lining up at the starting line and you would pick the same guy every time to win the race. If Usain Bolt were in that field you would always pick him to win the race because he just looks like he’s faster than the rest of them. That’s what we’re trying to breed, the horse that looks like Usain Bolt.

"That’s what we’re trying to breed, the horse that looks like Usain Bolt." - Craig Brogden

TDN: What are some of the things they do differently in America than in Australia, things that maybe the Australian breeding industry could learn from?

CB: The prepping of horses here for the sales is something that is so much more intense than in Australia. Bringing horses to the sales here is very professional across the board. That’s something I don’t think is as intense in Australia - at least it wasn’t before I left. Here, the yearlings look like mini-race horses, they're so fit and muscular. The professionalism in the yearling prep is remarkable.

TDN: You sound no more like you are from Australia than I do. There is almost zero hint of an accent. What happened?

CB: It just faded away. Carrie does likes to correct people. She would correct me when I would say something the Australian way instead of the American way. A lot of words, like ‘tomato’ versus ‘tah-mah-to’ were changed and that’s how a lot of the accent got adjusted.